Beautiful beaches and lavish accommodations aside, St. Thomas is widely regarded as the Caribbean’s premier shopping destination. With over one million cruise ship passengers and overnight Caribbean resort guests visiting St. Thomas each year, the island’s ports have long been bustling centers of commerce and trade. Much of the finest duty-free shopping is concentrated near the waterfront of the island’s historic capital, Charlotte Amalie. At discounts of 40-60% off American mainland prices on goods such as jewelry, fine china, crystal, electronics, perfume, clothing and liquor, the bargains are seemingly endless. Adding to the allure is the fact that U. S. citizens are allowed a duty-free shopping allowance of $1,600, twice the amount of any other island in the Caribbean and three times that of European nations.
Visitors to St. Thomas should begin their shopping tour in Charlotte Amalie’s downtown and waterfront areas. The historic Dutch provincial warehouses along Main, Back and Waterfront Streets, beautifully restored to host a plethora of unique shops, allow visitors to shop and sightsee simultaneously. In the alleys surrounding the Main Street area (Royal Dane Mall, Palm Passage, Riise Alley and many others), shoppers will find smaller boutiques specializing in unique local products and Caribbean oddities. Inviting restaurants and entertaining bars are located amongst these stores, ideal for lunch or an island cocktail. Most shops in this exclusive shopping district are open Monday through Saturday; including holidays from 9am to 5pm. Shops in the downtown and waterfront areas are typically closed on Sundays, unless a cruise ship is in port. The shops at larger St.Thomas hotels usually remain open on Sundays, however. The Havensight district is another concentrated collection of shops catering to St. Thomas’ visitors. Located near the primary cruise ship dock, this shopping area is comprised of The Havensight Shopping Center, The Buccaneer Mall and The Port of Sale. Featuring over 60 distinctive stores within the waterfront warehouses, the Havensight district is another great option for cruise ship passengers with limited time and overnight tourists alike. Like the shops on and around Main Street, tourists will find great prices on jewelry, clothing, perfume, liquor, electronics, music, sunglasses and assorted souvenirs. Also, Havensight is another great location for lunch, featuring a number of friendly cafes. Shops in the Havensight district are generally open from 9am to 5pm, 7 days a week when cruise ships are in port. Yet, during high season some cruise ships stay in port later into the evening. On such days, the shops in the Havensight will remain open until 7pm.
Also in Charlotte Amalie, across from Emancipation Park and Fort Christian, is the Vendors’ Plaza, an assortment of small booths, tables and tents displaying a vast assortment of souvenirs. Here, in addition to the luxury goods found in other shopping districts, you will also find many locally produced products and unique regional food items. Vendors’ Plaza is generally open Monday through Saturday from about 7:30am, when the vendors start setting up, until 5:00pm. On Sundays, fewer vendors set up, though the Vendors’ Plaza is still worth a visit when one or more cruise ships are in port.
Directly across the street from the Vendors’ Plaza is The Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative. Run by local artists, the Cooperative features a plethora of Caribbean artwork not available in any mall or shopping center.
For the more adventurous tourist, smaller shopping areas catering principally to residents are located throughout the island. Such shopping centers as American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook, Lockhart Gardens, Tutu Park Mall and Nisky Center offer visitors distinctive cultural opportunities in addition to essentials like grocery stores, pharmacies and clothing stores. Tillett Gardens is a charming local haven for pottery, silk-screened fabrics, candles, paintings and handcrafted jewelry. The Mountain Top and Paradise Point centers are also interesting options because shopping is accompanied by captivating, hilltop views. In Frenchtown, travelers can find some of the best cuisine the Caribbean has to offer.
As the heart of the U. S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas continues to astonish travelers with its refined pleasures. Combining a relaxed Caribbean atmosphere with the vibrancy of city streets, St. Thomas may just be the best of both worlds.
This article was written by Justin Burch. Justin writes select pieces about travel in St. Thomas and other Caribbean resort areas for Marriott Resorts .