Destination: St. Thomas
Of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas is certainly considered the busiest. Abuzz with activity, attractions, duty-free shopping, and miles of sandy beaches, this island is the most popular among travelers to the USVI. Though the island only measures about 32 square miles, it’s packed with plenty of opportunities and scenic beauty for its visitors from snorkeling and diving to shopping and exploring.
Though the history of St. Thomas was largely shaped by its colonial heritage, the island was first inhabited by native people for centuries. The island was first spotted in 1493 by Christopher Columbus but it wasn’t settled until later in the 17th century. The Dutch were the first to colonize the island when the Dutch West India Company set up post in the 1650s. By 1666, the Danish had captured control over the island and established the economically profitable plantations and sugar cane production. For years, the island’s primary economy was tied to the sugar trade industry and depended on slave labor. By 1848, slavery was abolished and in 1917, the U.S. purchased St. Thomas and the other neighboring islands of St. John and St. Croix, as part of a plan for the U.S. to seek control over the Caribbean region. After World War II, the island saw substantial growth and entered the realm of tourism for its many beautiful beaches and tropical climate attracted travelers to the little paradise. Historic landmarks on St. Thomas include the oldest standing structure in the USVI, Fort Christian; Market Square where the slaves and goods were once traded; along with the oldest continuously used synagogue in the U.S., the Synagogue of Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim.
The capital city of both the island of St. Thomas along with the three U.S. Virgin Islands is Charlotte Amalie, named after the wife of Denmark’s King Christian V. Charlotte Amalie is home to nearly half of the island’s 50,000+ residents and is considered the downtown city hub for the island. St. Thomas is one of the busier Caribbean cruise ports and thus is a bustling seaport city with plenty of duty-free shopping, restaurants, bars, and charming colonial Danish architecture to keep the hordes of visitors entertained. The east end of the island is home to Red Hook, a city with a harbor, small town, and the major marina for sport fishing tours and sail boats to depart. The rural rain forest areas of the island are quite desolate with a hilly terrain and are mostly home to residential neighborhoods, resorts, and agricultural areas.