Sitting just east of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin islands are part of the Caribbean chain of islands that lead toward South America. Our visit was a stopover on a seven day cruise, so we only had a few hours to explore this tropical paradise. Many ships port in Charlotte Amalie, the capital city of St. Thomas. This busy port city was once a haven for pirates, due to the protected harbor. These days it is a stop-over for about 1.5 million cruise ship visitors annually. Even though there were five ships in port on the day we visited, we never felt the area to be overcrowded.
Our ship docked at the Crown Bay port, which is on the west side of Charlotte Amalie. After disembarking, you pass by a group of kiosks and shops that line the port. Signs point you toward the taxi stands. Here you climb aboard an open air jitney (basically a pickup truck with a few rows of bench seats in back), and make your way into town. Our first stop was a visit to the Paradise Point Tram, which is a cable car ride to a nearby peak overlooking the harbor.
The views from the top were amazing, as were the drinks. After relaxing for a while, we were ready to continue our tour of the city. A quick ride back down puts you about a mile from the main shopping district downtown. Since the weather was agreeable, we decided to walk. There are taxis waiting in the parking lot at the base of the tram for those choosing to ride instead. A sidewalk that runs along the water’s edge made the stroll more pleasant. The harbor is mostly edged with rock, so no beaches to speak of here. We did spy some sea creatures near the shoreline, including this sea urchin.
The walk into downtown Charlotte Amalie brings you first to an open air vendor market, which is filled with tents. Here locals offer up home-made goods, foods, and many knock-off items (We are guessing that a Michael Kors purse usually costs more than $40.00). As with most markets of this type in the Caribbean, the vendors can be a little pushy. Of course they are simply trying to make a sale, which is their livelihood. Still it is fun to look at all of the vibrant colors, and interesting souvenirs.
Continuing down the waterfront will bring you to the main shopping area in Charlotte Amalie. It is filled with a mixture of newer buildings and refurbished old warehouses. The story is that many of these warehouses were built to store the plunder of pirates. Cobblestone streets and stone lined alleyways criss-cross throughout the area. The almost never-ending rows of shops beckon you to explore, and as you pass through the corridors you can almost feel the age of the city.
The shops are heavy on selling jewelry, and it is hard to imagine that this many of the same type of businesses could survive at the same time. Hawkers stand outside the doorways beckoning potential customers inside. Many offer promises of free drinks or unbelievable low prices to sweeten the deal. Peppered in the mix are shops selling artwork, apparel, souvenirs, and treats. A favorite stop among tourists is the Belgian Chocolate Factory, which has stores on multiple Caribbean islands.
Stepping through the doorway you find they have a wide assortment of chocolate treats. Narrowing down your favorites is difficult with so many options. They run a special on 3 boxes, so that helps increase the variety you can savor. We were a little nervous about the chocolates melting in the tropical weather, but they offered free delivery to our ship. With this taken care of, it was time to head back out into the corridors. When hunger sets in you will find a variety of dining options. We decided this would be a good opportunity to try out conch fritters. Gladys’s Cafe’, which is inside one of the old warehouses, is well known for their delicious food. After a short wait, we dug into the plate of fritters. They tasted a lot like an oversize hush puppy, but with a little seafood accent. One more thing we can check off of our list.
With our hungers satisfied, we went back to shopping. Too soon it was time to head back to our ship. We caught another taxi, and shortly found ourselves back at the port. On the walk back to the ship we spotted one of the resident lizards hanging out on the rocks. While he posed, we noted just how wide a range of blues and greens can be found in this part of the world.
We checked out the kiosks and shops near the ships, before finally heading back onboard. As the sun set into the Caribbean Sea, we prepared for the next leg of our journey. We definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore!