By Michael Kohn
Stay left! It wasn’t that the rental company was politicking in advance of the upcoming elections–in St. Croix, you drive on the left side of the road. To my pleasant surprise, “stay left” was an easy adjustment to make. In fact, more than a mere driving instruction, it became a metaphor for experiencing life differently than on the mainland, a subtle suggestion to enter the “flow” of island life. The more I drove, the more I succumbed to the charms of this jewel in the Caribbean, a U.S. Virgin Island–no passport required.
A GPS directed us from the airport to Questa Verde Estates, a condo community nestled in the hills above the historic harbor town of Christiansted. The condo stay was courtesy of Rob DeRocker, who invited us to explore the island and the many real estate opportunities available on St. Croix. Admittedly, I was tired after traveling, but once I took in the view from the condo balcony, my energy was restored. Simply put, the vista was (insert your own superlative): Stunning? Breath taking? Amazing?
After a quiet night, I awoke with one goal–get to the beach. After some deliberation, we chose Cane Bay as our first destination. We headed out (on the left side of the road) and arrived at the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort on the north shore. Can you spell white sand, crystal-clear waters surrounded by hills covered in lush, tropical vegetation? It easily could have been a Hollywood movie locale. By the way, all beaches are free, even at the resorts. It’s the law! Also highly recommended is the wonderful beach at The Buccaneer resort.
Although I could have spent the entire day at the beach, we needed to eat. So why not eat@cane bay? That’s the name of the open-air restaurant right across from the beach just east of the resort. The food was so good we went back twice. On this first visit, we struck up a conversation with three friendly women, one local, sitting adjacent to us. Before long, they told us to get into our car and follow them for a nice surprise at the Domino Club in the rainforest. Although we had no idea where we were going, driving through the winding roads of the rainforest was a delight. Mongoose and iguanas skirt across the road amid majestic mahogany trees draped in tropical vines.
The Domino Club can best be described as a tiki bar. First order of business was a shot of Mamajuana, a concoction of rum, red wine and honey mixed in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. It allegedly has health benefits. It felt good going down anyway.
Our guides then instructed us to buy cans of beer (non-alcoholic) to feed to the pigs. WHAT? Giant hogs jump up on their stalls to take a can of beer from your hand, crush it in their mouths and drink the contents which spray all over before dropping the empty cans for you to put into the trash. They love it. We loved it. It’s a must-see.
We thanked our guides and set out back to the condo. We got lost. The island is only 28 miles long and seven miles wide, so getting lost is only temporary. It’s actually a great way to discover the island’s natural beauty. I recommend it. At least don’t fret.
That night, following Rob’s suggestion, we invited one of the island’s most lovely and knowledgeable resources–Kathleen Coates Lafaille–for dinner. We dined at The Blue Moon in Frederiksted, a harbor town on the west end of St. Croix. Our meal was delicious, the restaurant charming, but Kathleen had a surprise in store for us. We walked through a park to the long pier where the cruise ships dock. Many locals had cast their fishing lines along the pier and were happy to show us their catches. When we got to the end of the pier, there they were in the waters illuminated by the pier lights. Sea turtles! Magnificent creatures swimming effortlessly, seemingly waving hello with their fins. It was enchanting. The Crucians are very proud of their sea turtles and their efforts to preserve this endangered animal.
Preservation is a primary theme when you take the absolutely mandatory tour to Buck Island. The Buck Island Underwater National Monument encompasses a small island and nearly 19,000 acres of a coral reef system. A snorkeler’s dream, Buck Island is also home to endangered bird species and sea turtles, which lay eggs on the beach. Preserving this natural treasure is so important that when a towel belonging to one of the tourists (it was my companion’s–shhh) fell overboard, a crew member jumped into the sea to retrieve it!
Besides the wide variety of water sports like snorkeling, kayaking or just sunbathing, St. Croix offers so much more to do. Whether you want to travel by foot, ATV or horseback, there are many trails to explore. The architecture of the charming towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted is Danish-influenced. Absorb their charming beauty, walk around and shop duty-free. St.Croix is rich in history and culture, so be sure to take advantage of all the island’s offerings like the fort in Christiansted or street festivals.
Great dining options were plentiful. We enjoyed local cuisine at Harvey’s, a lovely outdoor lunch seaside at the Divi Carina Bay Resort (there’s a casino too) and checked out a couple eateries along Christiansted’s wonderful boardwalk. One night we were treated to Kiki’s fire dancers and delicious food at The Pickled Greek. If only we had more time to sample the other dining options!
Speaking of options, once you visit this island paradise, you may want to stay, or at least return many times. Rob DeRocker, our host, arranged meetings for us with Mark Eckard, an attorney and the volunteer President of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, and Ness Fennessey of Calabash Real Estate, so we could explore opportunities on St. Croix.
Mark took us on a tour of Frederiksted on the island’s west end and then all the way to the stunning lookout of Point Udall, the most eastern point in the United States. A number of stops along the way kept our spirits high, especially as I waved at the big Captain Morgan sign. St. Croix is home to both the Captain Morgan and Cruzan rum distilleries.
According to Mark, “St. Croix is more than just a place to visit. St. Croix is a place to live and work. We are the unlikely crossroads for an enormous portion of the world’s broadband internet and telecommunications. St. Croix sits on more broadband capacity than any major U.S. city. Anybody who brags about being able to work from anywhere with a laptop and cell phone could be– and should be–working and living here.” Ness showed us other options including three condo communities which all had their own charms, swimming pools and magnificent views. Of course, buying a condo as a second home doesn’t mean you have to live there full-time. Many owners rent them out. Said Ness, “the fact the island is owned by the U.S. is a benefit for American investors as the tax and law system are based on U.S. systems and buying here does not involve having to partner with a native-islander as it does on some of the other islands.”
Our host, Rob DeRocker, is a condo owner who splits his time between St. Croix and Tarrytown. What are the advantages of a condo? According to Rob, one gets “more space, cooking facilities so you don’t have to eat in a restaurant for every meal and the ease of coming and going.” Rob’s condo at Questa Verde is centrally located, has amazing views and a fantastic pool.
Condos aren’t the only option. You could buy a house. Rob says, “There’s an absolute fire sale on vacation properties and second homes on St. Croix right now. A four-bedroom house on a north shore hill with a spectacular view, $75,000 worth of mahogany furniture and two rental units that would pay the mortgage was listed in 2010 for $1.2 million and recently received an accepted offer for less than $600,000. A three-bedroom condo at Questa Verde is in contract for about $90,000. For the right buyers, this is an incredible time to at least investigate real estate on St. Croix.”
It was a fantastic trip. One final note: When you greet someone at night in St. Croix, you don’t say hello. You say good night. It’s anticipatory of what’s to come. I like that.