Looking at a map, the trio of small islands to the South East of Puerto Rico look like a trail of island breadcrumbs leading downward toward Venezuela and cozying up to the British Isles. The U.S. Virgin Islands were once sleepy islands passed over by Columbus on his voyages of “discovery. ” They later became chess pieces——sold to the U.S. in a rushed deal from Denmark to keep the rolling hills and white sand coasts out of the hands of Nazi Germany during WW1. The Danish West Indies became a U.S. territory in March 1917. This year celebrates their centennial birthday.
One hundred years later, the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are bursting with a unique history, culture, food and activities—-with caribbean, Danish and mainland American influences. I flew to St. Thomas during spring break along with members of my immediate family to attend the wedding of a family friend. It was the perfect excuse to get reacquainted with the island after a 20-year-hiatus. In my absence, I noticed a great deal had changed on the island, including an influx of Americans living and working there.
I spent many spring breaks on the island as a child. Therefore, the week I spent in St. Thomas was a bit like coming home for me. Back then, my parents had a timeshare in Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in Bolongo Bay. This time around we chose higher ground renting out a villa in Blackbeard’s Hill, west of the capital, Charlotte Amalie. McLaughin Anderson Luxury Villas offers a sweeping view from the center of the island and is located close to Magen’s Bay and Mahogany Run Golf Course. The four-bedroom property we chose includes rooms with en suite, a private pool and full kitchen with washer and dryer.
The flight to the island was a quick three-and-a-half hour ride from Washington, DC. The airport is located in St. Thomas, but services all three of the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as the British Virgin Islands. American citizens do not require a passport to board a flight but are required to go through customs when exiting the island.
We began our trip by shaking off the winter storm we left and settling into our temporary home. After a quick trip to the neighborhood supermarket for some local fare, we relaxed poolside on our deck soaking up the sun. The next two days were filled with pre-wedding events at the Marriott at Frenchman’s Reef. When we had a day to ourselves we decided to get reacquainted with the streets of downtown Charlotte Amalie, also the capital of the Virgin islands, exploring the alleyways past luxury jewelry stores, high end clothing shops and restaurants. We were lucky to be able to explore on a day when there were no cruise ships docked, so streets weren’t crowded with tourists. The area is very walkable and includes an open air market perfect for practicing your bartering skills.
Our first trip to the beach was at Magen’s Bay, one of the most popular beaches on the island. Its white sand, calming water and relaxed atmosphere and bar brings people from all over the island for swimming and snorkeling. The entrance fee is affordable at five dollars for non residents and includes parking. Other public beaches on the island are free and many are included in the resort fee.
On land the island offers a number of unique activities including tours of blackbeard’s castle, a world-class golf course, skydiving and zip lining.
Getting around on the island is easy without a car. Taxi vans are located everywhere and will take you most places for less than $12 a person. If you decide to rent a car, be aware of the streets winding through hills. People are required to drive on the left side of the road and steering wheels are on the left, which can cause a bit of confusion to visitors.
Traveling to one of the other two islands is a breeze. If you want to visit St. John, it’s a quick ferry ride from either Red Hook Bay or downtown Charlotte Amalie for six or twelve dollars, respectively. The ferry also goes to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Traveling to St. Croix involves a slightly longer trip on a seaplane.
There is no shortage of things to do and discover on the islands. Visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands is a great option for those especially coming from the East Coast, where its a short flight. The beaches, historic places and sports options are amazing and plentiful. And you never have to leave the country.