US Virgin Islands: Discovering A Sapphire
By Charles and Diane Christmann
The Old Standby
My wife and I have been to St. Thomas, USVI many times in the last 27 years. We are cruise fanatics and the eastern Caribbean is our preference. The island is the Caribbean's number one cruise destination; just about every cruise ship going to the eastern Caribbean will stop in St. Thomas. For years, Megan’s Bay had been our go-to spot for some beach time before heading into Charlotte Amalie for a late lunch, local beer, and some gorilla shopping on Main Street.
While there is a $4 per person charge to use Megan’s beach, the sand is guaranteed soft and clean even if it is usually crowded. As for the water, it is calm and inviting to swimmers and floaters. But, the taxi ride is relatively long, about twenty minutes from the cruise terminal, and costs $15 for two passengers, plus tip.
On our spring cruise last year, we wanted a change – something different, something not Megan’s Bay. We are not the drink-till-you-drop partying types but we were up for some adventure, with a nice, quiet, comfortable, upscale feel, some clear turquoise water for swimming and floating, and maybe a few fish for snorkeling.
Hoping for some good local advice, we asked one of the cab drivers, who are always prowling dockside for departing passengers, where he would recommend we go for a nice beach adventure. “Coki Beach”, he said without hesitation.
So, we went. It is not much closer than Megan’s Bay from the cruise docks, it is still a fifteen minute ride, and costs $17 for two people, tip expected.
Snorkeling at Coki was great; tropical fish you normally see in the aquarium of your local pet store were everywhere along the edge of the reef on the east side of the bay. The water was calm and very swimmable; however, Coki Beach was not as nice as Megan’s.
We found it less clean and more crowded, had more partying, more obnoxious vendors roaming the sand, and much louder (the music was blaring all day). Not exactly the calm seclusion we were looking for in a beach.
More Local Advice
On this year’s cruise in April, we were determined to find something that was different – less crowded and calmer. So we perused the map of the island and decided to take a look at Red Hook, the ferry terminal area, with an eye to coming back for a longer stay in one of the local hotels in that area. We also planned to check out Sapphire Beach just north of town.
On the way, the cab driver tried to dissuade us from our quest. “Go to Coki”, she said. “There is nothing in Red Hook and Sapphire Beach’s water is rough.” This time, we ignored her advice.
After about a ten minute ride, our taxi driver reluctantly dropped us in the parking lot of the ferry terminal in the center of Red Hook. It cost $18 from the cruise port.
A Hungry Iguana checks out beach patrons and begs for handouts from your lunch. We stepped out of the van, looked at the ferry terminal (not much there), turned right, and started to walk toward what looked like some interesting stores down the main street. The few shops we found in Red Hook were not remotely targeted for tourists. They catered to the fishermen and yachters needing to outfit for the next sailing. As for Red Hook, it is in need of some serious help as a tourist destination.
The restaurants within our walking range (we were thinking early lunch), and actually open, were few and unremarkable. If you are looking for a laidback, relaxed stay with a very local flair, look seriously at Red Hook. You should plan on staying at one of the resorts outside the town ‒ Crystal Cove, Secret Harbor, or the Ritz-Carlton, all about a five minute drive from the ferry terminal. We saw no hotels in town.
We did survey a few local shops featuring trinkets more suited for any super yacht owner’s drawing room than my southwest-themed living room. Everyone we talked with was especially pleasant and eager to help us find our way around.
Shopkeepers we asked about beaches without hesitation said Sapphire was the best on the island and that all of the high-end tourists go there. Most suggested we stay away from Coki and Megan’s beaches unless you are looking for busloads of cruise tours.
After a brief exploration of Red Hook, we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch a five minute, $8.00 cab ride, to Sapphire Beach. While “the best” is always debatable depending upon your tastes, Sapphire beach is just what we were looking to find.
The entry way to the free public beach looked promising waking toward it from the taxi drop-off, but inside the portico was a small, crowded space with a sprawling open air shop blocking some of the entry, and needed new plaster and paint.
The resort’s condominiums did not appear to be what anyone would define as upscale. Granted we did not walk through the hotel, so it may be much nicer. All we wanted was a great beach, and the beach did not disappoint.
Walking out to the sand, we were surprised to see a lack of the usual shacks along this beach selling local trinkets and food; there are none to be seen along this beach. If you are looking for a party atmosphere, expect a big disappointment.
The white sand was soft, the atmosphere serene, the waves gentle, and the water Caribbean turquoise and clear. A reef on the eastern side of the cove (off Pettyklip Point) provides ample marine life to capture your attention while snorkeling.
We spread out our towels under one of the numerous sea grape trees and a palm tree. Our first order of business was to flag down the roaming server to order lunch from the Sapphire Bar and Grill.
It was convenient to have a beach runner providing food and beverage service to the water’s edge without him being obtrusive or obnoxious. Josh, our server, provided us a menu showing a variety of items, including the recommended $13 South Carolina Burger and the Famous Sapphire Fish and Chips for $17.
My South Carolina Burger came dripping in sweet Bar-B-Que sauce slathered on top of the bacon and cheddar cheese all perched on a generous beef patty. The Fish and Chips were golden and crisp on the outside. Inside the batter, the white fish was tender and juicy. Both compared favorably to any sit-down restaurant fare.
We even shared our lunch with one of the locals – an Iguana that came by begging for handouts (we really did not have a choice, he was very insistent). He definitely preferred food off our plates to the Cheerios offered by others.
We were told that the resort is planning on doing some upgrades in the next year, improving the visual impact of the area and the public entry way to the beach. Next time, when we cruise back to St. Thomas, we are heading straight for Sapphire beach. Hopefully the resort condo area will remake itself without destroying the wonderfully tranquil beach experience.
Charles and Diane Christmann may be land-locked in New Mexico, but they long for the ocean and cruise the Caribbean, Alaska, and the Mediterranean often. Charles has been the monthly “Night Sky” columnist for the Sandoval Signpost (sandovalsignpost.com) since 2001. He sells his travel photos at the local arts shows.