Warm Islands

Some Great Things to Do in St Croix USVI

Lots of Caribbean islands are named for Saints. Nine to be exact. I’d never visited any of these sainted islands, and I’m not sure I could even name them all. As travel started to reopen recently, I decided I felt safe seeking out an island adventure, especially as a vaccinated traveler. But I wanted to stay within US Territory for this first time away from my home state in over a year. After such a prolonged distant-travel dry spell though, I very much craved the sense of adventure that comes with discovering a new place. Hawaii – been there. Puerto Rico – done that. But the US Virgin Islands and its three small saint-named islands of St Thomas, St John, and St Croix – not yet. USVI was the clear winner! The time had come to finally visit a Saint Caribbean island.

Then how to choose which of the three? Each has great beaches and beautiful turquoise blue water, but each also has a different character. St Thomas is often described as glitzy compared to the others. It’s the busiest, most developed, and is one of the busiest cruise ship ports in the Caribbean.

More than half of St John’s is covered by Virgin Islands National Park, so is the least developed. It’s immediately adjacent to St Thomas and the two are connected by a short ferry ride. Most travelers to one visit the other.

St Croix is located about 40 miles south of the other two, and is the largest of the three. It has a reputation as the most laid-back and authentic island. I wanted laid-back and authentic. So for me, St Croix was an easy choice. And it was wonderful! Just what we needed after the long darkness that has been the pandemic. Here’s some of the great things I found to do in St Croix.

Trip map courtesy of Wanderlog, a vacation planner on iOS and Android

Kayak through a Bioluminescent Bay

St Croix is home to two of the world’s remaining 10 bioluminescent bays.  A Bio Bay is defined by the presence of dinoflagellates – plankton that glow a blue-green color when disturbed.  We explored the Bio Bay at St Croix’s Salt River Bay National Historic Park with Virgin Kayak Tours.

Virgin Kayak Tours sits in a wooden shack located within the small Salt River marina, right on the edge of this National Historic Park.  In addition to the Bio Bay, the Park is also known for its mangrove forests and estuaries. Virgin Kayak Tour offers a daytime tour exploring the ecologic wonders of the Park.  The Bay is also famously known as the location for Christopher Columbus’ landing in 1493.  He named the Virgin Islands after St Ursula and her 11,000 virgin followers. 

Salt River Marina at sunset in St Croix USVI
Salt River Marina
Storefront for Virgin Kayak Tours.  They offer Bioluminescent Bay Tours - one of the great things to do in St Croix

For the tour, Virgin Kayak Tours provides 2-person kayaks with a pedaling device and a rutter.  We didn’t need to paddle.  Not only was this a much easier way to glide across the water, but it also allowed us to keep our arms free for agitating plankton.

Kayaks lined up at Salt River Bay  - peddling these through a Bio Bay is one of the great things to do in St Croix

Gone JellyFishing

Our Bio Bay tour began at dusk.  The tour is only offered certain nights of the month depending on the cycle of the moon.  Too much moonlight interferes with the plankton’s “glow”.  Fortunately, our first full day in St Croix landed on the last night before the moon brightened too much.

We toured the Bay with about 12 other kayaks, a guide, and a few other staff to keep us organized in the water.  While kayaking across the Bay, we learned about the Bay’s unique ecology and history.  The Bio Bay itself is in a small enclosed lagoon sitting across Salt River Bay from Virgin Kayak Tours headquarters.  It took about 30 minutes of pedaling across the dark water to work our way there.  Once at the Bio Bay, we could dip our hands in the water as we glided along, creating a trail of bluish green light.  We saw this same light emanating off the other kayaks as they disturbed the water, too.

Then, just like SpongeBob, we grabbed nets from the back of our Kayaks and went Jellyfishing.  Dipping the nets into the water created an even more impressive bluish green light trail, as if the whole net itself was made of light.  In addition to the plankton, Bio Bays are also home to a specific type of jellyfish that also light up when agitated.  And I was lucky enough to catch one in my net early on.  I didn’t see it until it hit my net, and then suddenly I had a fluorescent blue glob inside. These jellyfish are harmless. I was able to remove it from the net and hold it before returning it to the water. 

We had a great night with Virgin Kayak Tours. The Bio Bay tour lasted 2 hours and cost $60.

Explore Colonial Era Forts

Until purchased by the United States in 1917,  St Croix was part of the Danish West Indies, and ruled by Denmark through much of its modern history.  The two major towns on the island carry very Danish names – Christiansted and Frederiksted.  Both are named for Danish kings.  Forts were constructed in each of these towns to protect from pirates and foreign invaders. They also functioned as prisons and government centers. A customs house sits next to each.

Both 18th century forts still stand and are now U.S. National Historic Landmarks.  Each offers a self-guided tour.  We spent time walking through each fort during our time in St Croix.  The tours offer important glimpses into the island’s colonial past and some understanding of the hardships faced by the slaves used to help build the island’s sugar industry.

Fort Christiansvaern

Fort Christiansvaern in Chistiansted St Croix USVI
The 18th-century fort in Christiansted – St Croix’s largest town
An interior picture of the Colonial Fort in Christiansted St Croix. - touring this fort is one of the great things to do in St Croix
A cannon pointed out to sea at Fort Christiansvaern in St Croix
The Danish Customs house in Christiansted St Croix USVI
The Danish Customs House

Fort Frederik

Fort Frederik - a colonial era fort in Frederiksted St Croix USVI
Fort Frederik guards the town of Frederiksted on the island’s west end
One of the cannons at Fort Frederik  on St Croix US Virgin Islands
The Danish Customs House in Frederiksted St Croix USVI with the Freedom Statue out front
The Freedom Statue sits in front of the Frederiksted Customs House. It commemorates the slave uprising of 1848 which occurred at the Fort and led to emancipation. A Slave is depicted here signaling the uprising by blowing into a conch shell.

Take a Tour to Buck Island Reef National Monument

Perhaps St Croix’s most popular activity involves leaving the island and boating out to nearby Buck Island Reef National Monument.  Buck Island is a small uninhabited island 1.5 miles off the northeast coast of St Croix.  It’s really not all that impressive to look at from afar.  In fact, look at a picture, and you’ll immediately wonder – that mound in the ocean covered with stubby trees is St Croix’s most popular attraction? 

A view of Buck Island - a National Monument near St Croix USVI
Buck Island

Well, here’s the reason.  Most of the Monument is under water – almost 18,839 acres of underwater lands to be exact. One of the great coral reefs in the Caribbean surrounds Buck Island. Snorkeling along that reef really should top any St Croix itinerary. Plus, on the island’s western edge sits Turtle Beach – consistently rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world due to its pristine white sand and turquoise blue waters.

Big Beard's catamaran at Turtle Beach on Buck Island.  Taking a Buck Island snorkeling tour with Big Beard's is one of the great things to do in St Croix
Turtle Beach

In order to visit Buck Island, the National Park Service requires that you go with a tour operator.  Several companies offer half and full day tours of Buck Island. These generally include time spent on Turtle Beach and time spent snorkeling the Reef.  We spent an afternoon exploring the wonders of Buck Island with Big Beard’s Adventure Tours.  I personally can’t swim and have only attempted to snorkel once in my life.  Despite my history, I ended up having a great time snorkeling the Reef with Big Beard’s.  You can click here to read a full account of our afternoon at Buck Island.

Snorkelers preparing to visit the underwater trail at Buck Island National Monument with Big Beard's Adventure Tours

Visit the Easternmost Point in the United States

Point Udall sits at the far eastern edge of St Croix, and is the easternmost point in the United States.  A giant sundial marks the spot.  It’s a popular place to visit due to this unique geographic fact, but also because of its great sunrises and views out across the Carribean.  

The sundial at Point Udall on the far eastern edge of St Croix.  Standing here at the farthest eastern spot in the United States is one of the great things to do in St Croix
The northward view from Point Udall on  St Croix USVI.  This is the easternmost point in the United States
The northward view from Point Udall. Buck Island is in the distance. Also note the cactus. The east end of St Croix is arid and doesn’t receive a lot of rainfall.

St Croix is not a big island.  It only takes 1 hour to drive across from one side to the other. We were staying in Frederiksted on the island’s west coast. Our drive across the island to see Point Udall gave us a great chance to get a good taste of all St Croix’s geography.  Christiansted, the island’s main town, sits on the north coast, halfway across St Croix. The drive along the north coast from Christiansted to Point Udall is very scenic.  Some of the island’s larger estates dot the hillsides there, and the winding road affords great views out across the Carribean.  Plus on this part of the island, you can….

Eat Caribbean Cuisine at a Gas Station

Ziggy’s Island Market is a gas station, convenience store, and cafe, located along the road halfway between Christiansted and Point Udall.  This is no typical convenience store. Tripadvisor ranks it as the #3 place to eat on the island! In addition to gas pumps up front, Ziggy’s has lots of pleasant outdoor tables out back. 

Eating Caribbean food at Ziggy's Island Market is one of my top things to do in St Croix USVI
Ruins of an old Danish windmill in St Croix USVI
The view behind Ziggy’s. Remnants of old Danish windmills, like the one in this picture, dot the island. Hurricanes over the years have left them in ruins.

Surprisingly, Ziggy’s was one of the few places I found on St Croix with a wide selection of traditional Caribbean favorites on the menu.  It seemed to me that many of the restaurants on the island were trying to appeal to more traditional tourist palettes with fish tacos, burgers, steaks, and pasta dishes.  At Ziggy’s I was able to try both Roti and Pate. Roti is a wrap filled with curry.  And Pate is very similar to an Empanada.  Deep fried dough stuffed with meat or vegetables.  Mine was filled with Salt Fish (cod).

Pate and Roti - two examples of Caribbean cuisine.  These are from Ziggy's Island Market on St Croix USVI
Pate on the left. Roti on the right.

An important note though.  We arrived shortly after 1 pm.  At least half the menu was sold out by then.  Consequently, I missed out on some of their other Caribbean selections. It’s obviously a very popular lunch spot.  

Enjoy Live Music and BBQ in a Big Backyard

For non-traditional island food, check out Blues’ Backyard BBQ & Grill located just west of Christiansted center, along one of the main routes to Frederiksted.  What I loved about this place, aside from some excellent BBQ,  is the outdoor setting.  A large bar sits in the center of a large yard.  Picnic tables and other various outdoor seating options are then scattered throughout the large open outdoor space.  A small stage sits towards the back, and live music is featured most days from 4:30-7:30.  

The bar at Blues' Backyard BBQ & Grill .  A visit here is one of my top things to do in St Croix USVI
Lady Friend performs at Blues' Backyard BBQ & Grill in St Croix USVI
The duo Lady Friend performed during our visit

The Brisket was really good and Mrs. TT is still raving about the Smoked Turkey. And on an island where eating out can be quite spendy, this turned out to be one of our least expensive meals.  

Brisket Sandwich at Blues' Backyard BBQ and Grill

And there is wildlife too!  Large ground lizards slowly roamed between the tables. You know how sometimes you end up feeding birds when dining al fresco?  Here we found that lizards like good BBQ too.  Really!

One of the ground lizards wandering around at Blues' Backyard BBQ and Grill in St Croix
Now go back up to the picture of the stage, and you can spot one stage side too

Just Relax on a Perfect Beach

St. Croix boasts beautiful white sand beaches looking out onto turquoise blue water.  And as much as I love to get out and explore all that a new destination has to offer, it was sure hard to leave the beach.  I purposely chose to stay in Frederiksted on St Croix’s much quieter west side.  You won’t find tall condo complexes or luxury resorts on the West End, and that’s the way I like it.  It’s a very peaceful part of the island.

The beach in front of Cottages by the Sea in Frederiksted St Croix USVI.
The view from our beach north towards Frederiksted. Note the lack of people. And this is with the two small hotels on this long section of beach at capacity….. Peaceful!!
Relaxing at a beach like this is certainly one of the great things to do in St. Croix USVI
The daily view from my favorite beach chair

We stayed at Cottages by the Sea – a collection of beachfront cottages located on a long strip of sandy beach, about 1 mile south of the compact Frederiksted center. We walked a few steps out to the beach each morning, ate breakfast in our lounge chairs, floated in the ocean for awhile, returned to our beach chairs for awhile longer, and just soaked it all in.  An island vacation at its best! 

The beachfront at Cottages by the Sea in Frederiksted St Croix
Cottages by the Sea

And at the end of the day,  the sunsets…..

A sunset at Cottages by the Sea in Frederiksted St Croix
Sunset over the Caribbean through palm trees near Frederiksted St Croix
A ship passes through a Caribbean sunset in St Croix US Virgin Islands

A Few Quick Tips for St Croix

Closed!

Due to COVID restrictions and recent hurricane damage, two other great things to do in St Croix were closed. The Cruzan Rum Distillery offers a very popular tour of their facility. But the tours have been on hold during COVID, so we didn’t get the chance. The Estate Whim Sugar Mill is a restored 18th century sugar plantation offering important insight into the island’s slave history. It was closed when we tried to visit. It wasn’t clear on their website if this was due to COVID or due to recent hurricane damage.

Driving in St Croix

In order to see all that St Croix has to offer, I would recommend renting a car. But note – the Virgin Islands are the only place in United States territory where cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. This was not my first time, but it’s been a long while. Fortunately, I did not find it difficult to adjust. Also, many of the roads in St Croix are not in great shape – even some of the main roads. Lots of pot holes everywhere. I rented a Jeep and I’m glad we did. Its tires and suspension were better suited for the driving conditions.

Bitten

I never saw a mosquito, but returned home with approximately 80 sandfly bites. I’ve since read that sandflies are a common issue in the Caribbean. Ironically, I had bug repellant with me. I never used it though, because these little buggers are truly no-see-ums. The bites really didn’t start to bloom until the last day of the trip and on the itchy plane ride home. As is usual, Mrs. TT hardly had any. Vampires take note. Leave her alone! My blood is apparently tastier.

The West End

The West End of the island is definitely more “run-down” than the areas surrounding Christiansted. But this personally doesn’t bother me. I prefer to get a better sense of local life when I travel, rather than letting a touristy resort form my impression of a place. If I had wanted glitzy Virgin Islands, I would have gone to St Thomas. For me, Frederiksted and the West End of St Croix was perfect. Authentically Crucian, fewer tourists, and awesome quiet beaches. You can click here to read my thorough guide to Frederiksted St Croix.

29 Comments

  • Stefan (Berkeley Square Barbarian)

    Fluorescent jellyfish and kayaking sound fun. It’s weird, because my second last kayaking experience also involved hundreds of jellyfish in the water around the kayaks and I remember it was great fun gently picking a few of them out of the water and putting them back into it.

    It betrays my ignorance that I had not been aware of the proud history of these islands. As expected the beaches look pretty close to perfection.

    Tip to the hat for snorkelling yet again. And brisket? I think I could easily sustain myself on a pure brisket-based diet.

    • thethoroughtripper

      One of the other couples on the tour was very intrigued with the jellyfish that I caught, but I couldn’t convince them to hold it. Slimy for sure, but all part of the experience, right?

    • Jeffrey S Bacon

      I spent about a year living in C-Stead I lived in gallows bay but I preferred f- stead did you make it to Sonya’s for a hook bracelet?

  • Becky Exploring

    St. Croix sounds like a dream trip with the snorkeling, glowing plankton, colonial forts, and incredible beaches! That BBQ also has me salivating as I’m reading this. Not sure I’d be kind enough to share with the lizard!

    • Kenneth Babcock

      “St. Croix” was not named after a saint. It means “Holy Cross”. I totally agree with your descriptions of the beautiful beaches. Other great places to eat include the Turtle Delli (for a fabulous sandwich called “The Beast”), Anderson’s Ice Cream (made with exotic fruits in season), and the Crazy Greek restaurant. Don’t miss the dancing of the costumed Mocco Jumbies on long stilts and the amazing rhythms of the steel pan bands.

      • Konrad Young

        Yes, it’s a beautiful island. I was just there last week.
        Cheeseburger In America’s Paradise, is a great spot for food and drink when leaving Point Udall.

        I believe the ice cream place you mentioned, is called Armtrong’s Ice Cream.

  • Ryan K Biddulph

    This looks like an amazing place Steven. St. Croix has long been on our travel list. Those no-see-ums / sand flies tend to be brutal. We were eaten alive last month in Pedasi, Panama. No AC so we had to sleep and live with the doors open and windows open 24-7, upstairs. I feel better now in a largely skeeter and NSU free cloud forest in Panama, curiously enough.

    Ryan

    • thethoroughtripper

      I love the idea of a skeeter free cloud forest! I’ve had a few no AC, open window, bugggy situations in Costa Rica over the years myself

    • thethoroughtripper

      The only drawback about staying on the west side of the island is that I was only able to eat at Ziggy’s once.

  • Mark

    We haven’t broken our Caribbean virginity yet. We know there’s more to the region than just beaches (which would bore us) and keep looking for enough things to engage us for a trip. The colonial historical locations would count, but we do still struggle to justify the distance to a lot of – to us – similar, not wholly interesting locations, lacking enough of the activities we’d want. Have to admit that being able to feed lizards while we’re having lunch does have quite an appeal, though.

  • Travel for a while

    There’s something so appealing about this laid-back island life. The bio bay tour would be my first choice as well and I wouldn’t mind spending a few days on that beach with just some short breaks for lunch at the gas station. A perfect holiday!

  • Smalltownplussize Tom

    We’re keeping this bookmarked for a peaceful beach getaway. This sounds like our kind of place with just noises from the wind and water without anyone else around. The bio bay, Ziggy’s and fort tours are a must. Truly amazing.

    • thethoroughtripper

      I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet the beaches were where we stayed. There were times when I was the only person out there

  • Sue

    St Croix looks beautiful. Every winter I say to myself, I need to take a trip to “St. Something”, any of those St. Islands will do. One of these winters I’ll get to one of them!

    • thethoroughtripper

      Yeah, I would also like to have more time to explore surrounding islands too. COVID makes bouncing a little more difficult, but someday….

    • thethoroughtripper

      It was a fun night 🙂 And there just aren’t very many places left in the world to experience it.

  • Jen Nilsson

    Lizard on the stage! Amazing. And AMAZING photos. I love any kind of schedule that is controlled by the cycle of the moon, so I’m in for this kayaking on the bioluminescent bay!

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