Charlotte Amalie is the capital of the US Virgin Islands and is located on St. Thomas, the second largest island of the USVI. Known for its history of attracting pirates and other colorful characters, St. Thomas is now one of the most popular cruise ship destinations of the region. And it’s no wonder, there’s gorgeous white sand beaches, renowned bays, natural wonders, and of course, treasures to be found in duty free shopping.
It seems like there are more jewelry and perfume stores on this island than people to buy them, which is why I guess it’s good that there are up to 11 (!) cruise ships stopping daily filling the streets with tourists and potential money spenders.
Despite that fact, I highly recommend staying longer. There’s so much to see and do in the region that a few hours doesn’t do it justice. There are many Airbnbs and resorts across the whole island, so why not enjoy more R&R here, where time runs a little more languid? Everyone loves an island vacation, and spending a week here was just what this doctor ordered. And the best part is that it’s all in our own backyard, negating the need of a passport or a change in your cell phone plan.
be like the pina colada song, come with me and escape
There are a few flights to St. Thomas daily on American, JetBlue and Delta, mostly direct from the East Coast. The minute you set foot on the ground, the Caribbean breeze envelops you and that salty air gives you a big humid hug. The easiest way to get around town if you’re staying for more than a few days is by renting your own car. The roads are notoriously bumpy and horrible, so personally I wouldn’t spring for something too fancy. Lots of rentable Jeeps and smaller sedans make parking and life easier.
Christopher Columbus was thought to be one of the first Europeans to land on the Virgin Islands, giving them the moniker “Saint Ursula y las once mil virgenes.” I guess you can see why they shortened it to “the Virgin Islands.” The three islands in the US archipelago were purchased from the Danish government in 1917, and I bet they’re still kicking themselves over letting them go. Charlotte Amalie was named after King Christian’s consort from the 1600s, and I guess the name stuck. Actually many Danish street names are still used today and the very specific colorful Danish architecture (see here) has also been preserved.
Located on the Southern mid-portion of the island, the main part of town is spread over a few city blocks. The focal point is Emancipation Gardens, a green area that connects the main shopping district on Droningen Gard to Fort Christian, the oldest structure in the USVI, built in 1671 (as you can see on the photo below).
Adjacent to this structure is Vendor’s Plaza, where locals hawk souvenirs. Government buildings line the long and winding Veteran’s Drive, which buffers the town from the bay.
The inlet is slightly hidden and you can understand why this area was popular amongst pirates and privateers. You can picture Captain Jack ambling along these lamplit cobblestone roads, it’s very much the inspiration for Pirates of the Caribbean.
If you’re super interested in the history of the island like me (I’m a nerd), you can take the self-guided historical walking tour, taking you past Frederick’s Church, the St. Thomas Synagogue and to one of the biggest attractions, 99 Steps.
problems steps ascend to Blackbeard’s Castle, the perfect vantage to spy on ships entering the harbor. Unfortunately damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, this structure was closed when I visited. You can still make the climb and take in those breathtaking views of the sea.
All of this meandering will make you very hungry, and you should most definitely grab the opportunity to have some Caribbean fare, one of the most underrated types of cuisine, in my opinion. Lots of spice, seafood, fried stuff, what more do you need? Jen’s is right on Emancipation Square next to the Grand Hotel, and they do Caribbean homecooking right.
You can’t not have fried conch when in this part of the world and their spiny grilled lobsters are a treat. And of course, you have to have a daiquiri in the cutest bikini outfitted glasses you’ve ever seen.
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle? of the city, a great place to stay is at the Marriott property on Frenchmen’s Cove. See, it already sounds exotic and adventurous, like a sequel to a movie. Pirates of the Caribbean: legend of Frenchmen’s Cove. Disney, call me (but please don’t sue I own nothing)!
Directly across the bay, this colorful accommodation has its own beach that faces the Charlotte Amalie harbor, so you can watch mega yachts and cruises pass all day if you so choose.
It’s close to Havensight outdoor shopping area and Yacht Haven, you guessed it, another outdoor shopping area. I have to say, it’s really only got the normal cruise ship stops like Diamonds International and Del Sol (seriously who buys solar color changing shirts?), but there’s a few bars and cantinas if you’re looking for something to eat.
Speaking of eating, it’s also close to Cravin’ Crabs, one of the local favorites for its Filipino Caribbean fusion cuisine, if you’re cravin’ something different.
And across from Havensight is one of the most touristy, but very cool things to do on the island, Paradise Point skytram. This little pod takes you to the top of the island providing sweeping views of Charlotte Amalie. On a clear day, you can see clear to St. Croix and even Puerto Rico, do not quote me on that.
The view is spectacular, and of course there is a bar where they serve their famous Bailey’s Bushwacker. The tram runs only on days when cruise ships are in port, and has a special locals night on Wednesday where there’s happy hour specials and live music at discounted price.
That’s pretty good for one day right? J/k that was spread out over a few days, but stay tuned for the sequel, USVI: Awakening at Magen’s Bay, which sounds like a Michael Bay film or like a show on CBS, USVI: Cruz Bay. I’m full of ideas, holla at ya girl, Hollywood.