St. Kitts' Trade Winds and Fine Rhythms
A light trade wind blows off the nearby hills and gently rocks our plane in its final descent over the shore before touching down at the new commercial airport on St. Kitts.
By Hal Peat
Then things smooth out to the natural and human pulse of the place as I get to know this island and its people--from the music, the food and the loveliness of the curving coastline to the elegance of its historic plantation inns and the liveliness of its beach bars and night life.
Just 23 miles and 5 miles wide, St. Kitts offers much in a small space - from vibrant culture to outdoor action. Its past and present is celebrated throughout the year with events such as the National Carnival, St. Kitts Music Festival, St. Kitts Tourism Week, and various community festivals. But in fact you can arrive at any time and still find plenty that provides a rich and memorable taste of this island. Here you come across beaches of volcanic black sand along the northern coast and powdery white sand shores to the south, while inland lush rainforests blanket the slopes of its highest point at Mt. Liamuiga. The landscape is also a home to a huge variety of birds, butterflies, amphibians and the exotic green monkey.
Great Beaches, Great Houses, Great Shopping - and More
St. Kitts's unusual shape--sometimes described as being like a large banjo--is home to everything from coastal resort enclaves to dense rainforest, cloud-covered mountains and unspoiled beaches. You can get totally away on a solitary strip of sand or be taking in the high-charged action of a sailing or windsurfing experience--or just as easily combine both into a day's schedule. Along the way, there is still time and easy reach to fit in some duty-free shopping and historic sightseeing. Consider any of these for your own schedule:
Ecotourism - the island is one of the few places in the world in which the rainforest has actually grown in the last quarter century. Hiking trails in the central mountain range vary from leisurely half-day outings to full-day treks into the crater of Mt. Liamuiga. There are several knowledgeable tour operators with the expertise and equipment to take you as far as you can go; rates range from $35 for a half day hike to $80 for a volcano expedition. One very knowledgeable operator of these types of land adventure is Greg's Safaris.
Water sport - well-equipped shorefront operators such as Mr. X's Water Sports in Frigate Bay will get you out or in the sea with everything from sailboats, Hobie Cats, jet skis or paddle boats. Snorkeling is another option offshore; South Frigate Bay by Mr. X's, North Frigate Bay in front of the Marriott Resort, and Turtle Beach in the southeast all have access to dive sites and gear to rent.
Historic and cultural - Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park is a magnificent 17th century fort and a UNESCO World Heritage site perched some 800 feet above sea level. Another must-see is Romney Manor, one of the island's great houses and nowadays home to Caribelle Batik, which produces fine hand-made batik fabrics. Take time to also look at the fascinating petroglyphs created by the Caribs, which are etched on rocks near the entrance to Romney Manor.
Shopping - explore the numerous art galleries, antique dealers and retails shops of the island and you will pick up locally made handicrafts as well as international brand name items. Many shops are located in one of the major malls - Pelican Mall, Shorline Plaza, TDC Mall, Port Zante and Palms Arcade. And of course, if you are visiting your purchases are duty-free.
Where to Stay - Contemporary to Old-World, Large-Scale to Intimate
While St. Kitts is still not overrun with back-to-back all-inclusive mega-resorts, it does have a range of first-class accommodation that spans everything from the large international brand names to the smaller independent inns and also excels in a selection of colonial style great houses adapted to elegant stayovers with modern amenities.
Marriott St. Kitts Resort & The Royal Beach Casino - for modern accommodation on the grand scale and grand style, this resort leads the way as the largest resort on the island. Beachfront at Frigate Bay, it also has spectacular swimming pools, water sports, guest house style suites, extensive dining facilities, and a casino.
Ocean Terrace Inn - with fine views from a number of levels where it is perched on a hillside overlooking Basseterre Bay, this intimate smaller inn features chic suites, two fine dining restaurants, plentiful water sport, a fitness center and as much privacy or company as you desire. Staying here has the feeling of a private club where the staff know your name immediately and can help you with any request for your room.
Rawlins Plantation - we were very taken with this tranquil 10-room country Caribbean inn built from the ruins of a 17th century sugar estate. Rawlins Plantation sits in some 12 acres of finely landscaped grounds, and both guest and public areas are decorated with antiques. Accommodation is in guest cottages created from old plantation out-buildings around the grounds; each features mahogany beds, wicker furnishings and hardwood flooring. Other amenities include a spring-fed swimming pool, grass tennis court, a croquet lawn and a lavish tropical garden.
Main Events and Year-round Attractions
St. Kitts Music Festival - This annual April event is establishing itself as a landmark musical showcase for leading talent both from within the region, North America and Europe. Stars that have headlined over the past few festivals include Maxi Priest, Sean Paul, and Ne-Yo.
Carnival Day - New Year's Day is carnival time here; the highlight is the Las Lap parade of costumed bands and street dancing.
After Hours and Liming - for casual entertainment and refreshment, check out some of the current hot spots along St. Kitts shores that feature local live music and entertainment: Mr. X's Shiggidy Shack- live bands, a roaring bonfire, karaoke, beachside vibes; Bobbsy's - nightclub of choice for a non-stop dance beat, from latin to Caribbean; Turtle Beach Bar & Restaurant - combines outdoor bar and dining with plenty of beach and water sport, along with visits from the green St. Kitts monkey.
Other Moments Not to Miss - a drink of sugar from a piece of raw cut St. Kitts sugar cane; a Brinley Gold Vanilla Rum on the rocks; breathtaking views of both Caribbean and Atlantic coastlines as you travel along the southeast peninsula.