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The hidden gem of St. Croix has all the delightful features you want in a Caribbean vacation — turquoise oceans, tropical drinks and plenty of sunshine — with some not-so-desirable things noticeably (and thankfully) absent: chain hotels lining the beaches and mobs of American tourists. St. Croix is the least visited of the U.S. Virgin Islands (the other two, St. Thomas and St. John, have their own charm), but it’s the largest, so there’s more to explore. And you can’t beat the advantages of being U.S.-affiliated: there’s no passport required, and currency is the good old American dollar.

Here are just a few reasons to consider this paradise for your next vacation …

What’s not to like here? The hilly setting of The Buccaneer resort offers scenic views of the Caribbean and nearby town of Christiansted. The hotel offers shuttles to the city, as well as an on-property shuttle to fetch guests wanting a ride up the hill.

What’s not to like here? The hilly setting of The Buccaneer resort offers scenic views of the Caribbean and nearby town of Christiansted. The hotel offers shuttles to the city, as well as an on-property shuttle to fetch guests wanting a ride up the hill.

The beaches, of course

No filter required to get incredible photos of the ocean life here … the sands really are sugary white, with a vivid spectrum of blue water in every direction. Interesting St. Croix trivia: all beaches are technically public, so you can explore different destinations on your own. The ideal way to enjoy the sea is a snorkeling trip to Buck Island, a coral reef and land mass not far from the mainland. Big Beard’s Adventure Tours offers half-day or full-day trips on their catamarans. Each outing features a quick stop along the shores of Buck Island to help novices — or even experienced snorkelers — with how-to tips, and then they set anchor in a deeper area for an hour or so outing.

Snorkeling trips to nearby Buck Island allow an up-close visit to the coral reefs and colorful fish at this national monument.

Snorkeling trips to nearby Buck Island allow an up-close visit to the coral reefs and colorful fish at this national monument.

Foodie culture

St. Croix can boast the Caribbean’s oldest food and wine festival (Taste of St. Croix.com, held every April), but the efforts to celebrate local agriculture and homegrown talents continue on an everyday basis. Just like in many places, memorable meals can be had at both humble stops and high cuisine. Locals love La Reine Chicken Shack, a side-of-the-road BBQ joint with rotisserie chickens twirling on a spit outside, and the best Johnny cakes around town. Balter is rightfully getting international attention for Chef Digby Stridiron and his efforts to incorporate more locally sourced ingredients in his chic downtown Christiansted restaurant. Nearby, the vine-covered stone walls of Savant offer a charming setting for creative local seafood and nightly drink specials. For an enlightening tour of downtown Crucian cuisine in downtown Christiansted, Virgin Islands Food Tours ($79) explore St. Croix food culture through the eyes of a local, with six tastings spread out at eateries along the winding streets. The tour is just under four hours, with a sprinkling of St. Croix history mixed in. More than anything, though, it’s a chance to sample bites in more offbeat places than the average tourist would ever know about.

Downtown Christiansted features colorful architecture as a remnant of its past as a Danish colony.

Downtown Christiansted features colorful architecture as a remnant of its past as a Danish colony.

Chic West Indies-inspired interiors are part of the charm at acclaimed restaurant Balter.

Johnny cakes are tasty fried dumplings found as an accoutrement to meals — both fancy and casual — all over St. Croix.

Johnny cakes are tasty fried dumplings found as an accoutrement to meals — both fancy and casual — all over St. Croix.

St. Croix’s food culture peaks in April, during two big events: Taste of St. Croix and St. Croix Food and Wine Experience. The main event at Taste of St. Croix is always this swanky oceanside tasting festival, with 50 stops for food and drink from some of the Caribbean’s best chefs and mixologists. Live music and people-watching is part of the appeal.

“Top Chef” alum Ron Duprat serves up appetizers at this year’s Taste of St. Croix for the Renaissance Carambola resort.

Another fun foodie event: Enjoy an evening stroll to multiple restaurants led by a tour guide as part of Taste of the Town, an annual April event for food-lovers.

Another fun foodie event: Enjoy an evening stroll to multiple restaurants led by a tour guide as part of Taste of the Town, an annual April event for food-lovers.

Unpretentious but delicious, Singh’s Fast Food is stop No. 1 for the Virgin Islands Food Tours. Don’t miss the rotis!

The Buccaneer

History and natural beauty merge in fantastic ways at the historic Buccaneer resort, an upscale property perched on a hill (the views … oh, my!). Once a sprawling sugar plantation, the upscale destination even has an old sugar mill on-site, which was prominently featured in “The Bachelor,” for anyone wanting to catch a little of the romance themselves. All rooms have patios or balconies for an ocean view … because isn’t that what it’s all about? (Rates vary from $299 to more than $2,000 per night, depending on the season. Breakfast and a resort fee are included.)

Destination weddings are booming these days. This twilight ceremony on the beach at The Buccaneer provides quite a memorable backdrop.

Destination weddings are booming these days. A twilight ceremony on the beach at The Buccaneer provides quite a memorable backdrop.

Breakfast with a view at The Buccaneer

Breakfast with a view at The Buccaneer

Remnants of an old sugar mill on The Buccaneer property add to the historic charm. What’s more, the setting was used on ABC’s “The Bachelor” as well as other countless engagements and parties.

Remnants of an old sugar mill on The Buccaneer property add to the historic charm. What’s more, the setting was used on ABC’s “The Bachelor” as well as other countless engagements and parties.

Alexander Hamilton

Even if you haven’t seen the play or grooved to the soundtrack, Hamilton fever is alive and well outside of Broadway down in the Caribbean. Alexander Hamilton spent his childhood on St. Croix, so it makes sense that the island celebrates his journey from scrappy orphan to one of the founding fathers of the United States. Walking tours cover the sensitive topics of slavery and Hamilton’s unhappy beginnings, but just like the island itself, which has survived hurricanes, multiple countries claiming it as their own and economic hardship, there are lessons of hope through history.

Once home to a trading company where Alexander Hamilton was a clerk, this old building bears a plaque with its connection to the famous Secretary of Treasury — and subject of a mega-hit Broadway play. Guided walking tours trace the steps of his life in downtown Christiansted.

Once home to a trading company where Alexander Hamilton was a clerk, this old building bears a plaque with its connection to the famous Secretary of Treasury — and subject of a mega-hit Broadway play. Guided walking tours trace the steps of his life in downtown Christiansted.

Adventures aplenty

If you prefer to break out of the tour scene, then rent a car and start exploring (taking note that cars drive on the left side of the road!) The 28 miles across St. Croix include a rainforest, hilly beaches and bioluminescent bays perfect for exploring by kayak. Don’t miss Point Udall, the easternmost point in the United States, distinguished by a striking stone sundial and breathtaking views along the point. For more ideas, visit gotostcroix.com.

Perched at the easternmost point of the United States on a dramatic peak, Point Udall is an impressive monument and sundial to visit and, because of its location, a popular destination for sunrises.

Perched at the easternmost point of the United States on a dramatic peak, Point Udall is an impressive monument and sundial to visit and, because of its location, a popular destination for sunrises.

The topography around Point Udall is rugged, with rocky cliffs and cacti.

The topography around Point Udall is rugged, with rocky cliffs and cacti.

Enjoy your Caribbean travels and savor all the beauty that is St. Croix!

All photography by Lisa Mowry

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