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St. Kitts Overview
In 1493, Christopher Columbus was so smitten with this volcanic island that he named it after himself. Since its discovery, St. Christopher -- later shortened by British sailors to St. Kitts -- has been fought over by the Spanish, British and French who, tragically, made it a center of the West Indian slave trade. Pirates, including the notorious William Kidd, enjoyed lucrative careers in Basseterre Harbor.
St. Kitts and sister isle Nevis were part of the British Empire until 1967, earning semi-independent status when they were named associated states of Great Britain. In 1983, the 65-square-mile St. Kitts and Nevis became an independent, two-island nation with a parliamentary government headed by a Prime Minister. While British holdovers such as cricket and driving on the left side of the road remain, the Kittitians are extremely proud of their history and how far they've come on their own.
The island's lush geography lends itself to eco-tourism, starting with the dense tropical rainforests that surround dormant volcano, Mount Liamuiga (known locally as Mt. Misery). Colorful birds and butterflies, as well as the green Vervet monkey, reside here.
Sugar cane, the staple of the economy since the 17th century, was St. Kitt's main export until production stopped just a few years ago. Particularly in the west, the sugar cane fields remain, offering a scenic ambience that is more reminiscent of Hawaii than the Caribbean these days! While tourists have discovered St. Kitts (especially the row of rowdy beach bars on South Frigate Bay, known as "The Strip"), the island is still relatively unspoiled and crowd-free, with a relaxed, authentic atmosphere.
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Other Southern Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Antigua • Aruba • Barbados • Bequia • Bonaire • Curacao • Dominica • Grenada • Guadeloupe • Martinique • Nevis • Port of Spain, Trinidad • San Juan • St. Barth's • St. Kitts • St. Lucia • St. Vincent
Cane Spirit Rothschild, a specialty rum named for the French baron, is made from cane juice instead of molasses. The best way to sample is by trying "Ting with a Sting," a drink that combines CSR with Ting, a grapefruit-flavored soda. Try it at Mr. X's Shiggedy Shack on the South Frigate Bay strip. But, be warned: It can be potent!
Anything made of batik cloth is a great souvenir. You can watch artisans create the brightly colored fabrics, using hot wax and colorful dye. Pick up a swimsuit cover-up for $30 or a wall hanging for $40.
English is the official language, spoken with a distinct accent and West Indian idioms.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the East Caribbean Dollar, about $2.70 to the U.S. dollar. (Check www.xe.com for current exchange rates). However, the U.S. dollar is commonly accepted. The most convenient bank with an ATM is St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank on Central Street in Basseterre.
Where You're Docked
Just outside St. Kitts' capital, Basseterre, Port Zante opened in 2005 to accommodate the big cruise ships. (Cunard's Queen Mary 2 calls there, and tourism officials say the port can handle super-sized ships, such as Royal Caribbean's largest-ever ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.) The terminal area has restaurants, shops and cafes, and it's about a 15-minute stroll into downtown Basseterre. Established by French explorers in the early 17th century, the town features white colonial houses and a few surviving 18th-century buildings.
While many original buildings have been destroyed by hurricanes, fires and earthquakes, the surviving colonial and Georgian architecture gives bustling Basseterre a unique look. The town's hub is the Circus, a square styled after London's Piccadilly Circus, with a clock tower in the center. Art galleries, music and bookstores, Internet cafes, boutiques and craft shops make it a fun place to explore. St. George's Anglican Church has a stormy history, as it was destroyed and rebuilt three times in three centuries. Independence Square, encircled by stately Georgian manors, was once known as Pall Mall and was where Basseterre's slave market was held.
The best way to explore St. Kitts is to take one of the island's widely available taxis. It's advisable to agree on the price up-front since there are no meters. Minivan-style buses also circle the island all day. If you're planning to rent a car, a visitor's driver's license costs $62.50 EC ($23 U.S.) and can be obtained at police stations and car rental agencies. Although St. Kitts' roads are wider and easier to drive than those on many Caribbean islands, it's best to go slow. Children walk to school via the roads, and people often stop their cars to talk. Goats, sheep, donkeys and cows have the right of way.
Watch Out For
Watch your step at Brimstone Hill. The fort, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, has few railings, and the uneven pavement could easily lead to a sprained ankle.
Etched on huge, black rocks, Carib petroglyphs, located north of Basseterre, offer a glimpse into the lives of the people who originally discovered the island.
Bloody Point is the haunting site where French and British troops massacred more than 2,000 Caribs in 1626. The view of Mount Liamuiga is spectacular.
Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a complex of bastions and barracks built by the British and is one of the best examples of a 17th-century military fortification in the Caribbean. On a clear day, the view includes six islands: Nevis, Montserrat, Saba, St. Barth's, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.
Relax at one of the island's clusters of beach bars, either on "The Strip" on South Frigate Bay or on Cockleshell Bay and Banana Bay beaches on the island's southeastern peninsula. At the latter, children will love Wilbur, a 700-pound pig who resides at the Reggae Beach Bar.
Basseterre's Marketplace on Saturday morning is the place for people-watching, as well as for buying flowers, mangos, guavas, apples and wild cherries. Get there early -- vendors start clearing out around 9 a.m.
At Black Rocks, along the northeast shore, the surf has sculpted huge lava deposits into unusual shapes.
Been There, Done That
Discover St. Kitts' flora and fauna at the Nature Reserve. Many species, including the St. Kitts national bird -- the brown pouchless pelican -- make their homes there.
Stroll the grounds at Romney Manor, once owned by Thomas Jefferson's grandfather. Today, the botanical garden houses Caribelle Batik, a great place to buy handmade batik clothing.
Swim alongside tropical fish, nurse sharks, lobsters, stingrays and eagle rays at Booby Shoals or Nag's Head. Pro-Divers arranges scuba and snorkeling expeditions (869-466-3483).
Take a ferry to less-traveled Nevis, rimmed by coral reefs and miles of white-sand beach. Three vessels operate the route, which takes about 45 minutes; click here for a schedule.
Best for a Half-Day Visit: There are half a dozen white-sand beaches along the island's narrow southeastern peninsula. One of the best areas is the two-mile stretch between Cockleshell Bay and Banana Bay, where you can swim, snorkel or down Carib beers and rum punch at Lion's Beach Bar.
Best for the Dedicated Beach Bum: On the Atlantic, Conaree Bay is popular for body-surfing. Water sports rentals are available in the south at Turtle Bay and Frigate Bay.
Best for Active Types: South Frigate Bay is popular for swimming, windsurfing and water-skiing. Further south, Turtle Bay is another popular beach for windsurfing. With a sunken tugboat attracting schools of fish, White House Bay is great for snorkeling.
Best for Naturists: Great Salt Pond at the southeastern end of St. Kitts is an unusual inland beach that opens into the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the calmer Caribbean Sea to the south. Check it out now while you can; this is the site of the planned Christophe Harbour luxury development, slated to include a Mandarin Oriental hotel, high-end homes, a golf course and a marina.
Best for Privacy: The gray- and black-sand beaches on the north coast attract fewer people. But, because of turbulent waters from the Atlantic, beaches like Dieppe Bay are better for sunbathing than for swimming.
St. Kitts has a wide variety of restaurants, ranging from restored plantation houses to casual beach hideouts. Here are some of the most memorable tables:
In Basseterre, the Glimbara Diner in the Glimbara Guest House (7 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily, Cayon Street) is a locals' favorite; menus feature Creole cuisine that varies with the mood and inspiration of the cook. You might find stewlike goat, pumpkin soup and fresh fish. Burgers are also on the menu.
For a very special lunch experience, Rawlins Plantation -- a former sugar plantation on the slopes of Mount Liamuiga, 10 minutes from Brimstone Hill -- is famous for blending Kittian and French cuisine. Its Creole-inspired buffet lunch features dishes like shrimp fritters in mango salsa, lobster and spinach crepes, and chocolate terrine with passion fruit sauce. The set fee is $30 per person. There's a bar with quite a good French wine list; drinks are extra. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Enjoy a view of Nevis at the Spice Mill Restaurant on Cockleshell Beach, which serves up grilled mahi mahi, pizza and thick burgers, along with Caribbean refreshment, such as pina coladas and Carib. The restaurant also has a separate beach bar, as well as lounge chairs and daybeds.
Staying in Touch
Sun Surf Internet Cafe -- at the TDC Mall on Fort Street in Basseterre, just north of the Circus -- offers high-speed Internet access, as does nearby Dot Com Cafe.
St. Kitts Scenic Railway is a good way to get to know the island quickly. The double-decker railcars follow the old sugar cane train tracks, offering views of the Caribbean Sea and mountains.
Romney Manor, 10 miles west of Basseterre, is the headquarters of local clothing manufacturer Caribelle Batik. The highlight is five acres of botanical gardens, including a 250-year-old saman tree.
Kayakers and snorkelers can take a paddle trip from White House Bay along the rugged southern coastline -- past coves, cliffs and caves -- to Friars Bay, stopping to snorkel among coral, rays and schools of fish.
A catamaran trip to St. Kitts' nearby neighbor -- the towering Nevis -- is often offered; the trip involves a snorkeling stop and lunch at a private Nevis beach.
For More Information
St. Kitts Tourism Authority: (869) 465-4040, http://www.stkittstourism.kn/
Updated by Chris Gray Faust, a travel writer and editor of the blog, Chris Around The World.