Caribbean » US Virgin Islands VS British Virgin Islands: Which Is Better?

US Virgin Islands VS British Virgin Islands: Which Is Better?

Wondering where to go in the Caribbean? It’s time to compare the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands for your next holiday in paradise!

Oh, how I adore the Caribbean! I’ve been multiple times, visiting different areas of paradise each time.

This stunning region of jewel-like islands, scattered across the Caribbean Sea, has something for everyone. It’s a perfect destination for romantic holidays and family beach adventures. One day you could board a charter yacht for a day on the ocean, the next you could relax in the sunshine, enjoying the escape from home. Whatever you a looking for, you’ll find the perfect spot somewhere in the Caribbean.

Trunk Bay, Saint John, US Virgin Islands
The stunning Trunk Bay is on Saint John in the US Virgin Islands

The island groups of the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands are home to some of the loveliest beaches, towns and scenery in the whole region. But how do you choose between the two?

Coming up, I’ll compare the BVI vs USVI, look at their differences and similarities, and (hopefully) help you guys decide which set of islands is best for your tropical holiday. It’s not going to be easy to pick a winner, but fingers crossed, this post will help!

The Baths - one of the prettiest places, British Virgin Islands
The Baths – one of the prettiest places in the British Virgin Islands

Caribbean Overview

The Caribbean region is home to more than 30 countries, each with unique charms and attractions. As well as beautiful beaches, palm-fringed islands, coral reefs, tiny cays (sand islands) and vibrant cities, the Caribbean also has a rich array of influences including African, Spanish, Portuguese, British and French. As for the name? ‘Caribbean’ comes from the name of the Carib people who inhabited the region prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Time to get your bearings! The Virgin Islands archipelago is located to the east of Puerto Rico in the Leeward Islands group of the Lesser Antilles island chain. As a quick guide, this is towards the northern region of the Caribbean.

St Croix, US Virgin Islands
St Croix is one of the US Virgin Islands

The islands were named by Christopher Columbus after Saint Ursula (Spanish: Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes), an early Christian saint.

Island Overview

While the United States Virgin Islands are a United States Territory, they have the typically tropical laid-back vibe you’d expect from any Caribbean island. The United States Virgin Islands consist of three main islands: Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, along with around 50 smaller islands. The territory’s capital is the town of Charlotte Amalie, located on the island of Saint Thomas. 

Cable cars in St Thomas, USVI
Cable cars over St Thomas, USVI

The United States Virgin Islands were previously known as the Danish West Indies until they were sold to the US by Denmark in 1917 for twenty-five million dollars. What a deal!

Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands are one of 14 British Overseas Territories. They fall under the British system of government, but they’re not actually part of the United Kingdom. Residents of the British Virgin Islands have been classed as British citizens since 2002. 

Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Road Town on Tortola is the capital of the British Virgin Islands

The group consists of four main islands: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, and 50 smaller islands and cays. Only sixteen of the islands are inhabited.

The capital of the British Virgin Islands is Road Town, on Tortola. Wait until you hear some of the other place names! A glance at a map of the British Islands is like reading a pirate’s treasure map: you’ll see islands named Dead Chest, Fallen Jerusalem, The Dogs, and Prickly Pear. Arrrrrrrrrrghhh!

Climate and Weather 

In a battle of the British Virgin Islands vs. the United States Virgin Islands, one of the key things to consider is the weather. Even though both island groups are located in roughly the same part of the Caribbean, they actually have different weather patterns. This could definitely influence your decision about which set of islands to choose!

Weather in the USVI

The United States Virgin Islands are hot all year round, with the hottest months being May to October. You can expect highs of around 31-32℃. However, this heat is usually tempered by cool afternoon breezes.

The ‘cooler’ weather arrives between December and March when the temperatures hover around 29 ℃. The wettest months are February and March, and it’s worth noting that more rain falls on the northern sides of the islands. Thankfully, the sea remains at a lovely 29℃, or thereabouts, all year round.

Relaxing in the BVI
You’ll do plenty of relaxing if you pick to travel to the BVI

Weather in the BVI

The British Virgin Islands also experience their hottest weather between May and October although the highs are slightly lower at around 29℃. The short winter ‘dry’ season runs from February until April and you can expect balmy highs of 26℃.

The islands receive around 1,200 millimetres of rain annually, most of it falling from the end of June until the end of November.

Cultural similarities and differences

When it comes to cultural differences, the BVI vs. USVI are pretty similar. However, there are some small differences that make each set of islands unique.

The British Virgin Islands are known for their laid-back, authentic and luxurious vibe. The United States Virgin Islands, on the other hand, are generally considered to be more developed and family-friendly.

Would you pick the British Virgin Islands or the US Virgin Islands
Would you pick the British Virgin Islands or the US Virgin Islands?

Both destinations have a rich history that is reflected in their art, music, and food. The British Virgin Islands have a strong sense of Britishness, which plays out in the more serene, calm and rural nature of the island’s life.

The United States Virgin Islands have a more diverse population which mixes African, Caribbean and European influences. You’ll find that locals are friendly and confident, with the American influence shining through.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Tortola is home to lots of colourful buildings

While both destinations offer visitors a range of activities such as snorkelling, sailing and hiking, the USVI is better suited for people looking for adventure activities, nightlife, and family vacations.

The BVI, on the other hand, is also great for nature lovers but if you’re looking for British colonial culture spiced with Caribbean flavours and cool local vibes, this is the place to go. 

British Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands have a unique geography

Getting there and beyond…

Both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands are accessible by air and sea. However, there are some differences between the two that you will need to consider when choosing which island group to visit.

Flying to the USVI

The United States Virgin Islands are readily accessible from the US Mainland. The group has two major airports: one on Saint Croix and one on Saint Thomas, making the islands much easier to get to than the British Virgin Islands. 

St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands is easy to reach from the US mainland

Flying to the BVI

The BVI Airports Authority oversees the airports in the British Virgin Islands. The easiest way to get to the islands is to fly into the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island, a short ferry ride from Tortola. This is the hub for most airlines arriving from Europe and North America.

You can also take a ferry from Charlotte Amalie on Saint Thomas in the USVI to or from Road Town on Tortola in the BVI. Island-hopping by boat, ferry, water taxi or yacht is a popular way to get around within both island groups.  

Beach time in the BVIs
You’re going to spend lots of time on the beaches in the BVIs


When it comes to travel documentation, United States citizens can enter the USVI without a passport. However, a valid passport is required to enter the British Virgin Islands. Both island groups accept the US dollar as currency. While you can pay with cards in some places, cash is often preferred.

Places to stay

The Caribbean islands are famous for both luxurious and basic accommodation options. Whether you want a shack on a beach, a family resort, or a world-class honeymoon hotel, you’ll find plenty to choose from in both the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

Accommodation on the British Virgin Islands

On Tortola, you could kick back at the luxurious Long Bay Beach Resort, or keep it mellow and low-key at Sebastian’s On The Beach.

Long Bay Beach Resort
Long Bay Beach Resort is one of the best places to stay in the BVIs

For a quieter, unfussy beach holiday you could jump on over to Anegada Island at the northern end of the BVI. Here you can chill out at the Anegada Beach Club, an island oasis of luxury shacks.

Accommodation in the United States Virgin Islands

The USVI has all sorts of beautiful resorts, villas and chic private apartments on offer, especially on the hills overlooking the major towns. You could get all flamboyant at a place like the Ritz Carlton St. Thomas, where ocean breezes will cool your evenings and a sunset cruise is an option every evening.

The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas
The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas is a luxury hotel in the USVI

Alternatively, you could live the life of a colonial planter at Company House Hotel in Saint Croix’s historic Christiansted neighbourhood.

But you don’t need a pirate’s treasure chest full of cash to enjoy your stay in the USVI. For example, Olga’s Fancy in the Frenchtown neighbourhood of Charlotte Amalie, has brightly-coloured guest rooms overlooking the harbour that don’t cost an arm and a [peg]leg.

Things to do in the Virgin Islands

Charter a Yacht

In this battle of the US Virgin Islands vs the British Virgin Islands, the one word that always crops up is sailing. There are few places in the world more famous for their yacht culture than the British Virgin Islands. In fact, most of the tourist infrastructure is geared around bare and crewed boat hire, and the support of those industries. 

Views of St Thomas, USVI
Beautiful views of St Thomas, USVI

For the ultimate holiday in paradise, you could charter a yacht out of any port in the US Virgin Islands or the British Virgin Islands. Imagine that… just you and your lover going wherever the wind takes you. How romantic is that?

Hiking, scuba diving and snorkelling

If sailing on the ocean isn’t your scene, the US Virgin Islands are a haven for adventurers and lovers of colonial history. With dozens of hiking trails, and all sorts of historic sites, the USVI are a great option for people who love the outdoors but like to keep their feet firmly on dry land.

Snorkelling in the BVI
Snorkelling is popular in the BVI

Both the USVI and the BVIs have world-class snorkelling and scuba diving. The wrecks and reefs around Saint Croix are some of the best in the world and the wreck of the RMS Rhone, off Tortola is a renowned dive site. 

Bars and nightlife

You may also be surprised to learn that the beach bars on the British Virgin Islands, while sometimes more expensive, are actually far more authentic and fun than those on the US Virgin Islands. Beach bars on the USVI tend to be associated with big hotel chains and so lose some of their authenticity and vibe. 

The BVIs, on the other hand, are home to some of the most iconic beach bars in the Caribbean, such as Foxy’s, Willy T’s and the wonderfully named Soggy Dollar. This bar is renowned for its ‘Painkiller’ rum cocktail – you’ve simply got to try it!

National Parks

For such small territories, both the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands have a plentiful supply of national parks. If you visit the British Virgin Islands, you simply have to explore the labyrinth of boulders, flooded caves and volcanic grottoes of The Baths National Park on Virgin Gorda.

The Baths, British Virgin Islands
The Baths is one of the most popular national parks in the British Virgin Islands

If you prefer hiking, the Sage Mountain National Park on Tortola has spectacular forested trails leading to the peak of Sage Mountain (1,710 feet) which is the highest point in both the British and United States Virgin Islands groups.

Another great set of hiking options are the trails in Gorda Peak National Park, which will take you through one of the last remaining dryland forests in the Caribbean.  

There are six national parks in the United States Virgin Islands group, encompassing coral reefs, forests and historic sites. On St. John, hiking trails give visitors access to more than 11,000 acres of wilderness in the Virgin Islands National Park. The park covers around 60% of the island’s land area and includes over 5,000 acres of adjacent ocean and most of Hassel Island.

Reef Bay, US Virgin Islands
Reef Bay in the US Virgin Islands has lots of shells and coral to see

On Saint Croix, you’ll find Buck Island Reef National Monument which is a popular snorkelling destination, and Christiansted National Historic Site which offers a glimpse into the island’s (sometimes brutal) colonial past.

Also on Saint Croix is the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve (phew…long name!) which has mangrove forests and a bioluminescent bay.

Which to visit? The US Virgin Islands or the British Virgin Islands

There is no clear winner when it comes to comparing the USVI vs BVI. Both territories have plenty to offer, depending on what you’re looking for. For ease, the USVI have better flight access and, of course, American citizens can enter with a passport. 

People looking for outdoor adventures and historical ruins will find plenty of things to do on the USVI.

Budget-conscious travellers might also find the USVI slightly cheaper than the BVI although, to be honest, neither territory could be classed as a cheap destination! I promise this is a holiday worth saving for though!

US Virgin Islands vs British Virgin Islands
What’s the winner for you? The US Virgin Islands or the British Virgin Islands?

The British Virgin Islands on the other hand are a fantastic destination for lovers of luxury resorts, people looking for romantic getaways on private islands, and, of course, for sailors. Large groups wanting to rent a catamaran or yacht for a week would be better to go to the British Virgin Islands, and it’s the same for families looking for a relaxing holiday in the sun.

My advice? Visit both! If you’re going to go all that way, you might as well island hop! They’re so close together anyway and both offer unique cultural opportunities, attractions and places to wander around. I’d recommend flying into Saint Thomas and then spending some time on Saint Croix and Saint John. After that, take a ferry ride over to Tortola for a few days in the British Virgin Islands. How perfect does that sound?!

With a passion for food, fun and adventure, Chloe is the content creator behind one of the UK's top travel blogs Wanderlust Chloe. From volcano boarding in Nicaragua, to sailing around Sicily and eating her way around Japan, her travels have taken her to some of the coolest spots on the planet. Named Travel Influencer of the Year in 2022, Chloe regularly works with a number of tourism boards, producing inspirational travel content across multiple platforms. Find out more about Chloe here.

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