Awhile back, I wrote a post describing my decision to leave Charleston, SC to move to a tropical island, and how I chose between Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.

At that point (the choosing point,) it was a blind decision – although I’d previously lived on the Big Island of Hawaii, I had never been to Oahu or Maui (the two Hawaiian islands I was considering,) or the Virgin Islands.

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The picturesque Magen’s Bay on St Thomas

But now I’ve lived on both Oahu and Maui, and a couple of months ago I went adventuring through the US Virgin Islands of St Thomas and St John, so I thought I’d do an “update” post now that I can actually compare them first-hand.

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Hull Bay on St Thomas

Although they’re all tropical islands, they look, smell, and feel completely different (which makes sense, considering that the two island groups are located thousands of miles apart.) As I made the long journey from my tropical paradise (Maui) to that particular Caribbean tropical paradise (the USVI,) I was a tiny bit nervous that I might get there and start second-guessing my choice of “home-base” paradises, but from the moment I stepped off the plane on St Thomas I felt a sense of relief that grew stronger with each day that I spent there. I chose the right (for me) Paradise.

 Sure, the beaches are beautiful and the water crystal-clear – but it’s same-same in Hawaii, and here we can also play on mountains and jump into waterfall pools all day before heading down to the beach for sunset. And although it’s rather like comparing different varieties of mangoes, I’d say that the Hawaiian beaches are a tad more beautiful and have way more variety (disclaimer: I may be biased on the beautiful part. But the variety part is a fact.) Hawaii has way more variety in every way, from culture to food to beaches to landscape to climate to ecosystems… etc.

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Cruz Bay on St John


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Red Hook is a ferry port on St Thomas, as well as a popular “bar-hopping” spot for both tourists and locals

Two of the most significant
differences between the Hawaiian
Islands and the US Virgin
Islands (that matter to me) are:

  1. Mountains (or, rather, the lack of)
  2.   Safety

Although very hilly, the US Virgin Islands have no (what I would consider) “mountains,” so limited hiking options. St. Thomas has no hiking whatsoever, and no real non-water-related outdoor activities. 60% of St John is made up of National Park, so it is significantly more natural and untouched than St Thomas and does have some beautiful hiking, but overall, compared to Hawaii, hiking in the USVI is very underwhelming.

Safety is a pretty significant issue, as various locals told me time after time during my stay. Charlotte Amalie (on St Thomas) is a huge cruise ship port, but the cruise ships come in for the day and leave by dark, and even the locals don’t consider it safe to go out after dark. (There are some exceptions – if you want to go out at night, Red Hook is a great option!) When my friends and I island-hop in Hawaii, we typically either car camp or beach camp at night. Neither is a safe option in the USVI (seriously. Don’t try it.)

Looking for THE BEST place for a budget traveler to stay on St Thomas? Visit Rhoda’s Guest House, a safe, decently priced hostel in a convenient location run by an awesome community of people.

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Old Sugar Mill ruins at Caneel Bay on St. John

Honestly, one of the biggest “perks” to visiting the US Virgin Islands over other tropical destinations like Hawaii (if you’re a budget traveler) was probably the cheap booze. But that is quickly offset by the lack of affordable lodging. Regardless, if this is high on your “importance” list for a vacation destination (or place to live,) it’s worth noting 🙂

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View from a hiking trail above Salomon Bay on St John

I absolutely loved visiting the US Virgin Islands of St Thomas and St John, met some great people, had a lot of fun, and was captivated by the islands’ beauty and unique culture and how it differs from Hawaii (and would like to go back some day,) but if I had to make that choice between living in the Virgins and Hawaii again every day for the rest of my life, I would pick Hawaii every time – even on the bad days, or those rare stretches of days when the clouds come out and the sky cries and I worry that the island is broken.

Now. Puerto Rico? That’s a different matter entirely. Although Maui still has me absolutely bewitched, I definitely left a bit of my heart there, tucked away deep in the rainforest with the coquis and the iguanas and the intoxicating fragrance of the wild places.

Note: This is purely my opinion. My absolute favorite thing is to get out and explore and get lost in The Wilds, both at home and when traveling. That is what I look for and what is important to me in a location rather than resorts or the shopping/clubbing/nightlife scene, which is the reasoning behind why I like Maui (and all of Hawaii) so much better than the USVI. I am sure that there are heaps of people in the world who would choose the US Virgins over Hawaii, for either visiting or living, and their choices/opinions are just as valid as my own 🙂 If you’re one of those folks, I’d love to hear your experience(s) to view the islands through your eyes!

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Ending a perfect day spent hiking on St John by catching sunset at Caneel Bay before catching the ferry back to St Thomas.