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St. Croix
Gem of the U.S. Virgin Islands

Blue waters lapped gently on the glistening sand as my wife and I shared lunch on the isolated beach, gazing across the Caribbean to St. Croix’s verdant hills. We had sailed from St. Croix on a trimaran that morning in brisk trade winds to uninhabited Buck Island. After two hours of colorful snorkeling along the barrier reef, we few fortunate passengers waded ashore to the island’s single beach, a white strand stretching hundreds of meters. We literally had paradise to ourselves.

But the excitement was not over. When it was time to return we sailed downwind, wing-on-wing, cruising briskly back to Christiansted Harbor, enjoying the best the Caribbean has to offer. The captain invited me to pilot Daydreamer for the open water sail...my own daydream made real.

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Trimaran "Daydreamer" off of Buck Island beach

As we disembarked at the pier we were counting the Buck Island tour as a major highlight of a diverse week of tropical explorations and adventures. It is no wonder why many visitors have praised St. Croix as the best vacation destination of the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands.

Hibiscus Hotel…Location, Location, Location

There are many fine lodging establishments on St. Croix, but there are few that have as a good a mix of assets and value as the Hibiscus Hotel. Its main feature is the perfect beach on the northern shore, just west of St. Croix’s main town of Christiansted. The picturesque town and its restaurants are only a ten-minute drive away. An added plus is the Hibiscus’ own onsite restaurant, "H2O," a favorite throughout the island. During our weeklong stay we found it ideal to "mix it up" from the Hibiscus… spending half our days lolling at the resort’s beach and enjoying its seaside restaurant, and half our days exploring the island, finding other beaches, and dining "out."

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Hibiscus Hotel claims an excellent beach
(Courtesy: Hibiscus Hotel )

Lounging, Kayaking, Snorkeling and Diving

Beach loungers, snorkelers, divers, sailors, and kayakers all have great choices on St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. A real advantage is that St. Croix is not laden with vacationers fighting for space. It has a laid-back feeling while still providing many choices for adventuring.

Buck Island is a "must" trip due to its incredible barrier reef and beach. Mile Mark Watersports offers the largest gamut of options, including the 40-foot sailing trimaran, Daydreamer; a powerboat, and a glass-bottom boat. The full-day option is strongly recommended for a tour, giving much more time to enjoy the island’s natural treasures.

Another "must" is the ecological and historic kayak paddling tour offered by Caribbean Adventure Tours in Salt River National Park. Our guides, Andy and Derik, took our group of seven double kayaks on a tour of the Salt River Estuary, viewing numerous birds, including egrets, herons, ospreys, and oyster pigeons, and other estuary inhabitants, such as young Sergeant Major fish, jellyfish, iguanas, and feather duster worms living among the mangroves growing into the estuary waters. The guide’s recount of how the red, white, and black mangroves thrive in the salt-water habitat was fascinating. The highlight of the historical part of our tour was viewing the scene where Columbus’s men came into the estuary in 1493, hoping to obtain fresh water, only to be attacked by the native Caribs. Despite their guns, arrows hit three of the Spaniards, and Columbus was forced to leave St. Croix. It was the first of many violent New World encounters between Europeans and Native Americans.

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Kayakers on Salt River Estuary

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Mangroves and estuary shoreline

Our favorite St. Croix beach lies along its isolated northwestern shore at Cane Bay. Here there are just a couple of beach cafe bars, a kayaking outfitter, and a dive shop. The Cane Bay Beach Bar is a great place to hang out. Their theme is "Burgers to Lobster in your Beach Attire." The real draw is the beach and the waters of the Caribbean. For snorkelers, it is quite a 250-meters swim to the coral; but once there, the sights thirty feet below the surface are intense. It is an especially great spot for divers, as "The Wall" drops from this coral down to the depths of the Puerto Rico trench, thousands of feet below. "The Wall" is renowned to divers throughout the Caribbean.

Christiansted Town

It was a pleasant surprise to discover the wonders of St. Croix’s main town. Dating back almost 300 years, Christiansted has preserved most of its original Danish buildings and architecture. The narrow streets with colorful two-story structures have arcaded covered pedestrian walkways. The harbor boardwalk is lined with shops and bars with views out to the palm-covered cay that contains a beach and hotel. Just west of the boardwalk sits the original fort and a complex of old buildings, including the scale house, customs house, and Steeple Building, the first Lutheran church. Throughout the town are numerous restaurants. The crême de la crême meal of our trip was rack of lamb at Kendricks, a continental restaurant at the historic Quin House complex at King Cross and Company streets.

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Christisansted and harbor
(Courtesy: GoToStCroix.com)

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Danish architecture
from the 1700s

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Customs house and scale house
from the harbor

Heritage Trail… Sweeny’s St. Croix Safari

The 72-mile St. Croix Heritage Trail contains many worthwhile sites and is the best way to really get to know St. Croix. While it’s possible to drive your own car along the interconnecting roadways in a self-guided manner, there is no better alternative than to leave the driving to friendly and information-filled Sweeny Toussaint. Sweeny’s St. Croix Safari will pick you up in his covered, open-air bus and bring you to the best sites. Along the way he’ll give you a brief recount of the island’s interesting history including the original inhabitants and the seven foreign nations that have ruled the isle, including its current status as a U.S. territory. Most of the historical vestiges found today date from the period when the Danes ran St. Croix as scores of sugar plantations. It was an unfortunate reality that slave labor was the basis for this governance until 1848.

Sweeny stops at two of the most interesting plantation sites, St. George Village and Whim’s Plantation. At these sites the visitor starts to better appreciate the reality of plantation life with the villa-residing owners and the neighboring slave villages and sugar mills. St. George Village also includes an extensive botanical garden with a wide variety of tropical plants, including hibiscus, kapok, century plants, orchids, frangipani, and aloe vera.

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Sugar factory ruins

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Sugar mill and chimney

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Whim estate room

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Jungle view

Sweeny also brings you on a tour of the Cruzan Rum Factory, functioning since 1776 and producer of thirteen unique blends, aged from two to fourteen years. After a tour of the huge operation, we wouldn’t have wanted to miss the tasting room stop… we had the best pină colada we’ve ever tasted.

After lunch in Fredriksted, we continued into the afternoon with a drive through St. Croix’s small rainforest and scenic Carambola Valley to the isolated north shore, viewing Salt River Bay from a great vista point before heading back to Christiansted.

A World of Possibilities

For Caribbean vacationers, St. Croix has it all: beauty, heritage, a picturesque Caribbean town, good restaurants, and great beaches and water sports. Although the islands residents and visitors know St. Croix deserves more renown, the island remains somewhat of a secret. The big crowds have not yet arrived, making it the perfect time for vacationers to discover the island’s treasures for themselves.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to St Croix.

        Article by Les Furnanz
        Photos by Rita Furnanz

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