This travel piece was fun to write, or should I say research and write. It would have been nice to do the research on St. Thomas, but alas that is not often possible.
Picture an island with over 40 beaches, surrounded by coral reefs and water teeming with over 500 species of fish, as well as moray eels, octopus, leatherback turtles—and that’s only the beginning.
What is there to do in St. Thomas? Plenty—shopping, dining, and more. But since you’ll be surrounded by water, make sure you schedule plenty of water activities into your visit.
Getting Your Bearings
St. Thomas is one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The capital, Charlotte Amalie, is located on St. Thomas. St. Croix and St. Thomas are the two other large islands, and about 50 smaller islands and cays are also part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Another series of nearby islands, including Tortola and Anegada are British territories.
A Little History
Christopher Columbus spotted St. Thomas in 1493. At that time, it was home to several indigenous groups—the Ciboney, Taino, Arawak, and Carib. The 17th century saw it being colonized by the Dutch and then the Danes. The island became a chief producer of sugar after slavery was introduced in 1673. During the Napoleonic Wars, the island benefited by remaining neutral, thus establishing itself as a major trading port in the western hemisphere.
Sadly, the colony also had the largest slaving port. As sugar prices began to fall in the 19th century, the colony operated at a loss. Slavery was abolished on the island in 1848.
In 1917, the United States paid $25 million for St. Thomas and two other islands and used them for a naval base.
Currently around 52,000 people call St. Thomas home. Tourist is its largest industry, and rum a major export. The population is limited because St. Thomas has limited drinking water. Desalination, rainwater, and barges of water brought from Puerto Rico are the primary sources of fresh water.
The main language is English, although you can hear French or Spanish in certain areas. Over 75 percent of the inhabitants have African ancestors.
Although the climate is considered tropical, average high temperatures from June through October are around 90 Fahrenheit, and even those are tempered by the ocean breeze. Average lows are in the 70s all year.
- The water around St. Thomas is warm enough for you to swim all year round, with average temperatures of 79 January to April and then 84 the rest of the year.
- The rainy season is August through November, with averages of 12-14 inches each month. Even then, rains are often short-lived.
- Hurricane and tropical storm season is June through November, with the highest risk of a hurricane being August through October.
We suggest you pack a light jacket or sweatshirt for evening strolls on the beach.
The Sky Ride at Paradise Point
To get your bearings, we recommend you find time to take the Sky Ride. You will find it located across from the cruise ship dock at Havensight. The trams take you from the Havensight area to Paradise Point up 700 feet above sea level. Yes, it is touristy, but the view is gorgeous, and you can pick up some locally made items at the 11 shops, have a snack, or enjoy a Bailey’s Bushwacker.
Coral World Ocean Park
Do you want to kayak with dolphins, encounter sea lions, or meet and greet some sharks? That and more are available at Ocean World Ocean Park. You have 5 acres to explore and could easily make this an all-day event.
The Beach Scene
Since St. Thomas has over 40 beaches, you could spend your entire time on St. Thomas working on your tan.
Head out to Magens Bay if you want to be able to say that you hung out with tourists on a crowded beach. The beach is beautiful but overcrowded, and the water is great for swimming but not snorkeling. With so many options, I suggest you head someplace less crowded.
If you go, you should know that if you are exploring and spot signs to Little Magens Bay, you will find a beach with fewer people wearing fewer clothes. Little Magens is a clothing-optional beach, so if that’s not your thing or you have kids in tow, steer clear.
Another crowded beach on the northside, Coki Point, offers many more water activities. Swimming and snorkeling are excellent. Buy some fish food from a vendor before you snorkel. That way you are guaranteed to have some underwater visitors.
Grand Beach is another gorgeous northside beach with plenty of water activities. Plus, it is close to Coral World, if you want to finish off your day with a stroll on the beach.
Windsurfers like Sapphire Beach, another large and safe family beach. Bring your snorkeling gear or rent some to explore the reef. If you’re hungry, Sapphire Beach Resort and Marina are right next doors.
If you are looking for a beach dotted with palm trees, calm water, and a gorgeous view, check out Secret Harbour. The snorkeling here is some of the best you will find on St. Thomas.
The hidden gem of the northside beaches is Lindquist Beach. You might have seen this beach as it is often used as a backdrop in movies and commercials. Many of the Corona Beer commercials have reportedly been filmed there.
South and West Coach Beaches
Morning Star, or Frenchman’s Bay Beach, Limetree Beach, Brewers Bay, and Lindbergh Beach are all pretty beaches, but snorkeling is not good, and there are plenty of other places to explore. Lindbergh is used to stage political rallies and Carnival parties.
You could spend your entire time in St. Thomas diving; there are that many spots. Dives range from those for beginners to those only experienced divers should experience. We have highlighted 11 popular spots, starting with those for beginning divers.
This spot, located on the northeastern coast, is popular for both scuba diving and snorkeling due to its clear and calm water. This is a beach entry spot for those who want to avoid surface swimming. If you are just starting out, Coki is a good choice. More experienced divers head out to the two reefs in 40 to 50 feet of water.
If you are a beginner, head to the southwestern part of the cay. There you will find calm water and coral reefs at depths of 30 to 60 feet. Along with reef fish, you might find yourself swimming with Spanish mackerel and tarpons.
Only experienced divers should swim on the eastern side of Congo Cay due to the strong currents.
Cow and Calf Rocks
The Rocks are another site popular with both experienced and introductory divers. Experienced divers like it because of the variety and number of canyons, tunnels, pass through arches, as well as the abundance of marine life and coral. Beginners come here because of the clear water and moderate depth. This site is often used for certification dives.
This site is not often visited, which is a shame. You can dive in “the cathedral” there, so named because when you are inside the underwater chamber and look up, you will see sunlight streaming in. Best of all, it is suited for beginners.
The four sites in this cay range in depth from 15 to 70 feet. Because of that, this is another site often used for certification dives. The coral on the ocean floor is its most impressive feature.
If you have limited experience diving, you might want to learn from the spots listed above. For more experienced divers, we recommend these.
You can find plenty of sea life in the rock formations that are in 20 to 80 feet of water. The strong currents are why beginners should not try Carval Rock. It’s a shame because this is where you will find “The Cut,” which is a passage through the rocks. On the east end is where you have a straight drop of 60 feet!
If you are feeling confident in your diving skills, you might want to check out this site. You don’t have to worry about bad weather because boats only take trips here when the weather is nice. The dive is worth it because of the rock spires that rise out of the Ocean floor. Their tip is about 40 feet down. Here are you are likely to see some octopus or green morays hiding in the nooks and crannies of the rocks.
The strong current is why this spot on the western side of the island is best for experienced divers.
Many ships found their final resting place on the ocean floor around St. Thomas. Unfortunately, many of the best sites are for more experienced divers. The ship here is a transport ship that was deliberately sunk. It sits in 75-foot-deep water, has numerous holes, and good coral growth. The currents are strong, so beginners should not attempt this dive.
The WIT Concrete Wreck is a deep wreck that sits upright 100 feet below water. You can dive into it, but since it is intact, you would need light. This is one to try after you have had penetration training.
Wreck of the General Rogers
The General Rogers was a Coast Guard tender that is now resting 75 feet underwater. Lots of coral and sponges here, which is great since it was sunk in the 1980s to create an artificial reef. The site is also popular for nighttime diving. Unfortunately, the current is too strong for beginners.
This short list highlights some of the more popular dive spots. However, Dive Centers can point you to even more. You can find more than a dozen. Ask around, or check out some of the diving discussion boards, such as Scubaboard.
If you want to stay above water, you have plenty of options, fishing being one of them. The options are nearly as unlimited as the fish. Inshore fishing can net you Barracuda, Kingfish, Tarpon, or Yellowtail Snapper. Try offshore fishing if you want to catch Mahi-Mahi (also known as Dolphin Fish), Marlin, Sailfish, or Allison Tuna, or Wahoo.
Most of those fish are in season all year—your charter operators will be able to let you know what you are most likely to catch when you climb on board.
Conch and Lobster are two non-fish sea life you can catch. There are size and number limits that you must observe.
You can find a 2-hour charter, but half-day trips are the most common. Morning trips usually start around eight so that the boat can return for the afternoon trip. Short trips are generally inshore fishing.
You can also find 6-hour, 8-hour, and 10-hour trips. If you want to catch Marlin, you will be taking the 10-hour boat ride.
Not everything you catch is yours. Most boats have weight limits, and anything you catch over the limit stays with them. Some restaurants will be happy to cook your catch, so be sure to ask your captain if that is something you are interested in.
Prices are listed on websites and vary greatly. If a price is much lower than others, ask if the fuel is included. To make their prices look more affordable, some operators add it as a surcharge.
If you can’t get enough of fishing, you can plan your trip around the tournaments.
- Memorial Day Tournament in May
- Bastille Day Kingfish Tournament in July
- Wahoo Windup Tournament in November
- USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament in August
Speaking of fish, finding places to eat will be easy because the choices are plentiful. However, one of our favorites you can only get to by boat. Pizza Pi serves New York-style pizza on board of a thirty-seven-foot aluminum yacht. Combine a snorkeling cruise with the best pizza in the Caribbean or take a sunset cruise. Their website lists their featured partners.
That’s Only the Beginning
St. Thomas has much more to offer both in the water and on shore. Highlights on land include Blackbeard’s Castle, Fort Christian, The 99 Steps, Drake’s Seat, and so much more. Let’s not forget the golf courses, botanical gardens, and shopping. Chances are that when you leave St. Thomas, you will start planning your trip back.