In 1493, Christopher Columbus was allegedly so smitten with this volcanic island that he named it after St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. Since its discovery, St. Christopher (later shortened by British sailors to St. Kitts) has been fought over by the British and French who, tragically, made it a center of the West Indian slave trade. Pirates, including the notorious William Kidd who was marooned on Nevis after his crew mutinied, 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 68-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. 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. Kitts' main export until production stopped just a few years ago. However, wild sugar cane fields remain, particularly in the west, and offer a scenic ambience that is more reminiscent of Hawaii than the Caribbean these days. While tourists have discovered St. Kitts (evidenced by the row of lively beach bars on South Frigate Bay, known as "The Strip"), the island is still relatively unspoiled and crowd-free, with a relaxed, authentic atmosphere.