“This is the spot up ahead,” said our taxi driver as he pulled off the steep road. “This is the only place on the island where you can see the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other.
As we stepped out of the car, our jaws dropped. Sprawling in front of us was a scene from a postcard with aqua blue water, powdery sand and lush green mountains. This awe-inspiring view introduced us to St. Kitts and it was truly paradise found.
Our driver was a friendly fellow named Ellie Nisbett and he, like nearly everyone we met on St. Kitts, works hard but always had a smile on his face. People were kind, relaxed and friendly, but also ambitious. Ellie worked several jobs in tourism but branched out on his own last year and bought his own taxi. The busy winter tourist season was fine, but he worried about staying busy and having income during the summer low season.
An island in transition
St. Kitts itself seems as if it’s teetering on the edge success. What is now a relatively quiet, somewhat obscure getaway is on the verge of blossoming into an all-out tourist destination like neighboring St. Maarten. The economy here was still a monoculture, revolving around sugar cane up until 2005 when the government declared it too unprofitable. Like so many other gems in the Caribbean, the government then turned to tourism as the future.
St. Kitts lies in the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, about 1,300 miles southeast of Miami. This former member of the British West Indies gained independence from Great Britain in 1983 and formed its own country with neighboring island, Nevis. St. Kitts is only 67 square miles in total and is far from crowded with only 40,000 residents. English is the main language and, yes, they drive on the wrong side of the road. St. Kitts is ringed by the Caribbean to the west and the Atlantic to the east with beaches around the perimeter and scenic mountains in the middle. During the Ice Age, St. Kitts and Nevis were actually all one island. The capital is Basseterre, on St. Kitts, where a large part of the population lives.
Since tourism is relatively new and also owing to rocky interior terrain, much of St. Kitts remains unspoiled – for now. Signs in several construction spots touted new developments funded by wealthy Chinese investors. We heard talk that the goal is to draw high-end tourists away from neighboring St. Barts or St. Johns. Evidence of that comes with a new Ritz Carlton taking shape on the Caribbean side, and construction on the previously undeveloped Southeast Peninsula. That’s where we started our stay at the brand new Park Hyatt Christophe Harbour.
To say this place drips luxury is an understatement. This development took 15 years to conceive and three years to build and its location couldn’t be more ideal: at the very tip of the island with picturesque views of neighboring Nevis Peak across the narrow channel.
If you really want to treat yourself, book a room here or, better yet, a top-floor suite complete with a terrace plunge pool overlooking the beach and Nevis’ mountain view.
The property is vast but hosts less than 150 guestrooms, so it’s spacious and serene. The staff will chauffeur you around in golf carts, you’ll enjoy the biggest and most delicious breakfast buffet I’ve ever experienced al fresco on the lanai. Imagine freshly squeezed tropical fruit juices, homemade pastries, a selection of cheeses, smoked meats and more. Dinners here were also decadent and delicious with fresh grouper and mahi mahi on the menu.
Home of Alexander Hamilton
We took the quick water taxi over to Nevis and discovered a second quiet, sprawling island with beautiful resorts, cozy beach bungalows and lots of history. This is where Alexander Hamilton was born, and we checked out his boyhood home along with other historical sites. There are ruins supposedly haunted by a ghost sitting just next to the Sunset Bar with the most incredible beach view a bar has ever had.
We lunched seaside at the wonderful Yachtsman Grill at Hamilton Beach Villas and Spa. Later in the week, we followed a winding road halfway up Nevis Peak to find Bananas Bistro tucked away in the tree canopy. This is definitely worth the trip for drinks on the rooftop overlooking both the volcano above and the water below you.
Don’t miss the fresh pumpkin bisque (pumpkins and watermelons are big crops on both islands), fresh seafood and decadent coconut cake. Nevis boasts a Four Seasons Resort for an upscale stay plus several more affordable resorts and beach rentals.
The second half of our trip took us back down to earth with a stay at the lovely and cozy Timothy Beach Resort located on South Frigate Bay Beach, the only resort on the Caribbean side of St. Kitts for now. Frigate Bay sits in the middle of the island between Basseterre and the Southeast Peninsula.
Here, you’ll be welcomed with smiles, rum punch and a huge deck overlooking the beach at price more suited to the everyman.
Even better is what sits just in front of this resort: the so-called “Strip” of beach bars and restaurants offering fresh seafood, cold beer and steel pan music. Chief among these is a bar with the best name ever. Mr. X started renting jet skis in 1990, opened an ice cream trailer and grew that into Mr. X’s Shiggidy Shack Bar & Grill. The local Carib beers here are half the price of Park Hyatt’s and the grilled whole lobsters are not to miss.
A short walk away on the Atlantic side sits the Marriott Resort, which is beautiful and sits at a price point between Park Hyatt and Timothy Beach.
Our last few days were full of fun with an ATV tour through volcanic countryside and sugar paths where the cane used to grow, plus a stop at the amazing Caribelle Batik studio at Romney Manor (Thomas Jefferson’s great-great-great grandfather’s plantation). Here, artists painstakingly hand draw, wax then dye fabric to make wearable works of art. The old sugar mills along our ride (first manned by slaves and later by paid employees) stand in testament to changing times both socially and economically.
I spent our final day scuba diving with Pro Divers St. Kitts. There are only a few dive operations on the island and these guys are top-notch. They took us to Black Rock where you’re guaranteed to get up close and personal with some Caribbean reef sharks. A handful of them swam around us curiously but really focused on our guide, who speared an invasive lionfish and held it up for them as a snack. Gorgeous corals, a few sea turtles and some spotted moray eels and lobsters combined to make this one of my most memorable dives.
St. Kitts truly charmed us and left us longing to return. I hope our new friend, Ellie, makes it in the private taxi business just as I hope all of the grand plans for St. Kitts and the tourism economy will thrive. However, a large part of me is very glad I got to visit while much of the island is unspoiled and before the genuinely friendly people of St. Kitts and Nevis grow weary of invasive tourists. It really is a paradise found.