BASSETERRE –St. Kitts
One half of the Lesser Antilles nation known as St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Kitts is the larger of the two islandswith its twin Nevis sitting across a narrow body of water to the south. Offering a famed warm welcome to its visitors, mellow St Kitts is ringed about with Caribbean postcard-perfect tropical white sands and turquoise waters which together are the biggest draw for many who come here. For those who don’t want to simply spend their time at the beach though the island has an impressive menu of things to see and do to keep you fascinated and active on both land and water while surrounding you with gorgeous landscapes. With a five century-spanning French and English colonial past built on the wealth of sugar cane plantations, the island has a rich history which can be explored. Interwoven within this story is a darker element which is reflected throughout much of the Caribbean –that of its slaves. Brought in to populate the plantation work forces, the chapters relating to the practice of slavery are filled with heart-rending tragedy and frequent brutality but it is impossible to understand the St. Kitts story and its culture without knowing something of this aspect.
There are a variety of ways you can step back in time and explore the island’s days of yesteryear. Museums collect together artifacts and antiques to take the visitor on journeys through every aspect of the island’s past while outside of these places St. Kitts is full of colonial leftovers to discover. Everywhere can be found old abandoned plantations dotted about with historical relics and buildings, grand colonial era houses where plantation owners once lived, centuries-old sugar mills and a 300 year old fort so impressive it is UNESCO World Heritage-listed.
Outdoor adventure is also on offer with an incredible array of water activities ranging from snuba to dolphin watching while on land you can pick from ziplining above a rainforest canopy, nature hikes, jeep safaris into the island interior and hopping onboard an old sugar train for an unforgettable sightseeing journey around the island. The island’s capital –Basseterre –is often described as one of the Caribbean‘s loveliest and with its streets of Victorian and Georgian architecture set between hills cloaked inemerald-hued greenery and the Caribbean Sea it won’t take you long to realize why. Small though it is Basseterre alone has enough to keep visitors busy for some time offering several interesting historical highlights such as Independence Square with its stone fountain where slaves were once brought to be sold. It also has a national museum along with great shopping and some wonderful cafes and restaurants for keeping refueled and refreshed in between your activities.
A Morning in Basseterre
Founded in the early half of the 17thcentury by French colonizers, Basseterre is one of the oldest towns in this area of the Caribbean. Despite a story which includes extensive destruction through battles, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes this small capital has still managed to keep hold of some of its historic buildings. These include churches, the Old Treasury building and the Berkeley Memorial Clock Tower along with several more equally important landmarks which make going for a slow stroll through these streets very rewarding. If you want something a little more structured one lovely way to immerse yourself instantly into the island’s history is by visiting the Fairview Great House which also has beautiful botanical gardens for you to explore. The second half of your morning can be spent at what is generally considered to be St. Kitts most magnificent relic –the Brimstone Fortress.
The Fairview Great House and Gardens
Just 15 minutes from the capital and set at the foot of the Olivees Mountain is an incrediblehistoric property which allows you instant insight into how the wealthy plantation owners of long ago lived. Once-upon-a-time St. Kitts was liberally dotted about with such great houses, properties owned by colonizers who had grown rich from their huge sugar plantations worked by African slaves. The Fairview Great House is believed to have been originally built at the beginning of the 1700s and has today been painstakingly restored so that visitors can wander through rooms as they would have been 300 years ago. The red and white dining room, complete with its large mahogany table and antique silver service, is particularly striking while the master bedroom displays a colonial bygone elegance and has a lovely veranda.
Two fascinating original features of the property can be found in its courtyard. Here can be seen a large stone bath with steps which would have been used for bathing in waters warmed directly from the sun and a kitchen area complete with an old brick oven. Besides the historical interest within the property itself from various windows you will be rewarded with the same stunning Caribbean Sea and sister island of Nevis panoramas that the house’s owners of long ago would have gazed upon. Other highlights include the apiary and the gift shop with its local arts and crafts.
Once you have finished exploring the house you can step across the stone bridge and take a wander amid a lush tropical garden where some of the palms and fruit trees are as old as the house itself. Full of flowering exotic species and plants which come with excellent signage so you can learn more about what you are looking at, the gardens are also a regular haunt of the island’s monkeys who come to feast on the fruit here.
The Wingfield Estate and Romney Manor
Should you prefer your historical leftovers atmospherically ruined rather than beautifully restored you might like to swap visiting the Fairview Great House for the Wingfield Estate. Located another five minutes up the coast from the Fairview property, the Wingfield Estate is another reminder of the bygone sugar plantation era but one which offers a very different experience. Dating from the 1600s and not finally ceasing operations until the 1920s, Wingfield was once owned by Sam Jefferson whose great-great grandson was to become the third president of the United States. The ruins of the old sugar cane and rum distillery machinery and their associated buildings includea mill, chimneys, an aqueduct and a lime kiln with plenty of signage to help you make sense of what you are gazing upon and explain its history.
Beyond the ruins can be found the plantation’s former principal dwelling, Romney Manor, which today is home to the internationally acclaimed Caribelle Batik. Stop by to peruse the exquisite hand-made batik items for sale here or watch artisans at work and should you want to have a go yourself the craft center also runs weaving and batik workshops. For those who also choose to explore the wonderful surrounding gardens here you can unearth a few more historic treasures. Tucked within lush tropical greenery can be found an old bell tower which would, in a bygone era, ring out to call the plantation slaves to their toil and which also served as a look-out to keep an eye on the workers once they were at their tasks.
Morning Coffee in Basseterre
Located on the harbor, Basseterre has a choice of cafes, many of which allow you to take a morning pause right beside the water or otherwise give you panoramas filled with blue Caribbean Sea and islands. One of these ideal for those who like a touch of serenity and elegance is the gorgeous Palm Court Gardens. Serving as hotel, restaurant and pool which are open to non-residents from 9am to 5pm, the beautiful secret-feel gardens and grounds here include a selection of tucked away corners, picturesque patios, lounges and bar areas to choose from. While all are a little different each offers stunning views of ocean, harbor and St. Kitts twin island of Nevis while also delivering more than a touch of magic. Besides the soul-soothing surroundings and majestic views the quality of the coffee is also high and Palm Court are happy for you to linger as long as you wish soaking it all in.
There are also some charming venues which might not have the sea viewsbut allow you to take a coffee break in beautiful surroundings of a different kind. Leading this collection is the lovely Gallery Cafe on Independence Square which, as its title suggests, is both art gallery and somewhere to grab a quality coffee or freshjuice. As an added bonus there is also a wonderful supply of fresh-baked and home-made cookies, cakes, bagels and pastries.The cafe is run by one of the many non-natives who arrived in this idyllic Caribbean spot and never left, in Rosey Cameron’s case way back in 1977. Rosey makes a living by selling her island-inspired bold artworks which adorn the white-washed walls of this calm and cool space fully of shabby-chic bleached woods and comfortable sofas and easy chairs. If you prefer to take your coffee alfresco the cafe has a stunning little plant-filled courtyard too which, with its wrought iron and wood furniture, has a charming English garden feel.
The Brimstone Fortress
The Caribbean and its islands were a source of incredible wealth for the colonial European powers. Ownership was fiercely contested and constantly changing as the likes of France, England, Spain and the Netherlands battled between each other to seize and hold onto the most lucrative island prizes. Throughout the Caribbean you will see many historical examples of the measures each colonial might went to in order to defend their land and fight off potential attacks and St. Kitts is no exception. Thirty minutes from the capital of Basseterre can be found the Brimstone Hill Fortress but this is no common military installation. Dating from the late 1600s, the Brimstone Fortress known as the Gibraltar of the West Indies represents one of the very earliest examples of colonial Caribbean military architecture and both its size and physical appearance are magnificent.
So well-preserved and significant is this more than 300 year old area it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Incredibly well-maintained, the fort is considered a primary surviving example of a military architectural style known as the polygonal system and serves as a long-standing testament to the ingenuity of the British engineers of long ago.
While it may have been the British who designed the imposing structure which was considered state-of-the-art at the time it was slave labor which built it and which toiled to continue adding to and refining its overall appearance for more than a century. To make the most ofyour time here be sure to watch the short video on arrival which gives an overview of the fort’s significance and construction. After this you can explore the huge compound at leisure discovering the gun decks, cannons, bastions, barracks and ramparts as you walk in the footsteps of those who served as soldiers here 300 years ago. If you are visiting independently you might also like to take advantage of the audio tour available.
There are also several permanent museum exhibits here which give you a further understanding of what military life would have been like at this fortress which was the stage for so many British/French battles. The exhibits include themes covering fort life and slavery with a reconstructed barracks room. While the historic significance is quite something by itself the other huge draw of the site is the magnificent views it affords. Sitting almost 800ft up, the Brimstone Fortress gives all who come here a stunning panoramic look-out which encompasses forest-cloaked mountains, island settlements and towns, coastline and on the clearest of days no less than six neighboring islands.
Lunch in Basseterre
The Leeward Island gem of St. Kitts is a wonderful destination for all those foodies who enjoy tucking into well-priced local cuisine in modest or otherwise casual surroundings. Food quality is typically high no matter how unpretentious the establishment and incredible freshness is also something of anisland cuisine theme. The seafood here is of the freshest boat-to-table kind while all types of fruits and vegetables are grown right here on St. Kitts or her twin Nevis just across the channel. A perfect example of St. Kitts restaurants at their Caribbean island-living best is the Shipwreck Bar and Grill just a little south of town on South Friars Bay. All ramshackle sun-bleached driftwood, fishermen’s nets and rickety bamboo which looks like it has been stuck together however it fits, the wonderful sand-floor Shipwreck is like something straight out of the pages of Robinson Crusoe. Shipwrecks is perhaps not one for those in search of sophisticated surroundings but anyone with a little castaway romance in their soul will love this absolute beach-front desert island-feel hut where monkeys are not infrequent visitors.
Despite its tumbledown appearance this grill serves some incredible quality food and there is a big menu to choose from. The style is Caribbean and you can choose from such offerings as barbecue chicken or rib plates, conch fritters or their fish tacos which tend to get rave reviews. Your dining table is a choice of wooden benches either under cover or set out front at the turquoise water’s edge with some palm-thatched-shaded loungers to catch some rays or hammocks for you to swing in as you wait for your meal to arrive. While the casual beach restaurants and cafes are something which St. Kitts does rather well that doesn’t mean there aren’t any options for those who want a rather more refined lunch. The Serendipity Restaurant and Lounge Bar on the edge of Basseterre is one case in point where you can dine on an open-air veranda with gorgeous views of the harbor, Caribbean Sea and the island of Nevis on the horizon.
The a la carte lunch menu offers incredible choice designed to cover all tastes with offerings from the classically simple to those which are fascinatingly complex for the palate and with influences drawn from both Caribbean cuisine and dishes from much further away. Seafood features heavily along with fresh local produce and there are some lighter lunch choices for those who are not big eaters during the day. No matter what you end up choosing everything isof a fine-dining quality with the attention to detail and service of the same high standard.
An Afternoon in Basseterre and St. Kitts
St. Kitts has such a diverse range of things to see and do it can often be hard deciding what to fit in and what to leave out if your time is limited. Of course personal taste and preference will dictate such decisions but there are without doubt some must-do activities which have appeal for all. One such -ideal for those who want to combine historical elements with the constant delight of spectacular landscapes – is the Scenic Railway which allows you to do a full island loop.
The St. Kitts Scenic Railway
There area variety of tour types and several modes of transport ranging from ATV to horseback which allow you to explore St. Kitts beyond Basseterre. None however are perhaps as picturesque or atmospheric as the historic Scenic Railway which completely circumnavigates the island on a 30 mile long, three hour ride which includes a partial stretch by bus. Once-upon-a-time this narrow-gauge track ran sugar trains which would transport the cane harvested from the plantation fields to be processed in the capital’s mills. Originally built in 1912, this same track now whisks island visitors off on a journey of discovery which meanders through mountains and along the coast passing churches, old abandoned plantations, small settlements and farms, lush tropical vegetation and drawing cheery waves and smiles from islanders who watch you pass by. Some of the coastal scenery in particular is spectacular and adding considerable interest is the onboard commentary delivered by expert guides so you can learn something of the island history and plantation life along the way.
The trains themselves are designed to offer you the best in viewing and comfort. The lower half of each double-level carriage features an air-conditioned interior filled with stylish rattan furniture and with enormous picture windows for unobstructed views. The upper half is open-air so you can catch the breeze and gaze directly through 360 degrees on the lovely and forever changing landscape as the train makes its way along the route. The ride price includes unlimited drinks so you can sip on rum punch, daiquiris or soft drinks as you listen to the railway choir serenading you with island music.
Alternative Afternoon Adventures on St. Kitts
Land Tours by ATV or Jeep Taking in the island sights by train is just one way to get a broader St. Kitts experience. Other possibilities include heading out on quad bikes tours or driving your own 4×4 jeep. On this latter you will be led by a tour guide who will take you on thrilling off-road trails in the mountainous interior with spectacular scenery and natural magnificence all part of the adventure. Zipline A decidedly different way to get a view of the island landscape is by whizzing along ziplines at the historic Wingfield Estate. This is certainly one for the thrill-seeker as the cables criss-cross a rainforest-filled ravine to suspend you far above the jungle floor while traveling at speeds of anything up to 50 miles per hour.
The Sky Safari features cutting edge technology so, unlike other ziplines, you have your hands and feet free and without having to concentrate on such things you can simply sit back and enjoy the ride as the sounds of the rainforest surround you. Besides the beauty of the rainforest itself your vistas will take in the Brimstone Fortress, old sugar plantations, the varying shades of the Caribbean Sea and the majestic Mount Liamuiga. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for monkeys too because they are often spotted in this area.
Snorkel Safaris If you are more of a water baby the crystal clear waters surrounding St. Kitts make for some magnificent snorkeling at a diversity of sites. Teeming with rainbow-colored tropical fish, marine creatures such as turtles and rays and amazing underwater gardens full of soft coral formations, delicate sea-fans and sponges, snorkeling the waters here can sometimes leave you not knowing where to look first. Ballets Bay and Shitten Bay are just two of the options but there are several more and you can either rent a snorkel and mask and head off independently if you are confident or join a tour if you’d like some guidance or are a complete novice.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Basseterre and St. Kitts
From sharing rum punches and sea-view barbecues with locals at a ramshackle beach shack to mixing with the luxury yacht set to wine and dine in style, St. Kitts has something for every kind of drinking and dining experience. Central Basseterre has a wide range of bar and restaurant options but the true island hotspot for these is the area just south of the capital known as The Strip. Located in the Frigate Bay area and set along both Caribbean and Atlanticsides of this narrow isthmus of land, Frigate Bay buzzes both night and day and is the best place to head for the widest range of choice.
Settling down for sundowners on St. Kitts typically involves a spectacular beach-side setting of some kind but beyond that the choice ranges from the simplest rustic rum bars to sophisticated cocktail venues frequented by well-heeled customers. Head to the Frigate Bay area known as The Strip for the greatest clustering of choices and for a vibe thattends to be vibrant or, if you want the tropical beach-setting but enjoy something a little quieter, Cockleshell Bay might suit you better. Many will tell you this gorgeous southern island beach is the island’s best and it is hard to argue when you get the powdery white sands and aqua-marine-toned waters such as those found here.
For a Cockleshell Bay spot which offers a touch of comfort and elegance without losing the casual charm of a Caribbean beach-shack atmosphere head to the Spice Mill which serves some of the best cocktails on St. Kitts. Sip your heavenly tropical concoction right on the sands themselves to give yourself the ultimate unobstructed front seat for a spectacular sunset show or sit beneath the wooden rafters of the open-sided interior space.
Otherwise simply wander the Cockleshell crescent of sand to pick from one of the beach bar shacks and barbecue huts and then settle down at whichever one fits your own idea of sundowner perfection. Of this type of venue the pick of the bunch perhaps is the long-established Reggae Beach Bar and Grill which is beloved by both locals and visitors and often appears on lists with titles such as ‘best beach bars in the Caribbean’. Offering cocktails, beers and spirits, the Reggae Beach Bar embodies the Caribbean liming philosophy of life which basically means relaxing, chatting or enjoying doing nothing. You can do all of that here, bathed in the glow of sunset, gazing at St. Kitts twin island of Nevis which sits just across the channel.
If you made the effort to get to Cockleshell Bay for your sundowners it makes perfect sense to continue your evening here when it is time to sit down to dinner. Both the Spice Mill and the Reggae Beach Bar have good reputations for their food quality with the former hailed as one of the island’s best fine dining-standard choices. With unrivaled views of Nevis and the sea and romantic mood lighting once the sun sets, the Spice Mill marries together the best of Caribbean cooking with international elements for results that are both artistic and delicious. You can dine on your fresh seafood right on the beach or enjoy the interior space which has been designed as a contemporary and elegant take on the beach-shack idea. Natural materials and decorative touches such as lobster traps, a shingle roof and a bar made out of an authentic Carib-carved canoe all add to the atmosphere and equate to a memorable dining experience. For those who prefer to keep their dining closer to the capital and want to experience the liveliness of the Frigate Bay hub one choice is the Jam Rock Restaurant and Bar.
Located on the southern end of The Strip at South Friars, Jam Rock keeps that award-winning beach shack formula with its open-sided restaurant complete with awesome sea views while serving up dishes which offer a taste of the islands influenced by the flair and flavor of Jamaican cooking. Jam Jock’s fabulous jerk pork and jerk chicken tend to get the most attention from diners here but the lobster and seafood are also firm favorites served with some incredible sauces. Otherwise the menu is both diverse and extensive for such a small establishment with additional daily specials dictated by the catch of the day. The range of drinks is also impressive at its fully stocked bar whether you want to wash down your beach-side feast with classic cocktails, wine or beer.
An Evening in Basseterre and St. Kitts
While far from being the night-life central of the Caribbean St. Kitts is home to an area known as the Strip and this is definitely where you will want to head if you’d like your evening to be filled with music, dancing under the stars and the chance to watch fire dancers performing on the beach. While a general buzz tends to infuse most of the restaurants and bars here –on both the Caribbean and Atlantic side of The Strip –the vibe differs considerably between those which lean more towards lively and loud and others which offer entertainment of a rather more low key and tranquil kind.
Those in search of the former can head to such places as the Monkey Bar with its open-air dance floor and local music or Mr. X’s Shiggidy Shack which shares its bonfire beach nights between live bands and DJs with fire shows, dancing and occasionally some kind of other entertainment thrown into the mix. For something a little mellower you can try options such as the Keys Cigar and Rum Bar which is scattered about with chess tables and has jazz music with occasional salsa nights.
Of course The Strip is not your only option for after-dinner drinks, music and entertainment. Jazz fans can check out the live music on certain nights of the week at the Fisherman’s Wharf or head to the Ocean Terrace Inn which has live steel band shows depending on the day; both are located in Basseterre. St. Kitts is also home to a couple of casinos if you fancy a few hours of fun at the slots and tables. The MaPau Casino is found in Basseterre while the Royal Beach Casino is part of the St. Kitts Marriott Resort a little east of the capital. Ready to have the experience of your life in Basseterre? Get in touch with one of our vacation planners today and find the right cruise to Basseterre for you!