On Location: Kinga Philipps Explores the REAL St. Croix
Journalist, traveler and adventurer, Kinga Philipps is on a mission to discover the real St. Croix: its history and cuisine, and to learn why the people of St. Croix love it so much. We asked Kinga a few questions about her trip to this island paradise.
What brought you to St. Croix?
We came to St. Croix for the series REAL. St. Croix was interesting to us because it has all the quintessential beauty of the US Virgin Islands, but it also has a lot of layers and stories that aren't told in travel brochures. All those additional tidbits of information are what make a place fascinating instead of just one-dimensional. It’s also the epitome of “paradise,” and we wanted to challenge the stereotypes that make and break the perception of perfection. A comprehensive view is one that includes not just the highlights and allure of a place but also the diversity, frustrations and the hopes people have for making necessary changes. Plus, I can’t lie and say that the idea of “working” on stunning beaches, diving coral reefs and tasting local rum sounded like a bad week.
You do end up finding it feels a lot more authentic than it does commercial… and that’s refreshing.
What were your expectations while filming in St. Croix?
I think it’s easy to believe that once you’ve been to one Caribbean island, you’ve seen them all … and that couldn’t be further from the truth. All the islands have a completely different energy about them and St. Croix is no exception. I would even go as far as to say that St. Croix has the most unique and undervalued spirit of them all. St. Croix isn’t as well known for tourism as some of the other islands, and that can make one wonder about what you’ll find. The truth is that what you do end up finding feels a lot more authentic than it does commercial… and that’s refreshing.
What were some unforgettable moments?
Let’s start with the people. Everyone we met was a totally marvelous character in their own right. The love these people have for their island is really special to witness. Those who grew up there know the history by heart and those who relocated, all have terrific stories of how they ended up calling St. Croix home. I enjoyed these people so much that I keep in touch with several of them … secretly hoping I will get to go back for a visit.
I love diving and I love sharks, so getting to scuba some of the island’s top spots was a treat for me. Cap that off with spearing invasive lionfish and watching the sharks come in to take them, and I call that a perfect day.
The Frederiksted Pier dive was one of the most colorful I’ve seen. We spotted everything from seahorses to frog fish. It’s an easy dive so even if you’re a beginner, it’s doable. Don't forget to jump off the pier. Ignore the big sign that says "NO JUMPING OFF THE PIER."
Riding horses with Jennifer Olah from Cruzan Cowgirls on a white-sand beach was really special, as all of her horses have been rescued and rehabilitated. At the end of the ride the horses went for a swim in the ocean … with us on their backs. The moment was so beautiful it made me cry.
I got history lessons, coconut-tree-climbing lessons, lionfish cooking lessons … and some of the finest gas station food I’ve ever had. I also fed a pig non-alcoholic beer, and almost threw up in my dive mask because I had it on too tight. I was too preoccupied hanging out with sharks and sea turtles to adjust it. Highlights for me potentially differ slightly than the average individual's.
What are your recommendations for things to do in St. Croix?
It’s easy to get off the beaten path in St. Croix because the island isn’t built up and touristy. Enjoy and appreciate that. There are not many places left that still feel unspoiled. Rent a car and explore everything from the jungly interior and the sugar plantation ruins to the remote beaches and colorful towns.
Get a Roti from Ziggy’s gas station. You won’t be sorry. I had one every day.
The locals are some of the funniest, nicest, most welcoming people I’ve met anywhere, so get to know them and ask for their recommendations on everything from where to dive to what roadside vendor sells the freshest fish.
If you’re a scuba diver, you’ll be in heaven. If you’re not, at least throw on a mask and get in for a snorkel to see what’s under that pretty blue water.
There are some talented chefs and bartenders on the island so research dining options and listen to tips from locals.
If you hear live music playing, always go check it out. What’s better than a local band jamming at a tropical beach bar? Nothing.
Any tips for planning a trip to St. Croix?
Familiarize yourself with the history of the island. It’s a lot more interesting to explore a place when you understand its story.
Options for places to stay include everything from rental villas to eco resorts and they are all pretty wonderful depending on your taste, so skip the hotel and try something different.
The locals love events, so there will probably be something interesting going on while you’re there. Ask around and get the scoop.
Leave any preconceived notions you might have about St. Croix at home.