St Croix

St Croix (pronounced to rhyme with 'boy') is perceived as the poor relation of the main group of islands, but its lack of development is part of its charm and there is more to see here than on St Thomas. Columbus thought that St Croix looked like a lush garden when he first saw it during his second voyage in 1493. He landed at Salt River on the north coast, now a national park encompassing the landing site as well as the rich underwater Salt River drop off and canyon. It had been cultivated by the Carib Indians, who called it Ay-Ay, and the land still lies green and fertile between the rolling hills. Today, agriculture has been surpassed by tourism and industry, including the huge Hovensa oil refinery on the south coast. The east of the island is rocky and arid terrain; the west is higher, wetter and forested. St Croix is the largest of the group with 84 sq miles, lying 40 miles south of St Thomas. People born on the island are called Crucians, while North Americans who move there are known as Continentals.

Getting there and around

A taxi dispatcher's booth is at the airport exit. Rates are listed in many publications.

A bus service runs between Christiansted and Frederiksted. The major car rental agencies are represented at the airport, hotels and both cities. A 4WD car is ideal to drive along the scenic roads, for example to Ham's Bay or Point Udall. There is a distinct lack of road signs on St Croix, so if you use a car, take a good map.

Christiansted

The town square and waterfront area of Christiansted, the old Danish capital, still retain the colourful character of the early days. Red-roofed pastel houses built by early settlers climb the hills overlooking
Kings Wharf
and there is an old outdoor market. Many of the buildings are being restored and the dock is being improved to take small cruise ships (the reef prevents large ships entering the harbour), but it is unlikely to be overrun with cruise ship tourism like St Thomas. Old Christiansted is compact and easy to stroll around. The best place to start is the
Visitors' Bureau
, where you can pick up brochures.

Fort Christiansvaern
, www.nps.gov/chri, was built by the Danes in 1749 on the foundations of a French fort dating from 1645. See the punishment cells, dungeons, barracks room, officers' kitchen, powder magazine, an exhibit of how to fire a cannon, and the battery, the best vantage point for photographing the old town and harbour. The fort and the surrounding historic buildings are run by the National Parks Service. The old customs house in front of the fort is now its office. The
Steeple Building
, was built as a church by the Danes in 1734, then converted into a military bakery, storehouse and later a hospital. It is now a history museum. The area here is full of old Danish architecture, and many of the original buildings are still used. The West India and Guinea Co, which bought St Croix from the French and settled the island, built a warehouse on the corner of Church and Company Streets which is now a post office and Customs House.

On King Street is the building where the young
Alexander Hamilton
, who was to become one of the founding fathers of the USA, worked as a clerk in Nicolas Cruger's counting-house. Today the building houses the Little Switzerland shop.

Government House
, has all the hallmarks of the elegant and luxurious life of the merchants and planters in the days when 'sugar was king'. The centre section, built in 1742 as a merchant's residence, was bought by the Secret Council of St Croix in 1771 as a government office. It was later joined to another merchant's town house on the corner of Queen Cross Street and a handsome ballroom (which you can visit, along with the gardens and the Court of Justice) was added. The Governor stays here when he works away from Charlotte Amalie.

A
boardwalk
spans the entire waterfront of Christiansted, providing a wonderful stroll with lively restaurants, cafés and bars along the way. The boardwalk is well lit and security is tight with policemen on duty and security cameras. Between the waterfront and Strand Street there is a fascinating maze of arcades and alleys lined with boutiques, handicrafts and jewellery shops.

Frederiksted

Frederiksted, 17 miles from Christiansted, is the only other town on St Croix. Historic buildings such as
Victoria House
, and the
Customs House
, have been repaired following hurricane damage.
Fort Frederik
 (1752) is a museum. This is the place where the proclamation freeing all Danish slaves was read, in 1848. An exhibition of old photos and newspaper articles and other display items shows the destruction caused by hurricanes.

Around the island

Agriculture was long the staple of the economy, cattle and sugar the main activities, and ruins of sugar plantations with their great houses and windmills still remain. You can tour the restored estates several times a year. The
St Croix Heritage Trail
, www.stcroixheritagetrail.com, promotes culture, heritage and communities and was designated one of 50 Millennium Legacy Trails by the White House Millennium Council. There are many attractions to be toured. A good guide is available at www.millenniumtrails.org. Starting in February for six weeks the
St Croix Landmarks Society
, www.stcroixlandmarks.com
, runs house tours every Wednesday, US$30, in different parts of the island.

Estate Whim
, www.stcroixlandmarks.com,
has been restored to the way it was under Danish rule in the 1700s. There's a gift shop and candlelight concerts and other functions are held here, including an annual antiques auction, usually in March, which is considered one of the best places to find antique West Indian furniture.
St George Village Botanical Garden
, www.sgvbg.org, has 16 acres (6.5ha) of beautiful gardens amid the ruins of a 19th century plantation village.

Beaches and activities

Good beaches can be found at
Davis Bay
,
Protestant Cay
,
Buccaneer
(good snorkelling),
The Reef
,
Cane Bay
(good snorkelling),
Grapetree Beach
and
Cormorant Beach
.
Cramer Park
on the east shore and
Frederiksted beach
to the north of the town both have changing facilities and showers.
Rainbow Beach Club
, 1½ km north of Frederiksted, has a spectacular sandy beach, restaurant and beach bar. All beaches are open to the public, but on those where there is a hotel that maintains the beach
(Buccaneer, for example), you may have to pay for the use of facilities. Try the isolated beach to the east of the
Buccaneer Hotel
(walk across the golf course), at
The Waves
restaurant at Cane Bay, or explore and find your own. Generally the north coast is best for surfing because there are no reefs to protect the beaches. On the northwest coast, the stretch from Northside Beach to Ham's Bay is easily accessible (but watch out for sea urchins at Ham's Bay beach); the road is alongside the beach. The road ends at the General Offshore Sonorbuoy Area (a naval installation at Ham's Bluff), which is a good place to see booby birds and frigate birds leaving at dawn and coming home to roost at dusk.

Diving

Scuba diving is very good around St Croix, with forests of elkhorn coral, black coral, brain coral, sea fans, a multitude of tropical fish, sea horses under the Frederiksted pier (great day or night dive for novices, an easy shore dive and one of the best in the USVI), walls and drop offs, reefs and wrecks. The wrecks are varied, some 40 years old and some recent, with marine life slowly growing on the structures and schools of fish taking up residence. They range from 75-300 ft in length and 15-110 ft deep, providing something for beginners and the more experienced. Butler Bay, off Frederiksted, is home to six shipwrecks. Nearby in Truck Lagoon are the remains of around 25 old truck chassis that were sunk by Hess Oil to promote marine growth and create an artificial reef. The wrecks of the North Wind, The Virgin Islander Barge and Suffolk Maid are close together, but usually done as two separate leisurely dives, otherwise you have to swim rather briskly to get round them all. There are also the Rosaomaira, the deepest of the wrecks, and the Coakly Bay, the newest, while to the south is the Sondra, a shallow dive which can even be snorkelled, although there is not a great deal remaining on the site. Just behind the Sondra is the wreck of a motor boat. During February, March and April you are likely to see humpback whales near the islands and dive boats sometimes go out to watch them. Diving trips are arranged by several companies all round the island, many of which also charter boats out and offer sailing lessons .

Snorkelling

At Buck Island there are underwater snorkelling trails, the two main ones being Turtle Bay Trail and East End Trail. The fish are superb. The reef is an underwater national park covering over 850 acres, including the island. Hawksbill turtles nest on Buck Island and, during a 1993 Buck Island National Monument Sea Turtle Research Programme, Sandy Point leatherbacks were also observed nesting there. Half-day tours to Buck Island, including 1¼ hours snorkelling and 30 minutes at the beach, can be arranged through hotels or boat owners on the waterfront at Christiansted. Only six operators are licensed to take day charters to the island, which means that they are often crowded. Another attraction is the Salt River coral canyon.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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