Unspoiled St. Kitts and Nevis, its smaller sister island, welcome cruise passengers with a lush landscape including rain forests, mountains and dormant volcanoes, 18th century sugar plantation heritage, and wonderful beaches some white sanded, others with black or gray volcanic sands.
Christopher Columbus must have liked St. Kitts when he discovered it in 1493 as he named it for his own patron saint, St. Christopher --the name was later shortened to St. Kitts. Its first inhabitants, the Caribs, left petroglyphs on rocks north of Basseterre, but there is little else to remember them by. Bloody Point, the site where British and French troops massacred more than 2,000 Caribs in 1626, is worth a visit not just for its historical significance, but for the view of Mount Liamuiga, a dormant volcano.
Possessions of Great Britain, the islands became an independent two-island nation in 1983 --St. Kitts, almost twice as big as Nevis, is the seat of government.
The British influence is felt to this day --driving is on the left, cricket is the most popular sport and a lot of the tourists are from the U.K. Basseterre, the capital, on the Caribbean shore of St. Kitts, is picturesque, with white colonial houses built around the town's round square or Circus, where a green Victorian-style clock, the Berkley Memorial Clock, stands. Independence Square is another important Basseterre point of interest --it was once a slave market -- and is now surrounded by Georgian-style houses.If your ship is in port on Saturday morning, you may wish to check out the marketplace filled with tropical fruits and flowers --perhaps you would like to buy a small bouquet to decorate your cabin.
Must-sees in St. Kitts include Brimstone Hill Fortress, offering panoramic views of the island and surrounding isles. Built in the 17th century, its barracks and bastions are built on top of, and on the upper reaches of, a 787-foot-high hill. The fortress is in a national park with nature trails for hiking to enjoy the native flora and perhaps catch of glimpse of the green vervet monkey and other fauna. The monkeys were brought in as pets by the French in colonial times, and were set free when the British gained control of the island. Shore excursions sold onboard ships visit the fortress and generally make a stop at Caribelle Batik at Romney Manor on Old Road west of Basseterre, where visitors can observe the process of batik-making and purchase a colorful t-shirt, scarf or dress as a souvenir.
Another popular shore excursion sold on ships is a tour on the narrow gauge train, the St. Kitts Scenic Railway. Tours, following the old sugar train tracks to view island scenery of mountains and sea, take about three and a half hours.
Good beaches abound in both St. Kitts and Nevis --some of the best ones on St. Kitts are in the southeast peninsula with such beauties as Sand Bank Bay, Frigate Bay, Cockleshell Bay and Banana Bay; on Nevis, Pinney's beach is idyllic: with golden sands and palm trees reminiscent of the South Seas.
In addition to swimming and water sports including snorkeling and diving, other popular pastimes on St. Kitts include horseback riding, rainforest hiking, and climbing Mount Liamuiga (a 3,733 feet high).
For a lunch featuring local flavors, try the fresh seafood --perhaps conch in garlic butter?--at Ballahoo Restaurant on Fort Street in the Circus in Basseterre and the pumpkin soup and fresh fish in the Glimbara Diner in the Glimbara Guesthouse on Canyon Street also in Basseterre.
Cruise lines that visit St. Kitts include Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Seabourn, Silversea and Windstar.
IF YOU GO -- For information on St. Kitts, visit www.stkittstourism.kn.