Intro to St. Kitts
The little island of St. Christopher Columbus first spotted St. Kitts from afar in 1493, but it wasn’t colonized until the British arrived in 1623. It later became the first island to be permanently colonized by both the English and the French, who shared the island for many years. The Amerindians who lived here were virtually wiped out by colonialism, and African slaves were brought in to man the sugar plantations and develop the island. St. Kitts has designated about a quarter of its land as National Park. The rainforest here is actually growing rather than shrinking!
St. Kitts, Lesser Antilles
The western (Caribbean) side of the St. Kitts is more protected, so visibility is usually in the 60 – 100-ft. range. We dove with Pro Divers, and found them to be professional and friendly. The site we remember best was “The Vents,” with hot water vent holes on the bottom that make this an unusual dive. We also saw large barrel sponges, some interesting coral, lobsters and a stingray. There are also many wrecks around St. Kitts to explore. Numerous species of coral make up the reef that lies between St.Kitts and neighboring Nevis. Our highlight, of course, was a beautiful turtle who seemed to follow us around for a while.
Turtle Bay and Sandy Bank beach are next to each other on the Atlantic side. They are a bit more secluded than some others. Banana Bay and Cockleshell Bay always make the “pretty beaches” list, while Friar’s Bay, on the Caribbean side is calm and offers decent food and drinks and a lively atmosphere. The Marriott, (where we stayed in a very well-appointed timeshare unit!) is on Frigate Bay. Sand is more greyish black, showing where volcano meets reef. Located nearby the Shiggidy Shack is probably the most well-known beach bar, with a DJ, lively atmosphere and Kittian treats. What beats dancing under the stars? We did some nice snorkeling at White House Bay. There was supposed to be a wreck there, but we only saw a small piece. There was talk of an attack on a swimmer by a tiger shark the previous month, and we were feeling skittish since we were all alone and far from shore.
Around the Island
St. Kitts is small enough to drive around easily in a day. We rented a car for 24 hours, and were able to make a nice day-trip for ourselves, covering all of the main attractions at a leisurely pace. Taxis with a driver-as-guide are readily available as well. As with most of the Caribbean, there are numerous tours to choose from if you decide to go that route. In addition to the highlights below, there are hidden beaches, small villages, estate and former plantation grounds from when King Sugar ruled. You can even see petroglyphs (rock drawings) made by the Carib people in prehistoric times can be seen near Old Road Town (the first British town in the Caribbean). For a different perspective, check out the famous St. Kitts Scenic Railway. The trains run on the old narrow gauge sugar train tracks.
Brimstone Hill Fortress
This collection of bastions, barracks and walls dates back to 1690, when the British attempted to recapture Fort Charles from the French. The fort was set into the 800-foot tall hilltop along its steep sides, its form adapting to the shape of the hill. The views from the top are breathtaking, and on a clear day you can see up to six nearby islands! Brimstone Hill Fortress, which some call “The Gibraltar of the Caribbean,” has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounding Brimstone Hill is the national park.
Most people start the hike up St. Kitts’ dormant volcano, Mt. Liamuiga from Belmont Estate, a massive former sugar plantation and historic site. It’s a strenuous hike, and plan for at least 5 hours for the round trip, if you don’t attempt to go down into the crater (not advisable without a guide and proper equipment). It’s possible to do this one on your own, though a guide is recommended.
Downtown has plenty of shopping, restaurants and typical tourist information centers. It’s a great place to wander around and have a snack, and there is some nice architecture to view among the homes, churches and other buildings. Independence Square was once an active slave market. It is surrounded by private homes featuring nice examples of Georgian architecture. There is a great market on Saturday mornings, where people bring produce in from the countryside to sell. We love sampling the fruit: guava, soursop, mangos and fresh-picked berries. The Circus is designed and named after London’s Piccadilly Circus.