St Thomas. From Pirates and Slave Markets to the 2nd Busiest Caribbean Port And World Famous Beaches
St. Thomas is the main island of the US Virgin islands. Today its modern and highly efficient port, and its proximity to the United State,s has made it the 2nd most visited port by cruise ships after Puerto Rico.
Like most Caribbean islands, it was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. He came across the island in about 1493. It was, though, colonised by the Danes who made it a free port which led to a real boom in trade. Across its history it has had a mixed past, as it was a well known refuge for pirates and also was home to the world’s largest slave market.
It struggled after the scrapping of slavery, and never quite flourished until the United States bought it and the other Virgin Islands from the Danes in 1907 for $25 million. The boom of tourism, and especially the growth of the cruise industry, has led to a real revival in the fortunes of St. Thomas to replace its struggling sugar industry.
Tourism is the big revenue earner for St. Thomas, with cruise passengers being critical but also there is a growing land based tourism industry. As a result, St. Thomas can get very busy and crowded at times. There can be as many as 7 ships with 15,000 to 23,000 passengers in town on any one day.
So although there are many excursion options, my strong tip is to take to the sea for the day! The best and most popular is to go on one of the all, or part, day catamaran tours that leave from the port area.
These tours usually head off to Buck Island, where there is the Turtle Cove Bay. Here shoals of tourists snorkel about hoping to spot and swim with the endangered Green Sea Turtles. They usually make an appearance. You need to stay out snorkelling in the sea while there, as it is a $10,000 fine if you step onto the small island, which is a protected nature area.
From the Cove you usually then head off to a beach, such as the very beautiful “Honeymoon Beach” to have lunch and swim in the crystal clear and inviting seas.
St. Thomas is a beautiful island with great snorkeling and swimming. It is an efficient, clean and orderly island, but with a much more “western” feel than many of the other Caribbean islands. It does not have the same slightly chaotic, noisy and authentic Caribbean feel as some of the more southern islands. Many prefer this, as they like the clean and tidy nature of the island. It is a fabulously beautiful place to visit, and there is a great emphasis on duty and tax free shopping in the port area for those passionate about that.
If the Catamaran tour does not appeal, the next best thing to do is to get a taxi from the port of Charlotte Amalie, where you will be docked if arriving by ship, to one of the stunning beaches like Magens Beach (named as one of the top 10 beaches in the world by National Geographic magazine). Magens is just 2.5 miles from the port, and taxis are inexpensive. But can be much in demand if there are many ships in town.
Watch my video tour of St. Thomas, including the Catamaran tour: