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The variety and quality of cuisine really impressed me on my two visits to St. John (still one of my favorite places in the world). When I was invited to a culinary trip to its sister island of St. Croix, I could not say Yes fast enough.
St. Croix is one of the three major US Virgin Islands; St. Thomas and St. John are the other two. There are over 50 USVI islands but only five are populated.
On March 31, 1917, the United States paid $25 million in gold to Denmark to acquire the Virgin Islands. On March 31, 2017 (Transfer Day) St. Croix and the entire USVI population celebrated their 100th year of independence. Officially, St. Croix has 55,000 residents but unofficially there are 65,000 residents—including part-timers, like former Vice President Biden and many celebrities.
Note: I was hosted by United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism (USVI Tourism) as an opportunity to explore and learn about the food and culture of St. Croix, USVI and share my favorite findings with the McCool Travel audience.
8 Great Things To Do in St. Croix, USVI
Watch the sunrise before anyone in the United States. Point Udall on St. Croix is the geographic easternmost spot of United States territory, where the sun first touches the US soil. The area has panoramic views of the island and the Caribbean. On a clear day you can see several other islands. The Millennium Monument was dedicated on January 1, 2000 as the spot where the sunlight first hit the United States.
Since St. Croix is relatively isolated—35 miles from the nearest island (St. Thomas)—an estimated 80% of food is imported and very expensive. Whenever possible stick to local and fresh products, like seafood and chicken. While farm to table is a trend all over the world, it is a cultural lifestyle in St. Croix.
One local told me, “The only bad meal you will have on St. Croix is Wendy’s or McDonald’s.” He said his favorite place to eat in St. Croix is Chicken Shack. I ate there and some other places, which I cover in 8 Great Places to Eat in St. Croix.
On a Cruzan Rum factory tour, you will learn, among other things, that Cruzan rum does not cause hangovers. Oh their rum most certainly makes people inebriated but it does not contain impurities which are the reason for hangovers.
St. Croix drink masters are becoming more creative with their concoctions. Just a short walk from the Christiansted waterfront is a fun place called BES Craft Cocktail Lounge. While some members of our group selected from the menu, the owner/mixologist customized drinks for others (like me). I asked for something spicy and with rum and he created a delicious elixir.
Explore (St. Croix History)
The history of St. Croix ranges from native Indian settlements prior to the arrival of Columbus and Europeans to one of the world’s largest oil refineries (Hess oil factory closed in 2012). The Danish operated hundreds of sugar mill plantations for nearly 200 years. Many of the Danish windmill buildings have been repurposed into homes, offices, and other uses.
During the Danish occupation, Alexander Hamilton honed his personality and critical thinking into becoming one of USA’s Founding Fathers. Later, the first freed slaves as a result of rebellion occurred on St. Croix in July 1848.
Since Columbus spotted the island in 1493, seven different governing bodies have flown flags over St. Croix (Spanish, Dutch, British, France, Knights of Malta, Danish, and USA). On his second voyage to the New World, Columbus sought fresh water when he stumbled upon the Leeward islands. The shape of the islands reminded him of the Virgin Queen and the name Virgin Islands stuck. The first recorded violent encounter between Europeans and native Indians occurred on St. Croix in October 1493. Fatalities happened on both sides and Columbus took prisoners back to Spain.
In addition to Alexander Hamilton, other St. Croix residents went on to fame and fortune. St. Croix was the home of the co-founders of the city of San Francisco, the creator of Lotto games, and NBA star Tim Duncan.
Many of the building structures in the two main towns (Christiansted and Fredericksted) and around the island were constructed with bricks from Denmark which served as ballast in the ships. It is pretty cool walking around and seeing (and touching) bricks from early 1700s that were probably also touched by Alexander Hamilton.
Since St. Croix is a Caribbean island, water dominates the natural scene. However, St. Croix has seven hills, offering plentiful hiking opportunities. One recurring theme I encountered during my visit was the appreciation and respect for trees.
About 50 baobab trees, the Tree of Life (native to Africa), can be found on St. Croix—more than any other Caribbean island. Historically, the Tree of Life blooms every 50 years but one baobab tree, in Grove Place, blooms every two years. 14 women were buried on that spot on October 1, 1878 and local legend says that their spirits cause the more frequent bloom cycles.
St. Croix residents call the massive kapok trees Monkey No Climb. Remember from a prior McCool Travel article that kapok trees have spikes along its edges so that nickname makes sense. Unfortunately, plantation owners used these magnificent trees for torture.
Settlers brought Mahogany trees to St. Croix from South America and the local soil created some of the hardest wood on Earth. The mahogany trees on St. Croix are now protected and there are severe fines issued to anyone molesting them.
St. Croix Festivals
Crucians (St. Croix residents) love festivals. There is some festival nearly every weekend on St. Croix. During my short visit, we attended Agrifest—the largest annual festival on St. Croix—and a reggae concert.
Agrifest, officially called Agriculture and Food Fair of the United States Virgin Islands—is a massive three day affair attracting people from all over the Caribbean and the world. Vendors from several Caribbean islands were present and the food, music, and fun was nonstop.
St. Patrick’s Day is crazy on St. Croix, I heard. Transfer Day (when USVI became a territory of USA) is celebrated every March 31. Easter Camp Out occurs every April when people sleep on the beaches and share food with anyone who asks. Carnival on St. Croix occurs between Christmas and Three Kings day. St. John celebrates Carnival around July 4 and Carnival on St. Thomas happens in April (65th Carnival in 2017).
My group stayed at Caravelle Hotel and Casino in Christiansted. Caravelle was recently renovated and I loved the location on the water and close to amazing restaurants and attractions. The onsite Rumrunners is a popular restaurant and bar.
It looks like you can walk to the beach on the small 5 acre island in the bay, called Protestant Cay, but most people take the convenient ferry. The boat shuttle costs $5 and operates continuously (about every 10 minutes) from 6am to midnight and by request other times. Hotel on the Cay is on the small island.
St. Croix is surrounded by a coral reef system—second largest in the world, to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia—with only a small channel opening into Frederiksted. Maybe four smaller ships a month visit St. Croix, compared to St. Thomas which often houses six or more mega cruise ships at the same time. If you are one of the fortunate few cruisers to visit St. Croix, you will find some unique craft shops plus all of the other things to do in St. Croix list covered in this article.
There are about 250 dive spots around St. Croix and SCUBA excursions are the most popular activity and reason visitors come to the island. My group did a half-day trip to nearby Buck Island, where I snorkeled on top of the reef, walked on one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, and did a short hike through varied terrain (including cactus).
Other fun things to do in St. Croix include sailing, fishing, golf, scenic drives, and much more. As my USVI tourism contact Sharon said, visitors tell me what they want to do and we can do that!