St. Kitts Is Ready to Spark Your Sense of Wander
To travel buffs whose thirst for adventure has been stifled over the past 20-or-so months, St. Kitts and Nevis’ newly eased travel restrictions may feel like a red carpet unfolding. Actually, make that a 31-mile-long, transcendently beautiful, emerald-green and cerulean-blue carpet. The mere sight of this island archipelago — its breathtaking volcanic peaks, verdant valleys and tranquil pools — can inarguably revive one’s undernourished wanderlust in an instant.
But now that fully vaccinated travelers to the two-island federation are free to explore and even hotel hop at any travel-approved island resorts, it’s easy to indulge more than one’s eyes. The island’s rich natural beauty, secluded beaches, inviting local culture, historic attractions, ocean-inspired cuisine and pampering hotels now invite adventure-seekers to engage all five senses — plus a sixth, more nuanced awareness that’s sparked only when presented with splendor of this magnitude: “the sense of wander.”
Here’s our guide for embracing sensory overload on the wander-full island of St. Kitts.
Immersive Nature Experiences
If breaking out of your four walls and into a seemingly limitless expanse of living earth ranks high on your list of travel to-dos, you'll be sweet on the reinvented island of St. Kitts. Having brought an end to its centuries-long history as a sugar-growing outpost in 2005, the isle now lures thrill-seekers of all fitness and skill levels for getaways brimming with land and sea adventures.
And for travelers who prefer to breathe in the salty air from the comfort of a beach blanket – well, there’s more than enough room to spread out and unwind on this less-traveled island’s (pardon us) sugary sands.
Hiking in St. Kitts
From treks up dormant stratovolcanoes, to jaunts through densely forested vervet-monkey habitat, to shrubby treks across near-flat peninsular ground, hiking opportunities on St. Kitts are abundant and diverse. Prepare to saturate your senses as you embark on any one of St. Kitts' spectacular hiking trails.
What You’ll See: Multiple outlooks from the Mount Liamuiga Crater Rim as you hike around the crest of the dormant volcano (rock climbing required), including sweeping looks at vivid turquoise sea, the small neighboring islands of St. Eustacia and Saba and a staggering full-on view of the half-mile-long crater, blanketed in brilliant green plant life. To get there, you'll trek 3,792 feet skyward, through thriving rain forest flora in every shade of green. (Take an expert guide for safety’s sake. As a bonus, these pros are usually full of intriguing mountain wisdom, like the names and medicinal uses of many indigenous plants, and which jungle vines are best for swinging on à la Tarzan and Jane.)
Hear: Make a slow ascent up a (potentially wet, depending on recent rains) riverbed trail on the Bat Cave and Waterfall hike. After a challenging climb that includes shimmying up a 15-foot-tall trail-blocking boulder, you'll be rewarded with the sound of screeching, wing-thumping flying mammals inside their cavernous lair. Trek on and you'll discover a series of small waterfalls, offering a potentially more soothing soundtrack.
Smell: While in the rain forest, send a shock to your olfactory sense by seeking out the brownish-purple flowers that grow on the calico vine – their smell, reminiscent of rotting meat, is irresistible to the insects it traps and ingests.
Feel: Your feet negotiating the craggy streambed path on way to Shitten Bay. The lowkey trail takes travelers through an entirely different eco-system on St. Kitt's shrubby Southeast Peninsula. At its end, find a rocky beach where a split-hulled wrecked ship invites exploration — as do the pristine and secluded surrounding waters. Bring your snorkel gear to get an underwater view of the shipwreck and the surrounding marine life.
Wander-full Tip: For a less strenuous but equally spellbinding exploration, book a day trip with Greg's Safaris. The tour company offers an array of action-packed itineraries via a fleet of nine open-sided 4x4 Land Rovers. Options include a trip to a coastal canyon whose walls are inscribed with rock carvings left by St. Kitts’ indigenous people; a cross-island expedition that covers mountain forest, hillside farms and villages; and a visit to the beach at South Friars Bay.
Under- and Over-water Thrills
Whether the #saltlife is second nature or a new frontier for you, water adventures of all kinds are in easy reach on St. Kitts.
Experienced divers will find that some of the best dive sites around the island are wrecks, including Wreck of the Corinthian, an upright tugboat that sunk conveniently next to a reef with a mere 40-foot depth; and Wreck of the River Taw, a cargo ship perched on flat, sandy ocean floor, also about 40 feet below the surface.
Reef diving opps are also abundant. Some top choices include Brimstone Shallows, located two miles due west of the shore, and Friars Bay Reef, a mile off the beach of the same name.
Those who aren’t yet certified can change that during their St. Kitts vacations by visiting one of a handful of dive schools on the island. Courses generally take 3-4 days to complete. St. Kitts is also home to a tour operator who offers Snuba diving, which, as its name implies, is a cross between scuba diving and snorkeling and has the advantages of allowing up to 20-foot dives, while requiring no special certification.
Sea kayak, stand up paddle board and other watercraft rentals are also easily accessible throughout the island.
What You’ll See: Thick-headed pufferfish, an array of florid angelfish, hawksbill turtles, spiny lobsters and even nurse sharks are among the ocean life with which the waters teem.
Hear: Nothing but gently lapping waves above the water and otherworldly rippling and bubbling below.
Feel: Reach out and touch the slimy fin of a stingray – but watch those pointy barbs.
Wander-full Tip: Unwind with a sunset sail aboard a catamaran, rum punch in hand.
Cockleshell Bay Beach
One of St. Kitt’s most popular beaches, 2-mile-long Cockleshell Bay Beach on the island’s southernmost tip offers a plot of sand for everyone – whether you prefer yours chill, abuzz with reggae music or rife with sporty activity. The crescent-shaped white powdery shore is home to no fewer than seven bars and restaurants as well as a watersports rental center offering parasailing, kite surfing and dozens of other activities. Get there early to avoid cruise ship crowds. (For a more secluded beach experience, head to nearby Banana Bay or Turtle Beach instead.)
What You’ll See: Colorful shanties and umbrellas dotting the sand; translucent turquoise waters just begging to be swum; epic views of emerald-green Nevis’ and jutting Nevis Peak at its center.
Hear: Lilting calypso, reggae and steel drum music drifting out of a string of beachside bars and restaurants.
Smell: The luscious co-mingling aromas of fruity rum punch, fish fries and clean ocean air.
Taste: Coconut crusted shrimp, conch fritters or West Indian curried chicken roti prepared by a local chef at a beachside grill.
Feel: Your body sinking happily into one of the many seaside lounge chairs (some might come at a fee).
Wander-full Tip: Hop on a water taxi for a zippy 7-minute ride across the channel to Nevis.
Can’t-Miss Culinary Scene
The cuisine of St. Kitts and Nevis comprises a fusion of island, Creole, West Indian, Indian and other Asian flavors, though the national dish is a decidedly Caribbean plate: stewed saltfish accompanied by coconut dumplings, spicy plantains and seasoned breadfruit (a starchy cousin of the jackfruit).
Other staples include pelau, a paella-like mix of rice, pigeon peas, meat and fish; roti (mentioned above), an Indian flatbread Kittitians typically stuff with curried chickpeas and vegetables, seafood or meat; and conkies, a dessert made of grated sweet potato, coconut and pumpkin mixed with sugar, corn flour and raisins, then boiled tamale-style in a banana leaf. And those are just the beginning of St. Kitts’ rich and delicious culinary traditions.
Many St. Kitts restaurants offer a mix of classic Kittitian dishes like these alongside others with Italian, Moroccan, Spanish or Chinese flair. It’s also common to find vegan and vegetarian options on the menu.
What You’ll See: Grab a bite on the cottage-like porch at Arthur’s in Dieppe Bay Town on the north end of St. Kitt’s and get treated to a surreal view of the nature-made beach, placid sea and island Sint Eustatius in the distance. Bonus: Your meal is caught in the waters right off the surrounding black-sand shore.
Hear: Live bands, local DJs, karaoke nights and a host of other live entertainment every night at Mr. X’s Shiggidy Shack, Vibes Beach Bar and a number of other nightlife venues that collectively make up The Strip on Frigate Bay, an inlet southeast of St. Kitts’ capital, Basseterre. This is one of the island’s best enclaves for experiencing what Kittitians call “limin’” — kicking back, relaxing and enjoying the moment.
Smell: The entangled aromas of brandy, saffron, garlic and lobster as the chef prepares a pot of Caribbean seafood bouillabaisse at Serendipity restaurant overlooking Basseterre Bay. Other mouthwatering options here include seared lionfish (a locally caught invasive species that tastes similar to snapper) with Chinese bok choy; and the vegan-friendly garlic, mushroom, tofu and portobello burger.
Taste: A variety of fresh-from-the-tandoori naan breads, perfect for scooping flavor-soaked creamy curries, lentil dishes, tomato-masala sauces and fluffy basmati rice at Tiranga, one of St. Kitts’ most popular Indian restaurants, located in Frigate Bay.
Wander-full Tip: Grab a casual, authentic Kittitian meal at Shipwreck Beach Bar & Grill, located on the southeast peninsula of the island on South Friars Beach. You’ll have to pay for your fish tacos, but close encounters with resident monkeys are on the house.
Cultural and Historical Attractions
First settled by Carib Indians who braved the five hundred nautical miles from South America, St. Kitts and Nevis were sighted by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century. (The explorer named it St. Christopher for the patron saint of travelers, but it was later shortened to St. Kitts.) In the centuries that followed, the island became a centerpiece for both a thriving sugar industry and colonial squabbles among the British, French and Spanish.
Take in aspects of St. Kitts’ rich and complex history with a variety of cultural experiences on offer around the island.
What You’ll See: The restored plantation house on the grounds of Romney Manor, its repainted sunny yellow walls and vivid orange shutters a seemingly metaphoric representation of the manor’s shift from slave-driven sugar plantation to independently-owned batik workshop and boutique. While here, feast your eyes on the ruins of a 1600s-era rum distillery, aqueduct and water-powered sugar mill at the adjacent Wingfield Estate, which was once owned by Thomas Jefferson’s great-great-great grandfather.
Hear: Live reggae or soca music performed by local musicians at Sprat Net Bar & Grill, conveniently located just a stone's throw from Romney Manor on the island's west coast. (The fresh, no-fuss seafood and seaside location are also a feast for the senses.)
Feel: The rough basalt stone walls and weathered cast iron cannons at historic Brimstone Hill Fortress, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 1.6-million-square-foot site was designed by the British and constructed with slave labor in the 1600s to protect British dominion on the island.
Smell: The salty, earthy island breeze (which, incidentally, once inspired Tommy Bahama to create a perfume bearing the island’s name) on an 18-mile, open-air tour of the island aboard the St. Kitts Scenic Railway. The complete island exploration, which circles the island completely with the addition of a 12-mile tour by sightseeing bus, takes travelers over breathtaking chasms, craggy coastal cliffs and past abandoned sugar estates, just for starters.
Wander-full Tip: Give your taste buds a tingle with a sip of Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum, an 80-proof liquor crafted on St. Kitts. If you're not an on-the-rocks type, try it mixed with grapefruit soda in a popular cocktail called a Ting ‘n Sting.
One of the best bits of news to come out of St. Kitts this season is that, thanks to eased COVID-19 travel restrictions, travelers now have the freedom to hop from hotel to hotel – so they're not limited to trying just one St. Kitts resort per trip. This is a major relief, since the array of alluring options make decisiveness a tough task. Layer on the free nights offers a number of top hotels are dangling now through December, and choosing where to stay becomes near impossible.
That said, here are a few we find especially enticing.
Park Hyatt St. Kitts – Opened in 2017, this 5-star beachfront resort feels more like a private island, thanks to its secluded setting overlooking Banana Bay on the island’s south shore – and yet, it’s just a 20-minute drive from the airport. The koi pond in the lobby sets the modern, nature-inspired tone from the get-go. Rooms, which are standalone bungalows, carry that theme along nicely, with marble and wood furnishings, massive balconies or terraces and large soaking tubs in expansive bathrooms. The Great House breakfast buffet is not to be missed. Stay four nights and get a fifth free, if you book soon.
St. Kitts Marriott Resort – This massive, 4.5-star resort offers a tempting balance between upscale accommodations and budget-friendly rates. Located on a private beach in Frigate Bay, the hotel caters to sport- and relaxation-minded travelers alike, with its 125-acre link-style golf course, three pools, fitness center and full-service Caribbean-themed spa. Their fifth-night-free offer is good through December.
Royal St. Kitts Hotel – Overlooking on a lake on the island’s west side (just north of the isthmus) Royal St. Kitts Hotel is an authentically Kittitian, family-run 4-star hotel whose rooms are accented in vivid island hues and outfitted with modern kitchenettes. The hotel makes a great base for budget travelers, especially considering the stay seven nights, pay for five offer they’re running right now.
Can't Stop Wandering? Island hop over to Nevis, where the rooms, suites and villas at the 5-star Four Seasons Resort offer secluded stays on a wildly lush 350-acre property.