St. Kitts, the nickname for St. Christopher, was originally called Liamuga meaning fertile island by the first Indian residents. And there's little question as to why. Verdant mountains, fields of abundant green sugar cane, and beautiful topical foliage is the norm on this beautiful Leeward Island.
Volcanic and hilly yet heavily agricultural, this island is the dominant part of the two-island federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, which are separated at their closest point by a two-mile-wide channel. Once part of the United Britain, the islands declared their independence in 1983, a day that is still celebrated each year much like July 4 in the United States.
St. Kitts is quintessentially West Indian, where foods like "peas and rice" are daily staples. In recent years, St. Kitts has gained wealth as a tourist destination, developing many beachfront hotels and a deepwater port to attract large ships on a regular basis.
The island's capital city of Basseterre (pronounced "Bass-tare") is an architectural jewel, one of the best preserved 18th century towns in the Caribbean. This is largely because of a group called the Beautiful Basseterre Committee, organized by residents who understand the importance of preserving history. Many wonderful two-story shops with volcanic stone first floors, with wooden second stories, balconies, fretwork and hip roofs, are still standing and have been maintained so that the town has retained its original look. The best of these are located around
The delightful thing about visiting St. Kitts is that you're visiting a place where people really live. Though it's geared up for tourism to a point, St. Kitts has not yet been overtaken by tourist infrastructure. In fact, you may not really feel like you're on vacation until you reach the Frigate Bay area, where there are many hotels and beaches.
It's important to get around the island at least once to see several historic sites, and to see the fabulous countryside. Not to be missed is
On the way up to Wingfield, there are some Carib rock drawings, known as
Traveling around the island, there are many delightful old churches, and several plantation inns, former sugar plantations that have been transformed into gracious hotels. On St. Kitts, these include the
Back to the 21st century along
St. Kitts provides opportunities to partake in all tropical activities, including unique hikes into the
Staying in St. Kitts runs the gamut: from in-town guest homes to standard tourist-style hotels to the crème de la crème, lavish plantation inns. St. Kitts as well as sister island Nevis are well-known for their plantation inns, restored historic properties that have been upgraded to provide elegant accommodations. Like the plantations they inhabit, each is unique, providing comfortable rooms, wonderful food, and loads of history. Because they are plantations, most are not located on beaches, but instead, they are set amidst trees or fields and have swimming pools, hammocks, and fabulous tropical gardens. Even if visitors don't stay, they often visit or tour the inns because of their historic significance. The elegant dining rooms and old gracious buildings offer insights into the plantation era's heyday.
On St. Kitts, one of the most renowned inns is Ottley's Plantation Inn, a hillside estate with a spring-fed pool, conveniently located near the rain forest, as well. The inn occupies 35 acres and overlooks the sea towards the east (though a long way from the beach). Like most plantations on St. Kitts, this property dates back to the 18th century. The 24 rooms are charming, with old-fashioned prints and décor fitting its time. The main part of the hotel is located in the original great house. Many enjoy visiting Ottley's for a meal at the well-regarded Royal Palm Restaurant. Others visit to kick off a rain forest walk.
Farther along, around the island is the Golden Lemon, which is on the beach. Owned by Arthur Leaman, once an editor with House and Garden magazine—pretty much says it all. This delightful yellow and white inn is smaller than Ottley's with only eight rooms, all decorated with cheerfully colorful fabrics and canopied beds.
A wonderfully romantic inn is Rawlins Plantation Inn, which was built of stone. It has many outbuildings, all surrounded by lovely gardens and miles and miles of fields of sugar cane. Though somewhat pricey, the meals are delicious. Rawlins is truly a place to get away from all of it; stay in any one of ten rooms.
Though the plantation inns provide the most atmosphere, there are many other hotels that offer traditional beach front holiday accommodations. On an idyllic beach with beautiful southern views of Nevis is the Timothy Beach Hotel, large townhouse style homes which you can rent in their entirety with fully-equipped kitchens, large living rooms, and outdoor dining areas. Or, you can rent just a bedroom in house, with a separate entrance. The full-service hotel is comfortable and well located with a nice alfresco restaurant.
One of the loveliest hotels on the island is the Frigate Bay Beach Hotel, located on a hill overlooking the sea and the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club (formally called the Frigate Bay Golf Course). This small, sophisticated hotel, popular with business along with leisure travelers, has 64 units of various types, surrounded by lovely gardens and a beautiful pool.
Not far from the airport or downtown is the Bird Rock Beach Resort, with 38 units, this friendly spot has comfortable, Caribbean-style rooms on its own small beach with good snorkeling.
Probably the most well-known hotel on the island is the OTI, nickname of the Ocean Terrace Inn, conveniently located in town and popular with both holiday and business travelers. Refurbished a couple years ago, OTI overlooks the sea facing Nevis, and is in walking distance of Basseterre.
St. Kitts is not an island with an overabundance of places to dine. Most restaurants are connected with hotels, so it is to the hotels, and particularly the plantation inns, where one should look for good food. There are, however, a few free-standing restaurants, and we'll start with those.
Two fantastic restaurants overlook The Circus in the centre square. Ballahoo, located on the second story of a local shop, is a great place to people watch, meet friends, and generally hang out for meals, or just coffee. Across from it is The Circus Grill, that has good food and great view.
Near the Ocean Terrace Inn, right on the water is Fisherman's Wharf, and like the name implies, it's right on the sea at one end of Basseterre and presents the finest seafood around.
Near Frigate Bay beach area, there are several restaurants connected with hotels, and few independent ones. The Sunset Café, the hotel restaurant for the Timothy Beach Resort, is outdoors near the water, and turns out terrific food, including many seafood entrees. The café attracts people all day and night and is located right on the water at a popular beach—a nice place for a meal or just a pina colada. Up the hill is the Frigate Bay Beach Hotel where continental and Caribbean meals are prepared regularly and served along with live music some nights. Bird Rock Beach Resort has the Sunburst Restaurant, which serves food influenced by European, America and West Indian flavors.
The plantation inns have outstanding cuisine, in keeping with their high level of service. The Royal Palm Restaurant at Ottley's Plantation Inn, which is alfresco located next to the pool. Golden Lemon restaurant is gourmet American and Caribbean serving dishes in an elegant setting.
Further afield, out on the Southwest coast is Manhattan Gardens, located in a large old West Indian house with gingerbread trim, this restaurant serves delicious local foods and brunch on Sundays.
A must-do spot on the island is Reggae Beach Bar. Most popular on Sundays when the restaurant owners serve the West Indian barbeque, but Reggae Beach Bar is best-known for its mango coladas. On Sundays, a live steel band performs and young kids dance in their masquerade outfits.
The island of St. Kitts is an island of villages, linked together by a single road that circumvents the island. They are tucked around deep gorges or ghauts as they are called on this island. Some are nestled along the seacoast.
St. Kitts is undisputedly a beautiful island, covered with fields and hillsides leading up towards the peak of volcano Mount Liamuiga; the largest peak (3,792 feet) in the mountain range.
It's possible to get around the island in one day, but it would be hard to see everything worth seeing. Better to spend at least three days touring this varied and beautiful, mountainous isle, giving yourself at least a day in Basseterre—the home to striking colonial architecture. The best way to see the island is by rental car and traveling around on your own. Remember to drive on the left, which may seem daunting at first. But just concentrate; it's easy to get used to. Just remember that you also go around the roundabouts the "wrong" way—around the left-hand side.
Beginning in Basseterre, head out the coastal road toward the west, which will take you out in the direction of Brimstone Hill. On the way there visit the Fairview Inn, a 1720 estate that was saved when it became an Historical Inn. It is a French-style building that was the headquarters of the commanding officer of the French Army at one time.
Continuing on, stop at the St. Thomas Anglican Church, located in the town of Middle Island. Currently under construction following hurricane damage, St Thomas churchyard holds the tomb of Sir Thomas Warner, the founder and the first governor of St Kitts. He died in 1648 and was the most famous island resident.
Along this route, turn right up the road to the Caribelle Batik, a former sugar plantation great house called Romney manor that has been restored and is now used as a factory and showroom for fabulous hand-made batik fabrics. It was owned by Lord Romney Marsh and is one of the first estates on the island. Delightful sales clerks, dressed in the frocks made there, will help you choose the right thing for you, and a batik artist will be there to demonstrate how she paints on this delicate cloth with wax and then process it by dying it repeatedly. Not only is this process interesting, but the grounds at Caribelle Batik are fantastic. Developed by St. Kitts' businessman Morris Widdowson, the property is now an unofficial botanical garden. While there, drive around or take a walk down to the Wingfield Plantation, which was part of the same plantation at one time. From there you can walk down a narrow pathway, or along a road, through a fantastic rain forest with giant trees, blooms and tropical plants.
The grounds host a Saman tree over 300 years old that was home of Carib Chief Tegreman. Continuing on you will soon come to the most important historic site on the island, Brimstone Hill, sometimes called "The Gibraltar of the West Indies." This multi-faceted fort sits on top an 800 foot hill.
Brimstone Hill is a World Heritage Site of UNESCO, built starting in the late 1600s. The fort was first occupied by the French, and then by the English. You can drive up to the museum, gift shop, snack bar, and part of the fort, but it's necessary to climb up some gradual stairs if you want to go to the top. If you take your time, it's not too bad and the views from the top of the sea and surrounding islands are spectacular.
It's best to continue around the island road, stopping next at lovely Rawlins Plantation Inn, a 300-year-old plantation that was turned into a gracious inn. Nearby is artist Kate Spencer's working art gallery. Her fabulous paintings of Caribbean scenes are the best of the souvenirs to take away from St. Kitts. (Her work is also sold in her gallery in town, Kate Designs and at the Spencer Cameron Gallery of Caribbean Art on Independence Square in Basseterre).
Next comes the Golden Lemon another 17th century great house that was built as a former sugar warehouse, owned by Arthur Leaman, former decorating editor of House & Garden magazine. Continuing around the island, you'll pass through many small villages, tucked away on switchback and curves that wrap around the island. As you get closer to town, you'll come to Ottley's Plantation Inn, which is located near the rain forest, again in a former sugar plantation.
Exploring Basseterre can easily take a day, especially if you decide to test out the many duty-free shops, or one of the nice in-town restaurants. The town is focused around two areas: Independence Square and The Circus. Around Independence Square, there are many lovely things to see. On the south end, notice the stately brick building, The Georgian House, which was formerly a restaurant. Continuing around the square, notice the Catholic Church, which is flanked by two remarkable West Indian buildings on each side, belonging to the church. Just off the square on Canyon Street is the wonderful St. George's Anglican Church. Though now a pillar of British culture, the church was begun by the French. The British took it over and it went though all sorts of destruction over the years. Another beautiful building is the Spencer Cameron gallery mentioned above.
Numerous typical West Indian commercial buildings surround The Circus, which is the newer center of the town. These buildings had first floors built of volcanic stone. The second floors were generally made of wood and were decorated with gingerbread fretwork.
Continuing from The Circus towards the sea, one heads directly into the Treasury Building, which houses the national museum of the Federation of St. Kitts/Nevis. With its domelike top, this building serves as the entrance to the city.
A trip to the Southeast peninsula is essential, but start out by stopping in the Frigate Bay area on the way. This is where many of the hotels are located, and the Royal St. Kitts Golf Course. Numerous hotel rooms, apartments and villas sit in the hills overlooking the course and the sea.
The windward side beach is great for walking for miles. Rough in spots for swimming, this is a dramatic beach, so ask first at your hotel where the best swimming is located. Near the Timothy Beach Hotel, there's a good swimming beach, where there are also water sports available.
From this Frigate Bay area, you can drive on the wonderful, windy road that takes you down the Southeast peninsula. Cruising along this road which was obviously cut out of rocks and carved into hillsides, you can see incredible views of this island and beyond. Almost nothing is built on this end of the island; it's yet to be developed. At the far end there are several homes and a couple of beach bars, including the popular Reggae Beach Bar. There's plenty to do out there: swimming, snorkelling, boating, and partying (dancing and eating).