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When you think of paradise, what comes to mind? Crystal clear waters, beautiful beaches, palm trees and sipping margaritas as the sun goes down? That’s what I think of. My mind wanders to carefree days, swimming in the ocean and lying under the warm sun of the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean, slightly east of Puerto Rico.

The official name of the country is simply “Virgin Islands”, however some of the islands have the prefix “British” included to distinguish it from the neighboring American territory which is named the “Virgin Islands of the United States”.

One of the prime spots in the US Virgin Islands is Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas. Charlotte Amalie is the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands and is the heart of St Thomas’ activities. You can find historical buildings throughout the downtown area from when the town was a bustling port. St Thomas itself is largely a mountainous island and you don’t need to drive, hike or bike far to be treated to a stunning panoramic view of the island and the surrounding ocean.

As St Thomas’ is a luxury beach paradise, the usual ‘beach/island holiday attractions’ are relevant. However, Charlotte Amalie also has some unique attractions to boast about. Main Street is the classic ‘top place’ to check out. With hundreds of shops as well as plenty of local restaurants and cafes, this street is a shopping lover’s paradise. Market Square is one important area which should be explored in Charlotte Amalie. This square is located at the end of Main Street and is the original site of a market place where African slaves were bought and sold. It is still a bustling market place where people can buy fruit, vegetables, spices and fish.

The ’99 steps’ site is a must see. Built in the mid-1700s by the Danes, they were said to be the easiest way to climb up and down the steep steps of Charlotte Amalie. The bricks used to construct the steps were originally from Denmark and while the site is called ’99 steps’, there are actually 103. The 1827 Haagensen House is a beautiful historical house to check out. The house was originally the home of a Danish banker named Hans Haagensen and his wife along with their nine children.

The Fort Christian and Museum building is a place of interest that should be put on your list when visiting Charlotte Amalie. The building was originally constructed in 1680 to defend the Danish Settlement. It is a National Historic Landmark and is the oldest building still in use on the island. It has previously been used as the Governor’s residence, a place of worship, a police station and is now a museum. The Seven Arches Museum is also a place to visit, even just to see the building. Built in the 19th century as a Danish residence, the building features seven arches to support the staircase. It continues to be a residence as well as museum filled with West Indian Mahogany furniture and other antiques. For art lovers, the Camille Pissarro Gallery will be of interest. The “Father of French Impressionism”, Pissarro was born and raised in Charlotte Amalie. This building is his childhood home and has now an art gallery featuring art from dozens of painters including himself.

A great place to stay when heading to Charlotte Amalie is in one these canvas eco-cottages on Water Island, just across from Charlotte Amalie. The cottages are a new and unique approach to Caribbean vacationing, and are a mix between camping and a hotel room. The cottages gives you vacation rental style comforts – electricity, bug screens, comfortable beds and clean linens while allowing you to feel close to nature. The cabins have stunning views out over the bays, and you can watch the sun go down while lying in a hammock.

If you’re heading to the British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda is the place to be. Virgin Gorda is a favorite among travelers due to its tranquil settings, quiet coves and inlets and natural beauty. The island is the third largest of the British Virgin Islands and measures eight and a half square miles. The main town on Virgin Gorda is Spanish Town which is situated on the southwestern part of the island. Spanish Town is also known as The Valley and offers numerous shopping options. It also is home to Yacht Harbor Marina where you can watch or partake in the many daily sailing activities.

One of the most interesting attractions on Virgin Gorda is the unusual geologic formation known as ‘The Baths’. At The Baths, large granite boulders lay piled on the beach, indicating the island’s volcanic beginnings. These boulders form scenic grottos that are open to the sea. The Baths is a great place for photographs, and always provides a lot of fun for kids.

The Copper Mine National Park is also a must-see attraction on Virgin Gorda, as Virgin Gorda is where copper was first discovered! The National Park contains the ruins of an abandoned 19th century copper mine. When the British took control of the islands, the copper mine was constructed and its first shaft was sunk in 1838. However 24 years later the mine was abandoned and never reopened. What remains is the engine house, the main building and parts of the original stack. If anything, the area is one of beauty and provides some wonderful photo opportunities.

Of course if you’re spending a week or two here, you’re going to want somewhere to stay. South Sound Luxury Waterfront Villa in Spanish Town is the perfect place to spend your vacation. Boasting six bedrooms and sleeping 16 people, this house is perfect for the extended family! This very special waterfront villa has its own private peninsula and sits at the end of Mattie Point. It has water on three sides, a horizon edge pool overlooking South Sound, a waterside dock for the boat with an outdoor freshwater shower to hose off all that sand and a dinghy and three kayaks to get out to the reef for some snorkeling.

Aside from all the attractions unique to each island, like any island holiday, you can plan for plenty of beach time. The islands are a water lover’s paradise. You can snorkel, scuba dive, windsurf, go sailing, fishing, para-sailing, kayaking, canoeing, take a day trip on a chartered boat and of course swim. The beach is inviting for building sandcastles and lying in the sun, especially with a good book!

The Virgin Islands could certainly be defined as paradise! So what are you waiting for, get over there and check it out!

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