St Thomas

St Thomas is on practically every Caribbean cruise itinerary, and thousands of cruise ship passengers descend daily in winter on Charlotte Amalie, the capital, for the ultimate shopping experience. A beautiful natural harbour, the former Danish town has been a major trading port for centuries and is still popular with visitors seeking duty-free bargains. St Thomas rises out of the sea to a range of hills that runs down its spine. The highest peak, Crown Mountain, is 1,550 ft. On St Peter Mountain, 1,500 ft, is a viewpoint at Mountain Top. There are various scenic roads to drive along, such as Skyline Drive (Route 40), from which both sides of the island can be seen simultaneously, and Mafolie Road (Route 35), which leaves Charlotte Amalie, heading north to cross the Skyline Drive becoming Magens Bay Road, and descends to the beautiful bay.

Getting there and around

The taxi stand is at the far left end of the terminal at the
Cyril E King Airport
(STT), a long way from the commuter flights from Puerto Rico and other islands. There are sporadic public buses from the terminal to the town. Boats come in to Charlotte Amalie or Red Hook in the east.
There is a bus service running west from Charlotte Amalie to the university and east to Red Hook. If you wish to drive yourself, rental firms are plentiful. Parking is difficult, particularly in town and at Red Hook.

Charlotte Amalie

The harbour at Charlotte Amalie, capital of St Thomas and also of the entire USVI, still bustles with colour and excitement. As the Fort Christian Museum puts it, “oversized, architecturally inappropriate buildings have marred the scenic beauty of the harbour.” One could add that by day the streets are congested too if more than eight cruise ships are in. But, as the museum also points out, there are still a number of historical buildings. The town was built by the Danes, who named it after their King's consort, but to most visitors it remains 'St Thomas'. Beautiful old Danish houses painted in a variety of pastel colours are a reminder of the island's history. One recently opened to the public is
Haagensen House
, the home of a former Danish banker, with a courtyard, gardens and antique furniture. A free shuttle service runs from Emancipation Garden.
Government House
, off Kongens Gade, was built in 1865-1887. The
Enid M Baa Library and Archive
is on Main Street, in another early 19th-century edifice. The former house of the French painter,
Camille Pissaro
, off Main Street, now houses shops and also displays his paintings. One historical building which cannot be visited is the former Danish Consulate, on Denmark Hill, now the Governor's residence. For a good view of the town and the surrounding area, take the
St Thomas Skyride
, www.stthomasskyride.com,
across the street from the cruise ship dock and Havensight Mall, actually a cable car which takes you on a seven-minute ride up 700 ft to
Paradise Point
, a parrot show, nature walks and shopping. The view of the harbour and lots of neighbouring islands provides some great photo opportunities.

While you are at Havensight Mall, you can visit the new
Butterfly Farm
, in the same chain as the farms in St-Martin, Aruba and Grand Cayman. The butterflies hatch out in the mornings and are most active then, but in the afternoons there are better opportunities for photography, when they are more lethargic. They are attracted by colourful clothing and will often land on people wearing citrus-based perfume.

There are over 14 historic churches in the USVI dating back as far as 1737. The
Dutch Reformed Church
is the oldest established church, having had a congregation since 1660, although the present building dates from 1846. The
Frederick Lutheran Church
dates from 1820 and its parish hall was the residence of Jacob H S Lind (1806-27). The
Crystal Gade Synagogue
is one of the oldest in the western hemisphere (1833), an airy, domed building, with a sand floor and hurricane-proof walls; it has books for sale in the office, iced springwater and visitors are given a free 10-minute introduction. It is worth a visit. The Hebrew Congregation of St Thomas was founded in 1796. The adjacent
Weibel Museum
, charts the history of the Jews on St Thomas. Be careful if walking to the Crystal Gade Synagogue and never walk there at night.

There are many old fortifications within the town.
Bluebeard's Castle Tower
and
Blackbeard's Castle
, the latter allegedly built in 1679 and lived in by the pirate and his 14 wives. The
Virgin Islands Museum
, is in the former dungeon at
Fort Christian
(1666-1680). There are historical and natural history sections and an art gallery. In contrast to the red-painted fort is the green
Legislative Building
, originally the Danish police barracks (1874).

St Peter Great House and Botanical Gardens
, www.greathouse-mountaintop.com, has 500 varieties of plants, an orchid garden, bird sanctuary, nature trail, a stunning view over to Tortola and lots of smaller islands and an art gallery for local artists. At the top of St Peter Mountain at 1,500 ft, is a lookout and duty free shopping mall known as
Mountain Top
. Once known as Signal Hill and of strategic communications importance in the 1940s against potential German naval activity, it is now very touristy and trades on its secret recipe for banana daiquiris as well as the spectacular view.

Water Island

Water Island, at the west end of St Thomas' main harbour, is the smallest inhabited island and is now known as the fourth USVI. Its name comes from the once plentiful freshwater ponds, now salt ponds. The island was purchased from Denmark by the USA in 1944 to use as a military base during the Second World War.
Fort Segarra
was built as an underground fort and later the island was used to test weapons. It was transferred to the Department of the Interior from Defense in 1952. A year later a 40-year lease of the entire island was given to a developer for construction of a hotel and homes. The hotel closed after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and is now in ruins. The island's ownership was turned over to the VI Government and private island homeowners in December 1996. Open-air buildings on the beach are available for public use. At weekends the beach is busy with local residents and charter-boat guests.

Hassel Island

Hassel Island is part of US National Parks. There are ruins on the shore but no development has yet been carried out. You can tie up your dinghy at a dilapidated dock. Walk towards the ocean for a picnic and a great view of Frenchman's Reef and watch the ships entering the harbour; then hike on a trail to an old building; climb the wall at the back of the building to get an outstanding view of the area from Frenchman's Reef to Green Cay and see the surf breaking on three sets of rocks. Around the other end of the island is a small liveaboard boating community.

Beaches and activities around St Thomas

There are 44
beaches
on St Thomas. Few are deserted, though out of season they are less crowded. The most inaccessible, and therefore more likely to be empty, are those along the northwest coast, which need 4WD to get there. For solitude, take a boat to one of the uninhabited islets offshore.
Magens Bay
on the north coast is considered to be the finest on the island and wonderfully safe for small children. You can rent snorkelling equipment (not the best snorkelling on the island) and loungers and there's a charge for cars. Changing facilities are also available.

Other good beaches are at
Lindbergh Bay
(southwest, close to the airport runway, good for plane spotters, but can get crowded with cruise ship passengers and accompanying vendors),
Morningstar Bay
(south coast near
Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort
; beach and watersports equipment for hire),
Bolongo Bay
(south coast with a beach resort),
Sapphire Bay
(east coast, beach gear for rent, good snorkelling),
Brewer's Bay
(can be reached by bus from Charlotte Amalie, get off just beyond the airport),
Hull Bay
(north coast, good for surfing and snorkelling) and
Coki Beach
(northeast, showers, lockers, waterskiing, jet skis, snorkelling equipment, good snorkelling just off the beach). The
Coral World Marine Park and Undersea Observatory
is at Coki Beach, www.coralworldvi.com, giving you a first-hand view of marine life, from sharks and sting rays to more docile creatures. On land there is also the Lorikeet Garden, a walk-through aviary housing multi-coloured lorikeets, which will feed on nectar from your hand.

Diving

Divers will enjoy over 200 dive sites, caves, coral reefs, drop-offs and lots of colourful fish. With such crystal clear waters, snorkelling is extremely popular. There are several shipwrecks to explore. Spearfishing or removing any living things from the sea such as coral, live shells or sea fans is not permitted. The average price of a one-tank dive is US$60, but most places only do two-tank dives at US$85. Many of the resorts offer diving packages or courses and there are many dive companies.

Fishing

There is deep-sea fishing, with the next world record in every class lurking just under the boat. Game fish include white marlin, kingfish, sailfish, tarpon, Alison tuna and wahoo. No fishing licence is required for shoreline fishing; government pamphlets list 100 good spots.

Sailing

Day sailing of all types is available. Half-day sails from US$60, full-day from US$100 and sunset cruises from US$45 are offered by many boats. Before taking a day trip on any boat, ask about size, any shade awning and the number of passengers. Many day sail boats limit their guests to six passengers, take a stop for snorkelling and provide drinks. A variety of charter yachts is available, more or less luxurious, with or without crew; they can cost the same as a good hotel. You can explore on your own by renting a small power boat.

Whale watching

The Environmental Association of St Thomas-St John (EAST) organizes whale watching during the migration season at the beginning of the year. Humpbacks are the most commonly sighted.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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