Agriculture was long the staple of the economy, cattle and sugar the main activities, and today there are the ruins of numerous sugar plantations with their Great Houses and windmills.
Estate Whim is restored to the way it was under Danish rule in the 1700s and is well worth a visit; it is a beautiful oblong building housing a museum of the period, and in the grounds are many of the factory buildings and implements. T7720598. Adults US$5, children under 12 US$1. Mon-Sat 1000-1600. There is a gift shop. Candlelight concerts and other parties and functions are held here.
St George Botanical Garden, just off Centreline Road (Queen Mary Highway), in an old estate, has a theatre as well as gardens amid the ruined buildings. The 17-acre site was built on a Precolumbian settlement. US$5 for non-members. Mon-Sat 0800-1600. Judith’s Fancy, from the time of the French, is now surrounded by building developments and has less to see than the other two.
Today agriculture has been surpassed by tourism and industry, including the huge Hess oil refinery on the south coast. However, youth unemployment is a problem and the economy of St Croix is not as healthy as that of the other islands. Many businesses are shuttered in Christiansted and Frederiksted and the island is in need of some revitalization.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton declared the island a disaster area after it was hit by Hurricane Lenny, which killed three people and caused damage estimated at over US$32mn. The destruction caused is no longer evident.
Frederiksted, 17 miles from Christiansted, is the only other town on St Croix and although quiet, its gingerbread architecture has its own charm. Public taxis link the two towns and there are taxis from the airport to Frederiksted. Historic buildings such as Victoria House, 7-8 Strand Street, and the Customs House, have been repaired following hurricane damage.
Fort Frederik (1752) is a museum; it was here that the first official foreign salute to the 13 US States was made in 1776 (see Sint Eustatius). Also here was read the proclamation freeing all Danish slaves in 1848. An exhibition of old photos and newspaper articles and other display items show the destruction caused by hurricanes, including the one which hit Charlotte Amalie harbour. Free. Mon-Fri, 0830-1600. A new pier, to accommodate at least two cruise ships, was built in 1993. On a non-cruise ship day Frederiksted seems like a ghost town, but every other Wednesday is Harbour Night, when cruise ships stay late and the town stays open with special entertainments.
The rain forest to the north of town is worth a visit. Two roads, the paved Mahogany Road (Route 76) and the unpaved Creque Dam Road (Road 58) traverse it.
The population of St John fell to less than a thousand people in 1950 when 85% of the land had reverted to bush and second growth tropical forest. In the 1950s Laurance Rockefeller bought about half of the island but later donated his holdings to establish a national park which was to take up about two-thirds of the predominantly mountainous island.
The Virgin Islands National Park was opened in 1956 and is covered by an extensive network of trails (some land in the park is still privately owned and not open to visitors). Several times a week a park ranger leads the Reef Bay hike, which passes through a variety of vegetation zones, visits an old sugar mill (Annabel) and some unexplained petroglyphs and ends with a ferry ride back to Cruz Bay. There are 22 hikes in all, 14 on the north shore, 8 on the south shore. The trail can be hiked without the ranger, but the national park trip provides a boat at the bottom of the trail so you do not need to walk back up the three-mile hill. You should reserve a place on the guided hike at the Park Service Visitors’ Centre, Cruz Bay (on north side of harbour) open daily 0800-1630, T7766201; information on all aspects of the park can be obtained here, there are informative displays, topographical and hiking trail maps, books on shells, birds, fish, plants, flowers and local history, sign up here for activities. The trails are well-maintained and clearly signed with interpretive information along the way. Insect repellent is essential. A seashore walk in shallow water, using a glass bottomed bucket to discover sea life, is recommended.
There is a snorkel trip around St John in which the boat takes you to 5-6 reefs not accessible by land (and therefore less damaged), which is a good way to see the island even if you do not snorkel. An informative, historical bus tour goes to the remote East End. There are evening programmes at Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay camps, where rangers show slides and movies and hold informal talks. For detailed information on what to do and where to find it, Exploring St John covers hiking trails, 39 beaches and snorkel spots, historic sites and jeep adventures. A fee of US$4 is charged to enter the park at Trunk Bay and to view the Annabel ruins.