The native Caribbean inhabitants referred to St. Kitts as Liamuiga, or “fertile island,” a name now reserved for the island’s central peak—a 3,792-foot-tall dormant volcano. Varying shades of green spring from the rich volcanic soil across the 69-square-mile, drumstick-shaped island in the Eastern Caribbean. The remains of sprawling sugarcane fields sit beneath an ever-expanding rainforest, where chattering monkeys and scurrying mongoose roam free. St. Kitts’ pure, protected landscape is the setting for a vibrant local population and an economy fueled by agriculture and tourism.
St. Kitts’ capital, Basseterre, charms with a distinctive mix of French- and English-colonial architectural styles, with pastel-colored gingerbread homes bordered by pedestrian-friendly streets. The city was officially founded in 1625 by the French—the first French settlement in the Caribbean. However, the British had set up shop on the island two years prior. The two Old World powers initially shared the land, but the relationship regressed into a 150-year-long power struggle. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris finally settled things in the favor of the Brits.
The impressive brown-and-white Georgian-style estate behind the port’s main shopping area is the Treasury Building, circa 1894. It houses the National Museum of St. Kitts, where visitors can discover the stages of the island’s varied history from pre-colonial times to the present. Exhibits feature ancient artifacts, artworks, maps, and other island memorabilia.
Most streets in Basseterre lead to the Circus, an octagonal plaza similar to London’s Piccadilly Circus. The focal point is the Berkeley Memorial, a clock and drinking fountain erected in 1883 in honor of a past legislative member and estate owner. The memorial celebrated its 100th birthday the same year that St. Kitts gained independence from Britain.
In Independence Square, just east of the Circus, stands the towering gray-stone Church of the Immaculate Conception. First built in 1856, the structure was replaced by the more modern edifice in 1927. South of the square, the Georgian House is an outstanding example of 18th-century architecture.
The nearby St. George’s Anglican Church, circa 1670, is representative of the enduring Kittian culture. The phoenix-like church has been destroyed and rebuilt four times since its first construction. Amazingly, its original wooden pipe organ has survived each reincarnation.
A tour of Basseterre doesn’t take very long, so you’ll have plenty of time to explore the rest of the island. For a taste of nightlife while the sun is still shining, head south along the coast to The Strip on South Frigate Bay. St. Kitts’ premier hot spot is home to the island’s best beaches, which are lined with luxury resorts and lively bars with open-air dance floors. While The Strip is famed for its nightlife, most places open at ten in the morning and offer a unique brand of island excitement throughout the day.
If you’d prefer to simply relax on the golden sand, some of the best beaches are found along the Southern Peninsula, where eager vervet monkeys sometimes venture down from the hillside to delight sun worshippers with their antics. Elsewhere on the island, the beach sands range from gray to volcanic black.
Golf enthusiasts can tee off at Royal St. Kitts Golf Club, a recently redesigned 18-hole, par-71 championship golf course strategically situated on a 125-acre strip of picture-perfect land between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
While the views from the greens are nothing short of spectacular, the panoramic vistas at the Brimstone Hill Fortress, located within a national park of the same name, rival the Caribbean’s best. Set on a 790-foot-tall hill, the coastal complex affords visitors a glimpse of six neighboring islands: Nevis, Montserrat, Saba, Statia, St. Maarten, and St. Barths. Construction of the remarkably well-preserved structure began in 1690 and took more than 100 years to complete. The prominent Citadel is one of the world’s only surviving examples of polygonal fortification style—a fact that helped earn Brimstone its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the only man-made site in the Eastern Caribbean bestowed with this honor.
The Brimstone Hill Fortress was built to protect St. Kitts from invasion by foreign powers, who coveted the land for its fertile soil that proved ripe for the cultivation of sugarcane. The sugar industry served as the local economy’s mainstay for more than 300 years, although today it’s rapidly being displaced by tourism and more general agricultural efforts. Abandoned plantations dot the island and indicate its former preoccupation with the trade.
For a complete tour of the island and estates ride the St. Kitts Scenic Railway, lauded as one of the most engaging train rides in the world.
The narrow-gauge railway was built between 1912 and 1916 to connect the sugarcane fields with the processing factory in Basseterre. It started running its modern 30-mile, three-hour tour in 2003. The track hugs the northern coastline, offering riders glimpses of the surf and the beaches amid the cliffs and lush vegetation before rolling across tall steel bridges over deep canyons. As the double-decker train cars pass by quaint villages and small farms, a guide points out the highlights and imparts knowledge about the local history.
For a more in-depth plantation tour, travel off-road through fields of swaying sugarcane to the heart of the island. During tours of various plantations, naturalist guides provide insight into the evolution of the sugar industry and its impact on the heritage of St. Kitts. At Fairview Great House & Botanical Gardens, keep an eye out for the monkeys that live off the spoils of the fruit trees.
Set in the foothills of the central mountains, Wingfield Estate is the oldest English settlement in the Eastern Caribbean. The grounds are home to the scenic Wingfield Forest Trail and the exciting Sky Safari zip-line adventure.
The estate is next to Romney Manor, which houses the Caribelle Batik factory, the creator of some of the most sought-after batik prints in the world. Artisans provide live demonstrations of how they turn cotton into the colorful prints using hot wax and vibrant dyes. The property’s beautifully restored gardens are also open to the public. Be sure to note the 350-year-old samaan tree that sprawls over a half acre.