8 things you have to do in the US Virgin Islands
A view of the Charlotte Amalie harbour, St Thomas.
Most Caribbean islanders know there is way more to their stomping grounds than just sun, sea and sand.
The US Virgin Islands is no different really - there’s far more beneath the surface of this cluster of islands than just white sand beaches and pristine blue water.
In late October, Loop was invited on a press tour to St Thomas by the US Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, in partnership with LIAT, which resumed its route from Antigua to St Thomas earlier this year.
The islands are making a brisk and impressive recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which ravaged the region in September 2017.
While repairs are still underway in some areas, we think that is all the more reason to go and bear witness to the resilience of our Caribbean neighbours, while enjoying the many restaurants, activities, attractions and shops (!!!) open for business.
Check out our list of things you HAVE to pencil into your itinerary when visiting the US Virgin Islands.
1. Snorkeling at Trunk Bay. Okay, let’s get the basics out of the way. You can’t visit the USVI and not take a dip in the topaz-blue waters surrounding St John. From Red Hook, St Thomas, hop a 20-minute ferry to St John and dock at Cruz Bay. Hop one of the many safari trucks at the port and get shuttled to Trunk Bay, where you can rent beach chairs and snorkeling gear and basically just laze the day away.
Trunk Bay, St John
2. Gladys’ Cafe - Gladys’ Cafe is more than just a restaurant, it’s an institution. Recommended by the New York Times, this joint is tucked away in one of Charlotte Amalie’s historic alleyways near the port. Though conch was sadly out of season when we visited, word is that the conch in butter sauce is an absolute must-have. As a consolation, we had the conch fritters and honestly could have done with a box to go. Whatever you decide to eat, make sure you try at least one of the varieties of Gladys’ famous pepper sauce, which are laid out on the table for your enjoyment.
Conch fritters, Gladys' Cafe
3. Historical Walking Tour - The US Virgin Islands are unique in a number of ways. They were, for example, the only islands in the region colonised by the Danish. This legacy means that Charlotte Amalie is a port city rich in history with the buildings to match. Meet up with historian Felipe Ayala and work your way down the ‘step streets’ of Charlotte Amalie, learning the stories behind the colonial-era buildings that grace the USVI’s capital. As chair of the St. Thomas-St. John Historic Preservation Commission, Ayala is a walking library on the history of the Territory so soak up everything you can (tip: ask him about West Indian furniture) My favourite building? The imposing but stately red Fort Christian overlooking the bay at Charlotte Amalie.
Learn the fascinating story behind the 'Three Queens' sculpture on your walking tour of Charlotte Amalie.
4. Pirate Treasure Museum - Also a vibrant part of the US Virgin Islands’ history is its reputation for being a favourite haunt of pirates and marauders. The Pirate Treasure Museum is a fun, interactive attraction featuring an impressive collection of artifacts salvaged from shipwrecks around the islands and around the world. Step into a Hurricane simulator and brace yourself against the winds of a Category 1 hurricane, or try your hand at recovering gold coins from the ocean floor. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for pirates on the top floor of the museum, and be sure to browse the gift shop for unique souvenirs including jewellery made from real sunken treasure!
Pirate Queens display at Pirate Treasure Museum, St Thomas.
5. Frenchtown Brewing Company - If you love craft beer then you have got to make this nano brewery a stop on your St Thomas vacation. I am not generally even a fan of beer, but could easily see myself sipping on at least two of the four brews offered by Frenchtown Brewing Company. The brewery sports just three barrels, so expect a mix of house brews and seasonal brews which change from time to time. My favourite brew was the Caribbean Crush Cream Ale. If you’re a fan of what you taste, you can get your beer to go in cans, and be sure to pick up some Frenchtown Brewing Company merchandise as well.
6. Shopping - Shopaholics, have no fear: there’s shopping on the US Virgin Islands to satisfy a wide range of tastes. If you’re into luxury shopping, or want to take home clothing, crafts or jewellery made in the USVI, head to St John’s Mongoose Junction - a shopping complex that houses several boutiques and eating places. It’s just a 2-minute drive from where the ferry docks in Cruz Bay. If you’re just after souvenirs we recommend Mountain Top on St Thomas for a WIDE variety of touristy tokens. When you’re all shopped out, enjoy the stunning view of Magen’s Bay while sipping on Mountain Top’s world famous banana daiquiris. And if neither boutiques nor souvenir stops are your thing, then there’s always tried and trusted KMart! That’s right. KMart! There are two on the island so make sure you leave room in your luggage for your haul.
Grab a banana daiquiri at Mountain Top
7. Mafolie Restaurant - If it’s dinner with a view you’re after then it doesn’t get much better than Mafolie Restaurant. Located at the top of a hill overlooking the St Thomas Harbour, Mafolie Restaurant boasts an impressive vista, which only gets more dazzling at night. Equally as impressive is the extensive menu - from which we can recommend the garlic bread - seriously, we couldn’t stop eating it - and the Island Rum lobster.
Island Rum Lobster, Mafolie Restaurant
8. Sunset Sail Charlotte Amalie - This would be the perfect end to a perfect vacation in St Thomas. Board a catamaran at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort and set sail to Charlotte Amalie. Rock back with a cup of rum punch, nibbling on finger foods prepared by the crew, and enjoy the peaceful, relaxing cruise through the waters surrounding the southern coast of St Thomas as you make your way to the capital’s harbour. Your captain will point out major landmarks along the way, like Marriott's Frenchman’s Cove hotel and Hassel Island. Sail around the compact Charlotte Amalie as the sun sets and savour your time spent on this special island before you head back to dock and back to reality.