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US Virgin Islands: Introduction

Former stamping grounds of some of history's most famous seafarers, the Virgin Islands are now invaded by thousands of visitors who arrive daily by cruise ship and plane from Miami and Puerto Rico. These green, hilly islands, some governed by the United States and some by Great Britain, number about 100 in all. Most are tiny and virtually uninhabited, except for a few birds or an adventurous boating party stopping off for a little snorkeling or swimming. For the ultimate tropical getaway, it's possible to rent an entire island for yourself.

Most Virgin Islands natives are descendants of African slaves who worked the sugar-cane plantations. In recent years, the local population has swelled with an influx of "down islanders" -- people from other Caribbean islands. Many Puerto Ricans have also come here (it's only 30 min. by air); they are joined by a wide cross section of mainland Americans, including well-heeled yachties and young expats who've become addicted to the limin' lifestyle. The old ways of the islands are all but gone in bustling St. Thomas and St. Croix, but they may still be found in St. John and some pockets of the British Virgins, especially on laid-back Virgin Gorda. Below, you'll find the highlights of this quintessential vacation paradise.

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