Flying over St Kitts and Nevis, you immediately realise why this tiny twin-island nation in the Caribbean is colloquially known as the cricket bat and ball – the islands look very much like the gear used in the sport that preoccupies much of the West Indies.
This Eastern Caribbean federation is the smallest democratic nation in the world. But St Christopher and Nevis (as it is officially known) is definitely big on charm! Like most parts of the Caribbean, the island was battled over by the European powers of France, Spain, and England from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The reason? Its rich volcanic soil was highly sought-after for growing cash crops like sugar, tobacco, and indigo.
Today, it’s the tropical island life that lures visitors. Most travellers stay in one of several resorts in Frigate Bay, home to a world-class golf course, a casino and ‘The Strip’ – a narrow stretch of beach bars with amusing names like Mr. X’s Shiggidy Shack (bordering a pristine lake, this is a great spot to grab a cold drink and listen to some of the island’s lively soca and reggae beats).
One of the nicest check-in addresses on the island is the new Park Hyatt St Kitts – which bagged a place on Conde Nast Traveler’s 2018 Hot List. A luxurious modern hotel with spacious suites that nod to the island’s plantation past, the property’s private beach looks directly onto Mt. Nevis. And there isn’t much that can beat enjoying a traditional breakfast of Johnny cakes (cornmeal flatbreads) and salt fish while taking in the majestic beauty of Nevis’s perpetually cloud-shrouded peak. (The mountain got its name from nieve or snow in Spanish, which is what some of the earliest explorers mistook the clouds for).
If salt fish isn’t quite your thing, you can try some of the other local specialties like the intriguingly named ‘goat water’ – a stew of goat, dumplings, herbs and spices; juicy grilled lobsters fresh off the boat at local restaurant Sprat Net; or the island’s famous ‘sugar cakes’ – a spicy, crumbly cookie made from sugar and coconut.
After you’ve had your fill of the sun, sand, sea and sugar cakes, a good place to start exploring the island is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Brimstone Hill Fortress – a massive stone fort known as the Gibraltar of the West Indies with a commanding view of the surrounding seas.
Another classic viewpoint is Timothy Hill Overlook – a narrow stretch of the island where one can admire with surprising clarity the difference between the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast (almost always dark and choppy) and the shimmering turquoise serenity of the Caribbean Sea on the west.
With its pretty colonial-style architecture and gardens bursting with tropical blooms, Romney Manor – a family-owned historic estate home to the famous Caribelle batik boutique and The Rainforest Bar – is another must-visit. It is also the site of one of the Caribbean’s last surviving bell towers – a poignant reminder of the region’s slave trading past. The towers formed the central point of thousands of lives of sugar mill slaves, as their overseers barked out orders and tolled a bell that controlled every hour of their day; most towers have since been destroyed due to their symbolic association with slavery. More history can be found at the Wingfield Estate next door, where you can explore an old sugar mill.
The rich sugarcane farms may have been shut down in 2005, but there are plenty of reasons why visiting St Kitts and Nevis will leave you with a sweet taste in the mouth.
St Kitts’ capital Basseterre centres around the cruise terminal Port Zante, the first introduction for all visitors who enter the island by water. A few minutes away is the small but efficient Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport. You can be off the tarmac and relaxing by the pool – tropical fruit punch in hand – in under half an hour, no matter where you choose to stay on the island.