Last Updated on March 11, 2023
The most cosmopolitan of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas still retains the distinctive atmosphere of a Caribbean paradise. Though it’s picturesque Charlotte Amalie Harbor is a popular cruise ship port, there are numerous ways to avoid the influx of passengers on those in-port days and retreat to off-the-beaten-path island places where the Caribbean magic is in full bloom. Those are my recommendations for what to do in St. Thomas.
Renting a car is one of the best ways to explore the island, but for those of us who aren’t used to driving on the left side of the road, as they do in the United Kingdom, the idea of it can be daunting. It doesn’t take long to learn the ropes, and besides, the islanders here are friendly and courteous drivers.
What makes St. Thomas even more interesting is its rich history, with a fascinating mix of Dutch, English, Danish, and French influences seen throughout the island. Throw in authentic pirate lore, and you have a unique blend of all these cultures, evident in the architecture, music, and cuisine of the island.
What is there to do in St. Thomas
Magnificent Magen’s Bay
Deeded to the island as a public park, this mile-long, horseshoe-shaped stretch of white sand is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world; it’s a quintessential Caribbean paradise. With a thick fringe of palm trees lining the bay’s calm waters, it’s why Magen’s Bay is one of the most postcard-worthy beaches in the world.
The calm crystal-clear waters are ideal for swimming, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding, and there’s plenty of places to relax in the shade.
Hikers will love the 1.5-mile Discovery Nature Trail that starts at the top, winds through a dry forest, moist-tropical rainforest, mangroves, and finally arrives at the picturesque beach. Keep an eye open for an occasional inquisitive mongoose.
One visit here and you’ll understand why it’s tops on my list of what to do in St. Thomas.
Discover Drake’s Seat
The towering vantage point where Sir Francis Drake reportedly kept watch for enemy ships of the Spanish fleet is without a doubt one of the most spectacular vistas for panoramic views of Magen’s Bay and the Virgin Islands, where the Atlantic Ocean joins the Caribbean Sea.
The roadside stop along Skyline Drive Overlook is an absolute must-do, awe-inspiring experience, and one you’ll never forget. No matter how many pictures you take, a photograph can’t do it justice. It’s more than seeing the view, it’s listening to the breezes rustling through the trees, and the peaceful serenity of this mountaintop vista. It’s a Zen moment for sure.
Though there are other picturesque stops along the way, this one is worth the drive for this vista alone.
Snorkel Coki Point Beach
A white-sand beach on the northern end of the island, Coki Point Beach is one of the best snorkel spots on the island, its waters teem with hundreds of tropical fish. The crystalline bay’s gradual slope is perfect for families, while the rocky reef areas a bit further out are ideal for snorkelers.
Beachgoers can rent chairs and an umbrella from one of the local vendors, who will gladly set everything up. You can get someone from a nearby beach-shack eatery to take your drink or food orders.
One of the locals gave us a tip a few years back on our first visit to the beach which we’ve happily shared with others. Coki’s fish respond Pavlovian-style to dog biscuits–yes, dog biscuits. The minute you enter the water, the fish come swarming in for a nibble. The great part about the biscuit is it takes a while for the water to soften it. By then you will have had more family photo-ops than you could ever imagine.
Hike to Mermaid’s Chair
For the more adventurous wondering what to do in St. Thomas, this 3.6-mile, lightly-trafficked, out-and-back trail to Mermaid’s Chair offers spectacular island views on a moderate-intensity path. It’s one of the best-hidden gems of St. Thomas. According to the locals, the name refers to the sand bar which separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea; at low tide, you can stand on this sandy split.
Hikers must check into the private community gate at the Preserve at Botany Bay, a protected, 397-acre secluded enclave. There’s no charge to enter, but a photo ID is required. Once parked, it’s time to head for some outdoor adventure and to marvel at the tropical flora, fauna, and views.
When we arrived at beautiful secluded Sandy Beach, our only company were two fishermen in the distance. It was fun to eat our packed lunch with toes in the sand before making the trek back to the car.
Venture to Water Island
“See that place over there?” said an old salt boat captain with a twinkle in his eye. “That’s Water Island–one of our best-kept secrets.”
Intrigued, I decided to check it out . Getting there is super easy. A mere 10-minute water taxi ride away, Water Island is almost hidden in a cove within Charlotte Amalie’s harbor. So named by the Europeans for its natural ponds of fresh water, it was also a frequent stop for pirates.
The island is a throwback to simpler times, with fewer than 200 residents who, like visitors, traverse the island by golf cart. There are no stoplights or grocery stores here, so residents bring everything in by boat from St. Thomas. But there are beautiful beaches, a fun beach bar with island cocktails and foodie delights, plenty of walking trails, and miles of undeveloped land as far as the eye can see. It’s paradise.
This is my “secret” what to do in St. Thomas spot!
Paddle to Mangrove Lagoon
One of my favorite adventures on the island was exploring the incredible mangroves and geological wonders of the region.
Virgin Island Ecotours offers guided kayak trips through the magnificent unspoiled red mangrove forests, including optional snorkeling in its clear waters, home to an abundance of sea life including sting rays and colorful parrot fish. Extended tours also include a hike of Cas Cay, a pristine, deserted island complete with tidal pools, volcanic cliffs, and a blowhole.
It’s a breathtaking experience and a chance to get up close and personal with the incredible and unique ecosystems of the Virgin Islands.
If you’ve never kayaked under a moonlight sky filled with stars, St. Thomas is an ideal place to do it. Our 1.5-hour guided tour was led by marine biologists from the nearby University of the Virgin Islands. Clear-bottom two-seat kayaks with an LED-light system combined to provide unbelievable views of marine life like various species of fish, stingrays, sea turtles, and more. Novice kayakers get an orientation before heading out into the stunning bay waters.
We paddled quietly past snug beaches with lighted resorts twinkling in the distance as our guides shared local tales about the waters. In between exciting clusters of the nighttime marine life, they taught us about ocean life, island conservation efforts, and pirates.
Visit a Pirate Museum
Speaking of pirates, no Caribbean island is without its tales of swashbucklers and shipwrecks. St. Thomas is no different. The Pirates Treasure Museum, located in the heart of town, is filled with displays and artifacts that take visitors back to the world of pillagers and plunderers and the treasures they amassed on the high seas.
Exhibits highlight the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean island shipwrecks, pirate encounters, and the deep-sea technology used in finding these hidden treasures. We thought we would zip in and out, but we ended up spending more time here due to all the fascinating information and displays.
One of five National Historic Landmarks in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Blackbeard’s Castle reflects the island lore concerning the infamous Edward Teach or Blackbeard. Whether he actually used the 1679 watchtower for his piracy or not is unclear. But it’s a fact that he sailed these Caribbean waters in the early 18th century.
The castle suffered roof damage from recent hurricanes and is in the process of being repaired and rebuilt. When it does reopen, it’s worth taking the 99 steps to the castle and manor houses. Views of the harbor are breathtaking.
Zipline in Paradise
Adrenaline junkies love ziplining at Tree Limin’ Extreme Zipline Park. The experience shows a side of St. Thomas you won’t see any other way, including some glamorous glimpses of the British Virgin Islands in the distance (if you can keep your eyes open).
Situated in a lush rainforest atop St. Peter Mountain, the award-winning zipline park is the first and only of its kind on St. Thomas. Limin’ Extreme features six exhilarating ziplines, two footbridges, and eight aerial tree platforms. Flying over the canopy at 35 mph is thrilling, and the final exciting ride is called the Yo-Yo. It’s not hard to guess why.
All adventurers under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.