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St. Thomas is the busiest of the three United States Virgin Islands. With 28 square miles of lush green hills and sandy beaches, St. Thomas and the nearby island of St. John see nearly 1.7 million visitors a year, far more than their sister island of St. Croix.
The island's main town, Charlotte Amalie , bustles like any small city with vacationers shopping and residents heading off to work. Traffic can pile up along the waterfront Route 30, called Veterans Drive, and the city's main parking lot adjacent to Fort Christian is often filled. Despite the surface buzz, it is easy to find quiet pockets away from Charlotte Amalie and other busy areas.
The island, a Danish colony until the Unites States bought it in 1917, is home to just over 51,000 people. Many residents work in the tourism industry, at businesses dependent on the tourism industry or for the local government.
The accommodations options are many. Luxury hotels and condominium complexes line the beaches on the island's eastern end. Historic hotels and inns are tucked into Charlotte Amalie's back streets. Cozy guest houses dot the hills above Charlotte Amalie Harbor and vacation villas pepper many exclusive residential neighborhoods.
Hotel visitors and guests heading for a sailboat charter usually arrive at the modern Cyril E. King Airport, located at the western end of the island. Most cruise ship passengers arrive at the Havensight Cruise Ship Dock, but a few ships tie up in Crown Bay or anchor out in Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Intrepid sorts sail in on their own boats.
Shop till you drop is the motto for many visitors to St. Thomas. While shopping in all the United States Virgin Islands is duty free, it pays to check prices before you leave home to make sure you cannot buy items cheaper from your local discount store. Merchants tout deals on jewelry, liquor, electronic equipment, camera, linens, and more. United States residents may bring in USD 1,200 worth of goods. All items made in the territory, including art, are exempt from the total.
While Charlotte Amalie is the main shopping area, several shopping areas with tourist-oriented shops are now spread out all across the island. Havensight Mall has dozens of shops, some branches of Charlotte Amalie stores. Most hotels also have a few shops perfect for picking up resort wear and souvenirs.
This island offers a vast variety of activities. Spend the day snorkeling, sunning or snoozing at a crystal clear cove ringed with a white sandy beach and palm trees, head down to the briny deep on a Scuba excursion, set sail to an offshore island, play a round at Mahogany Run Golf Course , or visit any of the historic sites in the main town of Charlotte Amalie and around the island.
Numerous tour and water-oriented excursions are popular with hotel guests as well as cruise ship passengers. Bookings may be made on board ship or at hotel excursion desks, but visitors often opt to go it alone.
A trip around the island with a taxi driver or in your rental car should include stops at the palm-fringed Magens Bay Beach , the island's most popular. You will find changing rooms, water sports rentals, and restaurants in addition to clear blue water and lovely white sand. As you travel around the island, you will see gorgeous views at nearly every turn in the road. Drake's Seat , where Sir Francis Drake reportedly checked on his fleet, and the busy Mountain Top are especially popular viewpoints.
Keep in mind that addresses here can best be described as a mish mash. Major roads have route numbers marked on the maps, but residents seldom know those numbers so you cannot depend on them for map-based directions. Instead, they may know the common name, which may or may not be the name used on the map, and may give you directions that tell you to turn left at the big tree. To add to the insanity, the road may also change names several times along a numbered route. Some streets in Charlotte Amalie still bear the old Danish names, but residents usually use their English names. Your best defense is a map, written directions and a smile when you ask for help.
The island's historic attractions should not be ignored. Its colorful history dates back at least several thousand years. The early Indians had disappeared by the time Denmark settled St. Thomas in 1666, but the Danes left their mark in many ways. In Charlotte Amalie, the island's main town and the seat of government, the narrow streets and alleyways are lined with centuries-old brick and stone buildings. Once warehouses filled with molasses, sugar and other goods awaiting export to Europe and shops with family quarters above, those buildings now house offices and shops.
One caveat: St. Thomas has a crime rate similar to other cities. Visitors should take normal precautions. Keep cars and rooms locked and do not walk around at night. Hotels encourage guests to take taxis to and from restaurants in the evenings.