St. Thomas, USVI

Destination Location

Overview

St. Thomas lies in the easternmost part of the Greater Antilles between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and is closely neighboured by three other U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix, St. John and Water Island. This 51-square-kilometre land mass is often considered to be the most sophisticated of the four islands, yet still maintains all the trademark features of an authentic Caribbean destination. The main city on St. Thomas and capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands is Charlotte Amalie which boasts some of the oldest architecture in the Western Hemisphere.

Discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, who left soon after to search for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas’ shores were left unguarded for pirates to invade – most notably by the infamous Captain Blackbeard – for almost 200 years before the Danish West India Company was commissioned to begin trading on St. Thomas. While the economy was slow to flourish, it eventually shifted when St. Thomas became a free port in 1815 and importing houses from America and all over Europe established thriving commercial trade businesses. The United States bought St. Thomas from Denmark in 1917.

Now a very popular cruise ship port of call, legends from the time of pirates linger, conjuring images of swashbuckling captains and raucous buccaneers for modern-day visitors. Charlotte Amalie is a bustling town with buildings that date as far back as 1680. Fort Christian is the oldest structure in the Virgin Islands and a U.S. national landmark. St. Thomas Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere – its sand floors a legacy of Sephardic traditions. Above the streets of Charlotte Amalie is Blackbeard’s Castle, a looming watchtower where the notorious pirate used to watch for ships that tried to enter the harbor. Today it’s a popular visitor destination complete with a hotel and restaurant.

Here you’ll find plenty of modern amenities, a world-class golf course, flawless beaches, fantastic nightlife and the second-largest carnival cultural celebration in the Caribbean. With calypso shows, food fairs, pageants and parades, this annual post-Easter celebration is a must-see if distinctive Caribbean memories are what you’re looking for.

For panoramic views of the coast and the city that are guaranteed to take your breath away, you’ll enjoy the St. Thomas Skyride which takes you 700 feet above Charlotte Amalie. Or if you are intent on getting a good workout, try climbing the famous 99 steps of Charlotte Amalie. Built by the Danes as a way to navigate the steep hills above the town, they’re actually a great way to view the beauty of St. Thomas. Bear in mind though – there are actually 103 steps! Fun for the whole family awaits at Coral World Ocean Park. Here, you can swim with sea lions, visit the Undersea Observatory that is home to turtles, sharks and stingrays, and check out the 21 aquariums of the Marine Gardens.

WestJet is pleased to offer service to this destination through our code-share agreement with our great airline partners.

Airport served by: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands (STT)

Destination basics

The U.S. Virgin Islands exist in a perpetual summer climate, with no significant seasonal changes and no real rainy season; the limited amount of rainfall that does occur happens in August through November and occasionally in May.

January – which is considered St. Thomas’ coolest month – has average high temperatures of 29 C and average lows of 22 C which contrast only slightly from average highs of 32 C and average lows of 26 C in July, the hottest month. The variation between the warmest day of the year and the coolest day is typically only about 10 C.

 

Weather chart

St. Thomas is the busiest of the three United States Virgin Islands. With 28 square miles of lush green hills and sandy beaches, St. Thomas and the nearby island of St. John see nearly 1.7 million visitors a year, far more than their sister island of St. Croix.

Charlotte Amalie

The island's main town, Charlotte Amalie, bustles like any small city with vacationers shopping and residents heading off to work. Traffic can pile up along the waterfront Route 30, called Veterans Drive, and the city's main parking lot adjacent to Fort Christian is often filled. Despite the surface buzz, it is easy to find quiet pockets away from Charlotte Amalie and other busy areas.

The island, a Danish colony until the Unites States bought it in 1917, is home to just over 51,000 people. Many residents work in the tourism industry, at businesses dependent on the tourism industry or for the local government.

The accommodations options are many. Luxury hotels and condominium complexes line the beaches on the island's eastern end. Historic hotels and inns are tucked into Charlotte Amalie's back streets. Cozy guest houses dot the hills above Charlotte Amalie Harbor and vacation villas pepper many exclusive residential neighborhoods. 

West End
Hotel visitors and guests heading for a sailboat charter usually arrive at the modern Cyril E. King Airport, located at the western end of the island. Most cruise ship passengers arrive at the Havensight Cruise Ship Dock, but a few ships tie up in Crown Bay or anchor out in Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Intrepid sorts sail in on their own boats.

Shop till you drop is the motto for many visitors to St. Thomas. While shopping in all the United States Virgin Islands is duty free, it pays to check prices before you leave home to make sure you cannot buy items cheaper from your local discount store. Merchants tout deals on jewelry, liquor, electronic equipment, camera, linens, and more. United States residents may bring in USD 1,200 worth of goods. All items made in the territory, including art, are exempt from the total.

While Charlotte Amalie is the main shopping area, several shopping areas with tourist-oriented shops are now spread out all across the island. Havensight Mall has dozens of shops, some branches of Charlotte Amalie stores. Most hotels also have a few shops perfect for picking up resort wear and souvenirs.

Water Island
This island offers a vast variety of activities. Spend the day snorkeling, sunning or snoozing at a crystal clear cove ringed with a white sandy beach and palm trees, head down to the briny deep on a Scuba excursion, set sail to an offshore island, play a round at Mahogany Run Golf Course, or visit any of the historic sites in the main town of Charlotte Amalie and around the island.

Numerous tour and water-oriented excursions are popular with hotel guests as well as cruise ship passengers. Bookings may be made on board ship or at hotel excursion desks, but visitors often opt to go it alone.

Northside
A trip around the island with a taxi driver or in your rental car should include stops at the palm-fringed Magens Bay Beach, the island's most popular. You will find changing rooms, water sports rentals, and restaurants in addition to clear blue water and lovely white sand. As you travel around the island, you will see gorgeous views at nearly every turn in the road. Drake's Seat, where Sir Francis Drake reportedly checked on his fleet, and the busy Mountain Top are especially popular viewpoints.

Keep in mind that addresses here can best be described as a mish mash. Major roads have route numbers marked on the maps, but residents seldom know those numbers so you cannot depend on them for map-based directions. Instead, they may know the common name, which may or may not be the name used on the map, and may give you directions that tell you to turn left at the big tree. To add to the insanity, the road may also change names several times along a numbered route. Some streets in Charlotte Amalie still bear the old Danish names, but residents usually use their English names. Your best defense is a map, written directions and a smile when you ask for help.

The island's historic attractions should not be ignored. Its colorful history dates back at least several thousand years. The early Indians had disappeared by the time Denmark settled St. Thomas in 1666, but the Danes left their mark in many ways. In Charlotte Amalie, the island's main town and the seat of government, the narrow streets and alleyways are lined with centuries-old brick and stone buildings. Once warehouses filled with molasses, sugar and other goods awaiting export to Europe and shops with family quarters above, those buildings now house offices and shops.

One caveat: St. Thomas has a crime rate similar to other cities. Visitors should take normal precautions. Keep cars and rooms locked and do not walk around at night. Hotels encourage guests to take taxis to and from restaurants in the evenings.

When it comes to entertainment, the offerings are as eclectic as the people who live in St. Thomas. What is fresh and new this season may have left the island by next, but others quickly take their place. The winter season always sees more to do than the summer. For the latest on entertainment events, pick up a copy of St. Thomas This Week, available free at shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions around the island, or check the Thursday edition of the Virgin Islands Daily News. Its weekend section gives a good rundown of who is playing where and when.

Nightlife
Most hotels provide some sort of rather sophisticated entertainment at their bars and restaurants, particularly during the busier winter season. The offerings run toward local artists, some quite good, playing piano, steel pans or guitar.

Hotels occasionally offer West Indian-style events popular with tourists. Bolongo Bay Beach Resort & Villas holds a Wednesday Carnival Night with a steel band, fire eater, limbo show and dinner.

Many restaurants set up entertainment after dinner with offerings that run from sophisticated jazz to very loud rock and roll. Duffy's Love Shack sets the pace for a party hearty atmosphere with its outrageously named drinks and loud music. Located in the Red Hook Shopping Center parking lot, the bar sees huge crowds of youthful folks gather here to mix and mingle. The Greenhouse also attracts a young crowd for nightly music that runs from rock & roll to local music.

Molly Malone's in American Yacht Harbor at Red Hook always has Irish music playing.

Frenchtown is the place to stroll from bar to bar for eclectic late night entertainment. The hot spots seem to come and go, but there is always something happening.

Performances
Reichhold Center for the Arts on the University of the Virgin Islands is the island's only place for major performances. Imported symphonies, ballet, and repertory companies join homegrown theater and dance groups in staging performances.

Pistarkle Theater, in the Tillett Gardens art complex, holds performances throughout the year.

Festivals
Carnival, held every year, is the island's premier event. Thousands of islanders living abroad return home for this event, so make sure to reserve your hotel early if you plan to attend. The event culminates with a parade by troupes and floats of people wearing fanciful costumes.

Other events, such as the St. Thomas Agriculture & Food Fair and the Texas Society Chili Cookoff happen yearly, but many happen only sporadically. Check at your hotel to find out what is happening when you are in town.

Art Exhibits
With little to entertain them in the way of formal events, residents gather at local galleries and shops whenever an artist unveils a new collection. Spots like the Camille Pissarro Gallery are known for these events. Wine, cheese, conversation and a chance to meet the locals are the reasons to attend. Check St. Thomas This Week and the Daily News for announcements.

Sports
Horse racing at Clinton Phipps Racetrack provides gathers a crowd every other Sunday. While the crowd is mostly local, a smattering of tourists also place bets.

School fields and Emile Griffith Park, located along Route 30 in Charlotte Amalie, often see local teams play baseball. Avid fans are always welcome to sit in the stands.

The Rolex Regatta is the island's premier sailboat race with competitors coming from all over the Caribbean. All are welcome to the festivities at the St. Thomas Yacht Club.

There is no shortage of places to eat and drink on St. Thomas. While the major hotels have multiple restaurants that offer everything from burgers to bouillabaisse, most visitors like to venture out a time or two to sample some of the island's fare. Like the cultural stew that makes up St. Thomas, restaurant menus reflect a cross section of cuisines. While many of the dishes might be found on menus at home, others carry a Caribbean influence. Plantains, a banana-like vegetable, often come with your dinner and chutney is the de rigueur condiment. The island's ties to the United States have led many culinary school graduates to head here for stints at the most prestigious restaurants. They demand the best ingredients and create lovely presentations, a culinary aspect that trickles down to less-pricey restaurants.

Aside from fine restaurants, you will find dozens of other more casual dining options scattered around the island. They range from cozy seaside bistros to roadside stands featuring West Indian dishes. The hotels welcome you even if you are not a guest. The style and ambience of the dining and drinking scene varies widely, but by and large, expect things to be informal.

St. Thomas is among the more expensive places to dine out, but not any more so than a big city like New York or London. If you are used to more modest prices, the dinner tab can come as a shock. Since nearly everything is imported, shipping adds to the cost. A 15 to 20 percent tip is expected at the island's restaurants.

Charlotte Amalie
The island's main town serves as its culinary heart. Dozens of bistros welcome cruise ship passengers for lunch. At night, hotel guests and locals fill the tables.

At the upper end of the credit card bill and opposite ends of town, Virgilio's attract well-heeled customers for fine dining in lovely surroundings. Virgilio's, a local hot spot for in-town government officials and professionals, leans toward Northern Italian.

A tad less pricey are spots like the casual Café Amici in A.H. Riise Mall for burgers, salads and sandwiches or Lillian's Caribbean Grill to dine on West Indian fare like kallallo, a spicy okra stew, or local fish and fungi, made or cornmeal and okra.

For budget meals, try Texas Pit BBQ. This take-out stand has three locations in St. Thomas. Gladys's Cafe, in the alleyway shopping area called Royal Dane Mall, dishes up a mixed bag of American and Caribbean food to an equally eclectic clientele.

Hillsides outside Charlotte Amalie
Banana Tree Grille at Bluebeard's Castle Hotel is a hike up from Charlotte Amalie, so take a taxi if you are not staying there. The restaurant dishes up delicious contemporary fare along with its sumptuous view.

Mafolie Restaurant at the Mafolie Hotel is a hot spot for steak and seafood as well as gorgeous views of the Charlotte Amalie Harbor.

Havensight
Havensight is home to numerous restaurants, most catering to the cruise ship crowd that throngs the area every day. Delly Deck in Havensight Mall is an island standby. Serving standard fare like burgers, reubens and fried chicken, it can be one busy place. Across the street at Al Cohen Mall sits Pizza Amore, home to pizza by the slice and huge submarine sandwiches for take out or eating in. For a little nicer ambience, try the Havensight Café in Havensight Mall. The food runs to sandwiches and specialties like bagels and lox.

Frenchtown
Frenchtown, a small community near Charlotte Amalie, is a food connoisseur's paradise. Great restaurants sit cheek and jowl with casual bistros. Bella Blu offers great Austrian fare, as well as a wonderful weekend brunch. The patés are especially good.

Between Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook
A string of hotel-based restaurants on both the north and south coasts serve a wide variety of cuisines in varying settings.

On the south shore and a few miles east of Charlotte Amalie and the Havensight area, the huge Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort and the adjacent Morning Star Beach Resort reign over the restaurant scene. Havana Blue, a lovely seaside restaurant serving Latin-fusion food, is the best of the lot.

Red Hook
Bustling Red Hook is home to several restaurants. 

St. Thomas

Country: US Virgin Islands

St. Thomas by the Numbers
Population: 51,634
Average Annual Rainfall: 99 centimeters / 39 inches
Average January Temperature: 26°C / 79°F
Average July Temperature: 29°C / 84°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts, 60Hz; standard North American two-pin plugs

Time Zone: GMT-4

Country Dialing Code: +1

Area Code: 340

Did You Know?
During the 17th Century the Virgin Islands were divided between the English and the Danish colonies. The Danish islands were purchased by the United States in 1917 and since this time have been transformed into a popular tourist destination. The port of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas is a popular site for cruise ships.

Camille Pissarro, the famous impressionist painter, was born on St. Thomas in 1830.

Orientation
St. Thomas, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Puerto Rico. St. Thomas, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Puerto Rico.

St. Thomas history starts with the Indians, a pre-ceramic tribe known as the Ciboneys. Excavations at Hull Bay on the island's north side show they lived here around 1500 B.C. Another excavation, prompted by the discovery of skeletons when developers began work on Tutu Park Mall in 1990, uncovered an entire Indian village that dated from the year 150 to 1490. Inhabited by the descendents of the Ciboneys, the Tainos and the Caribs, the village now sits under the shopping center and the artifacts are stashed in the local government's archives.

Enter Christopher Columbus, who sailed through on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. From then on, pirates bent on plundering Spanish ships filled with gold from the Americas plied the island's waters. While there is no truth to the legend that the pirate Bluebeard built the tower at what is now Bluebeard's Castle Hotel, Blackbeard, an Englishman named Edward Teach, was know to frequent St. Thomas. However, he probably never visited the tower named in his honor on Blackbeard's Hill.

In 1666, the Danes arrived to colonize St. Thomas. The population quickly grew as the new immigrants cleared the hillsides to grow crops. Work on Fort Christian, built to protect the island, began in 1672, and in 1674, the governor issued four licenses for taverns along the waterfront. What is now Charlotte Amalie soon took on the name Taphus, or beer hall. The name changed in 1691, when it was renamed Charlotte Amalie after the wife of the Danish King Christian V.

Around this time, 1685 to be exact, the Danes allowed the Brandenburg American Company to establish a slave trading post on St. Thomas. Most slaves were sold to plantation owners on other islands, but some were bought by St. Thomas residents to work their plantations. And early governors, Nicolai and Adolph Esmit, allowed pirates to use the island as a refuge because local merchants would benefit from the open sale of pirate booty. These two moves changed the course of the island's history. The slaves, of course, provided free labor to the plantation owners, and the pirate trade set the stage for the island's position as a trading center.

Between 1700 and 1750, pirate activities began to wane and legitimate trade began to increase. Merchants began to open shop on Main Street, called by its Danish name Dronnigens Gade. The Danish King Frederick V declared the island a duty free port in 1764, making the island one of the world's busiest ports. By the early 1800s, West Indian trade centered in St. Thomas.

The economy began a downslide in the early 1800s as hurricanes, fires, trade embargos, and competition from the sugar beet trade played havoc with the island's trade. The end of slavery in 1848 dealt a final blow. The economy collapsed.

At this same time, steam began to replace sails, and ship captains found they needed less frequent stops as they plied the trade routes. The island became a backwater until 1917 when the United States bought the islands for USD 25 million to protect the United States from an invasion through the Panama Canal. The United States government also feared the Germans would capture Denmark, and the thought of a German colony so close to home was unfathomable. The economy continued to limp along, with things were so bad President Herbert Hoover called the territory an effective poorhouse during his 1931 visit.

The United States Navy ran the islands until 1931 when the United States Department of Interior took over. The 1936 Organic Act gave residents the right to elect members of their Municipal Councils, but the president appointed the governor until 1970 when residents elected Melvin Evans to the post. All residents who held American citizenship, were over age 21 and could read and write English had the right to vote starting in 1938.

Many residents continue to feel they are second-class U.S. citizens. Although decisions made at the federal level have a huge impact here, territorial residents cannot vote for the U.S. president. Residents elect a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, but she is not able to vote. Residents pay taxes at the same rate and use the same paperwork forms as state residents, but the money stays in the territory to fund local government operations. During World War II, the federal government used the island as base, hence the name Subbase still in use today. The federal government retained ownership to Water Island, which sits just offshore in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, until 1996 when the territorial government took over.

Vacation travel began to increase in the late 1950s when the doors to Cuba slammed shut with Fidel Castro's rise to power. Newly opened hotels and tourism business were left scrambling for help. This forced the island to recruit a vast number of immigrants from the Eastern Caribbean, who came for better jobs than they could find at home. Most remained, growing into a solid middle class.

St. Thomas' tourism-based economy continued to grow, but Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, plus a series of smaller hurricanes in the late 1990s, the closure of Eastern Airlines as well as the failure of several major travel wholesalers, dealt severe blows. However, the economy has rebounded from each problem.

Points of interest in St. Thomas, USVI

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