Welcome to St. Thomas!
Sightseeing, Shopping, The Beaches & More
From high on top of St. Thomas, seeing the beautiful view to the sea..
This is an island on island time, a carnival of a lifestyle in the heart of the Caribbean.
St. Thomas, the most visited of the three US Virgin Islands, is a "no hurries, mon" kind of place where the pace of life is slow but is also energized by its beautiful surroundings. High hills drop down to a blue sea that provides opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving, fishing, sailing and visiting neighboring St. John and the breathtaking British Virgin Islands.
Then again, one could do nothing except lay on a beach or by the pool, drink Painkillers, Bushwhackers and rum punches and let the time pass at its leisure.
Life here is breezy and easy, especially on Coki Beach.
So intoxicating are those days that tourists find themselves asking the questions that are St. Thomas: Is is always this hot? Do all the drinks contain that much rum? Did (local resident) Kenny Chesney really get implants in his breasts? AND his calfs?
St. Thomas has its quirks, which makes it kind of Caribbean crazy. People move slowly but drive quickly. And they drive on the left side of the road, though the steering wheel is also on the left. Hitchhikers flag rides not by holding up a thumb – that's an offensive gesture - but by pointing in the direction they are headed.
It's perfectly acceptable – and legal – to travel in taxis and walk the streets with a rum (or any other) drink in hand. The "roadie" is not just for Southerners; here, it's a way of life.
There's even a Bridge to Nowhere and Sarah Palin had nothing to do with it.
This article explores St. Thomas in depth, from activities to adventures, and island life in general. Bars and nightlife are covered here. For a look at all the bars of the BVIs, click here.
St. Thomas Essentials – Arriving, Driving, Transportation
The St. Thomas Harbor looking toward Charlotte Amaile.
The St. Thomas airport is dominated by American Airlines and the ground transportation is dominated by vans that must fill up with passengers before departing. Costs to main areas of town are as follows, plus $2 per bag (put purses, computers and other small bags on the lap to save extra fees): Charlotte Amalie, $7, Frenchman's Reef (Marriott): $10, Red Hook: $15.
Make a note that upon departing St. Thomas customs DOES NOT ALLOW BOTTLES IN CHECKED BAGGAGE so that rum or even spices that were purchased must be checked. There are not signs alerting passengers to this policy and many a traveler has had to high-tail it back to the check-in counter, then re-enter customs and go through security for a second time in order to be sure that precious cargo gets home.
Even for those who intend to visit just St. Thomas and/or St. John, it is advisable to bring a passport. It's easier at the airport and if a sudden chance pops up to visit Tortola or any of the other destinations of the neighboring British Virgin Islands, then it makes it possible to take advantage of this great opportunity.
Taxis are readily available throughout the island but budget travelers should keep an eye out for the open-air covered trucks, which charge just $2 for any destination. Some taxis look like this too, so just ask.
Like all the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas is a seasonal destination, with peak months in the winter and spring. Some businesses may open only during this high season.
Charlotte Amaile, Safety in St. Thomas & Havensight
The shopping streets in Charlotte Amaile are popular for cruise ship passengers.
St. Thomas is an island and its main city of Charlotte Amalie is port of call for cruise ships, which means it features the kinds of duty-free shops one would expect for an area that caters to cruise ship passengers. This includes shops that sell the island's favorite product – rum (keep reading for more more on this subject).
The stores, however, only stay open as long as the cruise ship passengers are around and they leave at 5. After that, the doors are shut and the workers get the heck out of there, for there is trouble in paradise.
St. Thomas is not a safe place in many places. Oddly, Charlotte Amalie is one of them. Don't be there after dark, plain and simple. It's a shame, because the streets are narrow and pirate-looking, there's a bar with a high level of fun potential called the Green House (although the bartenders are handicapped by the "corporate pour") and about a dozen years ago the place was jumping with bars and restaurants that created a street party atmosphere.
Instead, it's advisable to retreat back to the hotel or a safer area such as Red Hook or Frenchtown.
The Holiday Inn, located across from the ferry terminal, could instead be called the Green Zone. Inside, it's like a compound. It has a gate around the entire property and the elevator only works by inserting a room key. On the plus side, the outside bar is a pretty good place to meet other travelers.
A similar situation exists at the Marriott. It has one of the island's best pools and is located in the intoxicating-sounding Frenchman's Reef. Its bar is also a good place to encounter island encounters with other visitors. But don't go beyond its boundaries at night.
When in St. Thomas, use common sense in these areas. Down in this Banana Republic, things are not always as warm as they seem.
The cruise ships actually dock to the east of Charlotte Amalie in a place called Havensight. There are duty-free shops here, too; the upscale Yacht Heaven Grand shopping area and Buccaneer Mall.
A safe place for shopping and dining well into the night is in Frenchtown (between the airport and Charlotte Amalie, at the Crown Bay Marina).
St. Thomas Sightseeing, Activities and Beaches & Ferries
Coki Beach is mainly for locals not tourists so it's hardly ever crowded.
A palm tree shows the way to the food shack on the beaches of St. Thomas.
Coki Beach is a nice Caribbean treasure – for those who can find it
Such beauty found on and around St. Thomas cannot go unexplored, and there's plenty to see.
Charlotte Amalie offers a historic look at St. Thomas with landmarks such as Blackbeard's Castle, which may the oldest building in the Virgin Islands; 99 steps, one of several "step streets' built by the Danish to navigate the steep hills and the Saturday farmer's market at Market Square, The Visitor's Bureau is across from Emancipation Park.
But this is an island, of course, and as such its real treasures are its beaches and seas. The most famous of those sand spots is Magens Bay Beach, which some publications have crowned as one of the most beautiful in the world. In addition to its natural beauty, there are kayaks for rent and a nature trail. There is a $5 entrance fee and it's where cruise ship passengers go to tan.
Coki Beach, just past Red Hook, is a scenic, calm area that is a favorite of locals and tourists. It is ideal for snorkeling and shore dives. It also hosts one of the island's most popular tourist attractions, Coral World, where people can take a guided helmet dive along a trail and swim with sea lions, among other thrills ($34-100, depending on which of these thrills one wishes to experience).The trick to getting there is staying the course. The road goes through one of the poorest areas on the island and many a tourist has assumed they have lost their way and turned around, missing the beach entirely.
Other public beaches are Sapphire Beach, Morningstar Beach and Lindquist Beach ($3 entry fee).
There is also diving and snorkeling, fishing and boating available from charter companies.
One of the pleasures of being in St. Thomas is not actually being on it. By this, we mean it is an outstanding launch point for the many places within easy cruising distance. Neighboring St. John and it outstanding snorkeling. The Baths of Virgin Gorda. The caves off Norman Island. The variety of Tortola, just to name a few.
For those wild and crazy single people, the Soggy Dollar Bar and Willie T's, two of PubClub.com's World's Best Bars, sit poised in the area, ready to pounce on party seekers. For a look at all the bars of the BVIs, click here.
You can get rum drinks handed to you on the ferry from the bar.
The St. Thomas ferry docks are in Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook (the latter is the one to take to St. John's Cruz Bay, 20 minutes, $6; it can connect through Charlotte Alamie for $11). Ferrys to Tortola of the British Virgin Islands are $30 each way, plus a $5 departure tax (passport required for entry into the BVIs). There are also ferries to St. Croix ($90, 90 minutes R/T), and Puerto Rico ($100 R/T, 2 hours). One particular pleasing aspect of the ferrys is that out of Charlotte Amalie, the adjacent bar will hand rum drinks over its balcony directly into one's hands on the boat before departure ($7). Yes, you are in the islands, mon!
Chartered boats are available for the other adventures described above.
Finally, this is hardly a ski resort but there is a lift. It's called Skyride and it goes from Havensight Mall to Paradise Point, providing a spectacular view of practically the entire Virgin Islands, US and British. It's $19 R/T for the ride, but the road to the top is free and there is a bar and restaurant at the summit.