Family Vacations to Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Family Overview - Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
One of Saint Croix's main towns, Christiansted offers historical activities and nearby snorkeling and diving opportunities (Corel)

Saint Croix Family Travel Tips

Saint Croix has an alluring laid-back chic. Larger in square miles than Saint Thomas, but with fewer people, the island has good restaurants, a sprinkling of nice shops, plus some of the U.S. Virgin Islands' best diving and snorkeling. From rainforest to beach, to hills dotted with the ruins of windmills—remnants of the once thriving Dutch sugar plantations—the island offers a diverse range of sights and activities.

If snorkeling is your thing, sign up for a boat trip to Buck Island Reef National Monument, about five-and-a-half miles from Christiansted, one of Saint Croix's two main towns (the other is Frederiksted). Swim above rust-colored elkhorn and orange boulders of brain coral and float among schools of blue tang and scores of intricately spotted, dotted, and striped angel fish, wrasse, and other exotic beauties. But don't just go for the underwater razzle dazzle. Bring sneakers and pants (to keep the cactus burrs from biting your legs) for the easy 45-minute hike to the 329-foot summit. The reward: sweeping views of azure waters dotted by reefs. En route, pass prickly pear and barrel cactus, yellow and black caterpillars crawling on trees, and hermit crabs scuttling across the sands. Along with the rhythm of breaking surf, climb to the trill of mountain doves and the screech of yellow birds. Also, the beach is among the best and least crowded in Saint Croix, but doesn't offer much shade.

Cane Bay on Saint Croix's north shore has a sandy beach lined with trees and an excellent reef with a variety of sponges. Snorkel close to shore or swim out 150 yards where an undersea wall drops down, creating a popular dive spot with lots of underwater life. Be aware that the water can be rough at times. Check out Cane Bay Beach Bar across the street from the beach, an open, laid-back restaurant with a good menu and a beautiful view of the water.

The 1,015-acre Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve is one of the Virgin Islands' largest remaining mangrove forests. Columbus landed here in 1493. While kayaking you may spot snowy egrets, bald eagles, and spotted eagle rays. Scuba divers find undersea wonders in the park's submarine canyon. Access to parts of the park is limited, and the park recommends that you contact staff at least two weeks in advance of your trip (340.773.1460) or call the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism (340.773.0495). Caribbean Adventure Tours offer guided kayak outings ( For additional natural wonders, drive through Saint Croix's 15-acre rainforest, with lush vegetation and tall mahogany trees.

Two estates provide a feel for plantation life. At the Estate Whim Plantation, a restored 18th-century house, costumed interpreters lead tours that pass through the kitchen where you can taste homemade johnnycakes. While the private house at the Estate Mount Washington Plantation is closed to the public, the garden is open. Both of these properties are part of the Saint Croix Heritage Trail, a 72-mile route of roads and paths that point you through the island's history, culture, and wildlife.

A highlight of Christiansted, the former Danish commercial hub with pastel colors and 18th-century buildings, is Fort Christiansvaern. Built to protect the island from pirates, the fort, part of a seven-acre historic area, houses a military museum. Kids may like picnicking on the grounds, and you'll like the stunning water views.

('s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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