CHARLESTOWN, NEVIS –St. Kitts and Nevis
Nevis – one half of the two-island country known as St. Kitts and Nevis – is a turquoise Caribbean Sea-surrounded gem and an oasis of serene, tropical charm. While pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean offers a fair helping of laid-back, this exceptional jewel takes it to a whole other level and mass tourism just doesn’t feature in this unspoiled off-the-radar paradise.
Measuring just 37km by 8km, everything there is to see and do on Nevis is within easy reach and for such a tiny land mass it packs an incredible amount in. For centuries Nevis was under the governance of the British flag and everywhere on the island can still be seen remnants of the grand sugar plantations which made so many colonials rich during this colonial era. So lucrative was this trade that production only finally ground to halt forever in the 1950s.
Nevis’s collection of historical relics are so plentiful that the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society have created an island heritage trailto highlight them all which features churches, sugar plantations, military leftovers and more. Each of these is distinguished by a blue and green sign which gives further details of what you are currently gazing upon.
While the historical leftovers, bothcolonial and otherwise, are plentiful they are in fact just one aspect of this destination’s allure which is rich in the naturally magnificent too. Powdery soft beaches fringe its shores and lush greenery seems to cloak every view while no matter where you are on the island the distinctive cone of the central volcano of Nevis Peak dominates the scenery.The island’s charming cobble-stoned capital –Charlestown –encapsulates everything that Nevis is in one small package. Steeped in colonial history, every stroll here surrounds you with cheerfully painted and beautiful stone and wooden buildings with typical Georgian and Victorian architecture and features.
This tiny town is also the birthplace of the man whose face graces the US $10 bill –Alexander Hamilton –and the childhood days of this Founding Father can be explored at the Alexander Hamilton House and Museum of Nevis History.
In short, magical Nevis has something for everyone –from the visitor who is historically and culturally curious to those who seek a packed itinerary of adventure and activity.
A Morning in Charlestown
As capitals go village-like Charlestown has to be one of the entire Caribbean’s most captivating. Full of Georgian-era structures and colonial features, this town is a true treatfor those who simply choose to wander. A free walking tour map is available to all visitors and highlights such points of interest as the church from the 1900s founded by freed slaves, the historic Bath Hotel (the first ever constructed in the Caribbean) and an atmospheric Jewish cemetery with graves as old as the 1600s. For those who want to delve a bit deeper into the nation’s history a great way to do so and begin your island explorations is with a visit to the Alexander Hamilton House and Museum of Nevis History.
After a break for coffee you can swap urban sights for surroundings of tropical flora and amazing sculpture at the wonderful Botanical Gardens of Nevis.
Alexander Hamilton House and Museum of Nevis History
One of the Founding Fathers of the United States and serving as that new country’s very first Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington, Alexander Hamilton is an iconic historical figure whose amazing achievements gave rise to the smash hit Broadway Musical, ‘Hamilton’, in 2015.
While most Americans will be aware of his likeness on the $10 bill and the nature of his death during a duel with a political rival in 1804, lesser known is the fact that Hamilton was of Caribbean heritage, born in Charlestown in 1757 and spending the first few years of his life here.
Side by side in Charlestown can be found a lovely 19th century Georgian building of stone, home to the Museum of Nevis History (and once thought to be Hamilton’s birthplace) and a wooden structure. This latter, it is now believed, is actually the site where he was born and lived and although both buildings are rebuilt restorations their harbor location and history make them must-see sights.
One fee gives you access to both these attractions which although full of interesting exhibits and facts are very small and easily fitted in before your morning coffee break.
The first floor of the stone building is where you will find the principal museum which, despite its small space, still manages to cover a complete history of Nevis beginning from pre-colonial times and the lives of the Arawak indigenous peoples. Using a timeline comparison with the world in general, the various chapters of the Nevis story you can discover here include the tragic slavery era along with the sugar production and plantation life which gave rise to it, Jewish immigration history and the African heritage elements which still underpin much of Nevis culture today.
The wooden building –for many years known as Trott House but now titled the Nevis Heritage Centre–houses the Alexander Hamilton exhibition. Here you can follow this Founding Father’s life journey, beginning with his Nevis childhood and schooling and following right through to death by duel while still only in his 40s.
Coffee in Charlestown
Once you have finished exploring both the Nevis and Alexander Hamilton story you won’t have to wander far to find an ideal spot for a coffee break. Located in the museum’s grounds in a tranquil space filled with young coconut palms and banana trees can be found the lovely Cafe des Artes. Refreshments and food ranging from snacks to full meals are served from a brightly painted wooden shack outside of which are scattered about colorful and charmingly mismatched chairs and tables with umbrella shades.
Run by a former Londoner who fell so deeply under the Nevis charm that she couldn’t bear to leave, Cafe des Artes is a gathering spot for locals and visitors who come to enjoy drinks such as the excellent home-made lemonade surrounded by greenery and historical buildings.
If you prefer a beachside coffee break jump in a taxi and head 1.5 miles north to the gorgeous Pinney’s Beach where you have a choice of cafe and bar venues. One of these is the bright green Lime Beach Bar which is the embodiment of the Caribbean verb ‘to lime’ that roughly translates as perfecting the art of chilling out.
Infusedwith rustic charm, this two level wooden building has a breezy open-air rooftop, a shady interior space or alfresco tables out front where the magnificent views encompass the majestic Mount Nevis and the sparkling Caribbean Sea. This highly relaxed venue has something of a reputation for its food quality so if you need something to keep you going until lunch the Lime Beach Bar can help out.
The Botanical Gardens of Nevis
An easy 5 km from Charlestown and onland previously under the wealthy Montpelier Estates umbrella can be found one of the island’s treasures –the Botanical Gardens of Nevis.
Showcasing not only the island’s flora but a celebration of the magnificence of the tropics on a global scale, thisexceptional eight acres is an essential inclusion on any island itinerary.
With the dramatic vista of Mt. Nevis as a constant backdrop, these botanical gardens are divided into themed areas such as the Palm Garden with its 100 species, the Bamboo Grove, the Cactus Garden and the bejeweled Orchid Garden with its exotic terraces and multiple orchid species which are both exquisitely beautiful and fascinating.
Woven within and around these lush gardens are some gorgeous water features including tinkling fountains and serene ponds covered in water lilies while the copper kettles you will see used as planters and further water features are relics from the sugar plantations. Adding considerably to the overall beauty and interest are a large compilation of sculptures which have been gathered together by the gardens’ owners who are passionate art and antiques collectors. The majority are Asian-themed such as the elephant-headed Ganesha which greets you as you enter and representations of Buddha and the Hindu god Shiva. There are also contemporary sculptures which are both obvious and hidden and so have something of a treasure-hunt element to them while the pre-Colombian examples are accurate replicas used to invoke an Old World ambiance.
One of the most striking of these –a large Olmec Head –perches over the entrance to the spectacular Rainforest Conservatory where you can wander as butterflies flit around. Surrounded by hanging jungle vines, palms and colorful blooms, the centerpiece here is a representation of a ruined Mayan temple cloaked by the spray of its waterfall.
The gardens are also home to a plantation style structure which houses a Thai restaurant on its upper storey and has a lovely gift shop downstairs.
Lunch in Charlestown
Caribbean flavors and seafood are recurring themes on this lovely little tropical island but it has something for everyone whether you want to feast on local specialties or tuck into international cuisine.
Representing something of a lesser-traveled Caribbean gem, Nevis’s dining choices tend to be tranquil and uncrowded with plenty in the idyllic category. One such of these is the lovely Bananas Restaurant and Boutique where you can lunch in the open-air surrounded by jungle greenery and an enchanting air of secret garden. This special venue, although just five minutes from Charlestown, is very tucked away although you will still be able to glimpse the sun glinting off the Caribbean Sea as you lunch, visible through the coconut palms.
The characterful wood-built restaurant’s exterior appearance is that of old plantation with its wraparound verandah and shutters while the bright interior is a delight of shabby chic elements, stylish touches and walls adorned with original Caribbean artwork.
Run by an ex-pat chef, the diverse menu here offers a range of typical but creative Caribbean fare along with some international comfort food classics. Lobster and the catch of the day are highlights with soups, salads and sandwiches a choice too for those who want a lighter lunch.After lunch you can browse the charming on-site boutique and perhaps find the very gift or souvenir you were looking for.
Of course it is hard to resist setting your sights on lunches with a beach view, especially when the beaches are of the Nevis tropically lovely kind. Just a 1km walk from the north edge of Charlestown (or a quick hop in a taxi if you’re feeling lazy) can be found not simply one of the island’s best beaches but one of its most iconic bars and eateries – Sunshine’s.
Named for its larger-than-life owner whose welcomes are as legendary as his bar, Sunshine’s is in every way quintessentially Caribbean. Full of vibrant colors and the best kind of beach vibe ambiance, Sunshine’s began back in the 90s as a humble grill shack with just $40 invested and gradually grew to be what it is today –a venue where the likes of Mel Gibson, Beyonce and John Travolta have all wined and dined over the years.
Settle yourself at one of the floral print bench sofas inside or bury your feet in the sand beneath a palm-thatched shade at one of the red, green and yellow tables outside and feast your eyes on incredible sea views with the sister island of St. Kitts the star of the show. The feast continues with your menu choices too because although Sunshine’s is still essentially a beach shack its cuisine is beyond the standard of typical beach bar fare.
Describing itself as multi-cuisine, this waterfront spot is big on barbecue plates with seafood such as freshly caught shrimp, lobster and conch featuring heavily. Perhaps the most talked about thing of all about Sunshine’s is its secret recipe rum punch which goes by the name of Killer Bee. Said by all who came here to be a must-try its potency is also well-known so you might want to keep it light if you have plans for the afternoon!
An Afternoon in Charlestown and Nevis
After your beach-view or jungle-surrounded lunch you can head out again to continue your Nevis adventure with a visit to one of the sugar plantations or take in several at once on a bike tour.
First brought to Nevis and St. Kitts from other Caribbean islands in the 1600s, sugar cane thrived in these soils and quickly became the most lucrative crop for the British colonizers. While all began on small individually owned patches of lands, very soon the wealthy brought up and merged many of these sections which in time became large-scale sugar plantations. Today, the remnants of these grand colonial days which go hand in hand with the tragic history of slavery, can be seen all over the island, many of them as evocative ruins.
Deciding which of the estates to visit is really a matter of personal preference as each has a unique story to tell. Perhaps the most famous of the collection is the Nisbet Estate which is where Fanny Nisbet lived in the 1700s and later met her future husband, Admiral Nelson, who at the time was a naval captain. Today this estate has become a beach club and boutique hotel.
Arguably the most atmospheric and romantically ruined of the island’s plantations to explore is that of the 18thcentury Hamilton Estate which is within a few minutes reach of Charlestown. Known as some of the best preserved remains on Nevis, the Hamilton sugar plantation was operating right up until just over 50 years ago after which it was abandoned. Since then nature has been doing its best to reclaim it, covering the ruined chimney stacks, old mill, boiling house, rusting machinery and other structures with jungle creepers and foliage which add considerably to the atmosphere.
Besides the window onto the past which this free-to-visit site affords it also has some lovely views of the nation’s twin island of St. Kitts across the channel, historic Charlestown and the majestic peak of Mt. Nevis.
Exploring the Plantations By Bike Tour
One lovely way to take in several of the plantation leftovers as well as see something of the island away from the roads is to go on a mountain bike tour. Many of the guide-led cycle tours focus on plantation history along with other cultural highlights and offer trails of all kinds suitable for complete novices to experienced cyclists looking for a challenge.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Charlestown
If you are the kind of person who thinks nothing beats sundowners and barbecues at a beach bar with Caribbean bluesall the way to the horizon then you are going to be spoiled for choice on Nevis. However, that isn’t all this magical island has to offer. Whether you are a rum punch fan or a wine connoisseur or whether you want to sample local delights infused with tastes of the Caribbean or have a hankering for something more internationally flavored Nevis has you covered.
Rum punch –the island’s favorite alcoholic drink –is everywhere on Nevis with some incredible variations to sample but this is just one potential element of any sunset drinks session. One option which is a perfect example of the ‘something different’ aspect is The Coconut Grove Restaurant and Wine Lounge which gives several hints of what to expect in the title; this gem is indeed set amid coconut palms and has a focus on wine but this only gives a tiny taste of what can be found here.
Boasting the most comprehensive wine cellar on Nevis and offering the kind of fine vintages which might just make it the best in the Caribbean, it is perhaps not surprising that the Coconut Grove should be owned by a master sommelier.
The quality of your pre-dinner drinks aside, this is a truly exceptional place. Set on the beach and offering sensational sunsets, views of St. Kitts and then later in the evening setting you beneath a canopy of stars, everything from the lighting to the décor here is magical.
Nestled beneath a palm thatch, the stylishly beautiful lounge and bar area is just made for comfort with deep sofas and expansive tables of wood set low on warm wood decking. The paper lanterns in a range of rainbow colors cast a soft romantic light and create an ambiance that would be hard to beat anywhere.
For a focus on beverages of a totally different kind you might like to check out the Gin Trap at Jones Bay about 10 minutes from Charlestown. With a gorgeous sea view and a west-facing location to make the most of those multi-colored Caribbean sunsets, the Gin Trap combines elegance and a laid-back island vibe for idyllic sundowners.
While the bar has a good range of wines, cocktails, beers and spirits the focus here –as its name might suggest –is gin, with more than 100 varieties on offer. Frequented by a goodmix of locals and island visitors, this restaurant and bar gives you the option for an interior lounge or a gorgeous wooden-planked sunset cocktail deck. Here you can relax, bathed in the glow of the sunset on stylish wooden chairs and sofas padded out with cushions while sampling the venue’s signature cocktail with a kick which combines quality gin with jalapeño, cucumber, mint and Prosecco.
Both the pre-dinner drinks venues suggested here have restaurants attached so you can smoothly transition to dining whenever you are ready. This isn’t simply just the easiest option either as both the Coconut Grove and the Gin Trap consistently receive rave reviews for their dining so either offer culinary experiences above the standard.
The exceptionally lovely Coconut Grove offers a gourmet French/Caribbean fusion menu, all expertly prepared by a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. With much on offer here made freshly daily bythe loving hand of the chef such as the pasta and sauces, this well-respected restaurant is especially known for its seafood which is as fresh as it gets, plucked straight from the island waters.
The views of St. Kitts and the Caribbean Sea are of the million dollar kind while the finest wine cellar on the island stocked by the master sommelier owner ensures all of the wine pairings with your meal will be fit for even those with the most discerning palates.
The beachfront Gin Trap – a locals’ favorite – was once to be found elsewhere on the island before it was picked up and literally relocated to this Jones Bay spot with its sensational views. Elegant but relaxed, this venue offers some truly creative and exotically-flavored dishes based on beloved island staples.
Like the Coconut Grove, the chefs here prepare many of their delights by hand daily such as the breads and sauces and as much revolves around seafood the menutends to be steered according to the catch of the day. Feast your way through lime-drizzled shrimp skewers served with a secret recipe sauce or tuck into spiny roasted lobster infused with citrus and cream and served with fragrant coconut rice. Alternatively, opt for something other than the fruits of the sea such as chicken or pork.
Your surroundings are those of the interior space with its stylish beach-house-look bleached woods or the breeze-catching alfresco deck where you can dine beneath the stars.
An Evening in Charlestown
Nevis is a sleepy little island but that doesn’t mean there is nothing going on after the sights and activities of the daylight hours have been enjoyed.
Typically after-dark hours here revolve around enjoying post-dinner drinks with music thrown into the mix if that is what you want and you know where to find it. Several venues on the island host at least one night a week of live music events so quite what you might find yourself in the middle of is largely dictated by the day you are here.
One of the bars with the most frequent entertainment is the elegant Oualie Beach Resort bar which hosts events several nights a week. These include a regular open mic and jam night on Tuesdays, a Friday jazz evening and a Caribbean dance show on Saturdays.
Other possibilities around the island include the laid-back beach-life infused Lime’s Wednesday night live bands at Pinney’s Beach and the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club’s Sea Breeze Bar which has a barbeque night on Thursdays. If you have already dined you can simply come for a drink and take advantage of the live band music and dancing which is apopular evening for the locals.
All of these venues are within easy reach of Charlestown as the island is so compact.
Closer to the capital if you are lucky enough to be in town on a Friday you can head to the Charlestown outskirts and join in with the Water Department Social Club’s alfresco fun. Every week this lively jump up centers around a roadside barbecue but there are also drinks and music for a classically Caribbean night.
Ready to have the experience of your life in Charlestown, Nevis? Get in touch with one of our vacation planners today and find the right cruise to St. Kitts and Nevis for you!