The U.S. Virgin Islands are a Caribbean paradise that boasts tropical rainforests, brilliant beaches, and excellent scuba diving. And, if you’re a U.S. citizen, you don’t even need a passport to visit! Along with the three main islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, there are many smaller islets to explore, allowing you to satisfy your wanderlust without ever leaving this U.S. territory.
During our time in the USVI, we spent a week on St. Croix enjoying the food, culture, and natural wonder of this beautiful little slice of America.
Here are 11 things to do when you visit:
1. Rent a car and drive on the left. I’m always looking for new driving experiences, and St. Croix didn’t disappoint, mainly because the U.S. Virgin Islands are the only place in the United States where you drive on the left side of the road.
I’ve driven on the left many times throughout the UK and former British colonies, but St. Croix added a bit of excitement due to the fact that the steering wheel is also positioned on the left for most cars!
This means that when you pass an oncoming car along the rough, winding, narrow roads of St. Croix, the two drivers are as far away from each other as possible. It was a serious challenge to gauge just how far away your front right corner was from the oncoming car. Angela would argue that it was more of a challenge to sit in the passenger’s seat.
2. Jump off the Frederiksted Pier. At just over a quarter-mile long, this iconic pier serves as a cruise ship dock, a sunset vantage point, and a great scuba diving location.
Although for safety and security reasons the pier is closed when a cruise ship is in port, there are still plenty of opportunities to walk the length of the structure. And, if you’re feeling a bit daring, you can even jump off the end into the clear Caribbean water.
It’s also possible to walk the quarter mile while fully loaded with scuba gear, giant stride off the end, and leisurely fin your way back to shore, finding octopi, seahorses, and other macro life along the way.
3. See a “green flash” sunset. Like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, those who haven’t seen the “green flash” chalk the phenomenon up to local legend. But, for those who have seen it, they are quick to show blurry photos that may or may not have been photoshopped a bit.
As any St. Croix local can explain, the “green flash” happens just after the sun sinks beneath the waves. With the disk of the sun completely gone, there is an oblong flash of green light that hovers over the horizon for a split second.
Almost every sunset in St. Croix is beautiful. But it is made even more magical as island residents and knowing tourists hold a collective breath when the sun disappears every evening, hoping for the flash. For maximum crowd anticipation, watch from the Frederiksted Pier or from one of the west end beach bars where stiff drinks make a “sighting” more likely.
4. Drink a “Dark and Stormy” at Rose’s Dream Cuisine. Speaking of stiff drinks, this place is not to be missed. Mama Rose and her sons will greet you, take your order, cook the meal, mix the drinks, and hang out at the table if you’re the friendly type.
If you’re in a hurry or super hungry, this is probably not the restaurant for you as they give new meaning to the term “island time.” But if you want delicious, authentic local food, light-you-on-fire hot sauce, strong signature drinks, and the acquaintance of a genuinely joyful person, then Rose’s Dream Cuisine is the perfect stop.
5. Visit the Columbus Landing Site on the Salt River. As a history teacher, I have always encouraged my students to look unflinchingly at the past, no matter how dark or painful that narrative may be. The history of Christopher Columbus in the Americas can be interpreted from many vantage points, and his interaction with the native peoples of St. Croix certainly contributes to that story.
The Salt River Bay is the only part of United States territory where Columbus actually set foot, and St. Croix has sought to acknowledge and explain that event from its own unique perspective. For history buffs, there is the Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve. For those who would rather get their history while kayaking through mangroves, check out Virgin Kayak Tours in Salt River Bay.
6. Dive the Salt River Wall. There are several excellent dive shops from which to choose. For this trip we went with N2theBlue based on a friend’s recommendation and were very happy with the overall experience.
Although we have experienced better Caribbean diving destinations in the past, St. Croix does have a few sites that are worth the trip, and the Salt River Wall is certainly one of those. With southern stingrays, green morays, turtles, spotted eagle rays, and the occasional reef shark cruising in from the blue, we weren’t disappointed.
7. Stroll the Christiansted boardwalk. Considered to be the cultural pulse of the island, Christiansted boasts its share of historic sites, serene waterfront dining, and charming local shops. Extending from the Christiansted Harbor Seaplane Base to the D. Hamilton Jackson Park, the boardwalk provides excellent access to all of this culture and is also the location for most island festivals and parades.
8. Visit the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge. On the extreme southwestern point of St. Croix exists a two-mile-long stretch of pristine and mostly-empty beach. It’s only open on the weekends when a cruise ship is in port, and it’s closed completely from April to August during the leatherback turtle nesting season. So, you have to do your research before making the trek.
9. Dive the Swirling Reef of Death. Originally called “Dave’s Reef” or something innocuous like that, this place was renamed as part of a divers’ inside joke. It’s a shallow, sandy dive that is not necessarily spectacular, but I include it on this list because of the coral restoration efforts happening here.
There is a segment of the dive where you can swim through a staghorn coral nursery, where researchers are literally growing coral on underwater trees! It’s a fascinating site, with the pieces of coral gently rocking and clacking together to create an eerie, otherworldly landscape. Maybe not the best dive I’ve ever experienced, but I do find myself thinking about it more frequently than most. And, when we return to St. Croix, it will be on my Do Again List.
10. Hike to the Annaly Bay Tide Pools and jump in. While we came to St. Croix mostly for the diving, one of our favorite days was spent on the land. Steve, Angela, and I hiked the coast from the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort and Spa to the Annaly Bay Tide Pools, enjoying the views and the flora along the way.
It’s a short and relatively easy hike of about four miles, round-trip. There is a free public parking lot just outside the beach resort, and the trailhead is well marked. As is the trail itself, with clearly posted blazes along the way.
When the trail terminates on the beach, you have to pick your way along the rocks to get to the tide pools themselves. It’s slow going at that point as the rocks are razor sharp, and, being on the northern side of the island, rogue waves are a very real danger. There’s even a sign warning you not to turn your back on the sea.
Having done our research beforehand, we changed into our dive boots for the scramble along the rocks and had no problems there. I also brought along my diver’s safety sausage, just in case a rogue wave swept me out to sea.
But the payoff is fantastic once you get to the tide pools! Not only is each pool a microcosm of the reef system, with tiny crabs, fish, and urchins, but it’s also a great swimming hole. And, if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, take a leap off the rocks!
11. Eat at Rowdy Joe’s. When this trip was concluded, and we all wistfully reminisced about our best experiences on the island, the quality of dining kept coming up in the conversation. We seriously had some amazing meals on this trip, and it was difficult to pick a favorite restaurant. But, if we had to do it, we would name Rowdy Joe’s as that restaurant.
It’s tucked away from the beach and the crowd, which was a surprising plus. And the food was phenomenal. I mean every single dish. We made a point to order four different entries and shared them around the table. The food was so good, in fact, that we returned the next day and did the same thing with four different entries. I sampled eight meals and still couldn’t pick a favorite.
If you’re a foodie, you need to put St. Croix and Rowdy Joe’s on your travel list!
Have you been to St. Croix? If so, what would you include on this list? Let us know!