St. Thomas

Magens Bay: Pirate hangout now a beach for tourists


Akron Beacon Journal

Legend has it that Sir Francis Drake regularly anchored in Magens Bay with its spectacular white-sand beaches.

The 16th-century British privateer also reportedly hung out on the hillsides above Magens Bay in order to spot approaching Spanish galleons filled with gold and silver. Today that spot on the north side of St. Thomas is known as Drake’s Seat, a tourist attraction.

Magens Beach is long and narrow. The sand is pebble-free, eye-poppingly white, the water a Navajo turquoise beyond belief. The British Virgin Islands fill the horizon.

But Magens Beach, the most-visited beach in the U.S. Virgin islands, is probably the biggest tourist attraction on St. Thomas, a one-time haunt for pirates like Blackbeard and Capt William Kidd.

The water is remarkably calm because of the two peninsulas that form the elongated horseshoe-shaped bay that faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is a swimming beach with no reefs, the bottom flat and sandy. It is a great beach for families.

On my first visit to Magens Bay in the late 1960s, I dragged a heavy, oversized surfboard across the sand and into the gin-clear waters. There were modest waves. I paddled around until I noticed dark shadows down below. Sharks. I reported my find, only to be told that it was late afternoon when they typically came in to feed. Somehow I didn’t find that reassuring.

But the banana daiquiris ashore eased my shark fears. They were invented 60 years ago on the island by the late bartender Sonny Bernier.

Today, the beach offers watersports rentals, a restaurant, bathrooms, showers and, on weekends, crowds of locals who party to amplified music. It can be crowded and noisy. It gets 500,000 visitors a year.

Admission for nonresidents is $4 for adults and $2 for children 13 or older. There is a $2 parking fee. It is an $8 cab ride from Charlotte Amalie.

In 1946, islander Arthur S. Fairchild donated 500 yards of beach and 50 adjoining acres of forest and grass to the municipality of St. Thomas and St. John. The forest grove contained rare and unusual trees he’d planted. Today the trees, including mahogany, genip, turpentine and manpoo trees, are part of a small arboretum behind Magens Bay Beach.

A 1.25-mile hiking trail

starts in a mixed-dry forest and drops 500 feet into a moist-tropical-forest ecosystem before going through a mangrove swamp to the beach.The 250-year-old trail follows a route by early Danish settlers who established sugar cane plantations in the late 1600s.

You can also camp at Magens Bay Beach, but advance reservations are required; 340-777-6300 or

•  Information: 800-372-8784,

Read more Latin American & Caribbean Travel stories from the Miami Herald

A vendor serves a selection of pan-sauteed grasshoppers at the Mercado San Juan in Mexico City.

    Quick trips: Mexico

    The culinary magic of Mexico City

    How integral is food to Mexico City’s culture? My taxi driver from the airport offered me a plate of her chicken tinga tacos. From a covered platter she kept inside her cab. She didn’t try to sell them to me. She wanted to give them to me, to welcome me with a taste of her native Mexico City. And maybe to show off a little for the food writer.

A bag of salted Andean beetles can be purchased for a snack at the market in Otavalo, Ecuador.

    South America

    A taste of Ecuador: volcanoes, vegetables and historic haciendas

    A pint-sized dish of cevichocho, served on the street in Otavalo, sparked an aha! moment that caught me unawares.

Atlantis resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas.

    Paradise Island

    In a Bahamian paradise, gambling is just part of the appeal

    There’s a disarming glow along the walls of the Atlantis resort casino, and it might mystify even the most veteran gamblers as they weigh the merits of splitting those sixes against the dealer’s five.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category