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Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands
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Political regions of the Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands are the western island group of the Leeward Islands, which are the northern part of the Lesser Antilles, and form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Politically, the eastern islands form the British Virgin Islands and the western ones form the Virgin Islands of the United States. The British Virgin Islands is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom comprising approximately 60 islands and cays including Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is one of five inhabited insular areas of the United States, along with American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. The territory comprises a number of islands including St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island.

The Virgin Passage separates the American Virgin Islands from the so-called Spanish Virgin Islands of Vieques and Culebra, which are part of Puerto Rico. The United States dollar is the official currency on both the British and American Virgin Islands as well as the Spanish/Puerto Rican Virgin Islands.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
  • Traffic control 3
  • Largest islands 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The locations of the US and UK Virgin Islands
Rigobert Bonne: Map of the Virgin Islands, 1780

Christopher Columbus named the islands after Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins (), shortened to the Virgins (las Vírgenes). The official name of the British territory is the Virgin Islands, and the official name of the U.S. territory is the Virgin Islands of the United States. In practice, the two island groups are almost universally referred to as the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


The Virgin Islands were originally inhabited by the Arawak, Carib, and Cermic, all of whom are thought to have perished during the colonial period due to enslavement, foreign disease, and mass extermination brought by European colonists.

European colonists later settled here and established sugar plantations, at least one tobacco plantation, and purchased slaves acquired from Africa. The plantations are gone, but the descendants of the slaves remain the bulk of the population, sharing a common African-Caribbean heritage with the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean.

In 1916 and 1917, Denmark and the U.S., respectively, ratified a treaty in which Denmark sold the Danish West Indies to the United States of America for $25 million in gold.

In the 1990s a Puerto Rican tourism campaign renamed the Passage Islands as the Spanish Virgin Islands, though they are seldom identified as such on maps and atlases. They are part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, located east of the main island of Puerto Rico. They are closer to St. Thomas than St. Thomas is to St. Croix.

Traffic control

Motor vehicles are driven on the left-hand side of the road in both the British and the U.S. Virgin Islands, although the steering wheels on most cars are located on the left side (as is the norm for drive-on-the-right localities). Only on the so-called Spanish Virgin Islands are vehicles driven on the right-hand side of the road.

Largest islands

Rank Island Area (km²) Area (sq mi) Population (2010) Administration
1 Saint Croix 214 km² 82 sq mi 50,601 U.S. Virgin Islands
2 Vieques (not historically considered part of the Virgin Islands) 135 km² 52 sq mi 9,301 Puerto Rico
3 Saint Thomas 80.91 km² 31.23 sq mi 51,634 U.S. Virgin Islands
4 Tortola 55.7 km² 21.5 sq mi 23,908
5 Saint John 51 km² 19.6 sq mi 4,170 U.S. Virgin Islands
6 Anegada 38 km² 15 sq mi 200
7 Culebra (not historically considered part of the Virgin Islands) 30.1 km² 11 sq mi 1,818 Puerto Rico
8 Virgin Gorda 21 km² 8 sq mi 3,000

See also


  • Colin Thomas J.,William Albert Allard,Cary Wolinsky, "Paradise Comes of age:The U.S. Virgin Islands",National Geographic, February 1981, vol.159,no.2, pp.225-243 (16 pictures.

External links

  • Government of the British Virgin Islands
  • U.S. Virgin Islands from the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs
  • University of the Virgin Islands materials in the Digital Library of the Caribbean

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