The Virgin Islands are not a budget destination. Cost-conscious travelers can find ways to keep costs moderate, but the baseline is high. If you’re looking for a cheap vacation, the Virgin Islands are not for you.
It’s a good idea for visitors to think about what elements of your vacation matter most to you, and budget accordingly. If you love to eat out, don’t pay extra for a room with a kitchen. If you want to get out and explore, opt for a garden view room so you can afford a few extra outings. Travelling as part of a group can also lead to savings since you can split the big-ticket costs of the car rental, villa and excursions like boat rentals.
Airfares vary considerably by season; average round-trip fares from major American cities to St. Thomas and St. Croix range from $200 to $800. A fare below $400 round-trip is a good deal. Fares are typically at least 40 percent higher flying into Beef Island (Tortola). Fares from Europe can easily top $1,100 round-trip.
The best way to find cheap fares is to start with online search engines, though when flying to the BVI it is sometimes more cost-effective to book your ticket from San Juan or other regional hubs separately.
Expect to pay premium fares to travel around Christmas.
There are accommodations for nearly every budget and taste. Room rates vary by island, with the highest rates on St. John, Virgin Gorda and the BVI’s outer islands. Better deals will be found on St. Croix, St. Thomas and Tortola. Prices also vary significantly by season. For example, properties often offer discounts of up to 40 percent in the summer months while hiking prices by as much as double during the much-sought-after Christmas season.
For less than $100 per night (double occupancy) budget travelers can camp or find a private room Airbnb. Rooms in a hotel catering to tourists generally start at $150 per night for basic accommodation, increasing to $300 or more for beachfront or preferred locations. A room at a high-end resort will cost from $250 to $800 per night, depending on season and amenities.
Villas and vacation apartments can offer good value for families, groups or visitors who want to prepare all or some of your own meals. Most villas have 4 or 5 night minimums. There is a huge variety in terms of size, location and quality in the villa market – and therefore a wide cost variation. In general, visitors should plan on between $1,000 and $2,000 per week for a 1-2 bedroom villa, with larger properties renting for $3,000 – $5,000 per week.
Chartering a sailboat is the ultimate Virgin Islands vacation. Charter yachts have sleeping quarters on board, as well as kitchens. Crewed charters come with a full crew, usually a captain, cook and mate, who take care of all the work. Bareboat charters are simply sailboat rentals without a crew. You’re responsible for all the sailing, as well as food preparation.
The high-season cost of a two-cabin bareboat (sleeping up to 6 people) begins at around $4,000 per week. Additional costs to consider are food, insurance, fuel (if the winds are low) and a skipper (from $200 per day.) The average price for a week-long crewed charter is $2,500 per person for a monohull, $3,000 per person for a catamaran, and $4,000 per person for a power yacht. In summer, rates generally go down by 20-30 percent.
Food is pricey in the Virgin Islands, due to the high cost of energy and imported goods. Expect to pay $20-$40 at dinner per entrée at tourist-oriented restaurants. Budget travelers, or those who simply want to explore off the tourist track, will find local, no-frills dinner options in the $12-$25 range. Restaurant breakfast will cost in the range of $8-$15 and lunch from $10-$20 at most establishments. Beers cost $3-$5 at a bar, and expect to pay $6-$8 for a simple mixed drink. Visitors can save on food by preparing some of your own meals, however remember that groceries are not cheap either.
Expect to pay between $50 and $80 per day for a rental car, depending on the type, size and season. Taxi fares depend on the distance, but in general if you are planning to make more than one outing per day it is cheaper to rent a car than to rely on taxis.
The simplest excursion to the beach costs nothing. Pack a lunch, and enjoy paradise from your beach towel. More elaborate outings can be the highlight of your vacation—and quite costly. A seat on a half-day sail costs between $60-$100 per person, while a full-day private charter will generally start at $800 or more for groups of up to 12. A two-tank dive generally costs around $110, with some variation by island and season. A one-hour massage costs $90 and up.
Many hotels tack a 10 percent service charge on their bills, which is distributed among cleaning staff and others. Many restaurants, especially those in the British Virgins, follow suit, tacking a 10-15 percent “service charge” onto bills to be distributed to staff. Be careful to look closely at your restaurant bill before adding an additional tip.
It’s nice to tip someone who helps you with your bags a dollar or so per bag. Taxi drivers can be tipped if you are especially impressed with their service, but a tip is generally not expected.
There is no sales tax in the U.S. or British Virgin Islands, but hotels and guesthouses in each territory levy a government hotel tax on all types of accommodations. The hotel tax is 12.5 percent in the USVI and 10 percent in the BVI.
There is also a $3.75 per day charge on car rentals in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the BVI, visitors are charged a $10 flat fee for a temporary BVI drivers’ license.
The BVI charges a departure tax of $20 at the airport and $15 at sea ports. There is also a $5 environmental levy, paid upon arrival to the BVI.