- U.S. Virgin Islands
Spending time on Buck Island Reef National Monument north of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, will redefine paradise.
Federally protected since 1961, uninhabited Buck Island offers a quintessential Caribbean retreat, complete with a sparkling white-sand beach, swaying palm trees and a vibrant underwater ecosystem. But to get there, visitors must pass through Christiansted, the charming waterfront capital of St. Croix, and worthy of a visit in itself.
What to See and Do in Christiansted
Downtown Christiansted is easy to explore on foot. This colorful town was the capital of the Danish West Indies from 1755 to 1871, which has left a lasting mark on the area. Tucked into a cove with a busy waterfront and surrounded by green hillsides, Christiansted is known for narrow streets lined with lemon-yellow buildings. Explore the 18th-century Fort Christiansvaern and local shops hidden in quiet alleys.
During happy hour, most waterfront bars have live music and local rum in ample supply. Cruzan Rum is distilled on the island; take a tour of the factory and visit the showroom to buy a few bottles. And finally, the Crucian (as St. Croix is known) dining scene is excellent. For a truly local experience, try authentic Caribbean dishes such as saltfish, stewed or curried goat, conch in butter sauce, and callaloo, a green stew with roots in West Africa, usually made with spinach on St. Croix.
When it’s time to set out for Buck Island, you’ll do so from Christiansted’s wharf-front or Green Cay Marina, east of town. It’s an 8.8-kilometer journey to Buck Island, taking from 40 to 90 minutes depending on which company you choose. Full- or half-day excursions are available by motorboat or sailing catamaran.
Christiansted, St. Croix, is both a great place to explore and a departure point for Buck Island.
What to See and Do on Buck Island
There are a few options for exploring the island, including half and full day cruises serving lunch and refreshments. Half-day cruises feature a visit to Turtle Beach, an empty stretch of sugary sand fronted by translucent blue waters, and snorkeling along the underwater trail, where plaques attached to the bottom explain the topography and marine life. Two-thirds of the island is surrounded by a barrier reef, which makes it an ideal spot for snorkeling and spotting marine life like the ubiquitous elkhorn coral, as well as hawksbill and green sea turtles.
Full-day trips typically include sightseeing and beach time, plus a barbecue and a chance to hike Buck Island’s main marked trail. It’ll take 45 minutes to an hour from end-to-end, and you’ll be rewarded at the top of the small peak with a 360-degree view of the coral reef, St. Croix and beyond. Less ambitious visitors can take the flat West Beach trail through a manchineel forest to giant tamarind and sandpiper trees.
There are also two designated scuba moorings. Each of the shallow, easy 10- to 12-meter dives features plentiful reef fish hiding among elkhorn coral. Book a dive directly through a dive shop.