Don’t get me wrong- the beaches in St Kitts are beautiful and plentiful. (There are a few included in this post.) But there is SO MUCH MORE to see on this stunning Caribbean island. Culture, nature, and all round goodness. Whether you’re docking in Basseterre on a cruise ship, or staying on the island for more than a day- here are some ideas of the best things to see in St Kitts if you fancy some time off from the beach.
But first: a brief history of St Kitts and Nevis
The tiny island nation of St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies (technically it’s made up of two main islands, hence the name), is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Lush green volcanic hills, turquoise sea, and some of the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet, all combine to weave a magic spell of absolute loveliness.
St Kitts and Nevis has only been independent from the UK since 1983, and before then its history was a turbulent one in the classic style of most of the Caribbean islands. You know the story- the native people were either killed by, or caught diseases from, the Europeans who arrived during the Age of Discovery. The Europeans started sugar or tobacco plantations run by slaves, and a few countries had a lengthy ongoing battle over who ‘owned’ the country. (In the case of St Kitts, it was England, France and Spain who were squabbling over the land) We Europeans love a good war over land that has nothing to do with us, don’t we?
These days it’s a much more tranquil nation, and since the closure of the sugar cane industry in 2005, the main source of income in St Kitts is tourism. Despite its heavy reliance on the tourism industry, I still felt like I could get a sense of the culture of the island. Which is a strong contrast to some other islands which are so heavily geared towards European tourists that it’s hard to see past the resorts and Rolex stores.
Visit the museum in Basseterre, St Kitts cruise port
Although the island’s port and capital Basseterre is technically a city, it’s definitely more on the ‘town’ side of the scale of size. If arriving by cruise ship in St Kitts, you’ll be met straight away by a barrage of taxi drivers and brightly coloured buildings.
Keep walking straight up and you’ll be at The Circus, a square named after Piccadilly Circus. But instead of vendors selling selfie sticks and ‘London’ beanies like at home in the UK, you’ll be met by people selling fruits of all shapes and sizes on the pavements, from beneath battered umbrellas shading them from the sun. A sheltered market near the cruise terminal holds stalls selling handcrafted local items, and at one stall a twinkly-eyed local lass named Mary somehow managed to remember my name and ask how my niece and nephew were doing every time she saw me. Even though we only docked in Basseterre once every two weeks- and I only ever bought one thing from her.
Related: Arriving in St John’s Antigua
On my first day in port, after chatting with good old Mary for a bit, I stuck to the town and went to visit the St Kitts National Museum hidden in the old Treasury Building. Don’t get me wrong guys, I know you might think it’s a bit crazy to go to one of the most beautiful Caribbean islands and head straight for a tiny museum. But I’m a big fan of learning about people, and though the museum is literally only a few rooms, and I was literally the only person there for a good hour and a quarter of the hour and a half I spent there- I felt like this place was fully worth the visit.
The stories of St Kitts and Nevis’s slave population back in the day are fascinating (horrifying, but fascinating), and it was also interesting to learn about the country’s fight for independence and current situation. It was also just awesome to get some insight into the traditions of the people on the island these days, which are mainly derived from the African traditions of the slaves who were brought over by European settlers. Carnival costumes, Christmas clown masks (supposed to look like the faces of Europeans), and stilts are on display and I felt like I learnt a whole lot more there than if I’d have stuck to shopping- as was the norm for most people if they stuck to Basseterre instead of heading for the beach.
Check out two oceans at once at Timothy Hill
A visit to Timothy Hill St Kitts is one of the most popular things to do when visiting the island. Frequently offered as a cruise ship excursion in St Kitts, it’s definitely way more beneficial to visit under your steam.
The Timothy Hill viewpoint is in the South of St Kitts island, and it is downright marvellous. Now that the sugar cane industry is no more (the government called the whole thing off because it was no longer profitable), parts of the island have been left to grow wild. The narrow strip of land that stretches out from Timothy Hill towards Nevis in the distance, is a tropical green wilderness. On one side is the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, rough and crested with white foam as it splashes into the island’s East side, and opposite is the calmer, lighter, Caribbean Sea.
It can get pretty crowded up there in the middle of the day, and you’ll be met with a few people trying to sell you sugar cane or the chance to have a photo with their pet monkey- but the sugar cane is really nice and the view is such a stunner that it’s worth it.
Have a pool party at Palms Court Gardens
If you want a day away from the beaches in St Kitts, but still fancy a good swim- head to this pool overlooking Basseterre. There aren’t any beaches within walking distance of St Kitts cruise port, so if you don’t feel like jumping in a taxi this is also your best bet.
The walk from Basseterre port to Palms Court Gardens is about 15 minutes in total. Turn left when exiting the port and head along the shoreline and up the hill. Often there’ll be a few men on the beach wrapped in makeshift plastic ponchos, gutting fish at tables by the sea while pelicans scavenge for scraps. Opposite the beach in Basseterre are a selection of ramshackle concrete buildings, brightly painted with giant lettering, and a few chickens wandering around. (Always a few chickens.)
The slight uphill climb leads you to the gate of Palms Court Gardens, a beautiful tropical paradise filled with brightly coloured flowers, a statue or two, and one rather large old Rolls Royce.
Palms Court Gardens is the perfect place for cruise ship crew in the Caribbean- although obviously it’s open to anyone else who fancies hanging out there as well.
At the far end of the gardens an infinity pool looks out across to the city of Basseterre and any ships that happen to be hanging around that day, and a restaurant and bar serve food and drinks throughout the day. Normal guests have to pay a daily entry rate to get in, but for crew all you need to do is flash your crew card and entry is 100% completely absolutely free. Now that is my kind of discount!!
I’ll be honest, visiting Palms Court Gardens is a great way of making you feel like you’re on holiday when you’re actually at work.
I digress- it’s a small world after all
We were fairly lucky as we tended to arrive in port on quiet days when there was only one other ship docking with us, which meant that the gardens were also fairly quiet. SCORE! On my second visit to Palms Court Gardens however, there were other ships in town, and as I was ordering a piña colada at the bar (you know how it is when you just really fancy a piña colada in the Caribbean), a girl with giant sunglasses and a white bikini approached me- “Alex??”
Well blow me down and pick me up again, folks! Ten years ago we’d both been in a UK youth theatre show together- she was one of the most hilarious people in the whole cast. We were from completely different parts of England, yet here we were just casually bumping into each other in St Kitts. My friend Dan the Man once yelled out “remember, the world is a village!” as he said goodbye to me in Germany, and it’s moments like this that prove that Dan the Man was right. What an amazing place we live in.
And finally- my favourite of all the beaches in St Kitts
My favourite beach in St Kitts is South Friars Bay. This stunning place is just south of Timothy Hill, and we made our way there with a taxi driver who dropped us off at the Carambola Beach Club. Once there we walked as far down the beach as we could to find our own patch.
The bay curves into the distance with trees and hills sloping upwards from the perfectly blue sea, and apparently there’s regularly a gang of monkeys that come and go as they please as well, although I never managed to spy any myself.
There are a mixture of different beach bars dotted along every now and then up the beach, ranging from swankier places like Carambola, to wooden tumbling-down huts. The sun is amazingly warm all year round and the sea here is startlingly clear.
Me and my pal Liza were hanging around in the water to cool off for a while when a big wave grew up behind me before it broke; Liza screamed out and pointed with the most excited and simultaneously concerned voice I’d heard in a while. The water was so clear that she could see directly behind my head a long skinny fish with a massive pointed sword on its nose (that’s how she described it anyway), but alas guys, it was gone by the time I even realised.
Other beaches in St Kitts
The closest beaches to St Kitts cruise port (other than South Friars Bay), are North Frigate Bay and South Frigate Bay. Both of these options are about a ten minute taxi drive from Basseterre’s cruise terminal, but they are also within walking distance of each other! One on the South side of the island, and one on the North.
- Obviously this post is geared towards coming to St Kitts by cruise ship, however the island does have an international airport just Northeast of Basseterre.
- Currency in St Kitts is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (which has the face of old Queen Liz on it, would you believe it), although US dollars are widely accepted. If using US currency, it’s likely your change will be returned in local currency.
- I walked around solo a few times and never felt unsafe, though I’d take the same caution here as any other place in the world.
- A normal day pass for Palms Court Gardens is $15,with food and drink not included.