As I drove through the countryside of St. Croix, the first sight that caught my eye was that of a curious stone structure, cone-shaped except for the flattened top. I spotted one, then another, then another.
I was then hit with the realization that my attention better stay on the road, because many drivers in St. Croix enjoy traveling crazy fast. Since I was new to driving on the left side of the road, I was at a definite disadvantage. It requires an exhausting amount of attention to detail just to pull out into traffic, and I was forever looking in the wrong direction for an oncoming car.
But back to those mysterious stone structures. Centuries ago, St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, was a major producer of sugar cane. The stone shacks were used to house the cut cane. The sturdy buildings protected the cane from damaging winds and kept them dry until it was time to bundle them for shipping. These squat structures have withstood countless rainy seasons, dozens of major hurricanes, and are a reminder of St. Croix's past. They're a common sight throughout the island and are fun to explore.
But St. Croix's main attractions are its beaches and gentle surf. Perfect for sunning, playing and strolling, the fine white sand presents a starkly beautiful contrast to the azure ocean water. The coastline is not a snorkeler's paradise, as it lacks the dramatic reefs that you find immediately off the beach on other Caribbean islands. However, most beaches in St. Croix offer a shallow, sandy bottom covered by turtle grass. A close look in this area reveals a bevy of sea creatures, including those in beautiful shells, dozens of fish species, and even the occasional sea turtle. North of the island lies Buck Island Reef National Monument ("Buck Island"), the country's only underwater national park, and the destination for many snorkeling excursions.
Another reason why travelers come to St. Croix is for its people. Accommodating and friendly, they march to island time. It's the kind of place where a visitor can walk into a restaurant seeking a cup of coffee, get talked into a cup of lemongrass tea instead and then spend the next hour learning island politics from the proprietor. A comment on the tastiness of a dish at an island restaurant will often result in the cook volunteering not only the recipe, but the locations of the best places to shop for its ingredients.
The island's two major cities, Christiansted and Frederiksted, reflect its Danish history. The more colorful and populated of the two, Christiansted, is a ramshackle mix of funky restaurants, harbor-side bars, and countless shops. Its port offers a variety of charters that include sport fishing and snorkeling excursions to Buck Island. And for a city of about 3,000 residents, Christiansted surprisingly offers a wide array of jewelry shops, all of which feature the popular Cruzan (Crucian) hook bracelets that are modeled after a fishing knot. According to custom, if the bracelet is worn with the open hook facing away from the wearer's body, he or she is available and ready for romance.
The road to Frederiksted is reminiscent of a thrill ride, complete with twists, turns and dips. There are many blind turns and corners along the way. However, the destination is worth the trip. Frederiksted is a much smaller, laid-back city that affords a genuine St. Croix experience. One of the island's deep-water ports is located in Frederiksted, but most visitors from the cruise ships seem more intent on the shopping in Christiansted and completely bypass the smaller town. It's their loss. Frederiksted is a wonderfully relaxed town, and watching its fishing boats come into port fully loaded is a fascinating way to spend the day.
The USVI international airport and fleet of seaplanes, along with its deep-water ports, make St. Croix an easily accessible vacation stop. Leaving the island, now that's the hard part.
Written by Teresa Groat with Photography courtesy of United Stated Virgin Islands Tourism