Affordable St. Thomas Travel Guide
ABOUT ST. THOMAS
St. Thomas is one of three major islands within the U.S. Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean. The U.S. Virgin Islands are located right next to the British Virgin Islands. This Caribbean oasis has only 50,000 residents, yet has more than 2,000,000 visitors per year (mainly by way of cruise ship). Being that it is a U.S. territory, it is very easy to get around because everyone speaks perfect english. It is best known for its beautiful beaches (including Magens Bay – voted best in the world) and it’s world class snorkeling.
It’s capitol, Charlotte Amalie, was founded by the Danish in the 1600s and as a result is bursting with fascinating history. We stayed here and everything within the city is very walkable. The rest of the island is extremely mountainous and you are best off traveling via local taxi (i.e. a trunk bed with rows fastened on top that you just jump on for a couple bucks).
WHAT I PACKED
No matter where I travel to, I virtually never check a bag. I almost see it as a challenge of sorts and I would rather use the $100 it costs to check a bag, having experiences where ever I’m headed.
That being said, I normally always pack versatile separates. But for 5 days in the tropical climate of St. Thomas, I was awarded the rare opportunity to pack flowing, beachy dresses that I didn’t have to style more than one way.
I ended up packing 4 dresses, 1 romper, a pair of shorts, 2 tops, 3 belts, 3 pairs of shoes, 3 bags and a whole lot of accessories. I stuck to my typical go-to rule of packing three belts and three pairs of shoes in coganc, black and white. This always seems to work for me.
WHAT I WORE
Look One: Traveling from Minneapolis
We had a full day of traveling (including a night at the Charlotte airport) – so comfort and warmth was of upmost priority. When I am traveling some place tropical when it is cold back home, I have specific pieces that I wear just for traveling that I just know are “airport” clothes I won’t wear on the trip. I chose a combination of boyfriend jeans, a sweater, a faux leather jacket, blanket scarf and loafers (easy to slide on and off for security).
Look two: The Day we got to St. Thomas
We arrived in St. Thomas around 3pm the first day and immediately changed into our vacation clothes to go explore and eat before the day was over. This breezy blouse was perfect (and it’s only $19!)
Look three: The first full day in St. Thomas
This day we walked to Morning Side Beach, which was a beautiful and quaint stretch of gorgeous beach that wasn’t over populated. We had a wonderful lunch of ceviche and Painkillers (the islands official drink) at The Sandbar (an extension of Havana Blue). I wore this maxi dress (on sale for $22.90) with studded sandals.
Look four: Exploring the capitol, Charlotte Amalie
We spent a day shopping and exploring in Charlotte Amalie and I wore this adorable off the shoulder number (that’s only $25!) We ate at Glady’s – a pretty well-known spot that’s been highlighted by Food TV – and shopped for jewelry. I ended up splurging on a Kunzite stone that I plan on making a setting for. Did I mention St. Thomas has tax and duty-free shopping?! Everything from Gucci to Tiffany’s has a store here.
Look five: A day at Magen’s Bay and a nice dinner.
We went to the famous Magens Bay to spend a day on the north side of the island. I now see why it is named one of the best beaches in the world: it is surrounded by mountains and has zero rocks. Just dreamy white sand, bright blue waters and ample sun. I wore this maxi to the beach and then a nice dinner after. Note on the maxi, size up! It runs small.
Look six: A private boat charter and snorkeling with sea turtles.
For a private boat tour and our last day on the island, I wore this dreamy maxi. We were sipping on mimosas during the one hour charter to Buck Island, where I then traded my maxi for a bikini to snorkel with sea turtles.
WHERE WE STAYED
We were traveling as a group of 7, because we brought our entire family with us (from Zach’s side). Second to airfare, accommodations are typically what raises the price tag for a vacation. We have gotten pretty good at securing inexpensive flights for our trips – we managed to snag airfare from Minneapolis to St. Thomas for just $230 per person.
But many AirBNBs or apartments you can rent for the week (typically cheap options) only accommodate six. Bluebeard’s Castle allows up to 4 per room (one pull out and one queen bed), so it was only about $160 per person after all taxes and fees.
The resort itself has three restaurants and has an incredible pool and hot tub set up. It is at the top of a mountain and looks down at Charlotte Amalie, where the cruise ships come in. The premises actually houses Bluebeard’s Castle (hence the name) and is truly historic. I would definitely recommend this resort.
WHAT WE DID
For 5 days, 4 nights.
We spent our time in St. Thomas beachside, exploring the capitol, indulging in the cuisine and learning the history of the island. Here are some of my favorite things that we did that you need to do if you find yourself in St. Thomas.
Visit Zora, located in Charlotte Amalie.
Even though we didn’t make the splurge to buy a pair of these custom-made leather sandals, we couldn’t help but be awed in the tradition and artistry of it all.
Charter a boat and go to Buck Island with Fury Charters to swim with sea turtles.
When I look backs at the top 20 experiences of my life, snorkeling with sea turtles on Buck Island will easily be at the top. Captain Mike from Fury Charters was equal parts hilarious and informative and made it a truly personalized experience. We were very lucky to only have the seven of us on the charter, because the other group that was supposed to be aboard canceled last minute. So we paid for a public tour (up to 25 people) and got a private one! Lucky us.
It is an hour ride out to Buck Island and another hour back. When you are en route, you get a scenic tour of the Islands with unlimited rum punch. My glass never got below half way and the service was great. When we got there, we were able to snorkel along side these endangered sea turtles and get very close to them. At one point, I was swimming right along side of them – a seriously incredible experience. It was $70 for a half day, which was a great value in my opinion.
Go to Magen’s Bay (and stop at Drake’s Seat on the way there).
Magen’s Bay is constantly rated as one of the top rated beaches in the world. The white sand and aqua waters surrounded by mountains make it easy to see why. I recommend looking at the cruise schedule and planning your beach day when there isn’t a cruise stopped there for the day. There isn’t a single rock on this beach and depending on where you are swimming, there are waves that are perfect for bodysurfing as well.
Unless you rented a car, you can find a local taxi (i.e. a truck bed with seats and a cover over it) to give you a ride for about $5 a person. If you ask nicely, they will stop at Drake’s Seat on the way there so you can get a stunning view of Magen’s Bay and other islands as well.
Walk down Dronningens Gage and go jewelry shopping (tax-free) in Charlotte Amalie.
Along this main street in the capitol, Charlotte Amalie, there is seemingly endless shops. Browse and buy liquor, jewelry, clothing and more with no tax or duties. I especially loved all of the jewelry shops that cater to the high-end customers that frequent this area. Zach loved the cigars that were available.
Visit the Shops at Yacht Haven and be in awe of the cruise ships and yachts that surround you.
Piggybacking off my point from above, there are no taxes or duties on anything you buy in St. Thomas. Thinking of making a designer splurge? Do it here. There are endless designer shops like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and more.
WHAT WE ATE
My in-laws love to cook and went grocery shopping to make their own meals. I would recommend not doing that because groceries are easily double what they are in the U.S. and there are so many restaurants that have half-off appetizers, you could eat out for much less than you could make food for.
The Room With A View
This is one of the best values and views on the island. It has a seriously beautiful indoor and outdoor eating space overlooking the island. If you catch their happy hour, they have over 20 options for just $5 that are generous portions as well as house wine for $5. You can have an amazing upscale dinner for just $15 with two appetizers (the pasta was essentially a full-sized meal) with wine.
I learned about this gem days before we left on the Food Channel. Glady’s is the perfect example of Caribbean cooking should be. I had the avocado stuffed lobster and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The staff is beyond friendly and will call you “hun” – how adorable?! Be warned, the drinks are just as strong as the staff is warm.
The Sand Bar at Havana Blue
Located on Morning Star Beach, this is the beach front location of the well-known Havana Blue restaurant. The food is amazing, the drinks are on-point and the view is incredible. I loved the fish tacos and you have to try the painkiller – the official drink of the island.
On Monday nights, go to Water Island for the local move night – outside!
I unfortunately learned about this from a local on Tuesday night. Water Island is the “fourth island” of the USVI. Mostly locals go to this outdoor movie night on the beach. Make sure to do this because it looks like an incredible experience.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PERFECT ST. THOMAS TRIP
For the most bang for your buck, certainly travel during the off-season like we did. Try to go after hurricane season but before the holidays, you will find great deals with a lot less crowds if you can handle a nightly spurt of rain. I would definitely recommend staying at Bluebeard’s Castle or getting an Air BNB. Eat off happy hours and make sure you experience all of the things listed above, plus make a trip to Koki Beach, where the locals go.
Side note: I am sorry about the lack of original photos for the experiences part of the guide. I took lots of them, but they were all on my computer that crashed.
As always, thank you for reading.