The Least-Visited U.S. Virgin Island Is the Ideal Caribbean Escape

No US passport needed.

You could say Saint Croix’s main “weakness” is one of its biggest strengths. One of the three U.S. Virgin Islands—which includes Saint John and Saint Thomas—St. Croix is often overlooked for its more tourist- and cruise-centric siblings. But it’s precisely this lack of overt commercialism that siren calls first-time vacationers, repeat visitors, and lifelong locals in the know. A less-visited Caribbean destination is a winner in our books. It also doesn’t hurt that the tropical island abuts a turquoise stretch of the Caribbean Sea or that its 84 square miles offer a mixture of both metropolitan perks and rural retreats.

Most of the island’s main action can be found in its two towns: Christiansted on the northern coast and Frederiksted on the southwestern side of the island. Either hub is an ideal base camp for adventures across the island. And with temperatures that rarely dip below 70 degrees during any season, travelers can immerse themselves in idyllic warm weather pastimes like boat rides, snorkeling, food tours, nature conservation, shopping at small businesses, walks along the beach, and much more. Here’s what to do during your tropical getaway to St. Croix.

st croix
Danita Delimont/Shutterstock

Drive on the other side of the road, but leave your US passport at home

Here’s the most important thing to know: US travelers don’t need a passport to enter the island.

With that out of the way, there are several airlines (American, JetBlue, Delta, and Spirit) that fly out of major US gateways including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, and Atlanta. Upon landing, you’ll notice the relaxing change of pace right away as you walk down the plane’s airstair and through the island’s quaint Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.

For on-island transportation, we recommend renting a car or using taxi transportation. If you do go with a cab option, keep in mind that it’s best to plan your escapades and book your ride ahead of time, drivers usually have a cash-only payment policy, and late-night taxis can be tricky to land. For those who are ready to take the adventure into their own hands, there are several car rental agencies like Centerline Car Rentals, which has a convenient outpost at the STX Airport, and John Hope Automotive for luxury wheels. Just remember that things move a little differently than in the US: All motorists in St. Croix drive on the left side of the road.

snorkeling st croix
Caribbean Sea Adventures

Swim, snorkel, and bask in the sun

Charters from Caribbean Sea Adventures are a core-memory creator. Of the many adventures offered by the company (including guided tours, private charters, sport fishing, and sunset sails), the Buck Island Snorkeling Tour is a consistent go-to. During the half-day expedition, you can sunbathe on the boat deck, stroll the postcard-worthy shores of Turtle Beach, and snorkel at Buck Island Reef National Monument. Additionally, help to conserve the beauty and wildlife of Buck Island by volunteering or donating to the National Park Service, who is behind a major effort to jumpstart healthy coral growth and reduce surrounding pollution.

The quickest boat ride on the island goes from Christiansted Harbor to Protestant Cay. After a two-minute cruise, guests are let out onto a four-acre island home to a sand beach, small shop, beach bar, and hotel. For a low price, your party can rent lounge chairs, umbrellas, and towels, then set up shop along the shoreline.

For an extra-aesthetic cocktail hour, board the pink 1974 Boston Whaler for a cruise around St. Croix with Cabana Cruises. The pastel-hued exterior comes equipped with bluetooth stereo and phone charging stations. Boat tours range from early morning rides (complete with mimosas) to longer adventures where picnic spreads are enjoyed on secluded beaches.

shopping st croix
ib designs

Fill your suitcase with locally made jewelry

A mix of expats and lifelong locals help to keep the island’s economy thriving with a crew of handmade jewelry shops. Of the jewelry created on the island, St. Croix is renowned for two unique kinds. The first is created using Chaney, which is pieces of fine china that wash ashore, for a myriad of necklaces, bracelets, and charms. Second are the popular hook bracelets, who’s creation can be attributed to Sonya’s Fine Island Jewelry. Of the island’s many beautiful stores, take home a few wearable memories from ib designs, Joyia, and Lady C Designs.

restaurants st croix
Ama at Cane Bay

Feast on fried bread, stuffed paté, or vegan treats

Crucian cuisine pulls culinary influences from Denmark, Africa, and across the Caribbean for a blended array of specialty dishes. Among the can’t-miss foods to try, locals recommend the fried bread treat called Johnny Cakes—specifically made by the crowd-favorite La Reine Chicken Shack—or Paté handhelds stuffed with beef, conch, or veggies—which reign supreme at the more-than-30-year-old Rosa’s Booth.

For an unforgettable night out, the family-run Savant has pulled famous guests like President Joe Biden and Martha Stewart for its eclectic menu and gorgeous back patio. You’ll find local-ingredient-driven dishes spanning an international spectrum, from chicken lollipops to curry or Lo Mein noodles to a New Zealand-style rack of lamb.

If a restaurant that comes with stunning waterfront views and fresh seafood is up your alley, there’s AMA at Cane Bay, Polly’s at the Pier, and Off the Wall, just to name just a few. Plant-forward bites shine at locally run restaurants like Cafe Roots-N-Kulchah—the Ginger Sop Juice and Black Bean Burger are can’t-misses—and the Caribbean-influenced Ital in Paradise.

hotels st croix
The Waves Cane Bay

Sleep in boutique hotels flaunting renovated interiors and gorgeous views

Downtown Christiansted’s historic King Christian Hotel recently debuted its grand revival, and it is certainly something to write home about. A mainstay of the Christiansted waterfront since 1743, the newly minted King Christian Hotel makes a strong case for an ideal homebase with stylish interiors, spacious balconies, stunning coastal views, and knowledgeable staff. You also benefit from on-site cushy comforts like breathtaking ocean views while brunching at Caroline’s, caffeine boosts from Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters, and poolside bites plus happy hour cocktails courtesy of the Oaxacan-influenced restaurant El Leon.

For a more off-the-beaten-path experience, The Waves Cane Bay on the Northshore of Cane Bay is home to the cliffside digs of your dreams. With just 11 rooms on property, your secluded getaway experience includes a stunning waterside restaurant (that comes with complimentary crashing waves and hanging fairy lights for a dreamy ambiance), idyllic golden hour cocktail bar, and an on-site natural grotto. If you are looking into an extended remote-working experience, the Superior Rooms level up your island time with a full kitchenette, WiFi, an Apple TV, and expansive balcony space.

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Izzy Baskette is a Staff Writer for Thrillist New York. Find her on Instagram.