When you think of the U.S. Virgin Islands, it's easy to see only Saint Thomas and forget about the others. After all, the cruise ships all go to Saint Thomas, right? You'd be surprised how much Saint Croix has to offer.
Saint Croix, also known as "The Breadbasket of the Caribbean", is a rarity in the Antilles - an island with ample flat, fertile land suitable for farming. That's what makes Saint Croix "The Foodie Island", too! There are many excellent restaurants, farmer's and fish markets, and plenty to see and do. And it's all at a far less hectic pace than Saint Thomas.
Let's explore just a few highlights!
Places to Go
Point Udall is on the easternmost point of Saint Croix. It's also the easternmost piece of land in the United States! If you watch the sun rise at Point Udall, you can honestly say you've seen the sun before anyone else in the entire country.
Have your picture taken at the Millenium Monument, and on clear days peer to the north, where you can glimpse the other US and British Virgin Islands on the horizon.
The views are spectacular. Surf crashes on craggy rocks, the wind whistles through your hair, and you can feel very much at peace. If you go at night, there is almost no light pollution, and the stars are spectacular. At night you can often spy cruise ships lit up like city blocks as they pass away north and east.
Buck Island Reef National Monument is an uninhabited island a few miles off the north coast of Saint Croix's East End. Administered by the National Park Service, Buck Island is one of only a handful of protected marine areas in the NPS system. There you can see endangered species like the brown pelican and different species of sea turtle.
Turtle Beach, on the western end of Buck Island, is a popular day-trip destination, with crystal-clear blue water and fine, powdery sand to sink your toes in. In 2013 Travel & Leisure magazine ranked Turtle Beach fourth for seclusion. The magazine wrote that wrote that “the offshore reefs on Buck Island get most of the attention, which means that the long, forest-lined beaches like this one are often empty.”
That's true, because you can't drive there. You need a boat. In fact, if you want to access Buck Island's underwater snorkeling trail you'll need to book a trip with an NPS-licensed tour operator. One of the best is Llewellyn's Charter - Captain Llewellyn is a true Down Islander from Nevis who's been sailing Saint Croix's waters since the 1960s. He'll regale you with stories and nautical lore, and maybe - if you're lucky - he'll sing you some calyspo while you sail!
Fort Christiansvaern is the jewel in the Saint Croix National Park Service's facilities. Construction begain in the 1740s, and the fort was rebuilt in 1771 after severe hurricane damage. It is one of five forts remaining from the Danish colonial period in the USVI, and is the best preserved.
Though continually manned through the Danish colonial period, her guns were never fired in anger, not even during the slave revolts of the 19th century. It is named in honor of King Christian VI of Denmark, designed on the European model in vogue in the early 18th century. It was built by gangs of Danish soldiers and hundreds of African slaves over more than a decade.
The Christiansted National Park facilities are open for visitors from 8AM to 5PM daily.
Since we've just finished our visit to Fort Christiansvaern, let's take a few steps west to the heart of Saint Croix's "big city", Christiansted.
Built on the site of an older, smaller French village (called "Bassin"), Christiansted - named after, you guessed it, Christian VI - was laid out as a modern European town from the beginning. Many of Christiansted's buildings date from the colonial era, and show many fantastic examples of European Caribbean colonial architecture.
For many years it was capital and commercial hub of the Danish West Indies, and it has a rich history. American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton was a long-time resident, serving an indenture in the 1760s. Later, it was birthplace to Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin. Even later - much later - Christiansted saw the birth of NBA star Tim Duncan.
These days Christiansted's wharf no longer sees trade ships dropping off necessaries and picking up cane sugar. Instead, dive boats and day-sailers pick up passengers, and tourists flock to the boardwalk. The town is home to many fine hotels and restaurants which we'll visit in another article.
Cruzan Rum Distillery
In the colonial era, Saint Croix's largest export was sugar made from sugarcane grown on plantations. A byproduct of cane sugar production is molasses. It's not as valuable a commodity as refined sugar, but it can't be wasted. What to do with it?
Let's ferment it, distil the fermented liquor, and sell it! What'll we call it? How about...rum?
The Cruzan Rum distillery has been making rum for 300 years. Eight generations of the Nelthropp family have guided the company through crop failures, hurricanes, and corporate changes which boggle the mind of an ordinary layman. At the end of the day, the proof of their commitment is in your glass.
The best part about having Cruzan's distillery right here is the distillery tour! For $4 (as of this writing) you get a tour of an operating small distillery, guided by a knowledgable staffer. It's cool because you get to see every part of the process up close and personally. You smell the wash as it ferments, feel the heat from the stills, talk to the master distiller as he tastes the rum aging in the barrels in the storage warehouse.
And at the end you get free samples. How cool is that? How about how you can buy rum to take home? And the folks at the shop will carefully pack your purchase for the flight home! Tours run Tuesday through Friday from about 11:30 until about 4PM. No reservation is necessary; just turn up.
Note: While there's no age requirement to take the tour, you must be 18 to sample the rum. Indeed, you must be 18 to consume alcohol at all in the USVI.
A diver investigates "The Wall", a popular dive spot on Saint Croix's north shore.
If you're a SCUBA diver or snorkeler, Saint Croix has a multitude of outstanding opportunities for you! One of the most popular is "The Wall" just off Cane Bay on the northwest shore. There, you can wade out from the beach with your gear and in 200 yards the cliff drops you to more than 2,000 feet.
On the swim out, you'll find beautiful coral, colorful reef fish, turtles, big rays, and sometimes our barracuda. Then suddenly you'll look down and see no more bottom. That's The Wall!
I admit going to The Wall freaks me out. I'm not a diver, I'm a snorkeler, and the idea of just little ol' me, a mask, and a pair of fins over that kind of depth gives me an official case of The Willies. But my wife? Kass will keep paddling right out there and giggle about how cool it is. So does most everyone else. Guess I'm just a wimp.
That's a bunch of stuff!
Look for articles from your humble correspondent regarding places to stay and places to dine while you're visiting Saint Croix. See you soon!