Recently I wrote a post emphasizing the need to sometimes ignore advice given by some so called travel experts. In that post I used as an example the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Before my trip no one I consulted had anything good to say about this oddly maligned island, instead everyone told me to flee St. Thomas and spend my time on St. John. I’m glad I ignored their advice, because I discovered an island that was beautiful and interesting, one that has surprises in store and one that I truly enjoyed visiting.
I was in the Caribbean working on a project with Marriott Resorts of Mexico and the Caribbean. The goal was to highlight their properties and islands and show why they’re great places to visit. My first stop was at the Frenchman’s Reef Marriott Beach Resort on St. Thomas and it was their kind staff that helped me organize a guide and driver for a day of exploration.
First, I thought I’d share a few facts about St. Thomas, to further tempt you from sailing off to other nearby islands.
- The US Virgin Islands were Danish until 1917 when the United States purchased them for $25 million
- There are over 40 beaches on St. Thomas
- Americans don’t need a passport to visit St. Thomas
- Today a panoramic overlook, Drake’s bench is the supposed location where Sir Francis Drake spied enemy ships
- Even though it’s American, you still have to drive on the left hand side of the road
- Open-air safari trucks are the cheapest way to get around the island
What’s Not To Like?
Driving around the island, from one side to the other the sea was never far away, providing views from high atop mountains that would make an angel weep. At one point standing on the side of the road I looked down and saw Magens Bay, one of the top beaches in the world and in the distance a smattering of islands, strewn around the sea like marbles. It was stunning, beautiful, gorgeous; whichever word you want to use to describe natural perfection without sounding too saccharine. Go ahead and try, it’s not easy.
Across the channel I could see St. John and I wondered. I wondered why everyone seemed to flee St. Thomas in preference for this other island, this supposed crown jewel of the Virgin Islands. I have no doubt that it is indeed beautiful, but frankly I find it hard to believe any island in this fortunate grouping are bad places to spend some time. Some may be more developed than others and some may have more activities for impatient vacationers, but none are bad.
Driving back to the Frenchman’s Reef, watching the sun set below the water I decided that St. Thomas was my island, that everyone else can thankfully fill the beaches of St. John while I keep this bit of island perfection all to myself.
What place were you surprised by when you first visited?
9 thoughts on “In Defense of St. Thomas”
The islands looks amazing! I was surprised by Singapore. So many people told me it was just another big Asian city but when I got there I discovered it was so much more. I loved all the different cultural areas offering such diversity in one city.
Great example and I agree, Singapore is a fantastic city.
In which side of the road do they drive in St John?
Not sure, never been to St. John
Nice images, Matt. I haven’t been to the Virgin Islands yet, but a trip is on my to-do list.
What little I have heard from friends has been positive, though I don’t recall which island(s) they visited.
Do you recall, Matt, what in particular the “experts” disliked about St. Thomas? From your brief review
above, it definitley appears to be worth a visit.
It was more of a comparison. To a person I was advised to go to nearby St. john instead.
Having visited St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, I will agree that St. Thomas has much to offer: stellar beaches, quirky and enjoyable culture, stunning vistas, crowded and crass streets filled with uninteresting shops, and a little too much gun violence, perhaps thanks to its American ties.
St. John’s is quiet, uncrowded, and has fewer attractions but better parks and beaches, in my experience. Likewise St. Croix. Both St. John’s and St. Croix have amazing snorkelling opportunities.
And I would recommend Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands, over all of these.
Each of the US Virgin Islands has something special about it.St Thomas is the seat of USVI Government, the economic center and destination for so many tourists, mega yachts and cruise ships! And why not! St Thomas has beautiful beaches, shopping, night life and plenty of history and culture.I love St John for its protected lands and end-of-the-road, no-airport-here style. And St Croix? Wonderful people, fantastic food and enough wide open space that you’ll hardly know you’re on an island!
I spent a day on St Thomas as part of a cruise and a few people tried to steer us towards an excursion to St John instead. I’m glad we stayed around Charlotte Amalie though, as we got stuck in a big storm and managed to get back to the ship easily. I’d like to see less commercial parts of the island next time and try to visit St John too.
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