The busiest of the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas has lots of activities to keep visitors busy. Most of these are focused on picture-perfect beaches and clear blue water. Sportfishing enthusiasts, divers, snorkelers and sailors are all drawn here to enjoy the sparkling sea and white sand. On shore there’s a rich history to explore from the original Ciboney settlers as early as 1500 BC through the Danish colonial period and later acquisition by the United States in 1917 for 20 million in gold. Below are the highlights of our week of exploring.
We dove one day with St. Thomas Dive Club. We were asked where we wanted to dive, but not really knowing the sites we deferred to the captain who picked the point of Buck Island for the first spot followed by Navy Barges. As a dive site, Buck Island was average for the Caribbean with a modest number of fish, a few lobsters, fairly healthy-looking coral and one ray. During WWII, there was no time to build housing for troops stationed in the area. The Navy brought down barges to house them. After the war, these barges became an eyesore, and were sunk, creating an artificial reef. The dive site now known as The Barges had some nice swim-throughs. Seeing sea life from this perspective, inside the framework of the barge itself is always interesting. On this dive, we saw turtles, a Southern Stingray, lots of fish and some interesting urchins and other small creatures like crabs and Christmas Tree worms. The staff of St. Thomas Dive Club were super-friendly, from the young lady in the office who booked the trip to the captain and the instructor who were on the boat. We appreciated having a small group with more personal attention. With four certified advanced divers and the instructor, it made for a nice relaxing trip.
St. Thomas Diving Club
Bolongo Bay, St. Thomas
There were far too many beaches to explore in our short time on St. Thomas, but below are the ones we did visit. All beaches on St. Thomas are public.
Coki Beach is in the northeast, next to Coral World. The snorkeling here is great, and there is one restaurant/bar, a food truck and a smoothie shop if you get hungry. Looking out from the beach is a wonderful view of Thatch Cay. The water here was some of the bluest we’d seen.
On the North Shore, Magen’s Bay sits between two mountains. It’s hugely popular, and often crowded. We got lucky, and had a relatively quiet visit. It was Sunday, and there were lots of local folks celebrating birthdays and other occasions in the covered areas with picnic tables and grills. The beach is a mile-long, relatively narrow crescent of white sand, and the water is very calm, so it’s perfect for swimming. There’s not much to offer in the way of snorkeling though. There’s a nature trail, a snack bar, shower facilities and a small shop. The entry fee is $4 for visitors.
The beach in front of Marriott’s Frenchman’s Reef, known as Morningstar or Frenchman’s Bay Beach is lovely, but crowded. There’s free parking at the far end. As far as amenities, sometimes you’ve got to pay a premium for location. There is a shack that rents chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, paddle-boards and floats if you are not a registered guest. If you are, use of these is included in the $35 daily resort fee. The view is absolutely beautiful. There are some small waves and a little bit of an undertow at times. Food at Coco Joe’s, right on the beach, is adequate if overpriced. We enjoyed the ceviche and fish tacos, but it hurt to pay $7 for a Red Stripe…really we should have asked I guess. There is also a beach bar, the Sand Bar with drinks and snacks.
Hull Bay is on the north shore, west of Magen’s Bay. It’s small, but surfers come here for the sometimes big waves. It’s quiet and secluded and totally gorgeous, with lots of shade.
Right near the airport and just off a main road is Brewer’s Bay. This beach is wider than many, with calm water and more pretty views. When we were there, several food trucks were parked, offering patties, burgers, fish sandwiches, snacks and drinks. The fish sandwich we had hit the spot, and the music was great too. There were a number of local families enjoying the morning, games of dominoes being played and kids splashing in the gentle waves.
Day Trip to St. John
Another of the US Virgin Islands, St. John is a short ferry ride away from St. Thomas. Most of this small island has been wisely designated a National Park, so it feels quite natural, more pristine than its busy neighbor. More details on St. John in an upcoming post.
Downtown Historical Walk
There’s usually one day during a week’s beach vacation that you want to do something non-beachy. In St. Thomas it’s best to aim for a day the cruise ships aren’t in town, or aim for strolling later in the day to avoid the crowds. The tourist guide had a good DIY walking tour which we followed and then wandered from. This post will give you all the details.
Island Hopping to the BVI
There are a multitude of operators offering day trips to the British Virgin Islands. Most itineraries are pretty similar. We had a very enjoyable day with Breakaway Charters, based in St. John. The most popular itinerary begins with a stop at Virgin Gorda, known for “the Baths.” These unusual rock formations are batholiths, huge boulders of igneous intrusive rock that show evidence of the island’s volcanic nature. It’s an extremely popular tourist spot, but we had a relatively quiet walk through the nature trail that circles the area, snapping pictures and scrambling up and down the rocks.
Our walk was followed by lunch at Pusser’s on Marina Cay, an 8-acre tropical paradise with a storied history. It was uninhabited until 1937 when author Robb White and his wife Rodie arrived as newlyweds to settle there. They built their own house, carved out a cistern from the rock, and had some adventures, which White wrote several books about. They lost the island around the same time he was called to serve the war effort, as the British government had never really given them permission or license to be there. Pusser’s is the famous British rum of the Royal Navy. From 1650 all the way up until 1970 seamen were issued a “tot” of Pusser’s rum, with a double ration before and after big battles. This was the highlight of the day for many sailors, and helped them through what was long a rough and difficult existence. The meal at Pusser’s was delicious, though quite pricey. Especially tasty was the Caribbean lobster with a Baby Shrimp salad.
The next stop was snorkeling at one of the nearby cays. The snorkeling was very good, even though the weather had turned overcast and drizzly. The fog hanging over the islands did make for a mysterious atmosphere. The last stop of the day was the island of Jost Van Dyke and a visit to the famous Soggy Dollar Bar. The bar is appropriately named because White Bay does not have a dock, so anyone who visits the beach here must jump in and swim/wade to shore. Behind the bar there is a line with clothes-pinned money drying out. The Soggy Dollar is also home to the infamous Caribbean cocktail, the Painkiller. The recipe, from the Pusser’s website, is below:
2 ozs Pusser’s Rum
4 ozs pineapple juice
1 oz orange juice
1 oz cream of coconut
Fill a big glass or goblet with ice and add the ingredients. To mix, pour once or twice back and forth into another glass. Grate fresh nutmeg on top and enjoy this most delightful of tropical drinks.