With two to six Love Boats docking in town daily, Charlotte Amalie (a-mall-ya) is one of the most popular cruise ship destinations in the Caribbean. Downtown buzzes with visitors swarming the jewelry shops and boutiques by day. By early evening, the masses clear out, the shops shutter, and the narrow streets become shadowy.
St Croix is the Virgins' big boy – it’s more than twice the size of St Thomas – and it sports an exceptional topography spanning mountains, a spooky rainforest and a fertile coastal plain that, once upon a time, earned it the nickname ‘Garden of the Antilles’ for its sugarcane-growing prowess.
Two-thirds of St John is a protected national park, with gnarled trees and spiky cacti spilling over its edges. There are no airports or cruise-ship docks, and the usual Caribbean resorts are few and far between. It's blissfully low-key compared to its neighbor St Thomas. Hiking and snorkeling are the big to-dos.
Christiansted evokes a melancholy whiff of the past. Cannon-covered Fort Christiansvaern rises up on the waterfront. It abuts Kings Wharf, the commercial landing where, for more than 250 years, ships landed with slaves and set off with sugar or molasses. Today the wharf is fronted by a boardwalk of restaurants, dive shops and bars.
St Croix’s second-banana town is a motionless patch of colonial buildings snoring beside the sea. Other than the occasional boatload of visitors, it’ll be you and that lizard sunning itself who will have the gritty outpost to yourselves. With its out-of-the-mainstream, laissez-faire ambience, Frederiksted is the center for gay life on St Croix.
A couple of key sights lie south of Frederiksted on Centerline Rd (Rte 70). Only a few of Whim Plantation’s original 150 acres survive at Estate Whim Plantation Museum, but the grounds thoroughly evoke the colonial days when sugarcane ruled St Croix. Guided tours leave every 30 minutes, or wander by the crumbling stone windmill and chimney on your own.
Luminescent bays, Chris Columbus’ landing pad and hot dive sites await along the north shore. About 4 miles west of Christiansted on Rte 80, Salt River Bay National Historic Park is the only documented place where Christopher Columbus washed ashore on US soil. Don’t expect bells and whistles; the site remains undeveloped beach.
Do the Charlotte Amalie crowds have you pining for peace and seclusion? Water Island is your answer. Sometimes called the ‘Fourth Virgin,’ it floats spitting distance from town. But with only about 100 residents and very few cars or shops, it feels far more remote. At 2.5 miles tip to tip, it doesn’t take long to walk the whole thing.