Tucked into the Leeward Island chain in the eastern portion of the Caribbean is St. Kitts & Nevis. This two-island country is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas with a combined landmass of only 104 square miles. One of the sovereign states in the Commonwealth of Nations, it is home to almost 52,000 people. The capital city is Basseterra which is located on St. Kitts. Nevis, the smaller of the two islands, is located only two miles from the larger island. The two are separated by a channel called “The Narrows”.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the island was inhabited by the Kalinago people. Also known as Caribs, they are thought to be migrants from South America with a warrior reputation. Descendants of these original inhabitants still live on the islands today. Following the arrival of European explorers, the islands endured hundreds of years of rule bouncing between the Spanish, French, and English. Full internal autonomy was not achieved until the late 1960s followed by independence in 1983.
The islands were born of volcanic eruptions that created steep peaks near the center of both. The resulting slopes are covered in splendid tropical rainforest. Majority of the population, however, lives in the less elevated areas closer to the sea. The landscape is dominated by closed sugar plantations and cane fields, as sugar was the dominant export until the 1940s. Agriculture today is more diversified and tourism has come to dominate the economy.
Although the history is tumultuous, but now life is sweet and simple on both St. Kitts and Nevis. You will not find a traffic light, but you will encounter roaming sheep. Memories made here by the beachfront bonfire will last a lifetime. These two islands are one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces you don’t want to miss.
When to Travel
There is very little variation in temperature on St. Kitts and Nevis. Lows in the winter average 81°F and highs in the summer 86°F. Hurricane season runs July to October and coincides with the rainiest months of the year, although precipitation is for the most part distributed evenly throughout the year. The islands only average 55 inches of rain per year. February to June tends to be drier than other months.
If you’re a music fan, plan your trip for the last week in June during the St. Kitts Music Festival. For winter travelers, you can spice up the end of the year holiday season with an early taste of Carnival. Celebrated in December on the island rather than February or March as some other locations, this event is the biggest of the year for St. Kitts. The people of St. Kitts take the art that is Masquerade seriously, so be prepared for a grand display of celebration.
If Nevis is your destination, you can catch the islands biggest event, Culturama, in late-July through early-August. This festival is a huge celebration of Nevis’ heritage and culture, including the emancipation of slaves in the 1830s. For 12 days, the island parades the deep love they have for the island and its history in colorful and energetic display.
There is never a bad time to visit St. Kitts and Nevis. The start of the high season in December will be a bit more salty, but there are amazing festivities to enjoy. Prices will fall starting in July with the rainy season, but the extra drops will only serve to cool you off in the beautifully hot temps. May and June are the crossroads of more affordable and drier weather. If lounging on the beach is your primary goal, these two months would be a good choice.
Cuisine and Drinks
With its history steeped in the sugar business, it is no wonder that a few big name companies manufacture rum on St. Kitts. The national drink, however, is not rum but Cane Spirits Rothschild (CSR). Distilled from sugar cane, this high proof alcohol is more akin to vodka or moonshine than rum. Often mixed with the flavors of the grapefruit, a little CSR goes a long way. It will sneak up on you if you’re not careful.
Goat is a common protein used in the cuisine on these islands. Goat water stew is one of the most well-known dishes. It combines goat with papaya, breadfruit, and dumplings in a tomato base. If experience and authenticity is what you crave, don’t miss an opportunity to try this dish.
Pelau is a rice-based dish cooked one-pot style with chicken, beans, vegetables, chicken, and pig tail. Ingredients in recipe may vary slightly for this island favorite, but the results are all smiles. Fresh, local produce used in the dish really make it shine. The fertile volcanic soil of the islands make this possible.
Conkies may have roots in West Africa, but St. Kitts have definitely made this one of their own. This sweet dish resembles a tamale, but is made with ingredients including sweet potato, pumpkin, and coconut. Rolled in banana leaves and cooked, these little comforting treats are pure delight on the palate.
The end of the work week is often punctuated with village cookouts. The sense of community can really be felt in the dining habits of the locals. Even in restaurants, there is a feel that you are in someone’s home. Be sure to take your time during your meals to not only savor the local flavors, but the local hospitality as well.
St. Kitts Scenic Railway Tour – The sugar industry brought much to St. Kitts, including a railway. No longer needed to transport sugar cane from plantation to factory, it now provides some of the best opportunities to take in the breathtaking beauty of St. Kitts.
Eden Browne Estate – Abandoned for over 150 years, local legend tells a tale of a cursed property and crying ghost at this historic plantation on Nevis. Sign up for a ghost tour to hear the whole sordid story of this historic site and others. You are guaranteed a fun evening full of both chills and smiles.
Sky Safari St. Kitts – Thrill seekers will get their eco-adventure fill at Sky Safari. Zip lining at its best is here with the 5 cable system and heart thumping speeds. Fly over the rainforest at up to 50 miles per hour and up to 250 feet in the air. This one is not for the faint of heart, but for those who dare it is an unforgettable experience.
Trinity Inn Stables – The only thing better than a stroll on the beach in St. Kitts is doing it on horseback. If you want a break from sand and surf for the day, bond with a new four-legged friend while traipsing through the rainforest. A wonderful way to build memories that will last a lifetime, this is a must on your vacation to do list.
Bath Hotel – Follow in the footsteps of history’s most rich & famous right to the Bath Hotel on Nevis. Built in 1778, people would travel from afar to indulge in the hot spring baths at this elegant property. Local hand cut stones line the walls of this magnificent building on the shores of the Bath Stream. Medicinal minerals with mystical curative properties are rumored to be found in the spring water at the base of Spring House, located on the Bath Hotel property. With water temperatures reaching up to 108°F, it’s no wonder this is both a tourist and local favorite.
English is the official language of St. Kitts and Nevis. Locals may sometimes speak in a Creole dialect, but communication in English is most common.
The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar. Most businesses will accept both credit cards and the US dollar, but US coins will not be accepted. If you need change for a large bill, you will receive the Eastern Caribbean currency. The banks on the islands provide 24 hour ATM access should you need.
The water in St. Kitts and Nevis is high quality and safe to drink. Bottled water is available if you like, but not necessary in most circumstances. If you are spending your stay in a house that uses a cistern, however, it is recommended that you boil the water before consuming.
Electricity is typically provided via a 230 volt supply in the European or Asian style. Many hotels will offer a 110 volt supply in the North American style. Be sure to check the compatibility of your plugs with the supply before use to avoid any unfortunate accidents.
You will need a permit to drive in St. Kitts and Nevis, even if you hold an international driver’s license. If you are renting a car, this can be handled by the rental agency. If you prefer, you could instead go to the Traffic Department to obtain the permit. The cost is approximately $24US for a three month permit or approximately $45US for one year. For those used to driving on the right side of the road, note that you will need to drive on the left in St. Kitts and Nevis.