The largest of the three principal islands comprising the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix's diversity is partly due to its size - 28 miles long and 7 miles wide. This tropical island is three times the size of nearby St. Thomas, and its terrain is uniquely diverse. A lush rain forest in the western mountains and undulating hills in the interior are a marked contrast to the spiny desert vegetation and dry, rocky red cliffs found on the eastern end. Year-round temperatures average 80 degrees during the day and 70 degrees at night; constant trade winds keep the island cool and pleasant.
There is an excellent published guide for this island called "St. Croix This Week". The name is a little misleading as it is a monthly publication. It is very well done (printed in Miami) and is about 45 pages in length. The guide gives the schedule for the entire months activities including cruise ship arrivals.
Currently only two cruise ships make regular visits to St. Croix. Nordic Empress arrives every Thursday and Carnival Destiny arrives every other Wednesday.
The guide is full of useful information including maps of the island and the two major cities. It also includes information on all the attractions of the island, history, local advertisements and reviews on many restaurants. If you send $2.00 to St Croix This Week, P.O. Box 4477, Christiansted St Croix, US Virgin Islands 00822-447 they will send you a current copy.
Harbor NightThe highlight of a visit to St Croix aboard the Carnival Destiny is the Harbor Night block party held for the passengers and crew on alternate Wednesday's.
With only two cruise ships visiting on a regular basis, the locals were so pleased when Carnival decided to visit with their largest ship that they planned a party for Carnival Destiny on its inaugural visit in Nov of 1996. The passengers and crew were so impressed with the party that the people of St. Croix were told that if they would continue to hold the block party, Carnival would amend the schedule from leaving at 6 pm to leaving at midnight. The fine folks of St. Croix were glad to oblige and the Harbor Night block party is now a regular event when Carnival Destiny is in port.
The party is held at the head of the Frederiksted pier on the street that runs along the waterfront, "The Strand." With beach on one side of the street and shops on the other it makes a great place to hold a street festival. The official description of the party is: "A lively street fair with vendors and entertainment, from 6 to 11pm."
Admission is free as are samples of the local entertainment. You can purchase about any type of Caribbean food and drink that you can imagine and of course souvenirs and local art are displayed for all to see and purchase. You will have a wonderful evening under the stars and don't leave early or you will miss the fireworks set off at 10:30 pm!
Carnival Destiny docked in Fredericksted Harbor
TransportationSt. Croix's major points of interest are quite spread out, yet getting around the island along the major roads is no problem at all. However, if you're adventuresome and want to follow the scenic and less-well-maintained gravel roads, you should consider renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
AirlinesSeveral major carriers serve the St. Croix airport. In fact, many flights that depart from St. Thomas bound for the United States stop at St. Croix before flying on to the mainland. And if you're interested in island hopping, a number of carriers offer daily commuter-type service to St. Thomas, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Puerto Rico and St. Maarten. Daily seaplane service to St. Thomas is now offered by Seaborne Seaplane Adventures. Charter service is available at the airport, too.
Car RentalsIf you want to see the island at the slow, leisurely pace at which it is best enjoyed, it pays to rent a car or a four-wheel-drive vehicle for at least part of your stay. Your driver's license is valid here for 90 days.
The biggest difficulty for American drivers in the Virgin Islands is getting used to driving on the "wrong," or left, side of the road in an American- or Japanese-made car,which has the steering wheel on the left side. With this arrangement, it's more difficult to gauge your vehicle's distance from the lane to your right; by paying careful attention, however, you'll quickly pick up the ability to do just that.
Most rental agents will remind you to pass with care. In the States, it's easy to nudge your car out of its lane and look around the car in front of you. But driving an American- or Japanese-made car in the left lane, you can't do that without getting into the oncoming lane. There is no trick to solving this problem, so be very cautious. The safest rule don't be in a hurry.
Ferry ServiceSurf Express now offers ferry service between St. Croix and St. Thomas, providing a fun, alternative means of inter-island travel. The 104-foot high-speed catamaran will transport up to 125 people between the two islands in approximately an hour and 15 minutes.
On weekdays, Surf Express will provide three daily round trips between downtown Christiansted and downtown Charlotte Amalie; one-way fare is approximately US$25, significantly less than airfare. There is a reduced weekend service schedule. Fares include beverage service and choice of seating in an air-conditioned main cabin, two forward viewing mezzanines or the open stern deck. The catamaran has been specifically designed for the seas between these two shores, assuring a smooth, comfortable ride.
Sightseeing ToursSince you're on vacation, you might like to see the sights with the ease and convenience afforded by a tour or your cruise ship's shore excursion desk. Several operators feature an open-air safari bus; a knowledgeable guide will fill you in on the island's history and take you along the most scenic routes. Most of these independent operators are located in Christiansted near the waterfront. Both half- and full-day trips are available at a reasonable cost.
TaxisNever in short supply, taxis are unmetered and rates must be posted in all vehicles. It's best to agree on a fare before leaving. The posted per-person rates reflect the fare for more than one passenger traveling to one destination; a solitary passenger has to pay double that rate.
HistoryChristopher Columbus came upon St. Croix on November 14, 1493, during his second voyage to the Americas. He sent a crew ashore at St. Croix's Salt River inlet in search of potable water; there followed a brief confrontation with some of the island's Taino inhabitants, resulting in deaths on both sides. The Great Admiral promptly moved on to chart the numerous islands to the north, naming the entire group including St. Croix the Virgin Islands, in honor of the legendary virginal devotees of St. Ursula. He later christened the island Santa Cruz, or "Holy Cross."
As the Spaniards concentrated their early efforts in the Caribbean on the Greater Antilles, St. Croix's native inhabitants may have escaped the initial impact of the conquest. But in the early 1500s, when the Spanish began to raid the island for slaves to work their gold mines in more lucrative colonies, a renewed native resistance served as the justification for the extermination of the Caribbean's indigenous peoples. By the early 1600s, when the island was permanently settled, the Tainos Columbus encountered on St. Croix had utterly disappeared.
The Dutch and English were among the first to establish themselves on St. Croix; both powers had a presence on the island by 1625. The Dutch shared their settlement with a handful of French Huguenots from nearby St. Kitts. The two colonies coexisted without major incident until 1645, when the island's Dutch governor killed his English counterpart. A skirmish ensued between the two colonies during which the Dutch governor was mortally wounded. The English colonists extended a conciliatory invitation to his successor; however, upon his arrival at the colony, the Dutch official was arrested and publicly executed. The Dutch were forced to abandon their colony and retire to St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, while their French neighbors relocated to Guadeloupe. The English solidified their claim on St. Croix and remained unchallenged for the next four years.
In 1650, the English settlement was overrun by 1,200 Spanish colonists from Puerto Rico. Dutch forces from St. Eustatius tried unsuccessfully to recapture St. Croix. Later that year, Philippe de Lonvilliers Poincy, Governor of the French West Indies,claimed possession of St. Croix in the name of the French Crown. DePoincy, the leader of the Knights of Malta, then purchased the island from the French king in 1651 and directed a group of his fellow knights to colonize St. Croix. In 1653, he bestowed his private holdings in the West Indies to the order and sent one Chevalier de la Mothe to St. Croix with supplies. The unfortunate emissary met with a rather ignoble fate as he was apprehended and shackled by some 200 rebellious French colonists, who made off with his ship.
Two years later, a new governor was sent to restore order to the colony. The knights, however, unaccustomed to the rigors of managing plantations, failed to establish a viable economy on St. Croix. In 1665, the French West India Company bought all the islands owned by the Knights of Malta, and in 1674, the French king paid the company's debts, assuming ownership of all its holdings. Unable to turn the colony around, the king ordered its residents to relocate to Santo Domingo. Although still a French possession, St. Croix was abandoned save for a few squatters until well into the next century.
The Danish West India and Guinea Company bought the island from the French in 1733. Attracted by cheap land, planters, mostly English, flocked to St. Croix from neighboring islands. But the company's impending bankruptcy prompted the settlers to petition the Danish king for aid, and the island was made a Crown Colony in 1755. The Danish influence, more lasting than that of any other European power, is particularly evident today in the gingerbread architecture of Christiansted and Frederiksted.
During the second half of the 18th century, the island enjoyed a period of enormous economic prosperity based on the cultivation of sugar, the production of rum, and the slave trade. The Danish West Indies served as a central slave marketplace in the region, and despite the protestations of the Danish Crown, St. Croix's planters relied heavily on slave labor. The Danish government declared slavery illegal in 1792 but assisted planters in acquiring slaves during a "transition" period; the slave trade was abolished in 1803. However, St. Croix's slaves would not achieve independence until July 3, 1848, when Governor-General Peter von Scholten roused from his bed in the wee hours of the morning by the news of a slave insurrection ordered their immediate emancipation.
The British recaptured St. Croix in 1807 and held the island during the Napoleonic Wars much to the relief of St. Croix's English planters, who had been chafing under trade restrictions imposed by the Danish Crown. But the island reverted to Denmark in 1815, and the next 30 years brought drought and widespread economic depression.
During the second half of the 19th century, St. Croix suffered a series of natural disasters including a fire in Christiansted, an earthquake and tidal wave and two hurricanes that exacerbated the colony's woes. The economy did not fully recover until the middle of this century.
In 1917, the United States purchased St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas from the Danish government to prevent their becoming a German submarine base during World War I. St. Croix first fell under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy and was later granted Territorial status. A period of uneven economic recovery continued until the 1950s, when tourists began to discover the island. Since then, the industry and the island has seen steady growth.
Today, the U.S. Virgin Islands is an unincorporated Territory with a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Although all persons born here are U.S. citizens and taxpayers, they have no vote in national elections. Islanders were granted the vote in local elections in 1936 and chose their first governor in 1970.
SightseeingSt. Croix is large and its sights are rather spread out, so if you are not taking an organized tour or shore excursion, it pays to rent a car or taxi for at least part of your stay. Bicycles are not a great idea, because the island is hilly and the roads have no shoulders. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are better for visiting the out-of-the-way scenic regions, since many are reached only by dirt roads. A word of caution: not all roads are clearly marked, particularly at the intersections. Though the American system of numbered route signs is used, the signs appear with less frequency than drivers are used to in the U.S. And there are fewer signs showing the names of the places you've either reached or are heading toward than you would expect.
The island's most prominent landmarks are the sugar-mill ruins, reminding visitors of the time when sugar cane was "king" and the island was divided into hundreds of plantations. Homes, resort swimming pools and hotels have been built around many of these ruins, which are valued symbols of St. Croix's rich history. Other reminders of the island's past are the fanciful names used to identify St. Croix locations. Jealousy, Wheel of Fortune and Lower Love are all plantation names dating from the 1760s, when land was divided into low-priced 150-acre tracts used by the Danes to attract settlers.
St. Croix has been ruled by seven nations, all of which left their marks on the island. Though it is currently an American territory seemingly reminiscent of the United States with its shopping centers and fast-food restaurants, St. Croix has preserved its West Indian cultural heritage, attitudes and identity. Families who have resided here for 10 generations are still influential, their roots stretching back to the colonial era. It is worth your while to make an effort to meet some Crucians because their stories and family histories will immeasurably enrich your stay on the island.
ChristianstedThe picturesque harbor town of Christiansted attained its present state by the late 1700s, when St. Croix was a crown colony of Denmark and the city was one of the Caribbean's major ports. The U.S. National Park Service maintains the neoclassical-style buildings as they appeared in the 1830s through the 1850s, the period following the peak of prosperity for the island's sugar, cotton, rum and slave trades. Many street signs are still in Danish.
Christiansted was one of the first Caribbean towns to adopt a building code. The 1747 measure regulated street width and block size, created zoned areas and, perhaps most important, provided that buildings must be fashioned of fire-resistant materials. Christiansted, therefore, never suffered a devastating conflagration, as did Frederiksted, and its architecture accurately portrays what this island port was once like.
The buildings generally fall into one of four categories. Most prominent are the public buildings, such as churches and government offices. Two- and three-story masonry townhouses were constructed for planters, who needed a presence in the island's center of power. Merchants lived in structures with ground floors of limestone brick, where they tended shop, topped by wooden shacks, where they lived. The workers lived in one-story wooden shacks on the outskirts of town.
The imposing mustard-yellow Fort Christiansvaern, finished in 1749, is a good example of 17th- and 18th-century Danish military architecture. As you walk out of the fort, you'll pass the graceful two-story Old Danish Customs House, which is the headquarters for the National Park Service. Across King Street, you'll find the Old Scale House, adjacent to the wharf. Built in 1855-56, the Scale House was formerly used to weigh and inspect imports and exports for tax purposes. Now it is the city's post office, but the old scales still stand.
Across the parking lot from the Scale House is the rambling Old Danish West India and Guinea Company Warehouse, currently the location of a bank and several shops and restaurants. It was once the central offices of the Danish trading company that both owned St. Croix and monopolized its trade even though the island's British planters outnumbered the Danes five to one.
The nearby Steeple Building was St. Croix's first church, erected in 1750-53; the steeple was added in the 1790s. It still has the original marble floors, and contains a small museum with an exhibit detailing the island's history.
Traveling up King Street, you'll approach the stately Government House, with its long outside staircase and spacious ballroom. The Danish government is helping to restore the structure to its original elegance. Don't miss the shaded courtyard: its giant shade trees and flowing fountain provide a respite from sightseeing or shopping.
The facades only hint at the many splendid courtyards and arcades found throughout town, many of which house shops and restaurants. Don't resist the temptation to explore inside.
The East EndSt. Croix's eastern end has some of the island's prettiest vistas, a perfect place for a leisurely drive. You'll encounter a landscape dotted with cacti similar to the American Southwest, an interesting contrast to the island's lush western regions.
If you want to see East End's many features rugged cliffs, ocean vistas and interior farmland begin your driving tour by taking Route 82 (East End Road) out of Christiansted and circle back along Route 60 (South Shore Road).
As you depart Christiansted from Hospital Street, which turns into Route 82, you'll soon pass The Buccaneer. Its resort facilities are not open to the public, but a cocktail at sunset at the Terrace Bar in the main building is one of St. Croix's unforgettable experiences.
Shortly, you'll see the signs for Green Cay Marina, home to an assemblage of luxurious sailing yachts and a good place to arrange charter, diving and snorkeling excursions. The marina is named after the small island just offshore, a refuge for the endangered St. Croix ground lizard. Just past the marina entrance, there is a turnoff to one of the island's finest resorts, the Chenay Bay Beach Resort.
Another few miles ahead, a small bay opens up before you, where you'll find the St. Croix Yacht Club, a popular mooring for sailboats. Across from the club, perched atop the cliffs, is an immense mansion the locals refer to as The Castle. Built by a flamboyant jet-setter known as the Contessa, the building is a melange of architectural flourishes reminiscent of the Taj Mahal.
Farther on is an intersection where Route 82 continues straight and Route 60 veers off to the right. If you go straight for about two miles, you'll come to Point Udall, the easternmost point in U.S. territory and the most secluded spot on the island. Before the paved road ends, there's a beach and a tidal pool area perfect for exploring (see the "Ecotourism on St. Croix" section for a self- guided tour). Once you arrive at the end of the road, you'll be treated to a spectacular view of the rocky coast and Buck Island off in the distance.
Back at the intersection, after you get on Route 60, you'll pass some of the island's most picturesque views, including one of Grapetree Bay. Continuing on, you'll see the Great Salt Pond, a mecca for birds and bird watchers. On a typical walk, you probably will spot brown pelicans, herons, great egrets, black-necked stilts and many other species.
As you turn onto Route 624 and then Route 62 to head back to Christiansted, you'll be traveling through some of the richest farmland in the Caribbean. And don't be shocked to see red-hued cows; they are a special breed that is found only on St. Croix.
The North ShoreIn contrast to the expanse of the long east end, the North Shore is much more compact. As you traverse the roads that hug tawny cliffs overlooking the glistening Caribbean and hear the wind underneath canopies of shade trees, the North Shore seems the most peaceful section of the island.
Follow Route 75 north out of Christiansted to the hotels and beach clubs of Little Princesse, capped by St. Croix by the Sea, another of the island's fine resorts. A right turn, following Route 75 to its end, will take you to Judith's Fancy, where you'll find the ruins of a sugar mill.
As you descend Morningstar Hill, take the first right, onto Route 80. Look for the sign "Tradewinds at Morningstar," which marks the intersection. As you follow the signs for Salt River Marina and continue past it about a mile, you'll see a marker on the left denoting the spot where Christopher Columbus purportedly landed in 1493.
Although Columbus himself did not actually disembark while anchored in the Salt River Bay, he did send a boat ashore in search of fresh water. Salt River is one of only two sites in what is now U.S. territory associated with Columbus and the only one confirmed by documented evidence. Moreover, it was the site of the first fatal confrontation between the European invaders and the natives of the New World. Numerous Taino artifacts have been excavated from the site. Already a National Historic Landmark and a National Natural Landmark, the Salt River area was designated a National Park in 1992. (See the "Ecotourism" section below.)
When you get back on Route 80, continue north. The road climbs along stunningly beautiful cliffs; on a very clear day, you can see St. Thomas and St. John on the northern horizon. North Shore Drive passes by Rust-Op-Twist, the ruins of a sugar plantation. The name is Danish for "Rest-After-Work."
Several miles ahead, you'll pass through part of St. Croix's unusual rain forest, which has the densest tropical vegetation on the island. Two miles ahead is the renowned Carambola Beach Resort & Golf Club.
The West SideWestenders often greet visitors from other parts of St. Croix by asking, "What brings you to the nice side of the island?" While not exactly fair to the rest of St. Croix, the greeting nevertheless has more than a germ of truth to it. This least-developed part of St. Croix enjoys a more casual lifestyle, although there is no less to see than in the east.
Frederiksted is the logical starting point for a west-end tour. Stop off at the Visitors Center at the Pier to get started and continue out on the Pier for a good panoramic view of the town's old historic district and Strand Gade, or Strand Street. This waterfront shopping area is noted for its arcaded buildings and interesting historical structures. The town, in the midst of restoration under a government "Main Street" program, is constantly evolving and improving.
The St. Croix Aquarium, located just across the street from the Frederiksted Pier, houses hundreds of creatures from local waters. This marine education center provides an excellent opportunity to learn about marine biology, reef conservation and island culture.
Frederiksted's architecture is different from Christiansted's because the town was partially burned during an uprising called Fireburn in 1878. When it was rebuilt, many structures had the gingerbread trim characteristic of late Victorian architecture, including the Victoria House, at the corner of Strand and Market streets, which may still be closed for renovation to be turned into a museum.
Fort Frederik, constructed between 1752 and 1760 and located at the north end of town, is a grand example of Danish military architecture. Two notable events occurred there: in 1776, it was the first foreign fort to salute the United States flag; and in July 1848, Governor General Peter von Scholten signed the proclamation that emancipated the slaves in the Danish West Indies.
Continue down Strand Street along the waterfront for two blocks and you'll come to the Old Frederiksted Public Library, also called the bellhouse after a previous owner named G.A. Bell, who decorated the stairs with bells. The building is now an arts and crafts center.
Nearby is the 18th-century Market Place, an open-air bazaar existing from the time Frederiksted was founded, where you can purchase tropical fruits. While here, don't miss the striking sunset views from one of the town's waterfront cafes.
Two miles east of town on St. Croix's oldest thoroughfare, Queen Mary Highway, also known as Centerline Road, stands the Estate Whim Plantation Museum. Guided tours of this National Historic Site explain the workings of an 18th-century sugar cane plantation and provide an interesting introduction to the island's history and landscape. Amid shady thibet, mahogany and 150-year-old tamarind trees stand a windmill, a chimney and a sugar factory. Surrounded by a three-foot moat of stone and coral, the stately French-influenced great house has been fully restored by the Landmark Society and has imported and Crucian antiques on display.
Just up the road is the St. George Village Botanical Garden, a lush, peaceful oasis with more than 300 species of tropical flora. Built amid sugar-mill ruins, the garden is among St. Croix's most photogenic sights. Check local papers to find out about the special events, such as jazz concerts, that are frequently held there.
Backtrack down Queen Mary Highway to Route 64 and the Cruzan Rum Distillery, the manufacturer of one the finest rums in the world. Rum has long been a major export, and the island's economy suffered greatly during Prohibition.
North of Frederiksted, the dramatic coastline along Route 63 provides many turn-offs to shady beaches ideal for a quiet picnic along the sea. If you're in the mood for a livelier time, stop at any of the beach shacks lining the road where food and drinks are doled out in generous portions. These beaches offer the best swimming on the west side, particularly the one opposite Sprat Hall Plantation, a charming great house that is now an elegant inn and restaurant serving dinner.
Creque (pronounced "creaky") Dam Road (Route 58), by Sprat Hall Plantation, will take you into the heart of St. Croix's rain forest. Creque Dam itself is a 45-foot-high structure ringed by towering kapok and sandbox trees covered with Spanish moss. Creque Dam Road then connects with Scenic Road (Route 78), which is just that.
SportsSt. Croix is endowed with natural features that make it a water-sports enthusiast's paradise. Spectacular scenery enhances the enjoyment of land sports such as golf and tennis. And mild tropical temperatures make it possible to participate in sports year-round.
Deep-Sea FishingCharter boats leave from the wharf in Christiansted, Green Cay Marina in Christiansted and St. Croix Marina in Gallows Bay on half-day, short-day (approximately six hours) and full-day excursions to the prime fishing ground of Lang Bank. What makes this a great place to fish other than the abundance of blue marlin and other game fish is the fact that boats don't have to spend much time running, as the drop-off of Lang Bank is only a short distance offshore. This means more time to fish.
Billfish are plentiful in summer, while winter brings wahoo and dolphin to local waters. Tuna run in the spring.
Diving & SnorkelingAs is the case with many of St. Croix's other attributes, people are only slowly discovering the fantastic range of diving opportunities here. The reefs surrounding the island offer both easy beginners' dives and enough challenges to hold the interest of the most seasoned divers for weeks.
For the novice, one of the best introductory dives anywhere is the Frederiksted Pier. Skillful divers find it entertaining too, particularly for its night diving. The pier's substantial pilings are covered with brilliant red and yellow sponges, and sea horses, octopus, batfish, Alantic oval squid, puffer fish and lizard fish are in abundance.
Just north of Frederiksted is one of the most impressive wreck dives in St. Croix. The Rosamaria is one of three wrecked ships that form an artificial reef off Butler Bay. This 177-foot steel-hulled freighter is en-crusted with pink and red sponges that have attracted a good number of fish, including yellowtail and horse-eyed jacks.
Cane Bay, on northern St. Croix, attracts divers and snorkelers alike. Easily accessible from shore, the site offers outstanding wall dives beginning in only 35 to 40 feet of water. Antler, purple tube and orange elephant ear sponges are common; boulder corals dominate the spurs and grooves of the shallows, giving way to vertical drops where schools of spade fish and eagle rays thrive. Northstar Wall has an immense Danish an-chor embedded in the coral at a depth of 60 feet. Dolphins and turtles occasionally make an appearance in the area. Nearby Davis Bay also offers great snorkeling from the beach.
The Salt River region has what many consider to be the island's finest diving. Its east wall features a sharp 100-foot drop marked by canyons and caves cut into the wall's face, and large schools of fish are a frequent sight.
Snorkelers can explore the coral gardens around Green Cay, a tiny offshore island just east of Christiansted. Although it is accessible only by boat, the cay is close enough to reach in a small craft like a kayak or even a sailboard.
Hotel on the Cay, a private island located just a short ferry ride from downtown Christiansted, has a large designated snorkeling area just off its sandy beach. Its focal point is a mini marine habitat in less than three feet of water, perfect for beginners, non-swimmers and kids. Schools of tropical fish gather around an old engine block and peek out from "recycled" conch shells, and small eels, shrimp and a variety of other creatures abound. Nearby is a 15-foot drop off, where the bottom is peppered with coral formations; schools of jacks, needlefish, tangs and many other species can be seen, and eagle rays, squid, octopus and other exotic creatures have been known to make an appearance from time to time. You can rent snorkel gear from the St. Croix Water Sports Center. You can also borrow a "glass-bottom bucket" to enjoy the view.
Just off the northeastern coast, Buck Island's underwater trail, which is restricted to snorkelers, is St. Croix's most popular tourist destination. And getting there is half the fun the vessels leaving from Christiansted and the north shore include motorized boats (some glass-bottom), graceful sloops and speedy trimarans. Excursions are either for half or full days; full-day trips include a beach party on shore as well as snorkeling. (See the "Ecotourism" section below.)
Visitors who are not certified to dive, or those who wish to upgrade their certificates, will find a variety of sanctioned courses available throughout St. Croix at competitive prices. If you have never dived before, you can enroll in an inexpensive resort course that allows you to make shallow reef dives after just a few hours of training. In addition, divers can rent or purchase virtually any piece of dive equipment they desire: numerous dive shops carry a wide selection of brand-name goods. Fully qualified personnel are also available to attend to equipment repairs.
Parasailing & WindsurfingAt first glance, parasailing seems to be exclusively the province of daredevils. Not so - parasailing is safe even though you are hundreds of feet in the air. Don't miss the opportunity to see the island from this unique perspective!
St. Croix is regarded by experienced windsurfers as one of the top locations in the world to practice the sport. The same features that attract the experts - the steady 10-to-20-knot winds out of the east, beautiful scenery and the combination of glassy-smooth, sheltered water and churning waves - make St. Croix an ideal place to learn and develop windsurfing skills.
Experts should try windsurfing at Salt River, where the winds are the strongest on the island and the surf is at its highest. At Duggan's Reef, at the island's east end, conditions are also suitable for windsurfing. And the calm waters off Hotel on the Cay, sheltered by Long Reef, are perfect for novices and experts alike. Lessons and equipment rentals are available.
Sailing & CharteringThe U.S. and British Virgin Islands are a "cruising crossroads." The trade winds are continual, the seas are generally calm, and the mountainous terrain provides for excellent line-of-sight navigation which explains why the Virgin Islands are often cited as having the world's best sailing.
You can arrange excursions at the wharf in Christiansted, at Green Cay Marina and at St. Croix Marina. Smaller boats such as Sunfish and Hobie Cats can be rented on the beach at the major resorts. The St. Croix Water Sports Center rents kayaks, Sea Doos and Wave Runners.
GolfFor those who prefer to stay on land, try a round of golf at the Carambola Golf Club (809-778-5638). Here you'll find one of the best golf courses on St. Croix and perhaps in the entire Caribbean. Nestled in the lush interior hills of northern St. Croix, the course is set amid palms, bougainvillea and hibiscus. As designed by the famed architect Robert Trent Jones, the 6,856-yard, par 72 course features many challenging uphill and over-water shots, particularly on the tricky par 3 holes. Tee times are generally easy to get, but you must make reservations one day in advance. Lessons, equipment rentals, practice facilities and a pro shop are all available on the premises.
The Buccaneer Golf Course (809-773-2100) is another first-rate course, as well as being a good test of your shot-making skill. It is a hilly 6,268-yard, par 71 course dramatically situated by the ocean. The course, pro-shop and practice facilities are open to the public by reservation.
The Reef Golf Course (809-773-8844) is a fun 9-hole course that also offers panoramic ocean vistas of Buck Island. It's located on the east end of the island by Duggan's Reef.
TennisThe best courts on St. Croix are at private clubs, which require reservations and a modest fee. The Buccaneer has eight championship Laykold courts open to the public, along with a well-equipped pro shop and an experienced pro who gives lessons. Two courts are lighted for night play.
Private courts are also available at Chenay Bay, Colony Cove, Mill Harbour, Sugar Beach, Hotel on the Cay, Club St. Croix and The Reef.
Side TripsSt. Croix is attracting people who come primarily to appreciate the natural splendor of the island. This section focuses on a few of the island's natural wonders: Buck Island, Butler Bay, The St. Croix Aquarium and Marine Education Center, and the St. George Village Botanical Garden.
Buck Island Reef National MonumentPresident John F. Kennedy, apparently moved by the beauty of Buck Island's reefs during a 1963 visit, had the island and its surrounding waters declared a National Monument. Numerous tour operators around the island offer trips of varying length to the 800-acre nature preserve, located one mile off St. Croix's northeastern shore.
Buck Island's primary draw is spectacular snorkeling in clear, shallow waters. At a depth of only 15 feet, you can observe massive elkhorn corals, brain corals and other marine life that flourish along the park's well-marked underwater trail. And more experienced snorkelers will enjoy exploring the deeper outer reef.
After a visit to the extraordinary underwater trail, most tour operators usually anchor at the island's white-sand beach, a worthwhile attraction in itself. There's also a 45-minute hiking trail that leads into the interior of the island, which is carpeted with tropical vegetation. The observation tower at the end of the trail provides a fabulous view of St. Croix and the reefs around Buck Island.
The island's facilities include picnic tables, grills, a pavilion, a changing house and rest rooms. Most tour operators provide snorkeling equipment.
Butler Bay Nature PreserveThe Butler Bay Nature Preserve comprises 225 protected acres replete with indigenous plant and animal life. A bridge made with hand-cut Danish stone over 150 years old still stands on the property, and hand-dug wells have been discovered here. A 60-foot waterfall cascades in the middle of this rain forest. The preserve has horseback riding trails, and there are plans to develop new trails for both riding and hiking within the refuge.
The St. Croix Aquarium and Marine Education Center Opened in 1990, The St. Croix Aquarium and Marine Education Center practices and teaches eco-sensitive measures. Every day, marine biologist and owner Lonnie Kaczmarksy dives to catch fresh food for the marine creatures at the St. Croix Aquarium. Kaczmarksy also believes in "recycling" the aquarium's sea life; once an exhibit has "performed," its often-times hand-collected creatures are returned to the sea and are replaced with a new exhibit. With this constant rotation, hundreds of species pass through the aquarium's tanks each year. In addition to several viewing tanks, there's also a touch pond with starfish, sea cucumbers, pencil urchins, several varieties of fish, colorful coral and much more. Kaczmarsky's intention is to familiarize beginner snorkelers and divers with the underwater world and to educate them on the effects of damaging or threatening the ecosystem in any way.
St. George Village Botanical GardenThis beautiful 16-acre expanse showcases over 800 various species of exotic plants, all varying in shape, size, color and texture. The walking tour an experience you won't want to miss takes you through a Crucian rainforest, the ruins of a sugar mill and rum factory, and a cactus and succulent garden.
Self-Guided HikesIf you wish to explore St. Croix on your own, the following hikes are recommended for their solitude and beauty. Note that these trails are not manicured or marked, so you'll feel as close to nature as the island's original inhabitants. However, because the areas are isolated, it's wise to take along a companion.
Isaac's Bay is a two-mile hike. To reach this spot, follow East End Road (Route 82) past Cramer's Park; the road turns into a gravel path, which you follow until you reach a dead-end on the hilltop overlooking Point Udall. You can park here be sure to leave no valuables in your vehicle.
If you look over the railing, you will notice a faint track that leads down the barren volcanic hillside to the water. At the bottom, you can sit and watch waves roll in, crashing against the rocks. Follow the shoreline heading west until you come to an open field filled with cactus. Wind through this arid field and you will end up at East End Bay, where you can explore the beach and search for shells. You can follow the beach, heading up and over a small mound, back down to Isaac's Bay. This is where you might want to spread a blanket and have a bite to eat. If you're a snorkeler, bring your gear along; these shallow, protected waters have lots of colorful fish and coral.
A slightly shorter but just as exciting hike is at Annaly Bay; this is a 11 2-mile trek. Take Scenic Road (Route 78) west, approximately five miles past Carambola. Take the turn-off heading up and to the right. Immediately thereafter, you'll see another dirt road heading back down the hill; turn right. You will be fairly close to the water. Park at the top of the hill and hike down the incline to Annaly Bay. Once there, you can enjoy the warm wading pools and explore the deserted beach. At the northwest end of the beach are some cliffs that are virtually perpendicular with the ocean. This area is called Marron Hole, named after a community of exiled slaves who lived there in the mid-1770s.
BeachesThe lure of St. Croix's sun-drenched beaches is virtually impossible to resist; they have been ranked among the most beautiful in the world. Picture crescent moons of sugar-white sand rimming secluded coves, lush tropical scenery and the sun reflecting diamond sparks on crystal-clear aquamarine waters that about sums up what you'll find on this island paradise.
In & Around ChristianstedA short ferry ride from downtown Christiansted will bring you to the Hotel on the Cay, which offers a lovely beach with an adjoining restaurant and bar; a complete water-sports center; and a wonderful view of the harborside wharfs. To the west of the city, there's a great 1,000-foot stretch of beach, as well as facilities for a number of water sports, at Estate Golden Rock, where Club St. Croix is located. The Buccaneer, a five-minute ride to the east of Christiansted on Route 82, features luxurious beach facilities, tropical drinks, food and shade. Non-guests are charged admission; rafts and beach chairs can be rented.
Nearby Shoy Beach has palm trees along the shore and waves that are perfect for body surfing if the wind is right. To find it, go through the Buccaneer Hotel entrance, turn right along the golf course and travel the dirt road at the fork until you see the sign for Buccaneer Estates. Park there and follow the overgrown path to the beach.
East of ChristianstedNot far from Christiansted is tiny Green Cay. You can get to its isolated beach by boat or other small watercraft, available at the Green Cay Marina; follow route 82 east out of town.
Continuing on Route 82, about seven miles east of Christiansted, keep an eye out for Teague Bay and the Reef Beach en-trance opposite the Reef Condominiums. Everything you'd want from a beach is here no wonder it's favored by both residents and visitors. Swim or sun at the long stretch of beach, or sip a cool drink on the restaurant deck while you watch the windsurfers.
A turn onto Route 60 will take you to Grapetree Beach. It boasts shade, a splendid stretch of sand, and calm, protected waters. Should you tire of just plain swimming, snorkel gear and sailboard rentals are available at this hotel beach, and you'll also find a bar, a restaurant and rest rooms.
West of ChristianstedHeading west and then north of Christiansted on Route 75 will bring you to the Little Princesse region. Here you'll see a long stretch of white-sand beaches dotted by beach resorts, the largest of which is St. Croix by the Sea.
Traveling farther west on Route 75 and turning north on Route 80, you'll arrive at Salt River Bay, where Columbus anchored in 1493 and which has recently been designated a National Park (see the "Ecotourism" section below). There is a nice sequestered beach without facilities, and a nearby marker commemorating Columbus' visit. Frequently, you'll see windsurfers negotiating the challenging wind and waves.
Farther down the North Shore Road (Route 80), you'll come to the locally popular Cane Bay Beach, where you can watch the waves roll in over the spectacular reef or spy a sea turtle. Neighboring Davis Bay Beach meets most people's preconception of what a Caribbean beach should look like, so much so that the final scene of the movie Trading Places was filmed here. The dense rain forest forms a backdrop for the winding shoreline, making this one of St. Croix's most picturesque spots. These two strands are particularly special because some of the island's best snorkeling is just 100 feet offshore. Davis Bay Beach is part of the Carambola resort complex but is accessible to the public.
In & Around FrederikstedYou can also find several fine beaches on the west shore north of Frederiksted. If you drive along Route 63, you'll arrive at several beach shacks and grills. You'll enjoy the calm waters and sugar-white sand at Rainbow Beach. It's been touted as one of the island's best snorkeling spots. The nearby beach bar provides a cool haven for sipping a refreshing drink. The stretch in front of La Grange Beach and Tennis Club and Sprat Hall Beach, across from the Sprat Hall Plantation, are similar to Rainbow Beach: both have gorgeous sandy shores with full facilities, bars that pour inexpensive, oversized drinks and grills that serve tasty burgers and sandwiches.
Another spot for those who like privacy is Sandy Point, a pristine area with tranquil waters and miles of white sand. Located at the southwestern tip of the island, it is a nesting ground for the endangered leatherback and green sea turtles. If you are lucky, you may get to see them. The beach is protected by local environmentalists during the early April to early June nesting season to guard the eggs. To get there, take Melvin Evans Highway to its western end and follow the dirt road; there are several places to turn off.
ArtAn artist is born every minute in the Caribbean; since pre-colonial times, these islands have produced many dreamers. St. Croix has consistently worked its magic in this respect by producing some remarkable "born-here" artists and, over the years, by becoming home to an astounding number of artists from all over the world. That strong artistic presence is what gives St. Croix its particular character as the "art-full" Virgin Island, boasting an average 40 local artists whose works can be viewed throughout the year. The diverse and often transient nature of St. Croix's artistic community keeps originality of style as much a certainty as the tropical charm that continually attracts new dreamers to these shores.
Major artistic events are usually scheduled throughout the winter season. However, the vibrant artistic life on St. Croix makes art shows an all-year enjoyment. Art exhibitions on the island can be seen at places as varied as the grounds of a historic great house, an artist's studio, fund-raising events, public fairs, street festivals, the Botanical Garden or inside a 15th-century fort and, more predictably, at a few commercial galleries in Christiansted and Frederiksted. You'll be treated to exciting creations by newcomer artists as well as long time-residents and native Crucians. There are also offerings from artists who have gone but still keep in touch through their colorful imagery.
The majority of these artistic activities takes place in the town of Frederiksted and its surroundings. Frederiksted is known for having preserved its attributes as an artist's colony. The only traditional gallery, in both size and artistic representation, is located in one of Frederiksted's oldest houses, dating back to the early 1880s. The Frederiksted Gallery features fine arts selections from St. Croix's noted artists, as well as cultural activities, such as court-yard poetry readings.
Fort Frederik, located in the Frederiksted harbor, houses an art gallery and many display rooms offering a variety of presentations all year long.
The crafts are heavily represented in late November at Starving Artist Day held yearly at the Whim Plantation, where many artisans can be seen at work. In addition, currently on display at the plantation is a new line of furniture called The West Indies Collection, inspired by 18th- and early 19th-century colonial pieces found at this restored plantation house.
Art In The Garden in March showcases the work of art students from painting sessions that were held at the Botanical Garden. In the town of Christiansted, the Gilliam-King Gallery, owned by a painter and a sculptor, features their respective works. And La Petite Galerie, also in Christiansted, specializes in Caribbean-inspired glass and metal sculpture.
EcotourismWithin recent years, St. Croix has become more environmentally conscious and sensitive, joining the rest of the world in an effort to protect and preserve the earth as well as encouraging a back-to-nature approach to tourism.
There is a growing desire here to protect the coral reefs and marine life that border the island's shores, the soil that covers the land, and the air that's breathed by all. Many projects now exist for environmental causes, and several associations have formed, including the St. Croix Environmental Association (S.E.A.).
The S.E.A. is a non-profit organization that was established in 1986. The primary purpose of the organization was originally to protect certain land sites from development. The campaign to save the Salt River site, an ecological and historic jewel, has been one of the S.E.A.'s greatest successes to date. Since then, the mission of the S.E.A. has been to educate and create an overall environmental awareness on the island.
The Salt River area now the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve contains the single largest mangrove estuarine system left in the Virgin Islands. The mangroves and the bay's seagrass beds provide a very important wildlife habitat, hosting 27 endangered or threatened species and providing a breeding and feeding ground for fish and invertebrate populations. The submarine canyon at the mouth of the bay one of just a handful in the world is home to deep-water corals and rare geological features including caverns, grottoes and ledges. This unique submarine environment has made Salt River a scuba diver's paradise.
In addition to its ecological importance, the Salt River basin is also one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Virgin Islands. Archaeologists unearthed the only Taino ceremonial ball court in the Lesser Antilles here; along with many associated artifacts, the ball court indicates that the area was an important Taino cultural center. A ceremonial burial ground dating back to A.D. 350 was also discovered. And Salt River Bay provided Columbus' first anchorage in what is now U.S. territory. Hence, the site has been the focus of every archaeological investigation held on St. Croix since 1880.
In addition to Salt River, the S.E.A. has continuously worked to protect other fragile lands by advocating thoughtful and environmentally sound development. And the association's programs have had a far-reaching effect on the island.
The S.E.A.'s VI ReLeaf reforestation program, started in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo, is dedicated to planting new trees and teaching their ecological importance. Trees are given to schools, churches and communities as gifts, and children are taught to plant and care for them. The S.E.A.'s Environmental Quality Action Team (EQAT) monitors the waters around the island, keeping them clean and safe for humans and wildlife alike. EQAT ensures that St. Croix is in compliance with local and federal environmental laws governing quality standards. The program was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1994 with an award.
The S.E.A. was the first organization to teach Crucians about the need to recycle; while this effort is now overseen by the Antilitter and Beautification Commission, the S.E.A continues its educational efforts, and still coordinates island clean-ups from time to time. While everyone enjoys the benefits of the S.E.A.'s many programs, its guided eco-walks and hikes are especially appealing to visitors and appropriate for all age groups. Each tour is of varying difficulty. The walk through Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve is the least strenuous. There's also an excursion to Point Udall, the easternmost point in U.S. territory; this trip is moderately difficult. A rain-forest expedition into the Caledonia Valley, home to 200-foot kapok trees, is the most challenging.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please