Caribbean / Mexico

St Kitts and Nevis: Simply Original. Simply Seductive …

Photo credit: St Kitts Nevis Registry

St. Kitts (also known more formally as Saint Christopher Island), is an island in the West Indies. The west side of the island borders the Caribbean Sea, and the eastern coast faces the Atlantic Ocean. St. Kitts and the neighbouring island of Nevis constitute one country: the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. With coastlines in the shape of a baseball bat and ball, the two volcanic islands are separated by a three kilometre-wide channel called The Narrows. There is frequent ferry service between the two islands.

Intoxicating natural beauty, sunny skies, warm waters, and white sandy beaches combine to make St. Kitts and Nevis one of the most seductive spots in the Caribbean.

Near-perfect – that’s how you might think of St Kitts and Nevis after visiting. This two-island nation combines beaches with the beauty of the mountains, plenty of activities to engage you and some rich history to absorb your mind.

And the local culture is almost a Caribbean cliché: mellow, friendly, familiar and with a pulsing soca beat.

St. Kitts has a population of around 35,000, the majority of whom are mainly of African descent. The primary language is English, with a literacy rate of approximately 98 percent. Residents call themselves Kittitians or Kittians.

Christopher Columbus first spotted St. Kitts in 1493, when it was populated by native tribes, but the Europeans didn’t colonize until the British arrived in 1623. Its strategic location and valuable sugar trade led to an advanced and luxurious development that was among the best in the Colonial Caribbean.

Founded in 1627 by the French, Basseterre is the capital of the Federation. The city has one of the most tragic histories of any Caribbean capital, destroyed many times by colonial wars, fire, earthquakes, floods, riots and hurricanes. Despite all of this, a considerable number of well-restored buildings still exist in downtown Basseterre. St. Kitts and Nevis changed hands many times between the English and French, and as a result, there has been left a heritage of cities with names from both countries.

Over the centuries St Kitts’ fortunes have been inextricably tied to sugar or the “white gold” that grew in lush plantations covering the island’s volcanic terrain. At one time there were 68 plantations and St Kitts was regarded as one of the wealthiest, as well as one of the oldest, English colonies in the Caribbean.

Visitors to the island today can see coastlines dotted with traditional West Indian villages, churches, agricultural plots and the occasional windmill or brick chimney from an old sugar estate works.

There are also a couple of excellent plantation house hotels set in restored historic buildings, some of the most atmospheric and delightful in the Caribbean. Until recently all the flatlands in this section of St Kitts were carpeted with sugar cane, but the industry came to an end in 2005.

Photo credit: Lenford C Lloyd

Life today is fairly typical of the Caribbean for the 36,000 Kittians, many of who are descended from the slaves brought to work the plantations. Kittitians are a demonstrative people (unlike their cousins in Nevis, who are generally quieter) and so life in downtown Basseterre is lively.

Quite a number of artists, Kittitians and residents, work on the islands and their art appears in hotels and lounges as well as in galleries for sale. The two most visible artists, whose work is known beyond the island, are two British painters (who now call St Kitts home) Kate Spencer and Rosey Cameron Smith.

The Ocean Terrace Inn has a wide selection on view in its public areas, including an impressive painting by Barbara Kassab that hangs in reception and a mural by Rosey Cameron Smith in their Waterfalls Restaurant. Art also appears in restaurants such as the Ballahou in town, where Rosey Cameron Smith’s prints are for sale. The National Museum in the Treasury Building in Basseterre occasionally hosts art exhibitions.

There are two little known, yet remarkable, facts about St. Kitts …

Many tropical birds, which one rarely finds elsewhere, are present in great numbers and there are also the monkeys which, it is said, were introduced by the pirates. And, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest fortress ever built in the Eastern Caribbean. Brimstone Hill Fortress and National Park on the north west coast is over 300 years old and has rightly been accorded a World Heritage site, an evocative well maintained location, replete with massive stone buttresses, a plethora of cannon and the ghosts of slaves and legions of military who manned it. The Fort is a great place for contemplation and seaward panoramas …

A clutch of splendidly restored plantation houses including Rawlins, Ottley’s and Romney Manor remain a tribute to a bygone style and elegance while the only working railway in the eastern Caribbean, the old eighteen mile narrow gauge cane track wending round the island’s coastline, offers a tremendous three hour scenic perspective for any newcomer.

In and around the beaches and aquamarine-coloured waters surrounding the islands, one can expect the usual array of activities.

Beach based holidaying is centred around Frigate Bay.

Scuba diving has grown through the discovery of a number of interesting new dive sites and wrecks. St. Kitts offers exceptional diving for the novice, as well as the experienced. There are wrecks, reefs, walls, and caves which provide excellent underwater exploration, which also create novel aggregation sites for game fish. In St. Kitts the water is deepest closer to shore, so you won’t have to go far. Experienced charter services and excursions are available through your hotel. And all the necessary gear can be rented at the dive shops.

The once undisturbed peninsula region is now dominated by the ambitious St.Christophe Harbour, Marina and luxury villa resort, a magnificent 2500 acre low density development incorporating a championship golf course due to open in 2013; another is also due at Kittitian Hill in the north to complement the long established eighteen hole Royal St. Kitts Golf Club.

St. Kitts is a good hiking destination with Mount Liamuiga and its trademark halo of cloud the flagship hike; Vervet monkeys can be seen in some locations, and it’s worth contacting the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN) (recently awarded public charity status for their laudable beach clean-ups and environmental and outreach programmes) if you fancy some hands on turtle involvement.

These idyllic sister islands offer visitors an authentic island experience. Both have luxuriant mountain rain forests; uncrowded beaches; historic ruins; towering, long-dormant volcanoes; charming Georgian capitals in Basseterre (St. Kitts) and Charlestown (Nevis); intact cultural heritage; friendly if shy people; and restored, 18th-century sugar plantation inns run by elegant, if sometimes eccentric, expatriate British and American owners.

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