|Size||101 square miles (261 square kilometers)|
|Population||55,000 (92% black, 3% mixed, 2% white, 2% Indian, 1% other)|
|Status||Independent country, part of the British Commonwealth|
|GDP per capita (2016)||$16,793|
|Currency||Eastern Caribbean dollar pegged to US dollar|
|Electricity||UK standard three-prong|
|Driving||on the left, local driving license required for renters|
St. Kitts and Nevis were the first islands in the Caribbean colonized by the British and the French in the early 17th century. The two nations fought vigorously for the control of these two lands and they also clashed for it with the Spanish, who too decided St. Kitts and Nevis were worth fighting for. After all, the two islands are strategically located with about even distances separating them from Antigua and Anguilla and they are one of the best anchor points on a long journey from Europe to the Greater Antilles of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Jamaica. Additionally, both of the islands are rich in vegetation and their climate is near ideal for farming, which lead the British colonists, who eventually took full control of both St. Kitts and Nevis, to invest heavily in sugar production, mostly by bringing thousands of slaves from the African continent. The slaves eventually gained their freedom in 1834 while the two islands gained their full independence from Britain in 1983.
Today, St. Kitts and Nevis are popular tourist destinations and the local economy relies heavily on the travel industry to support the local population and grow the islands’ infrastructure. Many of the former sugar plantations have been turned into cosy inns and restaurants while more hotels are continually being planned and built along the islands’ coasts. Nonetheless, for now St. Kitts and Nevis remain still much undeveloped compared to many of their neighbours, which makes them perfect destinations for those who want to get away from noises and sighs of a busy civilization and explore the Caribbean like it used to be, without huge resorts and crowds dotting every beach. If that sounds like you, start planning and packing for your St. Kitts and Nevis adventure!
While both, St. Kitts and Nevis have an international airport, it is only the first island that gets flights from outside of the Caribbean. This includes several direct flights a day from US cities including NYC, Atlanta and Miami. There are also non-stop flights to St. Kitts’ Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport several times a week out of Toronto as well as London Gatwick. In order to get to Nevis you can either connect from as many as five other Caribbean airports (like San Juan or St. Thomas to name just two) or you can get a fast speed boat ride from Basseterre ferry terminal to Charlestown Ferry Pier or using something called a Sea Bridge, which are car carrying ferries between Majors Bay on St. Kitts and Cliftons on Nevis. Even if your final destination is Nevis, do consider spending some time on St.Kitts as well since a ferry between the two islands will be much cheaper than flying from another island ($15 vs. $100 or more) as well as faster much if you consider check in times at the airports (45 minutes vs. 2 hours or more).
Although, navigating St. Kitts and Nevis is easy as both are encircled by one main road, the quality of this road and even more so, side roads, can be poor. If you decide to drive, expect to encounter many potholes, very narrow and steep passages as well random farm animals resting in the middle of the road and refusing to move despite the sound of your car horn. Still, is only with a car that you can fully explore each island, especially as the local bus system does not operate on a set schedule and is often unreliable. You can, of course, rent a car from either of the two airports and then, if you want to sightsee the other island, get it across to the other island via a ferry. Alternatively, you can rely fully on local taxis and mini-vans, which have fixed rates between most of the key destinations. Lastly, due to the small size of the islands, consider whether getting a scooter or a motorbike is not a better alternative to a car. Even the longest motor journey doesn’t take longer than 30 minutes here and scooters are cheaper as well as easier to navigate on the narrow and bumpy roads.
Things to explore
Considering their small size, there is relatively lots to see on St. Kitts and Nevis. The first, bigger island was the very first island in the Caribbean where British and French colonists arrived in 1623. As a result, St. Kitts has still many townhouses and plantation buildings that were erected by these first colonists in the 17th century. For example, check out the Fairview Great House, which is nowadays home to a botanical garden, but inside it looks very much the same as it did in the colonial times more than 300 years ago. Or, go to Old Road, which was the site of the actual first British settlement in West Indies and where you can find remains of several of extensive manor houses and their restored gardens. However, the most impressive construct of the British colonists on the island has to be Brimstone Hill Fortress. This large fortification took part in many battles in the 17th and 18th centuries between the French and the British who fought for control over the island. At its peak, the site had a garrison of over 1,000 soldiers and 49 artillery cannons that protected St. Kitts from invading forces. Today, most of the walls remain intact and many of the cannons are still in place. The fortified walls offer a splendid view out into the island and sea and there is also a museum inside the fortress, which showcases history of the island and its people.
From Brimstone Hill, it is only about 5 miles in straight line to the volcano and highest peak of St. Kitts of Mount Liamiga. However, the hiking approach to the mountain is actually from the north-west side of the island and although it is a great adventure, getting to the top is a whole day trip and is best done with help from a local guide. For much easier and laid back sightseeing head down to the capital of St. Kitts, Basseterre. The town has a beautiful main square and a fountain in its center, a large marina full of sophisticated shopping boutiques (and capable of welcoming even the biggest cruise ships) and it is also the home of the National Museum with an entrance fee of only $3. Basseterre is also the best place to catch a ferry to the capital of Nevis, Charlestown and there are quite a few good reasons to visit it as well as the whole of Nevis. Charlestown itself is the birthplace of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. His original home, right on the water in the town center is now a museum of his life as well as that of the island. For even more local history you can visit Museum of Nevis just a couple blocks away from Alexander Hamilton’s house. Besides museum and lovely historical churches and townhouses, just south of the center of Nevis you will find something quite unique – free to access hot thermal springs called Bath Springs. The baths were actually a location of Baths Hotel, a building of which still stands and is considered to be the very first hotel ever opened in the Caribbean back in 1787. Elsewhere on Nevis, consider visiting its 8 acre botanical gardens on Montpelier Estate as well as contemplate whether you want to take on a climb of Mount Nevis that towers over the island and offers spectacular views from its top.
Besides the green hills and blue sea in the distance, what you can spot from the top of Nevis as well as from Mount Liamiga are some of the islands’ spectacular beaches. St. Kitts and Nevis have tens of dazzling stretches of sand and majority of them are easy to access by car. On St. Kitts most of the beaches are in the south-east in the administrative area of Saint George Basseterre whereas on Nevis the best sandy stretches are on the western coast around Charlestown and to the north of it. For isolation and privacy consider Major’s Bay and Turtle Beach on St. Kitts as well as Lovers and Pinneys beaches on Nevis. Whereas the first two mentioned are wide open, surrounded by bushes and bay hills, the second two are narrow, straight and shaded by tall palm trees and forming a dense forest. Besides these more isolated beaches, there are also a few ones right in towns including Frigate and Sugar Bay beaches by Basseterre and Gallows Bay right in Charlestown.
Different to most islands in the Caribbean, there are no large scale resorts on either St. Kitts or Nevis (with two exceptions being the St. Kitts Marriott Resort and the Four Seasons on Nevis). Instead, the islands are still quite undeveloped and most accommodations are made up of small inns and old plantation estates converted into boutique hotels. Many of the plantation inns are managed by the owners who live at them and make an effort to build personal relationships with guests and provide them with advice about exploring the islands and their secrets. This is exactly the case with Belle Mont Farm on St. Kitts as well as Hermitage, Golden Rock and Nisbet Plantations on Nevis. Per night rates at these inns vary between $200 and $400 depending on the season and room type.
If you prefer larger hotels you can go all out and splash on a hotel like the five star Four Seasons located on Nevis’ Pinney’s Beach, where you can expect impeccable service, extravagant spa and beautiful rooms. Or, for a little less you can stay at the four star St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino, which also has a large spa, an 18 hole golf course as well as the casino already mentioned in its name. Finally, if you rather save and stay away from many other people, consider renting a one or two bedroom apartment where you can spread out and make some of your own meals in a modern kitchen. For that, check out Oceans Edge by Sugar Bay on St. Kitts located very close to a lovely beach or the nearby Leeward Cove Condominiums, both of which have great reviews and are reasonably priced.
Food & restaurants
Caribbean dishes are what you will find most often on the menus od St. Kitts and Nevis’ restaurants. Of course, the locals have put their own twist on the region’s cuisine and you are sure to find a few dishes here that you won’t find anywhere else. For example, a couple of our own favorites include a goat waterstew and coconut rum bread pudding. Overall though, local food is spicy and incorporates loads of fresh fish, meat and vegetables. Lunch is generally very causal though beach attire is never acceptable. Many of the best restaurants are located in Basseterre and Charlestown though a few are actually part of plantation inns like the renowned The Kitchen at Belle Mont Farm near Frigate Bay or the Nisbet Great House at Nisbet Plantation. And, if you are looking for a truly fine dining experience, check out Resturant 750 at Montpelier Estate, where the food is incredible and you get to sit at a table placed in a romantic veranda with an amazing view out to Charlestown.
Night time is very laid back on St. Kitts and Nevis. Most bars are either part of restaurants or hotels and their focus is more on serving delicious foods and drinks, while laud and late partying is secondary and not a commonplace. However, things do heat up around December when St. Kitts hosts its annual carnival as well as between June and July when the same island hosts its music festival attracting thousands of visitors and tens of music stars from the Caribbean and beyond. On a typical Friday or Saturday night, however, your best bet is to visit Frigate Bay on St. Kitts where you will find several beachside bars or head to White House Bay where Salt Plage doubles as a restaurant and night club with a small dance floor. The only trouble here is the isolated location, which means if you want to drink you should either pre-book a taxi or plan to a dedicated driver in your party.
Sports & adventure
We mentioned Mount Liamiga and Mount Nevis earlier as two popular hiking destinations on the islands. However, St. Kitts and Nevis have lots of other fantastic hiking spots and tens of miles of trails both, within their hills and rainforests as well as right by the coasts and along the beaches. Some of the hikes like the one to Shitten Bay will bring you right to a colossal shipwreck located right in shallow waters of the bay. Another, called Lawyer Stephen’s Cave and Waterfalls will take you, as the name suggests, past a cave and several pretty waterfalls. Finally, on Nevis you can even do a trail where you can find diamonds! Or at least, they look like diamonds, but they are actually quartz crystals and you can find them while hiking the valley around Hanley’s Road.
Besides hiking, mountain cycling and horseback riding are two other popular activities on the islands and especially so on Nevis. You can do a whole MBT tour by booking it at a bike rental shop on Oualie Beach or you can plan a horseback adventure in the hills and along the coast of Nevis out of Hermitage Stables or similarly on St. Kitts out of Trinity Stables in Palmetto Point. There is also an impressive zip-lining park on St. Kitts located at the Wingfield Estate that you can try out every day of the week. Finally, one cannot forget two professional golf courses (one on each island) where both experts, and amateurs improve their skills all year round.
Although all of the above activities are very popular, at the end of the day it is water sports, on which both, visitors and locals spent most of their leisure time. Sailing, fishing, diving and surfing are all very popular and there are many companies throughout the islands that cater to these activities. Frigate Bay is where you can start and finish many boat trips as well as get the necessary equipment for fishing, diving or surfing. Divers will appreciate more than 10 interesting sites between the two islands with a couple featuring sunken shipwrecks like Sandy Point Reef and Nags Head. Surfers, on the other hand, will find the best waves and winds on Sand Bank Bay and Oualie Beach, though a few other beaches offer good surf condition depending on the time of the year.
Safety and security
Both St. Kitts and Nevis are relatively safe and violent crime against tourists is rare. Small drug gangs operate on St. Kitts and to a lesser degree on Nevis, and so you may be encountered on a street on in bars with an offer to purchase drugs. Polite refusal is the best approach in these situations. If you drive, stay on the main roads, especially at night time. It is also best to not walk alone at night around Basseterre and keep your valuables in a hotel room or apartment safe, if you have one. As you would anywhere, apply common sense and aim to avoid suspicious crowds and individuals.