Things to Do in St. Kitts
||These islands enjoy a tropical climate with low humidity and an average yearly temperature of 79°F. Year-round temperatures range from 68 to 90°F, with cooling trade winds, and the annual rainfall averages 55 inches.
The islands of St Kitts and Nevis are two of the sleepiest places in the Caribbean, and one of the few countries in the region where agriculture is still a larger part of the economy than tourism. Some people find the islands' relaxed nature ideal; others get restless after a few days.
Most visitors fly into St Kitts, which on a clear day provides a glimpse of the island's mountainous interior, the patchwork of cane fields that carpets its lowlands, and the rugged hills, salt ponds and deeply indented bays of its southeastern peninsula.
The two islands form the smallest country in the Western Hemisphere, so it's not hard to cover the best of the attractions in two or three days and still have time left for an indolent lounge in the sun.
St Kitts is warm year-round, rarely getting below 72°F (27°C) at night, rarely above 86°F (30°C) by day. Given that rates are higher and places more crowded during the peak winter tourist season (December to February), the best time to go is the summer low-season (June to August); but keep in mind that, if you plan to travel to other Caribbean destinations, some of them are appreciably hotter than St Kitts and Nevis during the summer.
On St Kitts, the biggest event is the week-long Carnival, held from December 24 to January 2. It's celebrated with calypso competitions, costumed street dances and steel band music. In the last week in June, the four-day St Kitts Music Festival brings together top-name soca, salsa and jazz performers from throughout the Caribbean. Nevis has a week-long Culturama from late July to early August featuring music, crafts, parades and cultural events.
The small undistinguished capital of Basseterre sits on the edge of a wide bay backed by green hills, and is home to nearly half the population of St Kitts. The city's name, which means 'lowland', is one of the few remaining traces of French settlement on the island. The dominant European influence in Basseterre, however, is overwhelmingly British, reflected in the buildings and even the layout of its streets. In a fit of anglophilic urban planning, Basseterre added a traffic roundabout and called it the Circus. While no one could mistake it for Piccadilly, the gridlock might seem familiar.
Although most of Basseterre's historic buildings perished in a fire in 1867, there are a fair number of Victorian stone block buildings topped by wooden second stories decorated with fancy latticework and gingerbread trim. Independence Square is a small public park with a central water fountain; its earlier role as the city's slave market is a reminder of the island's harsh colonial past. Flanking the square is the twin-towered Immaculate Conception Cathedral, dating from 1927. Some of the city's history can be seen at the St Christopher Heritage Society which displays historic photos, Amerindian conch-shell tools and pottery shards.
Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park
Northwest of Basseterre sits a rambling 18th-century compound known in its day as the 'Gibraltar of the West Indies.' Once a major British garrison, it was abandoned in 1850 and left to crumble. After the 1867 fire swept through Basseterre, some of the fort structures were partially dismantled and the stones used to rebuild the capital. A major restoration was undertaken in the 1960s and much of the fortress has been returned to its earlier grandeur. The main hilltop compound, the Citadel, is lined with 24 cannons and provides excellent views of St Eustatius and Sandy Point Town. Inside the Citadel's old barrack rooms are museum displays on colonial history that feature cannonballs, swords and other period odds and ends. There's also a small collection of Amerindian adzes, a few pottery fragments and a rubbing of the Carib petroglyphs in Old Road Town. Brimstone Hill, upon which the fortress stands, is an volcanic cone named for the odoriferous sulfur vents that you'll undoubtedly detect as you drive past the hill along the coastal road.
Old Road Town
If you're feeling underwhelmed by Basseterre, you can explore some of St Kitts' better historic and natural sights along the Circle-Island Road, which hugs the island's coast for most of its length. Narrow gauge tracks run alongside the road and the odds are good that you'll see vintage sugar cane trains hauling loads of freshly cut cane from the fields to the mills. One of the best places to stop on the road is the seaside village of Old Road Town, a few miles west of Basseterre. Old Road Town was the spot where the first British settlers landed in 1623. It's also the site of an earlier habitation, as revealed by the Carib petroglyphs on view.
A more recent form of local design is batik, a process of dyeing cloth using wax. You can watch batiks being made and buy the finished product at the Caribelle Batik factory, located just north of Old Road Town on the grounds of the Wingfield Estate, originally a 17th-century sugar plantation. You can also tour the remains of the sugar mill and manor house that once stood here, and wander through the lush vegetation and grand flowering trees of the landscaped grounds.
St Kitts' southeastern peninsula is wild and starkly beautiful, with barren salt ponds, grass-covered hills and scrubby vegetation. The main inhabitants are green vervet monkeys, which occasionally bound across the road, and a few wild deer. Frigate Bay, the main beach resort area on the island, spans the northern end of the peninsula. Beaches on the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts frame a small collection of shops, condominiums and a casino. Unless you're staying here or planning to do some gambling, Frigate Bay is mainly a good place to stock up on supplies for a day of hiking, snorkelling or sunbathing. Further southeast there are sandy beaches on both sides of the peninsula at North Friar's Bay and South Friar's Bay; the latter has the calmest waters for swimming. The Great Salt Pond, a few miles south on the twisting highway, attracts plovers, stilts, whimbrels and other shorebirds. A little farther south, just past an old sugar mill, is Turtle Beach, which has a good strand, a watersports centre and a fine view of Nevis.
Despite being Nevis' largest town and commercial centre, Charlestown is a sleepy backwater. It has a good collection of colonial buildings, several of which now house museums, making the town a good place to absorb local history. The Museum of Nevis History occupies a Georgian-style building at the site where American statesman Alexander Hamilton was born in 1757. In addition to portraits of Hamilton, the museum has period photographs and other examples of Nevis culture and history. Another European figure is honoured at the Horatio Nelson Museum. Nelson stopped off on Nevis in the 1780s, fell in love with the niece of the island's governor and married her. The collection consists largely of mugs and dishes painted with Nelson's image, ceramic statues of the admiral and a few everyday items once used by Nelson.
A short walk south of the town centre is a small and largely forgotten Jewish cemetery, which consists of a grassy field with horizontal gravestones. The oldest stone dates from 1684 and quite a few others date from the early 1700s, when an estimated 25% of the non-slave population on Nevis was Jewish. The Bath House, a 15-minute walk south of Charlestown centre, is a defunct hotel dating from 1778 that sits above thermal springs. Thought to have regenerative qualities, its mineral-laden waters were the island's main attraction in colonial days, when wealthy visitors flocked here to soak in the warm baths.
Stretching several miles along the coast north of Charlestown is the soft white sand of Pinney's Beach, a good place for a barefoot stroll. The beach, which is backed almost its entire length by tall coconut palms, has lovely views of St Kitts across the channel. The site of Fort Ashby, which was built around 1702, is on the beach. It's the last of eight small fortifications that once extended along the coast north of Charlestown, but not much remains other than a few cannons and some partially reconstructed walls. This area was also the site of Jamestown, the island's original settlement, which was washed into the sea by an earthquake and tidal wave in 1680.