St. Croix, America’s Other Virgin Island

St Croix, USVI

The United States Virgin Islands is comprised of three principal islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. At 84 square miles, St. Croix is the largest island in the Virgin Island group and significantly more rural than its brother, St. Thomas. The island features a rain forest in its western interior, an arid climate with cactus in the east and two historic towns.

The island was a possession of Denmark until the early nineteenth century and boasts a deepwater working port on the south coast along with a large pier at the west-end town of Fredireksted. Historically the port was defended by Fort Fredirek as far back as the mid eighteenth century. The deepwater industrial port was developed in the twentieth century and services an oil refinery and cargo ships. The island, along with St. Thomas and St. John was bought by the United States in the early nineteenth century. That means you don’t need a passport to visit and you can bring back five liters of liquor duty free.

Christiansted is the other town on the island and represents the quintessential tropical waterfront. Christiansted is located on the north central coast. The waterfront is fringed with a boardwalk and small boat docks, protected by a natural reef and a close-in small island. The harbor features sailboats at anchor, crystal clear water and a number of small hotels and restaurants along the waterfront. Around the waterfront is a colonial town that has changed little in a couple of hundred years. It is remarkable for the stone and brick buildings that include covered colonnades protecting the sidewalks from those frequent tropical showers. Most of these buildings feature art and craft galleries, shops, restaurants along with a couple of small hotels. Just to the east on the waterfront is the old Fort Christiansvaern operated by the U.S. Park Service. The small island in the harbor is Protestant Cay and features the Hotel on the Cay which is serviced by hotel launches.

Historic Christiansted is actually the center of activity on St. Croix and has a number of nice, small hotels like King’s Alley, Holger Danske, Caravelle, The Hotel on the Cay, The Danish Manor (now the Company House Hotel).

This is a large island and to get around you need to rent a car and remember that the Virgin Islands traffic drives on the left even though most cars are right-hand drive. If you aren’t up to driving, staying in Christiansted isn’t a bad option with the restaurants, shops and the beach at The Hotel on the Cay. (You can take the hotel launch over for a fee if you aren’t a guest) or you can stay at any number of island resorts.

Most of the beachfront resorts are clustered in three locations on the island. The most popular resort area on the island is the eastern north shore with the centerpiece being the Buccaneer Resort and Golf Course. The Buccaneer has been an institution on the island forever and deserves its’ high marks. A little further along the coast are the Tamarind Beach and Chenay Bay resorts. They both have good beaches and Chenay Bay offers cabinst.

Crossing the island to the east end of the south shore there are a couple of resorts centered on Divi Carina Bay Resort. There are good beaches and snorkeling along that shore with great coral reefs close in to shore in reasonably shallow water.

Another area for great beaches and good snorkeling, is Davis Bay. Located along the western north coast it has always been pretty isolated and primitive but the beaches are some of the best on the island. Some thirty years ago the Rock Resort people built an exclusive resort above Davis Bay called the Carambola Resort but a combination of things, including hurricane Hugo, caused the venture to fail. Today it is alive as the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Resort and, based on location alone, it is well worth consideration.

There are also a number of apartment and condo developments like Mill Harbor that offer rental units along with Colony Cove and Sugar Beach. While a little out of town, the beaches are nice and the amenities are good.

One offbeat attraction predates tourists at the Montpellier Domino Club located up in St. Croix’s rain forest. Visiting what is just a local bar you’re expected to buy the pig a beer by simply tossing a can into the pen attached to the club. The pig would pick up the can, raise its head, crush the can and drink. If you got there too late (or early depending on the perspective), the pig was passed out drunk. The Montpellier Domino Club it seems has gone through a number of pigs and it now seems to be a “must do” tourist destination.

Of historical interest are the two colonial fortifications on the island, several historic buildings in Christiansted and on Centerline Road east of Fredireksted is the Whim Great House and museum. Whim is the only plantation great house surviving in the Virgin Islands.

If you are a skin or scuba diver, or just a novice swimmer, one real “must do” on St. Croix is to visit the underwater National Park at Buck Island Reef where the whole island, not just the reef, is the park. Located 1.5 miles off the northeast coast, there are a number of boat tours from Christiansted out to the area and the reef is spectacular. There is also an underwater trail on the eastern tip. If you can convince yourself to take this trip and put on a face mask you will never forget it.

The island has a number of good restaurants but the scene changes regularly so it’s best to refer to current reviews. While there are a number of fast food places on St. Croix one favorite for locals and visitors is Cheeseburgers in Paradise out on the northeast coast road.

While there aren’t a lot of cruise ships visiting some do spend a day tied up to the Fredireksted pier and, if this is how you come to St. Croix, we would recommend that you rent a car and spend your day driving around the island. The scenery is breathtaking with the rugged coast along North Shore Road and Cane Bay Road worth the trip. Along Centerline Road visit the Estate Whim Museum, the only surviving plantation great house in the Virgin Islands. Go into Christiansted for lunch and a walk around and return to Fredireksted via the rain forest on Mahogany Road.

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