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St. Kitts and Nevis is a small island country located in the West Indies of the Caribbean Sea. It is the smallest sovereign state and has the lowest population within the Western Hemisphere. Despite its small size, it packs a big punch with visitors, who are entranced by its laid-back ambiance, gorgeously lush scenery, and powerful volcano. When you arrive here on your Caribbean cruise, you’ll get the feeling that you’ve found a part of the Caribbean that is still largely untouched by tourism.
A cruise to St. Kitts will take you to Basseterre, the country’s capital, where most of the island’s tourism centers. From Basseterre, you can take a short boat ride across the shallow channel called “The Narrows” to the smaller island of Nevis, or tour other parts of the volcanic island.
Brimstone Hill Fortress is a formidable citadel in St. Kitts that is one of the best still-standing examples of the polygonal system style of fortification. It was designed by British military engineers and built by African slaves, with an architectural format that perched it precariously on the side of a steep hill. Construction on Brimstone Hill Fortress began in the 1690s, though it wasn’t until a century later that the fort became a complete military community. The fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to this design as well as its historical and cultural significance. Adding to its allure are the views of St. Kitts and the Caribbean Sea below.
Get a sense of what it was like to live in St. Kitts in the 18th century with a visit to the Fairview Great House and Botanical Gardens. The old house has been gleamingly restored and decorated in the style of the time. You’ll be able to tour the grand dining room, the master bedroom with its view of the sea and Nevis, and the historical room, where you’ll learn more about the property’s past. When you’re done seeing the interior of the house, go outside and amble around the beautiful botanical garden, which features a variety of plants paired with informational signage. You might also see monkeys frolicking around the property, especially by the fruit trees.
Just a short walk from the St. Kitts cruise port is the Old Treasury Building, located in downtown Basseterre. This lovely historical building was built in 1894 to house the treasury of the island as well as the offices of the administrator. It’s also home to a post office and a museum detailing the history of the island. Walk through its tunnel, nicknamed the “Gateway to the Island,” since it takes you to the main streets of Basseterre.
Originally purchased in 1834 by a planter-merchant who named the property Springfield, this area of St. Kitts rose to prominence in 1848 when Francis Robert Brathwaite moved onto it and deemed it the official residence of the Archdeacon of the Diocese of Antigua. Today, the stately mansion and grounds is the official residence of the Governor General of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.
This cemetery was created after the cholera epidemic of 1854, which is believed to have killed one-sixth of the population at the time. To try to contain the disease, the government purchased land at Springfield and passed a law saying all burials had to happen at the Springfield Cemetery. In 1862, the Mortuary Chapel you’ll see onsite was constructed in order for all faiths to have somewhere to conduct their funeral services.
This church, located in Basseterre, dates back to 1670, but what you see today is the result of numerous rebuilds due to fire, natural disasters, and battles that have wreaked havoc on the structure over the centuries. Restoration has happened as recently as 1989 when the church was damaged during a hurricane. Despite all this change and rebuild, the church carries a powerful presence and is beautiful to see and walk around inside.
This church boasts a beautiful exterior made of grey stone with ornate designs embedded into it. Roman Catholics originally built the church in 1856, soon after a legislative act was put into place that allowed them to practice their religion on St. Kitts again after it was forbidden for over a century. In 1927, the original church was torn down and the current one was built in its place.
From your cruise to St. Kitts, you can explore the island on the charming St. Kitts Scenic Railway, which features double-decker seating with open-air seats on top and air-conditioned tables and chairs down below. You’ll be provided narration of what you’re seeing as well as tropical drinks and snacks during the journey, which takes you past gorgeous coastline, the remains of old plantations, and colorful villages.
You’ll find over 200,000 orchids in this 6-acre garden that covers a hillside in South Frigate Bay. Walk along the paths to see all the different colors of flowers and orchid houses. During your walk, you’ll also see a picturesque waterfall and coral grotto.
Cockleshell Bay is one of the more popular beaches to visit in St. Kitts, thanks to its two miles of powder-soft white sand and views of Nevis across the channel. North Frigate Bay is perfect for those looking for some adventure via swimming, wind-surfing, and wave surfing. South Friar’s Bay combines calm water with a lively atmosphere for a fun and family-friendly beach experience. To increase your chances of finding some peace and solitude, head to the Atlantic-facing Half Moon Bay, a lovely and serene piece of coastline lined by green grass and palm trees.
You’ll find an abundance of Caribbean flavors when visiting from your cruise to St. Kitts. Popular entrees include goat water stew and conch fritters. The national dish is stewed saltfish. In addition, don’t miss out on the sweet snack of sugar cake, made from sugar, coconut, and ginger.
There are many restaurants that make for a memorable meal while in port in St. Kitts. Shipwreck Beach Bar & Grill in South Friars Beach is a great place to head for local cuisine. Try their famous fish tacos and sip one of their many icy drinks perfect for a day in the Caribbean. Vibes Beach Bar, located in Frigate Bay, is a favorite beach bar thanks to its laid-back ambiance and chic accents. For a restaurant closer to the St. Kitts cruise port, you can head to Palm Court Gardens and Restaurant on the edge of Basseterre, a unique restaurant that combines dining with gardens.
St. Kitts is part of the Leeward Islands chain of the Lesser Antilles and was one of the first Caribbean islands to be settled by Europeans, with both British and French colonies being part of its past. It gained its independence in 1983 and has an economy largely centered on sugar cultivation, tourism, and electronics assembly. Though the country is still part of the Commonwealth and has Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, it is an independent nation with a vibe and culture all its own. Some British traditions prevail, and folk culture is also prevalent in St. Kitts. The island celebrates Carnival each year.
Cruise ships to St. Kitts pull into Port Zante in the city of Basseterre. Port Zante encompasses 30 acres, which house shops, restaurants, and the cruise terminal. You’ll find colorful streets, tropical bars, al fresco restaurants, pretty stone walkways, and a number of duty-free goods to bring home with you.
The easiest way to get around the island if venturing beyond the St. Kitts cruise port and Basseterre is by taking a taxi. Local ferries are also available. Car rentals are also available in St. Kitts, though you’ll need to purchase a driver’s permit for the island, even if you already have an international driver’s license. Also remember that in St. Kitts, they drive on the left-hand side of the road.
The main shopping streets of Basseterre are located just steps from the pier, and you’ll find stores as well as street stalls run by local merchants. Popular souvenirs to bring home with you from St. Kitts include batik prints, clothing and jewelry, Caribbean dolls, and locally made arts and crafts.
The official currency of St. Kitts is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$), but U.S. Dollar bills (not coins) are also accepted at most places. Even if paying with U.S. Dollars, change is usually given in the Eastern Caribbean Dollar. You can find an ATM to withdraw cash from in Basseterre. Most stores and restaurants take credit cards, but it’s always good to double check before ordering food or shopping, since some establishments – particularly smaller ones – don’t always accept credit cards. For tipping, check if the service charge is already added to the bill. If not, it is generally expected to leave 10% to 15% of your total bill. For taxis, also expect to tip 10% to 15% of the total fare.