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 combined to weave some kind of magic spell of absolute loveliness. The country has only been independent from the UK since 1983, and before then its history has been a turbulent one in the classic style of most of the Caribbean islands I’ve visited. 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 set up sugar or tobacco plantations there run by slaves, and a few countries had a lengthy ongoing battle over who ‘owned’ the country. Normally England, France, and Spain. We Europeans love a good war over land that has nothing to do with us, don’t we!? These days St Kitts is a much more tranquil nation, and since the closure of the sugar cane industry in 2005, the main source of income around these parts is tourism. Despite its heavy reliance on tourism, I still felt like I could get a sense of the culture of the island which is a contrast to some other islands which are so heavily geared towards European tourists that it’s hard to see past the resorts and diamond stores.
Do some learning in Basseterre- the smallest capital city I ever saw
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 ship, you’ll be met straight away by a barrage of taxi drivers and brightly coloured buildings, leading up to 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’re more likely to find people selling fruits of all shapes and sizes on the pavements from beneath battered umbrellas shading them from the sun. A sheltered market 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.
On my first day in St Kitts, after chatting with good old Mary for a bit, I stuck to the town and went to visit the 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 places in the world and stick to a tiny museum. But I’m a big fan of learning about people, and though the museum is literally 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 the island’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, as well as get some insight into the traditions of the people on the island these days, 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
The Timothy Hill viewpoint in the South of St Kitts island, 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, so the narrow strip of land that stretches out from the hill before you towards Nevis in the distance, is a beaut 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 again 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
The walk from the port to Palms Court is about 15 minutes in total, along the shoreline on one side and often a few men wrapped in makeshift plastic ponchos, gutting fish at the odd table on the beach while pelicans scavenge for scraps. Opposite the beach are a selection of ramshackle concrete buildings, brightly painted with giant lettering, and a few chickens wandering around. (Always a few chickens.) A little 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.
This is basically the perfect place for people who work on cruise ships, although obviously it’s open to anyone who fancies hanging out there. 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, it’s a great way of making you feel like you’re on holiday when you’re actually at work.
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), 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 all I’m saying is it’s moments like this that prove to me that Dan the Man was right. What an amazing place we live in.
Hit the actual beach
My favourite beach was South Friars Bay, just further South from Timothy Hill, and we made our way there with a taxi driver who dropped us off at the Carambola Beach Club- although 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. Oh my goodness. It was just beaut.
There was a mixture of locals and tourists all loving life on this golden stretch of sand, and similarly 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 was amazingly warm and the sea downright 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, and Liza screamed out and pointed with the most excited and simultaneously concerned voice I’d heard in a while…it turns out that 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.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT ST KITTS
- 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 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 $12,with food and drink not included.