A million or more folks in North Texas have gotten the word: When it comes to the Caribbean, St. Croix is the best place for bicycling, St. John is right up there for hiking, and St. Thomas is mighty fine as a place to dine.
This news reached them by way of an article in the Sept. 26 Travel section of The Dallas Morning News by travel writer David Swanson. The newspaper has a circulation of more than 827,000.
In his "Caribbean Sampler" article, Swanson, who has been visiting the Caribbean for 14 years, says when he's asked about his "favorite" island, he counters with queries about what the questioner likes to do. He then offers his choices for a variety of interests.
Bicycling, the next-to-last topic he takes up (followed by "best undiscovered island"), is the one in which a U.S. Virgin stars. St. Croix "has a surprisingly diverse array of sports activities," he notes, citing golf, diving and tennis as well as mountain biking — and a business (St. Croix Bike and Tours) that rents bikes and conducts guided two-wheel tours.
With "just enough vertical heft to give the island topographical personality," he writes, St. Croix has plenty of less-traveled roads. "In the hills above Frederiksted are trails through forests filled with towering mahogany and kapok trees and pastoral cattle grazing areas," he notes. His secondary choices are Barbados, Bonaire and Guadeloupe.
Mike McQueston, St. Croix Bike and Tours owner, says he did a cycling tour with Swanson a few years ago and "we take travel writers out with pretty much every group that comes here." In addition to running the company, which he started in 1994, McQueston serves as president of the V.I. Cycling Federation. The federation, he says, "is trying to get more bike paths and shoulders accessible for people to use" throughout the territory and is hoping to tap into federal grant funds available for such projects.
A number of major newspapers and national circulation magazines have carried articles about biking on St. Croix, he says, and another, Men's Fitness, has one scheduled for its January or February issue.
While Swanson's prime pick for hiking is Guadeloupe, he credits St. John, Martinique, Dominica, Saba and Grenada for "great hiking" as well. Among islands attractive for their smallness, he suggests Saba first, followed by St. John, Virgin Gorda, Culebra and Bequia.
For gourmands, Swanson rhapsodizes over the variety of cuisine and the quality of food at the restaurants of French and Dutch St. Martin, while also singling out St. Thomas, St. Barth's, Puerto Rico, Martinique and Barbados.
The British Virgin Islands is his first choice for sailing, and in describing why, he cites the Sir Francis Drake Channel, which separates the British and U.S. Virgins, as "one of the world's great sailing passages." On both sides of the channel (i.e., at St. John, too, although it's unnamed) "are pristine anchorages," he writes, "with colorful history and quiescent coves." The Grenadines, the U.S. Virgins and Antigua are also "worthy sailing destinations," he adds.
For reef scuba diving, Bonaire tops his list, followed by the Caymans, Dominica, Saba, Curacao and St. Lucia. And for best beaches he prefers Anguilla, followed by St. Barth's, Antigua, the Dominican Republic and Aruba.
Those in search of undiscovered island treasures, he says, should start with St. Vincent, followed by Marie-Galante, Statia, Anegada, Trinidad and Vieques. For intimacy and privacy, he writes, St. Barth's wins hands down (for those who can afford it). And the best buy for the cost conscious, he says, is Grenada, followed by the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia, Tobago and Puerto Rico.
The article makes no recommendations regarding shopping, casino gambling or nightlife.
A release about the article put out by Martin Public Relations, the territory's mainland p.r. agency, notes that Swanson, who writes for a number of major newspapers and magazines, has in recent years taken part in several of the travel writer familiarization trips to the Virgin Islands sponsored by the Tourism Department and coordinated by the agency.