The United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands have very similar names. And as a matter of act, they're pretty similar in various ways, at least far as the fact that many of the Caribbean islands are pretty identical to each other.
But they do have differences, and those differences matter if you are deciding between them. Choosing which islands to go to for vacation? Knowing what sets them apart will probably help with that decision. Here is my guide on the major differences between the U.S Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
What's The Main Difference Between USVI and BVI?
Before we get into categories and all that good stuff, I should probably mention the actual difference between the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the US Virgin Islands (USVI).
The U.S Virgin Islands include three main islands — St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. The British Virgin Islands comprises four main islands — Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke and a whole bunch of other smaller islands.
Ironically, the difference isn't actually all that big. They're both by the Carribean Sea and as it might be shown by they're names, USVI are United States territory in the Caribbean and BVI is British overseas territory. Both island chains are territories of their respective countries.
So they both have a native community and identity influenced by the countries each territory belongs to. Generally speaking, you can have a relaxed, laid-back, family-friendly, or thrilling, adventurous party-like vacation at either destination.
They each offer some of the same things, just to different degrees.
U.S Virgin Islands Vs. British Virgin Islands By Category
USVI vs. BVI: Tourist Attractions
When it comes to vacations, tourist attractions are kind of important. After all, you want to be able to do fun things on your vacation, right? Both island chains have their fair share of attractions available, which is why they're both such a popular stop for cruise ships.
One of the most well-known tourist attractions in the USVI is the Virgin Islands National Park, located in St. John. It gets one million visitors a year, making it the most prominent tourist site in the archipelago. The park is 5,000 acres large and includes underwater sea gardens, coral reefs, hiking trails, bays, historic ruins, petroglyphs, and gorgeous beaches.
Underwater snorkeling at Trunk Bay Underwater Snorkeling Trail is one of the many things you can do at the park. There are over 30 species of fish that can be seen in the water along the underwater trail.
Magens Bay in St. Thomas is often included in the list of the world's most beautiful beaches, and it also has a hiking trail that goes throughout 75 acres of hilltops and wetlands.
The territory's capital, Charlotte Amalie, is not only a beautiful city, but it also possesses a large number of jewelry shops and boutiques. Of course, it also has a ton of beaches and places for snorkeling. It's full of unique landmarks, like Blackbeard's Castle and Fort Christian. St. Croix is also rich in history and has plenty of places with historical significance.
The BVI has Baths National Park in Virgin Gorda, which is full of scattered granite boulders that create a number of grottoes and other excellent snorkeling locations. It's not quite as big as Virgin Islands National Park but has plenty of aquatic activities available.
Also of note is Gorda Peak National Park, also in Virgin Gorda, which is a good break from aquatic activities if you need or want it. It has two hiking trails that lead to the highest point on the island, giving you an excellent view of the archipelago. It has all sorts of terrain, including rainforest and dry forest. It's ideal for wildlife observation as well.
For water sports, North Sound is a major center in the BVI. The waters are well-protected and offer pretty much every water sport available — windsurfing, sailing, diving, jet skis, parasailing, and much more. Both island groups are equal when it comes to gorgeous beaches, something that beach purists will be glad to hear.
Winner: US Virgin Islands. Both the BVI and USVI have much of the same things: national parks, beaches, water sports, and hiking trails. But ultimately, the US Virgin Islands has bigger national parks and things to do at them, and since everything else is mostly equal, it's my pick for better tourist attractions.
USVI vs. BVI: Nightlife
Between the two island groups, the USVI definitely has superior nightlife. The BVI is a quiet and relaxed chain of islands. It has beach bars and rum shacks, but not nearly as many as the USVI. That's all well and good if you just want to take it easy on vacation or don’t have any interest in the night scene.
But if you do want to spend some time enjoying the nightlife the islands have to offer, you definitely want to stick with the USVI, more specifically St. Thomas. If you're still intent on going to the BVI, then Jost Van Dyke has quite the nightlife.
Winner: USVI. It just has a wider variety of nightlife and a lot more of it. St. Thomas is the place you'll want to visit since the other two, St. John and St. Croix don't have too much of it.
USVI vs. BVI: Lodgings
The difference between the USVI's commercialized economy and the BVI's more privately owned property is that lodgings’ availability depends on several factors. The USVI undoubtedly has far more commercial chain hotels, high rise condos and fancy resorts, though it also has some villas for rent.
On the other hand, the BVI has more in the way of private villas but less in the way of hotels. On top of that, the USVI is a more crowded during certain times of the year, commercial tourist location. This means that the USVI has more lodgings available, and most of them are more affordable.
The BVI has lovely private villas for rent, but there are fewer of them available by their very nature. It would be easier to find lodgings at the USVI, but you could find extremely nice private residences here.
Winner: Neither. Ultimately, neither territory is superior in this regard: they're just different. It depends on what you want out of the lodgings.
USVI vs. BVI: Convenience (Transporation, Infrastructure, Etc.)
As said before, the USVI is a much more commercialized chain of islands. A lot more restaurant chains, hotel chains, and the infrastructure to connect them all. So as far as everyday convenience is concerned, the USVI is superior.
This is not to say that the BVI does not have places to eat and places to stay. But it's more quaint. Consider it more like a nice town than a big city. Of course, there are still roads, transportation, restaurants, lodgings, and all that good stuff.
So really, it comes down to how much you value convenience. The USVI is a bit more convenient simply because it is so commercialized, especially St. Thomas and St. Croix. You can find everything you need somewhere nearby. The British Virgin Islands still has everything, just not to the same degree.
Winner: It depends. If you value a quieter vacation experience at the expense of a bit of convenience, BVI is a better choice. But for easy access to any particular need, the USVI is the better choice, even though it's a bit more crowded.
USVI vs. BVI: Overall Winner?
Frankly, neither the USVI nor the BVI is superior to the other. It comes down to what you want out of your vacation. Both the island groups have very similar offerings regarding tourist attractions. Wether you're planning day trips, visiting art galleries,
They both have beautiful beaches and great places to stay. The real difference is the fact that the BVI is a much quieter place than the USVI. Fewer people, less commercialization. If you like that, then the British Virgin Islands is probably better for you. If you don't care about that, then perhaps the US Virgin Islands is better.
Of course, depending on whether or not you want to deal with a slightly foreign experience, where you're from might make a big difference in selecting which territory to visit.