United States

St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

A- Overview:
The three islands and the 60 cays that comprise the US Virgin Islands include some of the most magnificent coast on earth. The area is host to nearly two million vacationers each year. Most of the islands, cays and jutting rocks that make up the territory are clustered around the 30 square mile island of St Thomas which lies 1000 miles south of Miami, 75 miles east of Puerto Rico and just southwest of the British Virgin Islands.

St. Thomas has a year round temperature averaging 78°F. The ever-present trade winds keep the air from being unbearably hot. In addition, the region reports lower humidity levels than many of the other places in the Caribbean, making it a vacation paradise in both summer and winter. On nearly any day of the year, there are many hours of sunshine. Rain showers do come, but they’re usually a welcome relief and pass quickly.

St. Thomas is the busiest cruise ship harbor in the West Indies. The cruise from the US to St. Thomas is as enjoyable as the time spent at this idyllic destination. Busy Charlotte Amalie ( uh-MAL-ya: named for the wife of King Christian V in 1691), at the heart of the island is the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it remains the shopping hub of the Caribbean. The beaches on this island are renowned for their white sand and calm, turquoise waters. National Geographic rated the island as one of the top destinations in the world for sailing, scuba diving, and fishing.

Charlotte Amalie, with its white houses and bright red roofs glistening in the sun, is one of the most beautiful towns in the Caribbean. The town is also filled with historic sights like Fort Christian, an intriguing 17th-century building constructed by the Danes. The town’s architecture reflects the island’s culturally diverse past. A walk through town reveals its international heritage. You will pass Dutch doors, Danish red-tile roofs, French iron grillwork, and Spanish-style patios.

Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas, is the only town on the island. Its seaside promenade is called Waterfront Highway or simply, the Waterfront. From there, it is easy to follow any of the streets or alleyways into town to Main Street or Dronningens Gade. Principal links between Main Street and the Waterfront include Raadets Gade, Tolbod Gade, Store Tvaer Gade, and Strand Gade. The capital is known for its delightful shops and patios, winding streets, and Old World Continental flavor.

The Father of the Impressionists, Camille Pissarro, was born on St Thomas in 1830. Though he spent most of his life in Paris he’s still thought of fondly as a native son. The Dronningens Gade house where he was born is open to the public. The epicenter of Virgin Islands art is the Tillet Gardens Arts Center, a complex of studios, classrooms and galleries in a lovely setting northeast of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas.

Main Street is home to all the major shops. The western end (near the intersection with Strand Gade) is known as Market Square, once the site of the biggest slave market auctions in the Caribbean Basin. Today, it’s an open-air cluster of stalls where native farmers and gardeners gather daily (except Sunday) to peddle their produce. Go early in the morning to see the market at its best.

You’ll find an eclectic mix of cuisines on St. Thomas, including American, Italian, Mexican, and Asian. Local Caribbean dishes include seafood specialties like “ole wife” and yellowtail, which are usually prepared with a spicy Creole mixture of peppers, onions, and tomatoes. A popular native side dishes is fungi (pronounced foon-gee), made with okra and cornmeal. Most local restaurants serve johnnycake, a popular fried, unleavened bread.

Because of St. Thomas’s thriving commercial activity, the atmosphere is one of vitality and zest for living. Varied nightlife and a resort atmosphere make St. Thomas the liveliest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those seeking seclusion can easily find it, however, at a hotel in more remote sections of the island. Hotels on the north side of St. Thomas look out at the Atlantic; those on the south side front the calmer Caribbean Sea.

The landscape includes dense subtropical forests, arid stretches dominated by succulents and coastal mangrove swamps. Indigenous trees include kapok, whose silky seedpod fiber was used as stuffing in pillows and lifejackets; calabash and the teylerpalm, whose delicate fronds make good brooms and were once used to construct fish traps. Madagascan flame trees brighten the vista along with bougainvillea, jasmine and frangipani.

The images gleaned from picture postcards assault the senses in their reality as your ship approaches St. Thomas: stretches of beach flair into the distance, and white sails skim across water so blue and clear it defies description. Red roofed houses color the green hillsides as do the orange of the flamboyant trees, the red of the hibiscus, the magenta of the bougainvillea, and the blue stone ruins of old sugar mills. Towns of pastel-tone villas, decorated with filigree wrought-iron terraces, line narrow streets that climb from the harbor. Yes, this is paradise!

B- City Information:
Population:
St Thomas 54,000

Capital city:
Charlotte Amalie

People:
African descent (75%), US mainland expatriates (13%), Puerto Rican (5%), Danish, French

Language:
English, plus some Creole, Spanish and French

Religion:
Baptist (42%), Catholic (42%), Episcopalian (17%)

Government:
Unincorporated territory of the US

Major industries:
Tourism, oil refining

Major trading partners:
USA, Puerto Rico

Time Zone:
Atlantic Time Zone. Daylight saving time not observed. Otherwise, it is the same as Eastern Standard Time.

Average Temperatures (In Fahrenheit):
High Low
January – March 86F 67F
April – June 89F 70F
July – September 90F 73F
October – December 88F 69F

Health risks:
Sunburn: Be sure to apply sunblock or sunscreen often.

Electricity:
110-120V, 60Hz US appliances will work with no adapter.

Weights & measures:
Imperial

Telephones:
From North America, dial 1 + 340 + the seven-digit local number. Elsewhere, dial your country’s international direct dialing prefix + 1 + 340 + the seven-digit local number.

When to Go:
The peak tourist season is between December and April, but this has more to do with the weather in North America and Europe than it does with the reliably balmy Virgin Islands’ weather. It’s therefore best to visit outside this period, when you can expect room rates to be almost half those charged during the busier months. An additional draw is that the calmer weather between April and August tends to keep the waters clearer for diving.
Public Holidays:
1 January – New Year’s Day
Third Monday in January – Martin Luther King Jr Day
Third Monday in February – Presidents’ Day
Late March or April – Easter
Last Monday in May – Memorial Day
3 July – Emancipation Day
4 July – Independence Day
First Monday in September – Labor Day
Second Monday in October – Columbus Day, Virgin Islands Friendship Day
11 November – Veterans’ Day
Fourth Thursday in November – Thanksgiving
25 December – Christmas Day
26 December – Boxing Day

Currency:
US dollar (US$)

Banks:
Several major U.S. banks are represented on St. Thomas. Hours vary, but most are open Monday through Thursday from 9am to 2:30pm, Friday from 9am to 2pm, and 3:30 to 5pm.

Business Hours:
Typical business and store hours are Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm. Some shops open Sunday for cruise-ship arrivals. Bars are usually open daily from 11am to midnight or 1am, although some hot spots stay open later.

Dentist:
The Virgin Island Dental Association ( 340/775-9110) is a member of the American Dental Association and is also linked with various specialists. Call for information or an appointment.

Doctor:
Doctors-on-Duty, Vitraco Park ( 340/776-7966) in Charlotte Amalie, is a reliable medical facility.

Drugstores:
For over-the-counter and prescription medications, go to Drug Farm, 2-4 9th St. 340/776-7098, or Havensight Pharmacy, Havensight Mall, Building #4 340/776-1235).

Electricity:
110 to 115 volts, 60 cycles, as on the U.S. mainland.

Emergencies:
Police, 911; ambulance, 922; fire, 921.

Hospitals:
The St. Thomas Hospital is at 48 Sugar Estate ( 340/776-8311), Charlotte Amalie.

Hotlines:
Call the police at 911 in case of emergency. If you have or witness a boating mishap, call the U.S. Coast Guard Rescue ( 787/729-6800, ext. 140), which operates out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Scuba divers should note the number of a decompression chamber ( 340/776-8311) at the Roy Schneider Community Hospital on St. Thomas.

Laundry and Dry Cleaning:
The major hotels provide laundry service, but it’s more expensive than a laundromat. For dry cleaning go to One-Hour Martinizing, Barbel Plaza ( 340/774-5452), in Charlotte Amalie. A good full-service Laundromat is 4-Star Laundromat, 68 Kronprindsens Gade ( 340/774-8689), in Charlotte Amalie.

Liquor Laws:
Persons must be at least 21 years of age to patronize bars or purchase liquor in St. Thomas.

Newspapers and Magazines:
Copies of U.S. mainland newspapers, such as The New York Times, USA Today, and The Miami Herald, arrive daily in St. Thomas and are sold at hotels and newsstands. The latest copies of Time and Newsweek are also for sale. St. Thomas Daily News covers local, national, and international events. Virgin Islands Playground and St. Thomas This Week, both of which are packed with visitor information, are distributed free all over the island.

Post Office:
The main post office is at 9846 Estate Thomas ( 340/774-1950), Charlotte Amalie, open Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 5:30pm and Saturday from 7:30am to 2:30pm.

Rest Rooms:
You’ll find public toilets at beaches and at the airport, but they are limited in town. Most visitors use the facilities of a bar or restaurant.

Telephone, Telex, and Fax:
All island phone numbers have seven digits. It is not necessary to use the 340 area code when dialing within St. Thomas. Numbers for all three islands, including St. John and St. Croix, are found in the U.S. Virgin Islands phone book. Hotels will send faxes and telexes for you, usually for a small service charge. Make long distance, international, and collect calls as you would on the U.S. mainland.

Transit Information:
Call 340/774-7457 to order a taxi 24 hours a day. Call 340/774-5100 for airport information and 340/776-6282 for information about ferry departures for St. John.

Weather:
For weather reports, call Vietema at 340/774-2244.

Arriving By Plane:
If you’re flying to St. Thomas, you will land at the Cyril E. King Airport 340/774-5100, to the west of Charlotte Amalie on Route 30. From here, you can easily find a taxi to your hotel or villa. Chances are you will be staying east of Charlotte Amalie, so keep in mind that getting through town often involves long delays and traffic jams.

Nonstop flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands from New York and Atlanta take 3 3/4 and 3 1/2 hours, respectively. Flight time from Miami is about 2 1/2 hours.

Getting Around By Car:

Driving Rules
Always drive on the left. The speed limit is 20 m.p.h. in town, 35 m.p.h. outside town. Take extra caution when driving in St. Thomas, especially at night. Many roads are narrow, curvy, and poorly lit.

Renting A Car
There is no tax on car rentals in the Virgin Islands.

Warning
St. Thomas has a high accident rate. Visitors are not used to driving on the left, the hilly terrain shelters blind curves and entrance ramps, roads are narrow and poorly lit, and drivers often get behind the wheel after too many drinks. To be on the safe side, consider getting collision-damage insurance.

Parking
Because Charlotte Amalie is a labyrinth of congested one-way streets, don’t try to drive within town looking for a spot. If you can’t find a place to park along the waterfront (free), go to the sprawling lot to the east of Fort Christian, across from the Legislature Building. Parking fees are nominal here, and you can park your car and walk northwest toward Emancipation Park, or along the waterfront until you reach the shops and attractions.

Getting Around On Foot:
This is the only way to explore the heart of Charlotte Amalie. All the major attractions and the principal stores are within easy walking distance. However, other island attractions, like Coral World or Magens Bay, require a bus or taxi.

Getting Around By Bus:
St. Thomas has the best public transportation of any island in the U.S. chain. Buses, called Vitrans, leave from street-side stops in the center of Charlotte Amalie, fanning out east and west along all the most important highways. They run between 5:30am and 10:30pm daily, and you rarely have to wait more than 30 minutes during the day.. The service is safe, efficient, and comfortable. For schedule and bus stop information, call 340/774-5678.

Getting Around By Taxi:
Taxis are the major means of transportation on St. Thomas. They’re not metered, but fares are controlled and widely posted; however, we still recommend that you negotiate a fare with the driver before you get into the car. Surcharges are added after midnight. For 24-hour radio dispatch taxi service, call 340/774-7457.

Taxi vans transport 8 to 12 passengers to multiple destinations on the island. It’s cheaper to take a van instead of a taxi if you’re going between your hotel and the airport.

Visas:
No visas are required for citizens of the US and Canada, though you’ll have to prove citizenship by way of a birth certificate, voter’s registration card or valid passport. Most other nationalities don’t need a visa either, but will need a passport for a stay of less than 90 days. Proof of onward transportation is required upon entry.

C- Attractions/Things To Do:
Coral World Marine Park and Underwater Observatory:
6450 Coki Point
340/775-1555
A marine complex that features a three-story underwater observation tower 100 feet offshore. It’s a 20-minute drive from Charlotte Amalie off Route 38. Inside, you’ll see sponges, fish, coral, and other aquatic creatures in their natural state through picture windows.

Marine Gardens Aquarium:
Part of Coral World Marine Park;
Daily from 9 – 5:30
Admission charged.
Saltwater tanks display everything from sea horses to sea urchins. An 80,000-gallon reef tank features exotic marine life of the Caribbean; another tank is devoted to sea predators, with circling sharks and giant moray eels. Activities include daily fish and shark feedings and exotic bird shows. The latest addition to the park is a semisubmarine that lets you enjoy the panoramic view and the “down under” feeling of a submarine without truly submerging.

Coral World’s guests can take advantage of adjacent Coki Beach for snorkel rental, scuba lessons, or swimming and relaxing. Lockers and showers are available. Also included in the marine park are the Tropical Terrace Restaurant, duty-free shops, and a nature trail.

Estate St. Peter Greathouse Botanical Gardens:
At the corner of Route 40
6A St. Peter Mountain Rd. and Barrett Hill Road
340/774-4999
Daily 9 – 4;
Admission charged.
This complex consists of 11 acres set at the foot of volcanic peaks on the northern rim of the island. They are laced with self-guided nature walks that will acquaint you with some 200 varieties of West Indian plants and trees, including an umbrella plant from Madagascar. From a panoramic deck in the gardens you can see some 20 of the Virgin Islands, including Hans Lollick, an uninhabited island between Thatched Cay and Madahl Point. The house is filled with a display of local works of art.

Paradise Point Tramway:
Across from Havensight Mall and the cruise ship dock.
340-774-9809
Daily 8:30-5
Fee charged.
Gondolas transport passengers 700 feet up a mountainside to Paradise Point. The 3.5 minute ride offers views of the harbor and Charlotte Amalie.

Charlotte Amalie:
The color and charm of the Caribbean come to life in this waterfront town, the capital of St. Thomas, where most visitors begin their visit to the island. Old warehouses, once used for storing stolen pirate goods, have been converted to shops. In fact, the main streets, called “Gade” (a reflection of their Danish heritage), now merge into a virtual shopping mall. The streets are often packed. Sandwiched among these shops are a few historic buildings, most of which can be seen on foot in about 2 hours.

King’s Wharf
The site of the Virgin Islands Legislature, which is housed in the apple-green military barracks dating from 1874.

Fort Christian
340/776-4566
Named after the Danish king Christian V, this structure was a governor’s residence, police station, court, and jail until it became a national historic landmark in 1977. A museum here illuminates the island’s history and culture. Cultural workshops and turn-of-the-century furnishings are just some of the exhibits you can expect to see. A museum shop features local crafts, maps, and prints. Fort Christian is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm.

Emancipation Park
Where a proclamation freeing African slaves and indentured European servants was read on July 3, 1848. The park is now mostly a picnic area for local workers and visitors.

Grand Hotel
Near Emancipation Park, the Grand Hotel is a visitors center which dispenses valuable travel information about the island. When this hotel was opened in 1837, it was a grand address, but it later fell into decay, and finally closed in 1975. The former guest rooms upstairs have been turned into offices and a restaurant.

Frederik Lutheran Church
Built between 1780 and 1793. The original Georgian-style building, financed by a free black parishioner, Jean Reeneaus, was reconstructed in 1825 and again in 1870 after it was damaged in a hurricane.

Government House
The administrative headquarters for the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s been the center of political life in the islands since it was built, around the time of the American Civil War. Visitors are allowed on the first two floors, Monday through Saturday from 8am to noon, and 1 to 5pm. Some paintings by former resident Camille Pissarro are on display, as are works by other St. Thomas artists.

Seven Arches Museum
Government Hill
340/774-9295
Visitors enjoy visiting the private home of longtime residents Philibert Fluck and Barbara Demaras. This 200 year Danish house has been completely restored and furnished with antiques. Walk through the yellow ballast arches into the Great Room, which has a great view of the Caribbean’s busiest harbor. Admission fee includes a cold tropical drink served in a beautiful walled flower garden. Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 – 3, or by appointment.

Frederik Church Parsonage
Next to the Government House. Dating from 1725, and one of the oldest houses on the island. It’s the only structure in the Government Hill district to retain its simple 18th century lines.

Yellow-Brick Building
Built in 1854 in what local architects called “the style of Copenhagen.” You can go inside and browse through the many shops within.

99 Steps
These steps, which were erected in the early 1700s, take you to the summit of Government Hill, from where you’ll see the 18th-century Crown House, immediately to your right on the south side of the street. This stately private house was the home of von Scholten, the Danish ruler who issued the famous proclamation of emancipation in 1848 .

St. Thomas Reformed Church
Dating from 1844. Much of its original structure, which was designed like a Greek temple, has been preserved intact.

St. Thomas Synagogue
340/774-4312
The oldest synagogue in continuous use under the American flag and the second oldest in the Western Hemisphere; it was erected in 1833 by Sephardic Jews, and it still maintains the tradition of having sand on the floor, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. The structure was built of local stone along with ballast brick from Denmark and mortar made of molasses and sand. It’s open to visitors from 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Next door, the Weibel Museum showcases 300 years of Jewish history. It keeps the same hours.

Enid M. Baa Public Library
Formerly the von Bretton House, dating from 1818.

Market Square
Officially known as Rothschild Francis Square. This was the center of a large slave-trading market before the 1848 emancipation. Today it’s an open-air fruit and vegetable market, selling, among other items, genips (to eat one, break open the skin and suck the pulp off a pit). The wrought-iron roof covered a railway station at the turn of the century. The market is open Monday through Saturday, its busiest day.

The Waterfront (Kyst Vejen)
Where you can purchase a fresh coconut. One of the vendors will whack off the top with a machete, so you can drink the sweet milk from its hull.

Fort Christian
The town’s top ranking historic attraction; a modest red structure that looks to be lacking in strength. The building dates to the 1670s when it served as a combined defense post, government house, church and community hall. When the threat of invasion dissipated, the fort became a jail and, since 1987, a museum with displays on the region’s natural heritage (including medicinal plants and bird life) and art.

Market Square
Today the covered plaza is the local food market but it was once the Caribbean’s busiest trading post for slaves.

Those craving peace and privacy are better off heading to the nearby uninhabited islets of Hassel Island and Great Outlying Neighborhoods

The most important of the outlying neighborhoods is Frenchtown. Some of the older islanders still speak a distinctive Norman-French dialect here. Since the heart of Charlotte Amalie is dangerous at night, Frenchtown, with its finer restaurants and interesting bars, has become the place to go after dark.

Another neighborhood is Frenchman’s Hill. The Huguenots built many old stone villas there, and they open onto panoramic views of the town and its harbor.

Nightlife:

Theater

Reichhold Center For The Arts
Rte. 30, across from Brewers Beach
340/693-1559.
This amphitheater has its more expensive seats covered by a roof. Schedules vary, so check the paper to see what’s on when you’re in town. Throughout the year there’s an entertaining mix of local plays, dance exhibitions, and music of all types.

D- Family Fun Attractions:
Coral World Marine Park and Underwater Observatory
6450 Coki Point
340/775-1555
A marine complex that features a three-story underwater observation tower 100 feet offshore. It’s a 20-minute drive from Charlotte Amalie off Route 38. Inside, you’ll see sponges, fish, coral, and other aquatic creatures in their natural state through picture windows.

Marine Gardens Aquarium
Part of Coral World Marine Park;
Daily from 9 – 5:30
Admission charged.
Saltwater tanks display everything from sea horses to sea urchins. An 80,000-gallon reef tank features exotic marine life of the Caribbean; another tank is devoted to sea predators, with circling sharks and giant moray eels. Activities include daily fish and shark feedings and exotic bird shows. The latest addition to the park is a semisubmarine that lets you enjoy the panoramic view and the “down under” feeling of a submarine without truly submerging.

Coral World’s guests can take advantage of adjacent Coki Beach for snorkel rental, scuba lessons, or swimming and relaxing. Lockers and showers are available. Also included in the marine park are the Tropical Terrace Restaurant, duty-free shops, and a nature trail.

Estate St. Peter Greathouse Botanical Gardens
At the corner of Route 40
6A St. Peter Mountain Rd. and Barrett Hill Road
340/774-4999
Daily 9 – 4;
Admission charged.
This complex consists of 11 acres set at the foot of volcanic peaks on the northern rim of the island. They are laced with self-guided nature walks that will acquaint you with some 200 varieties of West Indian plants and trees, including an umbrella plant from Madagascar. From a panoramic deck in the gardens you can see some 20 of the Virgin Islands, including Hans Lollick, an uninhabited island between Thatched Cay and Madahl Point. The house is filled with a display of local works of art.

E- Events & Entertainment:
March

Transfer Day (31 March)
Commemorates the 1917 handover of the islands from Denmark to the US.

April

Carnival on St Thomas:
A crazy week full of masquerades, drumming, dancing, feasting and mocko jumbies (costumed stiltwalkers). Unlike other Carnivals in the Caribbean, which precede Lent, St Thomas’ takes place after Easter, usually in late April

The St Thomas Yacht Club’s International Regatta
churns up the waters every April.

July

Christmas in July:
when Santa dances on the streets of Charlotte Amalie with the tallest elves you’ve ever seen.