St. Kitts in the Caribbean has for the past 350 years remained largely undeveloped. While St. Kitts' neighbor islands like St. Martin and Antigua focused on vacation tourism, this small volcanic island concentrated on growing sugar cane, relying on an industry that dates back to the 1600s.
The demise of the sugar industry in St. Kitts has prompted citizens to follow the other Caribbean islands in putting most of their efforts into developing a tourist trade. Yet St. Kitts remains surprisingly unspoiled. With its white sand and black sand beaches, colorful Caribbean culture, and friendly people, this island named St. Christopher after explorer Christopher Columbus and eventually abbreviated to “St. Kitts” has all the elements required for a relaxed Caribbean getaway that’s big on atmosphere and low on glitz.
Travelers seeking a typical Caribbean vacation will likely enjoy the huge St. Kitts Marriott Resort & Royal Beach Casino, which offers a wide range of amenities and non-stop activities. But those looking for a different type of experience will appreciate its unique plantation inns. Several of the estates that sugar plantation owners built in the 1800s have been converted into luxurious, lushly landscaped properties. They offer the chance for a remarkably private getaway, providing guests with a taste of the past.
Pros and Cons
St. Kitts’ greatest virtue is also its downfall. Because its commitment to attracting tourists is still new, the island as a whole isn’t as geared toward entertaining guests as most other Caribbean islands.
Aside from the unique plantation inns and the gargantuan Marriott, there are few hotels. While the Marriott constructed a breakwater that makes the ocean inviting, the waves at other beaches are intimidating, with warning signs proclaiming that swimming is risky because the undertow is strong and there are no lifeguards. Public beaches are inaccessible without a car, and few live up to the usual standards of most Caribbean beaches.
In short, there’s not much to do besides sit near the pool and bake in the sun. For the couple searching for peace and quiet, St. Kitts may be fine. But those who expect their romantic getaway to include sightseeing, shopping, a choice of exhilarating activities on both water and land, and exciting nightlife are apt to be disappointed.
Basics for Travelers
St. Kitts, one of the northern Leeward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean, is small: only 23 miles long and 5 miles long. The residents, called Kittitians, speak English with a charming Caribbean accent. U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. The time zone is one hour later than the East Coast.
US Airways flies direct to St. Kitts from Philadelphia and Charlotte, and American Airlines and American Eagle fly directly from Miami and San Juan. Because of the island’s British roots, cars drive on the left. Taxis are abundant, and more adventurous travelers can take the public buses that circle the island.
Visitors to St. Kitts can easily spend their entire stay at their hotel or inn, luxuriating in their quiet surroundings or enjoying the facilities onsite. Yet getting out and seeing some of the sights provides a peek at a Caribbean island that still maintains much of its original culture.
What's Around the Island?
Most of this 68-square-mile island is still covered with sugar cane, with sleepy villages dotting the single road that winds along St. Kitts' coast. The charming inns are located on the main part of the island, as are the historic sights and St. Kitts’ capital, Basseterre. The town has little to offer besides an open public market, a few unmemorable restaurants and a smattering of shops, most of which stock typical duty-free merchandise.
The majority of St. Kitts' development is slated for the Southeast Peninsula, currently the home of the island’s largest hotel, the St. Kitts Marriott. A short ride from Basseterre, the peninsula offers St. Kitts' best beaches and vacation boating activities, excellent views of the neighboring island of Nevis, golf, the casino, and nightlife. Frigate Bay, with hotels and good beaches, links the island’s two sections.
Sightseeing in St. Kitts
In Basseterre, St. Kitts' capital, sights include "the Circus," a traffic circle in the center of town. A green clock tower, Berkeley Memorial Clock, is in the middle. Independence Square is a large open space with fountains, lawns and trees, surrounded by stone buildings that date back to the 1600's; the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1927; and the stately Courthouse, built in 1867. The National Museum, housed in the former Treasury Building, contains displays on the island's sugar plantation history and the colorful Carnival held every year.
In 1690, the British built a stone fortress 750 feet above sea level to force out the French. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, called Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park and nicknamed "the Gibraltar of the West Indies," offers a peek into St. Kitts' past, as well as spectacular views and nature trails that wind along the ruins.
Other sights include the Church of St. Thomas in the village of Middle Island, the first Anglican church built in the West Indies and the burial place of Sir Thomas Warner, the island's first English governor; an ancient petroglyph carved into volcanic rock by ancient people; and the Black Rocks, a scenic view of huge volcanic boulders that have tumbled into the ocean.
St. Kitts Scenic Railway, the "sugar train," was built on the tracks formerly used to transport freshly harvested sugar cane. Today, this modernized version offers a pleasant three-hour trip around the island in comfortable double-decker air-conditioned cars.
Shopping in St. Kitts
Most of St. Kitts' shops are near Basseterre's waterfront, where the cruise ships dock. At the two main complexes, the Pelican Mall, built inside a former warehouse, and Port Zante area, the focus is on duty-free shopping.
Caribelle Batik, a complex of sunny yellow buildings outside of town amidst the Wingfield Sugar Estate ruins, sells colorful batik clothing produced on Sea Island Cottons. The shop is surrounded by the small but highly photogenic Botanical Gardens of Romney Manor.
Local Dining in St. Kitts
Basseterre has several open-air restaurants with a fun, funky atmosphere. Ballahoo, overlooking the Circus, features conch fritters and a rum and banana sandwich topped with ice cream. The Circus nearby specializes in Caribbean lobster with garlic butter.
Also in Basseterre is StoneWall's Tropical Bar and Eating Place, a casual outdoor restaurant in a courtyard. While the menu changes nightly, it always includes the house specialty, barbecued ribs made with a Barbadian technique.
St. Kitt's inns offer the finest dining on the island. Royal Palm Restaurant at Ottley's Plantation Inn and the restaurant at the Golden Lemon Inn are open to non-guests. The food at both is expertly prepared, making the experience worth the trip.
Water Activities in St. Kitts
St. Kitts Beaches and Snorkeling
St. Kitts’ best beaches for swimming and snorkeling are located on the island’s Southeast Peninsula. They include Banana Bay, Pump Bay, and White House Bay. Another excellent beach, Turtle Beach has boat and fishing charters, snorkeling rentals, free beach chairs, ocean kayaks, and free beach chairs. The island’s green vervet monkeys, usually shy, happily interact with visitors here, especially those offering food.
Frigate Bay on the peninsula has several good beaches, located near some of the island’s larger hotels. Dieppe Bay on the island’s north shore, adjacent to the Golden Lemon Inn, is also good for snorkeling.
St. Kitts Boating
St. Kitts has several tour companies that provide enjoyable outings on the sea. Blue Water Safaris Ltd. specializes in catamaran cruises, including lunch cruises to the neighboring island of Nevis, sunset and moonlight excursions, dinner cruises, and private group charters.
Land Activities in St. Kitts
St. Kitts Island Tours
Oliver Spencer of Periwinkle Tours leads personalized guided tours into the rainforest. The President of the St. Kitts Horticultural Society, he points out many of the forest’s 300 varieties of ferns, orchids, and other plants. Mr. Spencer also offers bird watching and historical tours as well as deep sea fishing expedition with local fishermen.
Greg’s Safaris offers a half-day rainforest safari with moderate hiking, a half-day Jeep safari that travels through the mountains and to the plantation great houses, and a full-day volcano safari with vigorous hiking, all with lunch included.
Tropical Tours offers activities on land and sea, including sightseeing tours, rainforest adventures, charter boat rentals and cruises.
St. Kitts Golf and Casino
The 35,000-square-foot Royal Beach Casino at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort is one of the largest in the Caribbean and offers 19 complement of tables games and more than 300 slot machines.
Golfers can play the 18-hole par 71 Royal St. Kitts Golf Club, one of the Caribbean’s best conditioned and most scenic courses. Thanks to its layout, redesigned by Canadian Thomas McBroom, golfers can play two full holes on the Caribbean Sea and three complete holes on the Atlantic Ocean.
Nevis, St. Kitts' Nearby Neighbor
You may also want to checkout some of the properties in nearby Nevis, which is known for upscale hotels, beautiful beaches, and tranquility. These are among the top places for couples to stay:
Special Events in St. Kitts
The annual St. Kitts Music Festival, one of the Caribbean's top cultural events, has been held every summer since 1997.
The St. Kitts Tourism Authority, located in the Pelican Mall in Basseterre, is the best source of island and vacation information.