Caribbean: US Virgin Islands - St. Croix
Just east of Puerto Rico -- and south of sister islands St. Thomas and St. John -- rises the largest of the U.S. Virgins: the 82 pastoral square miles of St. Croix. If you feel St. Thomas is too busy and St. John too quiet, St. Croix may be just what you're looking for: a great balance of culture, beaches, history, and heart-thumping outdoor -- and underwater -- activities.
In a Word: Space
Compared to tiny St. John and mountainous St. Thomas, where the landscape crowds residents into tighter quarters, St. Croix feels spacious and sprawling. An island with rolling valleys and endless horizons, the gentle terrain is perfect for biking, hiking, and golf.
Why We'd Go: Six Features You'll Never Forget
- Adrenalin amps: Outdoors is where it's at on St. Croix. Canter through a rain forest on horseback, or pedal the island's western coast with a rented bike. Learn about the island's history and fascinating fauna -- including the Pain Killer, Monkey-No-Climb, and Stinking Toe trees -- or even kayak the Salt River!
- Architecture: In both the coastal towns of Christiansted and Victorian-inspired Frederiksted, tin-roof buildings draped in brilliant bougainvillea are painted in Easter egg colors including pale yellow, pink, sage, and ochre. Arcaded sidewalks lead you past little shops, galleries, and restaurants. Stop and skim the historical plaques you'll see to get a glimpse into the island's past.
- Sea creatures: Dive with shy seahorses at Frederiksted Pier, a popular night-dive spot, as well; explore one of four wrecks at Butler Bay; or peruse the colorful five-mile-long Cane Bay Wall, site of a sponge big enough to stand in (although doing so would kill it). Snorkelers will love Buck Island, now a national monument site. Swim with parrotfish and blue tangs among dramatic reef structures, or simply gaze at the water's mesmerizing shades of turquoise from the cream-colored beach. There are many chartered boats that will take you there -- and those that also offer sunset cruises.
- Unique buys: Quaint Christiansted offers a bevy of great honeymoon souvenirs, both large and small. On Company Street, you'll find vibrant glass creations at the Mitchell-Larsen Studio; "chenay" pendants made from found pieces of china at IB Designs; and "hook" jewelry at Sonya's, the birthplace of this unique design that has become a symbol of the island (the "hook" latch is shaped like a horseshoe). Wear the open end of the hook pointing toward you to indicate that you are taken. For local arts and crafts, don't miss Tesoro Crafts and Many Hands. Thirsty? Sip some suds at the harbor-view Fort Christian Brew Pub.
- Golf: Among the island's 18-hole golf courses are the vista-rich Bob Joyce-designed course at The Buccaneer, (800) 255-3881, and the more expensive, award-winning Robert Trent Jones-designed course at Carambola Golf Club and one of the best courses in the Caribbean. Call (340) 778-5638 to schedule tee times.
- History: Like many of the Caribbean islands, the St. Croix you see today was shaped by slavery, sugar cane, and war. Visit the island's past by following the St. Croix Heritage Trail, a driving tour that connects the historical dots of plantations, churches, towns, forts, and ruins around the island. Call (340) 713-8563 for information or pick up a map, available at most tourist spots. Particularly interesting are the 18th-century buildings at the Whim Plantation Museum, (340) 772-0598, including one housing a fun shop that sells mahogany furniture and other gifty island items.
Pucker Up: Best Place to Smooch
A fiery red, pink, orange, and gold sunset is almost guaranteed to kick-start your hormones. Two top viewing choices: A hammock at the laid-back Off The Wall beach bar at Cane Bay or a table overlooking the dramatic view of Christiansted and the sensual landscape that surrounds it at The Buccaneer's excellent Terrace Restaurant, (800) 255-3881. Be sure to order a Jump-Up-and-Kiss-Me cocktail for good measure.
When to Go: St. Croix at its Best
- Best weather: February to August. Year-round temperatures range from 69 (winter evenings) to 84 degrees. Rainy season runs from September to January.
- Best prices: Mid-April to mid-December; exact dates vary by hotel. Hurricane season swirls from June to November (September is trickiest).
- Festival highlights: The Crucian Christmas Festival that starts in late December is St. Croix's Carnival and culminates with a parade in early January; intervening weeks feature food fairs and concerts. The St. Croix Blues and Heritage Festival occurs in late January.
Photo: U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism