St. Thomas has many leading North American car-rental firms at the airport, and competition is stiff. Before you go, compare the rates of the “big three”: Avis (tel 800/331-1212 or 340/774-1468; www.avis.com), Budget (tel 800/626-4516 or 340/776-5774; www.budgetstt.com), and Hertz (tel 800/654-3131 or 340/774-1879; www.hertz.com). You can often save money by renting from a local agency, although vehicles may be older, with more wear and tear. Recommended agencies include Dependable Car Rental, 3901 B Altona, Welgunst, behind the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Medical Arts Complex (tel 800/522-3076 or 340/774-2253; www.dependablecar.com), which provides free pickup and drop-off anywhere on St. Thomas and offers a 12 percent discount when you mention that you saw them on the Internet; and the aptly named Discount Car Rental, 14 Harwood Hwy., located just outside the airport on the main highway (tel 877/478-2833 or 340/776-4858; www.discountcar.vi), which offers a 12 percent discount when you book online or through its Facebook page—and advertises “clean, new cars.”
Note: Gas (petrol) was hovering close to $5 a gallon at press time.
Driving Rules -- Always drive on the left. The speed limit is 20 mph in town, 35 mph outside town. Seat belts are required by law, and it’s illegal to talk on cellphones while driving.
Parking -- Because Charlotte Amalie is a labyrinth of congested one-way streets, don’t try to drive in town looking for a parking spot. If you can’t find a place to park along the Waterfront (free), go to the sprawling lot to the east of Fort Christian, across from the Legislature Building. Parking fees are nominal here, and you can park your car and walk northwest toward Emancipation Park, or along the Waterfront, until you reach the shops and attractions.
Taxi rates are set by the island’s Taxi Association and fares are widely posted, even in taxis; check out the official fares in the free magazine “This Week” offered in most businesses. Look for officially licensed taxis only: You can spot them by their dome lights and the letters tp on the license plate. Still, be sure to confirm the rate with the driver before you get into the taxi. A typical fare from Charlotte Amalie to Sapphire Beach is $13 per person; from the airport to the Marriot Frenchman’s Reef is $10 per person. We took a taxi one night from the Ritz-Carlton to Secret Harbour for dinner and were charged $5 a person. Surcharges are added after midnight. Add on $2 per bag for luggage (and a $1 surcharge for trips June 1–Sept 1).
Taxi vans and open-air safaris (converted truck beds with open-air seating) are ubiquitous around the island. Taxi vans are equipped to transport approximately 8 to 12 passengers to multiple destinations on the island, while safaris can often fit up to 25 people. It’s cheaper to hop on a van or safari than ride a taxi on your own if you’re going between your hotel and the airport, but keep in mind you will be making stops along the way—an exhausting proposition if you have arrived on a late flight. The cost for luggage ranges from $1 to $2 per bag. Call tel 340/774-7457 to order a taxi van.
If you don’t plan to rent a car, it’s easy to find taxi drivers. Just have your hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you, no matter where you are. Even better: Get the card of a favorite taxi driver and let him or her know your itinerary—or call the drivers we recommend below. Taxi drivers also make wonderful sightseeing guides. Expect to pay about $50 for a single-passenger tour or $25 per person for two or more passengers for 2 hours of sightseeing in a shared car.
If you’re looking for a thoroughly engaging and wonderfully informative taxi driver/tour guide, look no further than Campbell Rey (tel 340/771-1568), the unofficial “mayor” of the island—we highly recommend his services. We also highly recommend Llewelyn Powell (tel 340/771-1568 or 776-3887). For 24-hour radio-dispatch taxi service, call tel 340/774-7457.
By Water taxi
Getting around by water taxi is another way to travel. Dohm’s Water Taxi is an inter-island water taxi service that will take you anywhere in the Virgin Islands you want to go in custom-built catamaran powerboats. It’s a smart alternative if you’re staying off island and your flight arrives in St. Thomas too late to catch a public ferry. Dohm’s also offers water-taxi service directly between the Ritz-Carlton or Marriott Frenchman’s Reef and St. John ($50 and $30 per person, respectively, with a five-person minimum). Go to www.watertaxi-vi.com or call tel 340/775-6501.
Public buses run in the city and the country between 5:15am and 8pm daily, but waits can be very long and this is a difficult way to get about. A ride within Charlotte Amalie is 75¢; a ride to anywhere else is $1. For schedule and bus-stop information, call tel 340/774-5678.
Walking is the best way to explore the historic section of Charlotte Amalie during the day. However, you will need a car or driver to reach many other island attractions, including Coral World and Magens Bay.