St. Thomas is an inkblot, about 12 miles long and three miles wide. It is the second largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands but the most populous. A steep spine stretches from east to west, with the highest point at Crown Mountain, on the western third of the island.
Charlotte Amalie is one of the West Indies’ most picturesque harbors: Layers of historic and modern homes, businesses, and churches rim the broad harbor. This is the center of business and government, plus an inviting historic town. The international airport is a short drive west, and ferries and seaplanes leave regularly with service to St. Croix, St. John, Tortola, and Puerto Rico.
Historically and today, St. Thomas is the hub of the Virgin Islands. As the center of business, commerce, services, and transport, St. Thomas long ago lost the quiet island feel of the other Virgin Islands. This is the “big city” of the Virgins—the place where people come to shop, celebrate, and meet up. At the same time, for those who call this island home, it is a small town where everyone knows each other.
The island’s long history has left historic attractions dating back to the earliest days of colonization—old churches and forts that bring an old world feel to Charlotte Amalie, an attraction that is often overlooked in favor of the beaches of the east end and north shore. Magen’s Bay, the best beach on the island, is broad and quiet. On the east end, Coki Point and Sapphire Bay are alive with tourists and island residents.
St. Thomas is one of the best islands for family vacations. There are plenty of activities for children, ranging from underwater observatories to snorkeling, and parents will find pleasure in the dining, nightlife, and shopping of the city. Modern comforts like a large movie theater, fast-food restaurants, and American-style shopping malls will appeal to travelers who want to maintain a link to a familiar American culture.
You can also head off the beaten path to St. Thomas’s western end, where a small Rastafarian community lives, and drive through the winding, narrow mountain roads that pass vistas rivaling any in the Virgin Islands.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Virgin Islands, 4th edition