For a lot of people, a Caribbean vacation involves several long, drawn out days soaking in the sun, sipping fruity drinks and relaxing at a pace of life unfamiliar to most of us. But it’s also common to squeeze in a quick weekend escape or only enjoy whatever can be packed into a single day during a shore excursion from a cruise ship.
St Thomas, one of the three main islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, is one such destination that has a lot to offer for the traveler hunkering down for more than a few days as well as those who are just stopping by for only 24 hours. The question is not how to spend time on St Thomas, but how to choose from all the options available.
Here are a few ways to play for a day—whether your time is limited or not—if you’re traveling to St Thomas:
1. Play a Round on Mahogany Run Golf Course
The Mahogany Run Golf Course is a challenging but beautiful 18-hole course designed by George and Tom Fazio. It is best known for the Devil’s Triangle, a set of particularly difficult holes (13, 14 and 15) that have tight fairways, blind corners, tiny greens and brutal winds, all set near the surf. Any golfer who gets through the trio of holes without a penalty is greatly lauded.
If the course doesn’t win you over, the flora and fauna will. Iguanas, mongoose, several species of birds and a seasonal migration of humpback whales are a common sight at Mahogany Run Golf Course.
2. Relax on the Beach
If sun and surf are your style, you’re in luck. Nearly a dozen beaches around the island offer a place to lay a towel in the sand. Magens Bay has the island’s most popular stretch of beach with one full mile laid out next to a particularly calm body of water. Coki Beach is another favorite with its white sand and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving conditions; rentals, waterside eateries and vendors make it a one-stop shop.
Some beaches, like Brewer’s Bay, are popular with families, while others, such as Hull Bay, which offers the best surfing on St Thomas, are known for water sports.
3. Take in a Tourist Attraction
Despite its relatively small size, St Thomas somehow manages to pack in the attractions. If you like to go, go, go during your travels, it’s easy to spend a day hopping from one site to another on the island.
Coral World Ocean Park, one of St Thomas’ most popular attractions (especially for families), gives visitors the chance to explore the Caribbean Sea with access to an undersea observatory, exhibits featuring marine life and encounters with turtles and sharks. At The Butterfly Farm, guests are surrounded by dozens of species of butterflies from around the world, and the St Peter Mountain Greathouse & Botanical Gardens offer great picture opportunities with waterfalls, tropical birds, fish ponds and colorful tropical flowers.
First-time visitors to St Thomas may want to check out the St Thomas Skyride, which carries passengers into the air 700 feet (214 meters) above the town of Charlotte Amalie. It can be a bit touristy, but it’s also a great way to check out the views of the Caribbean and get a feel for the lay of the land on St Thomas. Another similar attraction is Mountain Top, the highest point on the island. From here, travelers get a sweeping view of Magens Bay, St John and the British Virgin Islands.
Read about more things to do in the Caribbean
4. Shop ‘Til You Drop
Because St Thomas is a heavily trafficked cruise port, duty-free shopping is plentiful, almost to the point of overwhelming. The cruise port is the busiest shopping area, and this is also where you’ll find the greatest variety of items. Though duty-free shopping is available throughout the Caribbean, the allowance on St Thomas is $1,600 for U.S. residents, which is double that of most other islands.
Jewelry shops are particularly abundant, but perfume, electronics, tobacco and alcohol are other popular purchases. Of course, if you’re just looking for a colorful sarong or other beach souvenir, there are plenty of places to pick those up as well.
5. Island Hop to St John
If you’ve been to St Thomas before and want to do something a bit off the beaten path, then leave the island. St John is about 15 minutes away by boat, so hop an island ferry on St Thomas and escape for the day. Two-thirds of St John is a protected national park, and the pace of life is much slower and relaxed than that on St Thomas.
With miles of hiking trails, opportunities for camping and just a few quiet oceanfront shops, St John’s vibe is completely different than that found on St Thomas.
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- JoAnna Haugen