The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) comprise of 3 main islands – St Thomas, St John and St Croix. I traveled to St Thomas and St John in July 2020 for an extended weekend getaway. The islands are hit hard from the pandemic, and from its economic impact. Many of the businesses I spoke to said that they survived the two hurricanes in 2017, but this is far worse worse than that, because there’s no end in sight. With no cruise ships coming to the island, and extended lockdowns, the heavily tourism depended locals, have absolutely no income, and sometimes not even enough to eat.
Whenever you travel to St Thomas in the future, choose your accommodations and activities to ensure that your tourism dollars go toward supporting the local economy. Here are some businesses that I saw doing a great job in sustaining tourism in USVI.
Visiting St Thomas in Summer 2020
Flying into St Thomas USVI is easy, with lots of commercial flights operating daily. The tiny airport is packed, though everyone is required to wear a mask. Car rentals from the airport are often sold out, so make sure to reserve in advance. Driving in St Thomas is on the left hand side (like in U.K.), while the cars are equipped with left side steering wheels (such as those in the US).
Much of St Thomas was closed when I traveled there, and streets in downtown were practically empty. High end retail stories that are usually bustling with tourists purchasing watches, jewelry and souvenirs, were boarded up and opened for limited hours on the weekends. Restaurants were open for dine-in, but with limited capacity, and served meals in disposable containers only.
In my opinion, this was a great time to travel to St Thomas, as it was quiet and peaceful. Not having crowds of tourists walking down the cobblestone streets, or facing lines of cars on the narrow curvy roads around the island, make it a little easier to explore at leisure.
Staying at a Family-Run B&B
One of the highlights of my trip were my accommodations – At Home in The Tropics. This 4-bedroom family-owned B&B is located in quiet neighborhood in downtown St Thomas, called Charlotte Amelie. Being in the center of the historic district, the home was once part of the Danish Governor’s mansion grounds. It overlooks the beautiful downtown and harbor. Right next door are the famous 99 Steps, the Three Queens Memorial, Blackbeards Castle. It’s also a short walking distance to shops and restaurants.
Decorated in Caribbean style, each of the 4 bedrooms have their own entrance, a patio and private bath. From the window, you can see colorful flowers, the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, boats in the harbor, and the green hills beyond. It’s the perfect place to relax and chill!
The innkeepers serve a scrumptious homemade breakfast outdoors by the swimming pool. The menu changes daily. Jessica makes gluten-free banana pancakes, passion fruit, mango and coconut tart (using fruits from her garden), curried eggs Benedict with avocado, and local organic coffee. Her friendly husband, Mark, takes care of maintenance and the garden. The couple lives on the premise with their son and two dogs, and are always available to make recommendations for dining and sightseeing. They have even set up a QR code so guests need not touch maps or brochures.
Mark and Jessica are creating a sustainable lifestyle in St Thomas. They use solar panels to generate power, filter rain water, and grow herbs and vegetables on a vertical garden. Because the B&B is well spaced out and has capacity for up to 8 guests, you never feel crowded or run into other people.
Eat at My Brothers Bakery
If you want to taste some of the best rum cake on the island, head over to My Brother’s Workshop’s Café and Bakery in downtown Charlotte Amelie. My Brother’s Workshop (MBW) is a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring, counseling, job training, education, and job placement to at-risk young men and women on the island. Chef and pro boxer Julius Jackson, author of the cookbook ‘My Modern Caribbean Kitchen’ and a well known celebrity on St Thomas, manages the organization.
In the past few months of shutdown, MBW has cooked, served and delivered over 37,000 free meals to the vulnerable populations on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. MBW offers a grab-and-go take-out window offering pastries, sandwiches and daily Caribbean specials. By eating at MBW, you will taste some local delicacies, encourage the youth, and help sustain the economy.
Explore with an Ecotour
On your next trip to USVI, discover the natural wonders of the island with a full day of hiking, kayaking and snorkeling with Virgin Islands Eco Tour. Kayak through the narrow waterways of mangrove trees, hike the deserted island of Cas Cay, and explore volcanic cliffs and a rare geological blowhole. Snorkel around a coral-fringed mangrove nursery in clear, protected waters.
During the trip, you’ll also get a picnic lunch which you can enjoy surrounded by millions of soldier crabs. It is amazing to see them walking around your feet, looking for crumbs!
Take a Day Trip to St John
St John is the smallest of the USVI, and many businesses still not reopened since the devastating hurricanes of 2017. The best way to explore St John is by car. Take your rental car on the ferry (departure is every 2 hours) from St Thomas to St John. Travel time is only 20 minutes.
Cruz Bay is the main downtown area in St John’s where you will find restaurants and shops. Head over to Mongoose Junction, an outdoor mall built like a Danish plantation. Here you can pick up lunch, ice cream, coffee or shop for souvenirs.
Next, walk along the white sand beaches, swim in the turquoise waters at Trunk Bay, and hike the Reef Bay Trail and Petroglyphs. Grab dinner at St John’s before traveling back on a ferry to St Thomas. You can also chose to stay overnight at one of the boutique hotels overlooking the bay.
Plan Your Trip to USVI
St Thomas had reopened for travel in June 2020. Though on August 13, the Governor of the USVI announced that the territory was reverting back to “Stay at Home” orders. Check the USVI Department of Tourism’s website for latest updates before booking your sustainable travel to the island.