In the middle of the vast extended stretch of the US-governed Caribbean Islands sit a cluster of exquisite pockets of lands called the Virgin Islands, famous for their alabaster beaches, lush-green hills, and luxuriant reefs.
The largest of these islands emits the most vibrant beauty, with its unadulterated charm reiterated in its name, Saint Croix.
St Croix is the largest of the three Islands in the Virgin Islands, yet more than nineteen of St Croix will comfortably fit into the smallest state in the country, Rhodes Island.
Over 50,000 people reside on the island, and the residents are called Crucians, which is a general term including immigrants and not restricted to natives.
If you’re visiting for other social reasons alongside snorkeling and diving, you might want to travel in December when they celebrate their largest costume festival dubbed “Crucian Christmas Carnival,” which spills into January, as the majority of the inhabitants are Christians with over 150 churches scattered around. Mardi Gras is also another popular festival.
Catering to your accommodation needs are luxurious hotels like Club Comanche, Hotel on The Cay, Tamarind Reef Resort, and The Buccaneer, all of which boast balconies overlooking the clear blue sea. The Carrington Inn is, however, a cheaper alternative.
The island has a local dive shop which offers a detailed map as well as needed assistance in site location and gear replacement.
Armed with this ample information on this lush stretch of land, you’re ready to cruise plunge into its clear waters. Here are the spots you shouldn’t miss during your adventure.
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Buck Island is a small, uninhabited island established by the US government as a protected area. When this edict was passed in 1948, the government described the island as “one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea.” Very little has changed since then; with the fallow burgeoning its fauna and blossoming its flora, it now houses brown pelicans and the very threatened least tern.
The island offers a lot to explore as a majority of the Monument area is swallowed by water. There are only three underwater trails in the US, and one of them is located in the Buck islands.
Sea turtles are abundant in the waters, which gives a more surreal feel to the experience. The friendliest of animals found on this island is the spotted eagle ray, which is large and harmless. This ray will usually slow down to approach and interact with slow swimming swimmers, but it is rare to find one.
These waters also live the near-threatened lemon shark, which is as innocuous as it sounds, posing no real threat to humans.
Swimmers might also come along the Whitetip reef shark, which is harmless unless provoked and will approach humans to investigate closely. In such cases, swimmers are advised not to panic, as this is a manifestation of the fish’s fearless and curious behavior.
Posing an actual threat to you is the Blacktip reef shark, which is naturally timid but has been reported to bite the legs of swimmers without provocation. However, only wadding swimmers are vulnerable, so if encountered, swimmers should fully submerge themselves in the water. Their bites are, however, not life-threatening.
The most dangerous aquatic animal you’ll find in the Buck islands is the Nurse shark, which is naturally sluggish and sedentary but is responsible for the fourth most shark bites in documented history.
Along the Monument are attractive illustrations detailing information about the island’s marine life.
Read about the differences between dive fins and snorkel fins here.
There are just seven of the extremely rare bioluminescent bays in the whole Caribbean islands, and two of them are nestled in St Croix. The waters which glow when they are disturbed are best traversed at night, as the phenomenon is caused by micro-organisms called dinoflagellate, which are embedded into the seafloor.
The first bay is called Altona Beach and is perfect for snorkeling due to its shallow waters despite being very large. The beach received unwanted press in May 2020, after the dead body of 67-year old Kenneth Steiner III was found adrift with severe injuries consistent with a boat propeller.
It is thus pertinent to note that the closest stations to Altona Beach are East End Rd, East, and Gallows Bay Ferry Terminal, which are just within a walk of approximately 8 minutes or 16 minutes, respectively.
For divers who want to experience the thrill of bioluminescent water, the second bay, called Salt River, provides the perfect adventure. Although smaller in size, the water is more profound than Altona and offers a better luminous experience, as two more bioluminescence are present in the water.
Frederick is one of the more cozy spots on St Croix and births one of the island’s two seaports. It is very popular with divers due to its reef and accessible wreckage in its waters.
Frederiksted houses a pier that provides the ecstasy of cliff diving for swimmers. The waters surrounding the pier are, however, shallow, with a sandy bottom that suits recreational divers who haven’t mastered the art. Ideally, swimmers come with cameras to immortalize moments spent with seahorses which are numerous in the area.
Snorkeling underneath the pier provides one of the most surreal experiences on the island as it gets deeper than 30 feet.
The cane bay is one of the most popular spots for divers and snorkeling, as it boasts of a deep trench that suddenly drops 3200 feet and is accessible from the beach. This divide is called “the wall.” Aquatic life range from tropical fishes, to sea fans, to the common Atlantic shore octopus, to southern stingrays, elkhorn corals, brain corals, and sea turtles.
On the eastern slopes of the Island is Protestant Cay, which houses Hotel on the Cay. It is accessible from Christiansted by a boat which reports every ten minutes between 7 am and 12 am at the cost of $5, requiring just two minutes to reach its destination. If you’re a hotel guest, the ferry is without charge, but all visitors can access this freemium package after 4 pm.
The cay is surrounded by seagrass, which breeds sea turtles, making the spot one of the most concentrated for the species.
It is notable that we also recommend Tamarind Reef, which houses the exotic resort of the same name.
All these point to one truth – there’s fun, a new life waiting to be explored in the islands of St Croix. The vast land area offers the luxury of choice; from the wet west of Cane Bay to the sunny eastern beach of Protestant Cay, there is a variety awaiting everybody.
Also, read about the difference between wetsuits and drysuits‘.