A day in the US Virgin Islands : St. Thomas
While planning a trip to the Carribbean you have several clusters of islands to choose from, one of which is the US Virgin Islands. This group is composed of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. Visiting these islands offers a bit more than just your standard beach vacation with diverse architecture (evidence of nations that colonized the islands in the 17th and 18th centuries) and culinary encounters, artisan fairs, and most fun of all if you time it right: Carnivals.
The islands have a long history of habitation starting with the first inhabitants, the Ciboneys before 100 AD. There were various natives before Christopher Columbus visited on his 2nd voyage in 1493, claiming the islands for Spain. The battle between the natives and Columbus on the island of St. Croix is known as the first insurgence in the New World. Columbus continued his exploration leaving the islands largely inhabited and many counties began expressing interest in the 1600s. It was the Danish who established the first settlement on St. Thomas in 1672 and expanded to the other islands while establishing the Danish West India Company in 1733. St. Thomas became a trading post mostly for slave trading with more than 200,000 slaves forcibly shipped to the islands. St John and St. Croix were maintained as plantations supporting the trade economy. With Denmark ceasing human trade in 1792 and the discovery of sugar beet (instead of sugar cane) agriculture began to decline and the need for the islands as a shipping port with the industrial revolution also changed the economic environment.
Little was heard of the islands until World War I, when the United States realized their strategic position and negotiated the purchase of the islands from Denmark for $25 million in gold. Now the islands are thriving destinations for tourism and I’m glad I got to see at least one of them on this trip. I’ll definitely have to take a trip back to experience the other beautiful islands.
What to do on stop over?
With the close proximity of other islands, it’s really possible to do just about anything: Snorkel with rays, explore historic towns, taste test the best restaurants around, visit the most scenic beaches, or get a birds eye view of it all from the top of St. Thomas!
We found a fair priced tour to Magen’s beach and skyride so for ease of planning on this trip, we went ahead and booked that.
We were picked up right outside our cruise ship by a local who drove us (and a fair few other people) around for the day in an open jeep – like tram. We stopped at 2 scenic pull outs as we crossed over the top of St. Thomas to drive down the other side to Magens bay.
The first view point had awesome views of the cruse port and St. Thomas bay.
Multiple islands in the distance we visible from this spot
Our 2nd stop would look down on Magen’s Bay itself:
Magens Bay sits on the North Atlantic side of St. Thomas and is one of the world’s most beautiful beaches with pristine white sand stretching ¾ of a mile. The beach doesn’t get much wave action making it wonderful for floating and lounging in the warm water. (but not so much for snorkeling with the sand) You can see many varieties of fish and occasionally sea turtles, and in our case, enjoy the many types of water fowl that would make dive after dive fishing just off shore. The entrance to the beach (if not on a tour where it is included) costs $5 with free picnic tables, toilets and public showers. There’s additional covered table spaces available for rent as well as snorkeling and beach gear and snacks for purchase.
When we first got to the beach it was a bit overcast so we took a long walk to one end of the beach and back admiring shells and watching the birds dive.
Once the sun came out, the water was perfect and we spent at least an hour playing in the warm subtle waves. Overall I couldn’t have asked for a better beach day/ stop along our week long cruise.
After a couple hours we cleaned up and re-boarded our jeep-bus to head back to the port and ride the sky ride to the summit of the island- Paradise Point. It was a short wait with a fun ride, and stunning views from the top looking right down on the cruise ships in the bay. At the top is a restaurant and some tourist shops that you can enjoy before heading back down to the port. We looked around for some souvenirs while walking the short distance back to our ship. All in all a beautiful day on a beautiful island. Next time I’ll definitely have to try the snorkeling or more adventurous sports
We scored a skyride cabin to ourselves
View of the 3 cruise ships halfway up
The sky ride heading back down after dropping us off
View from the tip top. Beautiful bay!
Other activities to try on St. Thomas or around the
US Virgin Islands :
Swimming/ Snorkeling at Trunks Bay St. John
Cruzan Rum Distillery Tour
Exploring main street St. Thomas
Buck Island National Monument (St. Croix) for diving/ snorkeling
Estate Whim Plantation Museum (St. Croix)
Cinnamon Bay swimming/ beach – St. John
Take an Island Catamaran tour
Hike the Reef Bay Trail do a secluded beach – St John
Dive/snorkel the RMS Rhone
View of the port from our private deck on the ship
Virgin Island Culinary Specialties to try:
Pumpkin Fritters (tried on the ship and delicious)
Kallaloo (meat dish)
Red Grout (guava tapioca)
See you another time US Virgin Islands!