Top 5 guide to St Kitts
The Leeward island formally known as St Christopher grew wealthy through sugar plantations – but it’s natural and cultural riches that lure visitors to explore rainforest-clad highlands, sandy beaches and historic gems. Laura Bijnsdorp reveals her tips for the best places to stay, eat, lime, shop and do. Photographs by Yotam Sandak
Early on our first morning at Belle Mont Farm, amid the Kittitian Hill rainforest, we were woken by thuds and scratches outside our guesthouse. Cautiously we opened the door to confront our intruders: a family of curious monkeys scampering around our pool. As wake-up calls go, it’s pretty uplifting, and the playful primates kept us amused with their antics as we ate our breakfast of the sweetest-tasting fruit, handpicked that morning at the resort’s farm.
Monkeys, five-star luxury and lush greenery are not the only surprises encountered on this diverse island. St Kitts boasts sensational history in the form of blood-bathed battlegrounds, UNESCO-listed forts, old sugar plantations and charming century-old residences.
The island’s beaches remain relatively crowd-free, and the surrounding reefs are a playground for swimmers, snorkellers and divers alike. Above the waves, nature-lovers revel in an abundance of tropical flora and fauna. Curious lava formations greet hikers climbing Mount Liamuiga; with fabulous panoramic views from its 1,156m-high summit, the peak once known as ‘Mount Misery’ was poorly named indeed.
Bars serve delicious cocktails and golden sunsets, while live reggae beats flow from beachfront shacks. Culinary choices range from spiced chicken and freshly caught lobster to dishes prepared by world-renowned chefs.
The island’s people are the icing on a delectable Caribbean cake. Proud, helpful and charismatic, Kittitians are ineffably welcoming – and no wonder: who wouldn’t be proud to call an island this special home?
• Robert L Bradshaw International Airport (SKB), formerly called Golden Rock Airport, is about 1km north-east of the ferry terminal in capital Basseterre. LIAT flies to SKB direct from Antigua, Barbados, St Maarten and Tortola, with connections from other destinations.
• Taxis are widely available. Most are vans, identified by yellow licence plates with a T or TA. Taxis are not metered, but fixed rates in EC dollars are posted at the airport and the jetty. Some companies also offer island tours. Cars can be booked via the St Kitts Taxi Association (+1 (869) 465 8487; +1 (869) 465 7818 after hours).
Top 5 Places to stay
1 Belle Mont Farm
Private infinity pools, an edible golf course and mouthwatering dishes made with organically grown ingredients are just a few of the luxuries at this resort set amid 400 acres of farmland and lush forests. Possibly the most beautiful and sustainable five-star hotel in the Caribbean has a range of guesthouses, farmhouses and villas. King guesthouse from US$450. Kittitian Hill; +1 (869) 465 7388; www.bellemontfarm.com
2 Ottley’s Plantation Inn
This renovated 18th-century sugar plantation is set against a backdrop of green-clad mountains. The inn has a strong sense of island history and luxurious comfort. Explore flourishing rainforest and ruins, take a dip in a spring-fed pool and indulge at the Mango Orchard Spa. The tight-knit family who run the plantation take personal care of guests’ needs. Standard rooms from US$235. Ottley’s Village; +1 (869) 465 7234; www.ottleys.com
3 Royal St Kitts Hotel
Formerly known as Jack Tar Village, one of the first hotels on the island was recently renovated. Well-appointed rooms and apartments are cool, colourful and characterful, with ample amenities including a large pool, fitness centre and conference rooms. Just a few kilometres east of capital Basseterre, the hotel is in the popular resort area of Frigate Bay, home to restaurants, bars, beaches and an 18-hole championship golf course. Studio suites from US$182. Frigate Bay;
+1 (869) 465 8651; www.royalstkittshotel.com
4 Rock Haven Bed & Breakfast
This traditional Caribbean-style home on Frigate Bay has just two spacious suites, both colourful and bright. Host Judith Blake’s breakfasts are legendary – try the signature banana pancakes. There’s a free shuttle serving the airport and ferry terminal. Suites from US$179. Frigate Bay; +1 (869) 465 5503; www.rock-haven.com
5 Bird Rock Beach Resort
This popular and affordable hotel close to the beach east of Basseterre is a favourite with snorkelling enthusiasts and avid divers – there’s an on-site scuba operation so you can marvel at the marine life right at your doorstep, go deep sea fishing or try diving from the resort’s private dock. All rooms have ocean-view balconies and full kitchens. Superior room from US$95. Basseterre; +1 (869) 465 8914; www.birdrockbeach.com
Top 5 Places to shop
1 Gallery Café
Browse vibrant paintings and pottery by artist and gallery owner Rosey Cameron-Blake in a calming retreat from the bustle of Basseterre. After your art fix enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee and home-baked goods at the café run by the artist’s daughter. 10 North Independence Square, Basseterre; +1 (869) 465 7701; facebook.com/thegallerycafeonthesquare
2 Caribelle Batik
Get a one-of-a-kind handcrafted artwork to wear – or to decorate your home – at Caribelle Batik, in operation since 1974. After viewing a demonstration of the wax-and-dying process, stroll around the gardens of the enchanting Romney Manor plantation. Old Road Town, www.caribellebatikstkitts.com
3 Corks and Screws
This wine boutique offers the widest selection on the island, with occasional tastings adding a fun element to the shopping experience. #11 Golf View Condos, Zenway Blvd, Frigate Bay Road, Basseterre; +1 (869) 466 9716
4 Amina Craft Market
Check out the work of a number of local artisans all in one place at this craft market in Basseterre. It’s the perfect spot to pick up last-minute souvenirs – handicrafts ranging from handmade jewellery to pottery and more. Port Zante, Basseterre
5 Port Zante
The mall at Port Zante offers a selection of jewellery, clothing, accessories, souvenirs, liquor, chocolate and tobacco products. Pick up a bottle of the uniquely Kittian CSR or Brinley Gold Rum at the Smoke N Booze Shop. www.portzantemarina.com
Top 5 Places to lime
1 Salt Plage
Start with sugar, add salt, sand, sea and some imagination for the hippest spot in the Caribbean. Sublime sunsets overlooking the crystal-clear ocean are nigh guaranteed. On Sundays everyone heads over for delicious pork roast, live music and fabulous cocktails created by the brilliant mixologist Christian Zamora.
Whitehouse Bay; +1 (869) 466 7221; facebook.com/SaltPlage
2 The Strip
The beach bars lining ‘The Strip’ along South Frigate Bay Beach are always changing. A current favourite with locals and students alike is Chinchillas, renowned for giant frozen margaritas and Tex-Mex dishes. Frigate Bay
3 The Kitchen
Fizz for breakfast? Head over to Kittitian Hill on Sunday for the Champagne Brunch. Enjoy an opulent buffet and stellar views while sipping on champagne that seems to magically refill itself each time you put down your glass. Kittitian Hill; +1 (869) 465 7388; www.bellemontfarm.com/food/the-kitchen/
4 Sprat Net Bar & Grill
To escape the tourists, make the trip to Sprat Net on Old Road, a popular local bar with live music on Wednesdays (usually reggae) and Fridays (usually soca) starting around 7pm. The food’s good, too. Old Road Bay; + 1 (869) 662 3474
5 Carambola Beach Club
This club brings a touch of Ibiza to St Kitts. Drop in for some sushi and cocktails, and lounge your day away on a comfortable day bed. Wine lovers: the cellar is said to hold 4,000 bottles! South Friars Bay; +1 (869) 465 9090; facebook.com/carambolabeachclub; www.carambolabeachclub.com
Top 5 Places to eat
1 Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack Bar & Grill
This simple-looking beach shack has surprisingly good food – be sure to try the ribs, marinated in a secret sauce. The large cocktails, live reggae music, broad-smiling staff and beachfront sunset made it a truly fun Caribbean dining experience. Frigate Bay; +1 (869) 466 0673; facebook.com/shiggidy.shack;
2 Bombay Blues
If you’re looking for just one place without lobster on the menu, head to Bombay Blues. This family-run restaurant dishes up excellent Indian cuisine at great prices. 858 Zenway Boulevard, Frigate Bay, + 1 (869) 662 7599; facebook.com/BombayBluesRestaurant
3 Spice Mill
This vibrant restaurant has stunning views of Nevis. Grab a delicious passion caipiroska cocktail and take a dip before taking a look at the affordable pizza or eclectic Caribbean menus – the Caribbean lobster, served with a creamy curry sauce and organic vegetables, is among the best on the island. Cockleshell Beach; +1 (869) 762 2160; www.spicemillrestaurant.com
4 El Fredo’s
Though its décor is basic, at El Fredo’s you will find a string of politicians and expats alike grabbing lunch. The restaurant is a local favourite for traditional stewed oxtail, curry goat and swordfish creole served with fungi, dumplings, and rice and peas. Newtown Bay Road, Basseterre; +1 (869) 466 8871; facebook.com/ElFredosRestaurantandBar
The newest addition to the Belle Mont Farm culinary roster offers an oceanfront dining experience on the black-sand beach in Dieppe Bay. Sited just along the beach from a fishing spot popular with locals, Arthur’s menu offers the freshest seafood dishes. Dieppe Bay Town; +1 (855) 846 3951; www.bellemontfarm.com/
Top 5 Things to see
1 Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park
Explore St Kitts’ most important historic sight, which also enjoys sweeping views across the sea to neighbouring islands. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed fortress was built by the British – using largely slave labour – during the late 17th and 18th centuries to defend the island’s sugar-based wealth.
2 Fairview Great House & Botanical Gardens
Take a cooking class and explore the well-restored French colonial mansion dating back to 1701, set in two lush acres, on which you’ll spot birds and monkeys galore. www.fairviewstkitts.com
3 St Kitts Scenic Railway
Board the only train in the Caribbean for views of former plantation houses, crumbling mills and lush flora. When sugar production ceased in 2005, the double-decker train and railway were converted to provide atmospheric tours. +1 (869) 465 7263; www.stkittsscenicrailway.com
4 The Treasury Building & National Museum
The lovely colonial building on the Basseterre waterfront, once the Old Treasury Building dating from 1894, houses the National Museum, offering an overview of the culture and heritage of the island. www.stkittsheritage.com
5 St Kitts Eco-Park
Opened in December 2014, the newly built Eco-Park is a collaborative project between Taiwan and St Kitts and Nevis. Explore the island’s natural beauty and learn about its flora, as well as enjoying panoramic vistas to Mount Liamuiga and neighbouring islands St Eustatius and Saba. Sir Gillies Estate, Sandy Point; +1 (869) 465 8755; www.ecopark.kn
Top 5 Things to do
1 Relax at Cockleshell Bay
There are few things finer than a day at a sandy beach. Our pick is Cockleshell Bay, a secluded stretch of powder-white sand with splendid views of nearby Nevis.
2 Tee off at Royal St Kitts GolF Club
This club boasts one of the best-conditioned and most scenic golf courses in the Caribbean. With four levels of tees, all standards are welcome. St Kitts Marriott Resort; +1 (869) 466 2700; www.royalstkittsgolfclub.com
3 Sail the blue seas
Enjoy a sailing or fishing trip with options for snorkelling, sunset cruises and party boats. During the whale migration season (January–April) most companies also offer whale-watching excursions. www.leewardislandschartersstkitts.com or www.tourstkittsandnevis.com
4 Hike the heights
Climb to the crater of the dormant volcano Mount Liamuiga, St Kitts’ highest point, at 1,156m. Various companies offer guided tours. www.thenfordgreytours.com, www.stkittsislandparadisetours.com or www.stkittscaptainsunshine.com
5 Whizz along a zipline
Get your adrenaline pumping on an advanced network of ziplines as you spot old sugar plantations and the iconic Brimstone Hill. Wingfield Estate; +1 (869) 466 4259; www.skysafaristkitts.com