Located due East of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands are some of the United States most tropical territories. Originally colonized by the Dutch in the 1600s, the Virgin Islands were eventually purchased by the United States in 1917 in order to protect the mainland during the hysteria of World War I. Today Saint Thomas serves as one of three Virgin Islands under US control, and is the only place in the US where cars drive on the left side of the road. With its combination of tropical wildlife, vibrant shallow seas and constantly temperate weather, there are always plenty of things to do in Saint Thomas.
10. Phantasea Botanical Garden
With over twenty years in the planning in making, this botanical paradise just opened publicly in early 2015 and is already on its way to being one of the most popular tourist attractions in Saint Thomas. The brainchild of a single entrepreneur who is more than happy to engage with and educate her visitors, the grounds are beautifully kept and showcase a wide variety of disparate plants including orchids, palms, birds of paradise, and more. If you’re lucky enough to be there when Patsy has cinnamon buns, be sure to pick one up.
9. Magens Bay
A mile of pristine beach with phenomenal snorkeling opportunities surrounds Magens Bay if you rent your own gear. Perhaps what sets this beach aside the most, besides its beauty, is the fact that you can order food and drinks and have them delivered to your spot on the beach. Furthermore, there is abundant wildlife, a coconut grove, and a arboretum nearby that you and stroll through and investigate. There are kayak, shed, and chair rentals available. Taking a taxi from town is easy and recommended. Admission is $4 per person.
8. Hassel Island
Originally a peninsula, Hassel Island was disconnected from the mainland by the Dutch in hopes that the circulation of the harbor would improve. Today, after an intense revitalization effort in the mid 2000s, the island is open to the public. There are widespread trail systems throughout the island that wind through all of the historic sites including an abandoned Leper colony, a marine railway, and the foundation of a 19th century hospital. The Saint Thomas Historical Trust offers guided tours that will entertain the whole family.
7. Coral World Ocean Park
Coral World Ocean Park is a great way to observe the underwater ecosphere without getting wet. The Undersea Observatory Tower will take visitors 15 feet below the sea where they can observe the ever-changing reef. There are plenty of fun demonstrations where patrons can see sea animals up close, including sea lions, stingrays, and sharks. If you don’t mind getting wet, the park offers SNUBA excursions (think SCUBA diving, but the air tanks are located above water). Admission is $19 for adults, and $10 for kids.
6. Magic Ice
Located in an enormous warehouse, Magic Ice is a very unique way to cool off and escape the tropic sun with your friends. Magic Ice is part bar and part sculpture exhibit, but everything is made of ice. The bar is made of ice, and all of the sculptures are as well, and the entire set-up is beautifully lit! This location tends to close as early as 5PM, even on the weekend, so make sure to show up early. Admission is $22. It is very cold inside, so remember to dress appropriately! Open-toed shoes are not advised.
5. 99 Steps
Although technically comprised of 103 steps, this attraction will lead visitors from downtown Charlotte Amalie up to Blackbeard’s castle through a series of centuries-old steps. This ‘vertical street’ was built out of bricks from ship ballast to allow the Danish to quickly made it up the hillside. The top of the stairs affords a arresting view of the port and the climb itself isn’t particularly difficult. Certainly remember to bring water along with you and avoid this attraction if you have cardiac or pulmonary health issues. Climbing up (or down) the stairs is free.
4. Blackbeard’s Castle
At the top of 99 Steps awaits Blackbeard’s Castle. The Danes originally constructed it in the 1600’s as a watchtower to keep an eye on the bay below, but since then it has fallen into several different hands, one of which is purportedly those of pirates. The tower itself is surrounded by swimming pools open to the public and a bar. Additionally, this area has antique manor houses that are also available to check out. Self-guided tours are available starting at $10 per person, where you are able to climb to the top and peer out over the bay.
3. Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Garden is located right next to Coral World and showcases a tropical conservatory where the creatures fly freely as you explore. Featuring many different species, the Butterfly Garden will allow visitors to witness all stages of the butterfly: from the caterpillar to the cocoon, to the first spreading of the wings. Morning time is the best for a visit if you’d like to see lots of activity, however if you’d like the butterflies to pose for photos, it is recommended that you stop by in the afternoon when they are less lively. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for kids.
2. Lindquist Beach
What would a vacation to the Caribbean be without a long day spent lounging at the beach? This beach is relatively unpopulated during the week, but much more crowded on the weekend. A nearby tree line provides respite from the beating sun. The beach can be a little tricky to find – it is only accessible by an un-marked, dirt road, so make sure you are using a good map. The water hides two excellent coral reefs that are perfect for snorkeling. A tranquil reprieve from the bustle of tourists, this beach can be a great romantic get-away during a weekday morning. There is a two-dollar access fee.
1. Aqua Marine Dive Center
Saint Thomas is renowned for its tropical waters, and there is no better way to experience them than to dive right in. Exploring extensive coral reefs, shipwrecks, and marine life galore, Aqua Marine Dive Center has over 60 dive sites that are available, with varying degrees of difficulty. Visitors can get their diving certifications through the offered open-water trainings. If you do not have the time to complete the certification process during your stay, they do offer snorkeling excursions.
Like any Caribbean island, Saint Thomas has its fair share of colonial history to offer, all of it fascinating and much of it still standing to observe in person. After the end of World War Two, the island’s economy shifted towards tourism. Now, the natural aspects of the island are why people continue to return. Be sure to check out some of the local products, especially the rum and the handmade jewelry. But no matter where you decide to spend your time on the island, you can be sure that there will be no shortage of places to visit in Saint Thomas.