Saint Thomas: Sand, Sun and Relaxation

Catching some rays like everyone else, Saint Thomas.

{Heather’s View}

TRANSPORTATION: There are lots of ways to get around the island. I found the easiest to be via taxi. The majority of accessible taxis are either enclosed vans or Safari style/open truck taxis. Passengers can range from 1-12 depending on pick up and destination locations. The rates are standard across the island. Before your trip check the web or your hotel for current rates. Private taxis are available but keep in mind their rates are higher and must be booked ahead of time. Our favorite taxi driver was Radiant (see below for her contact information). She was our cab driver on two separate occasions. She kept us laughing with her funny stories and island history tidbits.

EATS: When it comes to the food on St. Thomas I wasn’t overjoyed. I had some decent meals, but nothing that wowed me especially considering the high prices. The top 3 places just happened to be next door to each other. When I ventured out of the southside to eat, my experiences were less than stellar. My best meal was at Mim’s Seaside Bistro where I had the Sesame Ahi Tuna with a baked potato and steamed vegetables. It was delicious, and the portion size was enormous. Reservations are not required, but I suggest making a reservation and ask for a table facing the water.

Breakfast at The Lobster Grill, Bolongo Bay Resort.

Breakfast at The Lobster Grill, Bolongo Bay Resort.

If you are looking for a fun relaxed atmosphere I recommend Iggie’s which is located in-between Mim’s and Bolongo Bay Resort. You can eat in the open air restaurant or at any of the picnic tables on the beach. At night, visit for the drinks, live music and dancing on the beach.

I did have a lobster at Lobster Grille, and it was pretty good. But $50 for a 1-1 ½ pound (including the shell with the body and head) lobster is pretty spendy. Their food is good, and I recommend calling for a reservation.

TO DO: The Beach – any beach will do. Maybe not any beach, but it is hard to go wrong. The waters are crystal clear and shine with brilliant turquoise hues. There are several beaches to choose from. Not all beaches have taxi service. Two of the beaches do charge entrance fees, the famous Magen’s Bay beach is $4 for non-residents. We visited Magen’s Bay, Sapphire Bay, and Bolongo Bay. If I had to pick a favorite, I guess it would be the latter. Magen’s was beautiful and calm water but very packed. It is a hot spot for locals, tourists, and incoming cruise ship excursions. And all for a good reason, the sand is fine and soft, there is a park area where you can BBQ, large restrooms with showers, a restaurant, and even beach drink service.

Bolongo is good. The entry line is a little rocky in parts, but still enjoyable especially when the local iguana couple is roaming the beach, trees, and dock.

Two things to note: The Caribbean sun may not be crazy hot, but it can burn you even on the cloudiest of days. We saw way too many people sunburn and miserable because they thought they could beat the sun. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Matt getting some much-needed sun.

Matt is getting some much-needed sun.

If you are sensitive to bug bites, avoid the beaches around sunset or change into long pants and shoes. VI has sand fleas/flies. We experienced the worst time to be around sunset/dusk. Matt wasn’t bitten nearly as much as I was. Most of the beach hotels and restaurant/bars we went to had free bug spray available for their patrons. I recommend bringing your own and make sure it contains DEET. If you don’t want to invest in bug spray, a local remedy we learned is rubbing Gin on your extremities. Not sure if it works, but the logic behind it seemed believable.

The Water – swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding, paddle boating, kayaking and jet skiing are just a few of the water activities available all around the island. If you are new to paddle boarding or snorkeling, I recommend starting on the north side of the isle. The winds and waves tend to be milder making for a better beginner experience. Not every beach has a rental hut. Check ahead of time to make sure your destination has what you need.

Matt paddle boarding in Bolongo Bay.

Matt paddle boarding in Bolongo Bay.

Scuba Diving shops are located throughout the island. There are plenty of dive sites focusing on marine life or wrecks to choose between. If there is a particular place you are interested in be sure to let your captain or dive master know ahead of time. We drove through St. Thomas Dive Club. Our crew was Captain JT and Dive Master Andrew. Josh A. was our store guy, and he was extremely helpful. Our 2-morning dives were at the Shelves and The Cow. I would recommend The Cow but not The Shelves. The morning dives tend to cater toward more experienced divers, and the afternoon left for the beginners. My experience with STDC was meh at best (maybe I will post on this in the future).

Diving at The Cow off St Thomas.

Diving at The Cow off St Thomas.

Sea Snail.

Sea Snail.

Matt diving at The Shelves off of Little St Johns.

Matt diving at The Shelves off of Little St Johns.

Something to note: If you do choose to do any boating activity while in the USVI consider taking the precautions for seasickness before you get on the boat. We noticed a few people wavering on the sickness line, and it wasn’t fun to watch so I can’t imagine it was fun to experience first hand.

Meeting Locals/Shopping/Charlotte Amalie – take the time to talk to the locals. The ones we met were incredibly kind and helpful. Make eye contact, say hello, introduce yourself – it is that easy, right?

I am not much of a shopper when I am on vacation, but I did notice there are plenty of shopping opportunities in and around the island. Downtown Charlotte Amalie seemed to have the most variety from high-end luxury shopping stores to pop up local market stalls, and it catered to all budgets. The day we went to CA the shops were open, but everything else was closed. Don’t be like us, make sure to check what day/time the city buildings are open/closed. We spent a few hours walking around the government buildings, parks, religious buildings and old hotels. I can only imagine how wonderful some of these buildings must be on the inside.

LODGING: There are plenty of places to stay from camping to hostels to four-star resorts. You can find accommodations for every budget. Before you book, research your area of interest. If you are most interested in shopping and history, I recommend staying in Charlotte Amalie. If you want easy access to several beaches, I recommend the east or south side. Not all “Beach Hotels” are on a beach. There are some that you have to take a shuttle to get to the nearest beach or walk a few hundred yards.

We stayed on the south side at Bolongo Bay Resort. I wasn’t sure what to expect because the reviews we had read were mixed. We were both so pleasantly surprised; this place was excellent. We had a 3rd-floor room with a view of the coconut tree lined beach. And yes, this place is right on its own beach. The service was outstanding. Every employee we encountered was friendly and welcoming. I am a firm believer that if you treat others well, you will be treated well in return. I think this is especially true when traveling!

Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, St Thomas.

Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, St Thomas.

Looking out over Magens Bay.

Looking out over Magens Bay.

[Matthew’s View]

Our timing for our visit to Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands couldn’t have come soon enough. In our homeport of DC, the weather was a streak of cold days, each trying to outdo one another. Upon touchdown, the air started to fill with excitement for the warm days to come, and we were not disappointed, in fact after about thirty seconds on the ground I was hot; some of it might have to do with my lingering winter clothes from that morning. At just over thirty square miles Saint Thomas is a bastion of warm sun, friendly people, and a seemingly endless fresh breeze.

Getting Around: Finding a taxi at the airport for the hotel was pretty effortless; the key was gathering enough people to make the driver feel good about departing, as you immediately start to notice every taxi is a group affair. During our time on the island, I believe I only saw one sedan style cab; all the others were either economy style vans or safari style open trucks. Car rentals were also available, but our plan was to spend time on the beach, not the blacktop.

The Island: Right away as we departed the airport you start to get an idea of the spatial layout, adjacent to the solar panel-lined runway three hotels gobble up the available beach real estate. The island is a series of hills, some reaching over two thousand feet, and as our taxi made its way on the windy roads through the capital city, you got a sense of a muted, almost dull, Caribbean color scheme on the buildings. Charlotte Amalie is a very manageable sized town, especially in the historic downtown, there is an incline as you make your way away from the water; it is almost like a bowl shape. One of the main roads running through the downtown is full of stores selling diamonds and other jewelry, not my thing, but it is there if you want it.

Fort Christian Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

Fort Christian Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

Main Street of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

Main Street of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

Accommodations: Our van taxi expertly piloted by “Spice,” a nickname derived from his sign not his love of fiery foods, dropped us off at the Bolongo Bay Resort. As with custom they offered us a complimentary tropical drink and then the next words I heard had something to do with a complimentary room upgrade, bonus points for Bolongo Bay. The room was all you could want a bed, shower, a/c, mini fridge and a balcony that looked out onto the ocean. There was a full restaurant and an excellent beach bar entitled Iggies.

Iggies is a pretty solid directly on the beach bar that is harder to come by than you would think, both places are on the property, and they both were put to good use for our stay. My only regret comes from not trying Mama Violas French toast, a recipe that has remained unchanged for thirty-seven years as reported by Mama Viola herself. Mims is another yet a little pricier restaurant that is in the neighborhood, roughly a 3 min walk past Iggies. It is connected to the condos that are next door and has an Italian influence.

Rocks on Bolongo Bay.

Rocks on Bolongo Bay.

Sights: Several recommendations came to us in regards to Megan’s Beach and its status as the best beach on St Thomas, and one of the best in the Caribbean. This put us in touch with Radiant our most entertaining taxi driver to date, to say she had an opinion on everything would be an understatement. It was no secret that this was the beach to hit as people lined it from one end to the other. The tropical flora opened up on to very fine white sand that after about thirty feet were enveloped with warm blue-green water, as this beach is on the northern shore of the island the waves are very relaxed.

Schools of minnows were just feet from the shore with a few larger roughly hand-sized fish in pods of 3-10, a few feet past them. After a few enjoyable hours in the sun and of watching pelicans dive bomb for lunch where ever the opportunity arose we called it a success. All in all, it was a beautiful beach, and the throngs of people fluctuated so I never really felt over crowded.

Heather strolling down Magens Bay Beach.

Heather is strolling down Magens Bay Beach.

Locals: Every person I meet on the Islands was friendly, seemed genuinely happy and helpfully; keep in mind that tourism is the main lifeblood, but I never felt that was the reason for their all around general awesomeness.

Travelasics:

Money Matters: Don’t be fooled by the “U.S.” in the title, you will get charged foreign transaction fees on everything, including ATM, withdraws. Bring cash, especially 5’s & 10’s for the Taxi’s and dig out that credit card that waives these fees; if you don’t have one, get it they are your best travel buddy. (Nerd Wallet and The Points Guy are both useful resources)

Photo Advice: If you plan on getting any underwater images or videos, especially while diving, I strongly suggest you get yourself a red filter. The water is beautiful to the human eye, but it will fool your camera’s sensor, and your digital feed will be heavy on the blue-green. If you are a GoProer, there is a super easy to use red snap on filter (Hero3 or Hero 1/2) that is worth every penny; if not I highly recommend them they do a fantastic job.

Helpful links:

Recommendable: Yes, I would recommend visiting St. Thomas. A passport is not required for US citizens, but I recommend bringing it in case you decide to visit the British side. That being said I highly recommend visiting the British side.

Love Shadows, Bolongo Bay.

Love Shadows, Bolongo Bay.

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