Why St. Kitts is the place to truly unwind
Travelers are regaining the luxury of choice now that destinations around the globe are dropping restrictions, making it more challenging to decide how to spend those precious vacation days.
While it remains true that getaways often seem to fly by, the twin island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis is one place where time seems to pass on a different continuum. When one is surrounded by deliciously unspoiled open spaces, jutting volcanic peaks, emerald-green valleys, aquamarine ocean waters and jaw-dropping natural beaches, departing from the breakneck pace of everyday life happens automatically.
This time-bending phenomenon — alongside St. Kitts’ collection of pampering resorts and hotels, colorful and delicious restaurants and outdoor adventures — make the island an easy choice for a romantic getaway, a honeymoon or a much-needed escape from the hectic work world. And it's surprisingly easy to get there, too. Direct flight options include American Airlines' daily service from Miami, plus seasonal Saturday flights from Charlotte and New York.
Here are 5 ways to enjoy the leisurely life in St. Kitts.
Soak in the island culture
Taking it easy and taking in the sights go hand in hand on St. Kitts and Nevis, and that's partly because the island nation is the smallest in the Americas — so the next amazing thing to see is never more than a few miles' drive, cab or ferry ride away. Less travel time means more time to wander amid in the unique historical, cultural and arts attractions that make this place so remarkable.
Wingfield Estate and Romney Manor, located on St. Kitts' southwestern shore, are neighboring sites perfect for an unhurried day of sightseeing, rum tasting and even shopping. The Estate is a 17th-century rum distillery and a plantation for sugar and tobacco originally owned by Sam Jefferson — the great-great-great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson. Today, you can walk among the ruins of the sugar mill and distillery as expert guides explain the methods (from animal power, to water wheels to steam engines) historically used here to produce rum. Even more intriguing, you can see an archaeological excavation in progress, as the original rum distillery (dating back to 1681) was discovered in 2013 and continues to be unearthed and reconstructed.
Right next door, there's more history and modern-day beauty to take in. Romney Manor, once the great house of the neighboring plantation, has been transformed into a landscaped tropical garden oasis, with a 400-year-old Saman tree (thought to be one of the oldest living organisms on the island) presiding over the lush grounds. Since the 1970s, the Caribelle Batik workshop and store has been a fixture of the Manor, and a happy evolution from the property's slave past. Guests are invited to witness local artisans in the process of creating the vividly dyed fabrics, to see the handmade creations line drying in the yard and to purchase a one-of-a-kind scarf, shirt or beach-ready sarong — which will become immediately useful once you hit the gorgeous white, gray and black-sand shores for which the island is famous. (More on those later.)
You can easily take your island exploration to a larger scale by stepping onto the St. Kitts Scenic Railway train tour. Over the course of three relaxing hours — complimentary rum punch or frozen daiquiri in hand — you'll circle the entire island via a combination of sightseeing buses and a double-decker train ride. Meditate on the emerald-green vegetation and azure blue waters as you pass breathtaking chasms, rugged coastal cliffs, abandoned plantations and a host of iconic landmarks. Tip: Take a seat on the open-air top level for the best views — and to remove all barriers between you and the fragrant, unspoiled landscape.
The railway was constructed in the early 1900s to transport sugar cane from the island's plantations to the sugar factory in the capital, Basseterre, and you'll hear about this and many other points of interest in St. Kitts' history, from pre-colonial times to today. You'll also be treated to a performance of Caribbean folk songs as sung by the a cappella St. Kitts Railway trio.
On that "note" (pun intended), music is another alluring way to gain understanding of Kittitian culture. If your visit doesn't happen to fall during the last week of June when the St. Kitts Music Festival (which just celebrated its 25-year anniversary) takes over the island, fret not. Pan-Caribbean musical styles — including calypso, zouk, soca and reggae rhythms — can be heard evenings at "The Strip" on Frigate Bay — St. Kitts' collection of beachfront, open-air hot spots. Sprat Net Bar & Grill on the island's west coast is another top choice for catching live local music acts.
Having trouble choosing among St. Kitts' fascinating cultural experiences? Book the Grand Tour with Grey's Island Excursions for the chance to try a little bit of everything.
Savor Kittitian flavors
As decadent as the views are in this tropical island archipelago, there's a feast for more than the eyes here. St. Kitts cuisine fuses together a number of influences, including Caribbean, Creole, West Indian and Asian flavors. The result is fresh, flavorful and colorful plates worth savoring over a long lunch or dinner. This is doubly true when they're enjoyed at restaurants with a view of the lush hills, bay or ocean — and happily, there are quite a few such eateries to choose from.
Favorites include the oceanfront Spice Mill Restaurant in Cockleshell Bay, whose "Caribbean eclectic" menu features specialties like spicy lobster cakes, lemongrass- and coconut-laced fish chowder and Indian chicken curry bowls. A big plus for diners here is that lounge chairs and umbrellas are available to rent on the beach steps from the dining area, so you can work up your appetite in the sun and surf before strolling over to your table. The gorgeous sea and mountain views only add to the dreaminess of a day spent here.
Carambola Beach Restaurant on South Friar's Bay is another top choice for a fine meal by the water. The artful house chef prepares everything from escargot, to herb-marinated grouper and even vegan-friendly mushroom and pine nut pasta with a Caribbean flare — and Instagram-worthy presentation. Tip: Don't pass up the crème brûlée for dessert.
El Fredo's near the port in Basseterre prepares authentic and casual Caribbean plates in an understated "hidden gem" setting. Guests rave about the plantain fries, jerk chicken and carrot cake. And should you desire to branch out into other world cuisines during your visit, Indian, Chinese and Italian eateries are just beginning of the list of what's available.
But the taste adventure does not end there. St. Kitts' rum production continues to be a point of pride on the island, and you'll want to take advantage of your time onshore to explore some of these "intoxicating" local creations. Hibiscus Spirits puts a rosy spin on traditional rum production, infusing their libations with locally-grown hibiscus flower essences. Visitors can take part in a tasting while learning about the production process. (They also produce a non-alcoholic, ginger-infused hibiscus juice should you be the day's designated driver.)
On the other hand, rum fans can also sample aqua vitae produced in a strictly traditional way. Perhaps the best spot for this is at the Old Road Rum Distillery, located on the aforementioned Wingfield Estate — in the same place where rum was first produced on the island in 1681. Set on reviving the rum production on the island, the modern-day founder (a St. Kitts local) uses a purist distillation process and barrel-ages the rum for 12 years.
Brinley Gold Shipwreck is yet another local rum crafter with St. Kitts roots, and its wares come in flavors like vanilla, coffee, lime and mango. You can try it at numerous bars and lounges throughout the island. Ask for it in the island's signature "Ting with a Sting" cocktail, which is a mixture of grapefruit soda (Ting), rum and lime — and a delicious way to stretch out the day's magic hour.
Set the scene for romance
Yes, you've dined and you've wined (or "rummed," as the case may be), but the romance on St. Kitts doesn't end there. Setting the mood on this laid-back, paradisiacal island is generally done for you courtesy of majestic Mother Nature, but you can amplify her efforts simply by putting yourself (and your significant other) in the right place at the right time.
A sunset cruise via a local charter company is one example of this. It's hard to imagine a more romantic experience than setting adrift with your beloved on the gem-colored Caribbean Sea against a backdrop of green mountains and a fiery sunset sky. And you don't have to be a millionaire to get in on the splendor. There are options for all budgets — from group catamaran tours to private yacht charters — and rum-infused libations are nearly always part of the package.
Of course, simply being together in such an idyllic place will go a long way toward melting away the stresses of everyday life and allowing you to be your best selves — and therefore best partners for each other. But a couples massage could only help things along, right? Book one at the Emerald Mist Spa at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort Hotel or at a boutique retreat like Hummingbirds Holistic Massage and you'll be on your way to a complete reset.
Bring that reinvigorated energy to the dance floor (a.k.a, the sand) at one of the clubs on The Strip. Or for a quieter excursion, head to the secluded sands of Banana Bay Beach on the tip of the southeastern peninsula. Bring a picnic basket to nosh between swims, or take a short stroll to the nearby Park Hyatt St. Kitts Christophe Harbour for a toothsome meal with gorgeous views of Mt. Nevis.
Commune with nature
Once you're on the island, you don't have to go out of your way to benefit from St. Kitts' impossibly lush and vibrant environs. But if you do go the extra mile, so to speak, the gorgeousness you'll witness will pay dividends.
If you're an avid hiker, you won't want to miss the trek to the Mount Liamuiga Crater Rim at the center of the island's northern half. You'll ascend 3,792 feet via a path through dense rain forest to the rim, where you'll savor views of endless blue water, the small neighboring islands of Sint Eustaciaus and Saba and the immense crater itself. The hike is somewhat strenuous (it includes some rock climbing), and no matter your fitness level, it's best to bring an expert guide for safety.
If that sounds more stressful than serene to you, there are less intense hikes to try. Walk across the relatively flat, shrub-strewn southern peninsula to Shitten Bay, for example, where you'll find a split-hulled wrecked ship by the shore of a rocky beach. Bring your snorkel gear to explore the sparkling waters and the marine life that congregates around the submerged portion of the ship after your hike.
Or for the ultimate low-key nature experience, head to the hot springs and geysers in Nevis. Take a ferry ride from the southern peninsula of St. Kitts to reach its sister island. On the southeastern portion (just inland from the ruins of Fort Charles), you'll find thermal pools warmed by the island's volcano.
Once the top draw of a now-ruined 18th-century hotel (thought by many to be the first hotel ever built in the Caribbean), these seriously hot springs (with temperatures up to 108 degrees) remain a favorite for locals and tourists alike, many of whom believe them to have potent healing powers due to their mineral content. Regardless of their medicinal values, a good soak in the steamy waters can only aid in your quest to thoroughly unwind in this tropical oasis.
Make time for new experiences
You'd be perfectly within your right to spend your whole getaway stretched out on the sands of Atlantic-facing Half Moon Bay beach (also an ideal choice for body surfing, thanks to its brisk waves); bathing and snorkeling in the calm waters of reef-protected Dieppe Bay beach; curled up in a secluded corner of quiet Sandy Bank Bay beach; or otherwise hanging loose on any number of gorgeous beaches that circle this treasure trove of natural beauty.
At the same time, the novel experiences offered here truly are worth peeling yourself off the sand for — and if you're traveling as a couple, all the more so, since research shows trying new things together keeps the spark alive.
How about cantering across the sand on horseback, watching the waves lap at the shore as your animal escort moves in a soothing, rhythmic lope? Or kicking things up a notch with an ATV ride across sugar cane tractor paths, inland hills and through the rain forest? And if underwater adventures are on your wish list, dive centers like Pro Divers St. Kitts offer scuba diving certificate courses that can have you exploring tropical underwater ecosystems in a matter of days.
Then again, if the allure of the surf proves too strong to schedule anything, take heart that you can — and you likely will — come back again and again to experience more of all St. Kitts has to offer.