On one of our visits we took a tour in a taxi around the island. Island tours by taxi usually include the popular sites and scenic look out points like Drake's Seat. The taxi in the Virgin Islands is called a safari. Its a truck which has been outfitted with bench seating in the back. It is open air but covered. Safari buses vary in size, some can hold up to 26 passengers. Usually that means that the tour is a group tour.
Taxi rates, including taxi tours, are set by the VI Taxicab Association. For example, Sightseeing Tour for 2 hours; one passenger $50, two or more passengers $25 per person. Tour for 3 hours; one passenger $60, two or more passengers $30 per person.
Our tour was in one of those cab/bus/tourist vehicles which had space for 27 people. Since there were just the two of us in it we had our choice of seats. I took 132 photos and Bob took 5. But all of his were good, and I know some of mine are not going to be worth keeping. I missed a beautiful shot of a brown cow with a cattle egret on her back.
We went all around the top of the island looking things from the overlooks - at each place there were places to buy souvenirs, but I didn't get any. We ended up going through Charlotte Amalie, and then he took us right back to the ship. The tour (which was about 2 hours) was $50, and Bob gave him $60.
One of the nice things to do in the Virgin Islands is diving and snorkeling. Almost anyone can snorkel. You can snorkel from the beach or snorkel from a boat.
A list of boats is on the St. Thomas V.I. page at the URL below.
One of the boats like ours that you can snorkel on is Independence. This was the boat that Bob went to look for on our 2010 visit.
Delicious Lunch-- Talk to Captain Pat about having a tailor-made lunch on your day aboard Independence. Pasta, fish, chicken, steak - you name it!
Snorkel Gear and Lessons
Comfortable Shaded Cockpit
Spend the best day of your vacation aboard Independence, a big, comfortable ketch, cruising the bays of St. John and the small islands in Pilsbury Sound. She is equipped with awnings for shade, mats for sunbathing, top notch snorkel gear and all US Coast Guard required safety equipment. Captain Pat Stoeken has been delighting guests with sea stories, delicious meals, beverages, great sailing and snorkeling for over 20 years. A limit of 6 guests and a crew of 2 make for a personalized experience. Half or full day. Let us know what we can do to make a special day for you.
We arranged for a trip with Virgin Island Ecotours online, we chose the Kayak & Snorkel the Marine Sanctuary & Mangrove Lagoon trip at 10:00am which was $62.10 ($69 less 10% for booking online) for 2 1/2 hours of kayaking through the mangroves and snorkeling from shore. We arrived in port at 8am which gave us plenty of time to get to "the snorkeling spot" by taxi, we were there at around 8:45am so we could have also done the full day tour that started at 9am. When we asked them what the difference was in the tour, they said they couldn't accomodate us because they didn't have lunch for us. If it was me running the operation, I would have driven over to the nearest grocery store and picked us up a lunch and tried to sell us the more expensive tour but it seems to be run by a bunch of young kids.
After taking the tour, I was glad we didn't sign up for the longer tour. The 2 1/2 hour tour was enjoyable enough but no WOW factor, the mangroves were interesting as our guide explained to us how they survive in salt water and the important role they have in maintaining the island's fish and bird population but we only saw a couple of birds, a pelican and a great blue heron, and the snorkeling was fine but paled in comparison to the snorkeling we did later in Bonaire. Our guide did pull a jellyfish out of the water so we could hold it, obviously not as venomous as the ones you find in other places like Australia, and later a starfish unlike any I've ever seen. He also pointed out some tiny barracudas near the roots of the mangroves, no more than an inch long. He spotted a nurse shark as well but we couldn't get over to it fast enough
I believe this is more or less the same tour that is offered by Princess for $89 per person, it actually came out to about the same amount of money as the taxi cost us $20 each direction. But we were in a smaller group of 6 people which made it a more enjoyable trip than if we were herding 10 or 20 people.
Bring aqua shoes, swimwear, cash for a gratuity. They provide bottled water and a mask and snorkel, we brought our own
After the kayak/snorkel trip we decided to head to the beach for a few hours of chilling out so we hitched a ride with some fellow kayakers to Sapphire Beach where they were staying and found a nice shady spot under a tree to relax and read a book. Sapphire Beach is reported to be one of the nicest beaches on St. Thomas, you can rent a lounge chair for the afternoon (I think it was $7 for the day) or sit on the beach. There didn't appear to be much in the way of food, I saw one snack bar with very high priced burgers and hot dogs so I waited until we went back to the ship to eat.
You can snorkel off the beach here, follow the other people that are already in the water as they go around the reef. We had our own masks and snorkels but I'm sure you can also rent them, unless you are a really weak swimmer you don't need fins or a floatation device.
You should be able to see some iguanas here either on the beach or in the trees, they seem to be used to the presence of humans, some of them getting within a few feet of us, presumably because they equate humans with food as I'm sure some people give them snacks.
Other beaches I've seen recommended include Coki Beach which is supposed to be the island's best snorkeling spot, Magen's Bay is often listed as one of the world's most beautiful beaches and Secret Harbor. Sapphire Beach wasn't overcrowded, most of the people there seemed to be staying at the resort and not off the cruise ships.
The 99 Steps are just an example of the step structures that were built by the Danes as a way to climb the steep hills of Charlotte Amalie. The bricks used to construct the steps were brought from Denmark as ballast in sailing ships. I have no idea why they call it the 99 steps since we counted 103 steps when climbing......
Frenchtown is about half a mile south of Charlotte Amalie. This area of St, Thomas was settled by immigrants of St. Barthelemy. The majority of these immigrants were French and many still speak Creole today. Fishing is popular in this area as well as the restaurants and bars. It's just another example of the diverse cultures coming together in the Caribbean.
The Emancipation Gardens is a park that is on the site that the Emancipation Proclamation was read on July 3, 1848, freeing the slaves of St Thomas. The event took place after officials received word that governor Peter von Scholten had freed the slaves on St Croix. The park features benches, a gazebo and a replica of the Liberty Bell. Concerts and The Carnival Village in April is here in the park.
The times that we have visited the park have been during beautiful weather so we have seen people lounging on benches, women pushing strollers and children playing in the gazebo. It really is a nice park and provides some good shade and refuge from the heat.
Rothschild Francis was a Civil Rights and Labor leader for Virgin Islanders. He started a newspaper; The Emancipator to champion his causes especially civil rights and the plight of the poor islanders. He became a councilman and even was a delegate to Congress; the first St. Thomian to act as delegate. He was instrumental in the creation of civil government in St. Thomas. His efforts to help the poor with higher wages, labor unions and better working conditions helped endear him to the Islanders.
Bluebeard's Castle, the stone tower located on the grounds of "Bluebeard's Castle Hotel" is in fact not really a castle in the sense of the palaces we think of but legends that surround it would have you think so. The stone tower known as Bluebeard's Castle is a very old watchtower built in 1689 by the Danes to aid in the defense of "Fort Christian," originally called Frederick's Fort. While it served its purpose, giving excellent views of the harbor and downtown Charlotte Amalie, it is its connection to the legend of Bluebeard the notorius pirate which really has people interested in it.
Bluebeard, not to be confused with Blackbeard or Blackbeard's Castle, was another of the infamous 'pirates of the Caribbean'. The legend says that Bluebeard built the "castle" for his one true love, Mercedita. His jealously over her infidelity drove Bluebeard to murder her after which he sailed away from St. Thomas and never returned. Another story of unrequited love ending badly!
Now this fortress is part & parcel of the "Bluebeard's Castle Resort". It is said that the check-in at the hotel takes place in the former residence of the Danish Governor of the island and the fortress is part of the resort. Whether you will want to take the time to visit may depend on the amount of free time you have, but there are other attractions closer to Charlotte Amalie if you are interested in a bit of history.
Ascending Government Hill between Kongens Gade and Store Tarne Gade is the historically known attraction, the "99 Steps". This steep stairway between the two streets built in the 1700's was constructed of multi-colored bricks by Danish engineers. The brick was previously used as ship's ballast by the Danes and now has a new life creating a picturesque climb with greenery on each side. Not for the faint of heart, but for the aerobically fit, the persistant visitor will be rewarded with great views of the city and the Charlotte Amalie harbor. HINT: count the number of steps--is it 99 or even more!?! Watch your step and take your camera!
Descend the hill and head east to find the "Frederick Church Parsonage." One of the oldest houses on St. Thomas, the parsonage was built in 1725 and to this day retains its 18th century architecture, the only structure on the hill to do so.
One of the most famous and beautiful beaches in the world is thought to be Magen's Bay on St. Thomas' north shore. It's signature horseshoe shape (I think it's more rectangular) is easily recognizable once you see it. It draws people from famous to not so famous--Bill Clinton often uses the home of a friend which faces Magen's Bay when he comes to St. Thomas.
Some people think because it has a gently sloping beach and little if any wave action that Magen's Bay is a perfect place for families with children. It does have bathrooms, salt-water showers, changing facitlies, picnic tables and a rental shop for all that fun beach stuff: floats, snorkel gear, lounge chairs, etc. (Some reviews on the bathrooms, etc., have not been favorable.) It also has a boutique, a bar for those delightful tall, cool drinks and snack bar for when the munchies creep up on you after all that swimming, sun and fresh air.
For snorkel nuts like me, try the more secluded western end. But this is not really the best snorkeling beach on the island.
Since Magen's Bay is considered a park, admission fees apply. About $1 for car parking; $3 dollars for adults and 25 cents for children under 12.
Want another great spot for viewing Charlotte Amalie Harbor and the nearby islands? Try a tram ride up to Paradise Point. The ride lifts you up to 700 feet in a matter of minutes. Paradise Point also offers an observation deck, a place to get a cool drink at the Paradise Point Bar or even lunch. Like Mountain Top which is famous for Banana Daiquiries, Paradise Point is famous for a Baileys Bushwacker!
A lot of people will enjoy the tropical bird shows given at 10:30am & 1:30pm. If you miss these you can always browse around the shops and maybe pick up that souvenir you can't live without.
Unfortunately, Paradise Point is only open on days with cruise ship arrivals, but if you are in the area of Havensight Mall, I'd check it out anyway for the possibility. The ride is open from 9am to 5pm. Too bad it closes at 5pm because it would be spectacular to see it at night, but a spectacular sunset can be just as amazing.
Coupons for discounts off drinks or ride tickets can often be found at Tourist Offices, in Tourist Brochures, etc., all around town.
Coral World has been a favorite of families with children for many years. Adults may enjoy a day here as well, particularly in combination with Coki Beach. Coral World covers 5 acres, a very manageable size, in which you can enjoy the aquariums, outdoor pools and nature trails. Predator fish are always a big draw and you can see sharks, moray eels, and others in the special predator tanks. Feeding times and talks about these fascinating sea creatures by their caretakers can be very informative for children and adults alike.
In addition, the trademark dome building lets you observe many colorful types of sea creatures at a depth of 15 feet. Adults would really enjoy the helmet dives, snorkeling, SNUBA and parasailing here at Coral World. From Coki Beach, which is literally right next door, you can see lots of people give parasailing a try---you can always see them floating in the air--they really have a bird's eyeview of the islands and fantastic crystal blue water.
There is a little cafe called the "Hungry Iquana" nicely positioned under tall palms and shade trees which really is a nice amenity here and the park has provided lots of picnic tables too. Another snack bar just outside the gates is aptly called "Beach Bar & Cafe." The tables have a water view--can't beat that! The two gift shops here should make the kids very happy too (even adults such as myself--nice postcards!).
The park is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Great to combine Coral World with Coki Beach for a really nice day in St. Thomas!! Discount coupons for Coral World can be found at most tourist info. booths.
As mentioned above, Coki Beach is virtually only steps away from Coral World. I used the nice, little walkway to visit Coral World after taking a break from snorkeling time. Also, great to get a bite to eat at Coral World, because there really isn't a place for food at Coki.
Located at the East end of St. Thomas, Sapphire Beach is another great place to spend all or just a part of your day. Beautiful white sand, and clear blue waters beckon me always! The beach is really part of the Sapphire Beach Resort & Marina, but they welcome a small amount of people to the beach daily. There you will find a great little beach with fine, white sand and crystal blue water. There is a dive shop renting snorkel equipment, sunfish boats, floats and more. Chaise lounge chairs can also be rented for the day. Though not as good for snorkeling as Coki Beach, you will like this beach anyway.
This place also has a nice little restaurant with a beach/water view, under cover too if you want a break from the sun! We had a nice meal here after spending several hours on the beach and in the water. It was not expensive and service was effecient and friendly.
If you need beach towels, sandals, sun block, swimwear, sunglasses, etc., there is also a nice little gift shop with friendly people to wait on you. There is restroom and changing facilties.
Don't miss the many iquanas that roam the property around the beach and resort.
During previous visits to St. Thomas we had never taken a tour of any kind. We usually walked around on our own and shopped. This visit in April, 2004, was different in that we decided to take a tour on our own. The ship's excursion price for a tour of the island was $40 - $45 per person. Whether you have arrived on the island independently or have arrived by ship, it will be easy to find a driver who will show you the island for a better price than a tour company or ship shore excursion.
Disembarking our ship at Havensight, there were any number of drivers lined up and waiting to drive you anywhere. We hired Mr. Roy Davis to give us a tour. We could have bargained for a lower fare but my husband just settled at his asking price which was $20 per person for a 2 hour private tour of the island in a van. Mr. Davis did a good job of giving us information on the sights and gave us several opportunities to stop and take pictures. Some of the places we saw as we circled about two-thirds of the island were", Mountain Top, and Magen's Bay. The views of Charlotte Amalie from the higher elevations were great. If you have a specific place you would like to see, you need only ask the driver, who in most cases I would think would be happy to take you there.
Like alot of other islands in the Caribbean, when you leave the tourist areas, you will find very poor areas with limited infrastructure--- bad roads, abandoned cars and trash, unkempt areas, etc. Keep in mind, this is an island with limited space for trash removal. "Low - income" housing built by the state or government is virtually non-existent. Still even very modest housing on St. Thomas is very expensive.
The tour was a great eye-opener. St. Thomas is still my favorite place to snorkel at this point.
Magens Bay Road, , 00802, Caribbean
Good for: Couples
7338 Estate Bakkeroe, Charlotte Amalie, Caribbean
Good for: Business
The hotel rooms were old and the bathroom's were rusty, dirty, and downright disgusting. The food...more