For my money, there’s no place in the world that captivates like the Caribbean, a region filled with tiny yet wholly distinctive island nations, a tangle of cultural influences, a soothing sea breeze and friendly, smiling residents.
Saint Christopher Island, colloquially known as St. Kitts, is one of the Caribbean’s sweetest treasures, set in the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles.
Less than a decade ago, St. Kitts’ economy was almost completely dedicated to sugar production, as it had been since 1643. Rich volcanic soil and an idyllic climate made it the most profitably delicious island in the Caribbean for centuries. As times changed, sugar production became too expensive, and the government decided to shut it down for good in 2005, focusing instead on developing the tourism offerings.
Aside from fields of untended sugar cane and abandoned mills, the most enduring souvenir of the island’s saccharine past is The St. Kitts Scenic Railway, a 2-hour tour on the same tracks that once carried the crop from the plantation to the factory to the capital and port city, Basseterre, for exporting.
The Railway isn’t much more than a handful of open-air, double-decker cars featuring 360-degree views of the coast and the mountains. Sipping a rum punch while chugging along past endless fields and miles of wild coast, a charming conductor narrates the history of the island and occasionally, the waitstaff sings in 3-part harmony. It doesn’t quite seem real to be surrounded by so much syrupy goodness.
The St. Kitts Scenic Railway is often called the Last Railway in the West Indies, and the 18-mile journey certainly takes riders back in time. Plus, it affords the chance to see much of the island in just a few brief hours – ideal for cruise passengers with limited time to spend.
Outside the Railway, there are adventure activities available to satisfy the day-tripping cruiser and the super active fly-in traveler; volcano and virgin rainforest hiking with world famous guide O’Neil Mulraine, scuba diving on spectacular reefs, helicopter rides, interacting with the sassy Vervet monkeys inhabiting the whole island, experiencing St. Kitts from the Wingfield Estate treetops on a Sky Safari zipline and even fly-boarding at Reggae Beach.
Though tourism has only recently become a focused priority for the island, St. Kitts already has infrastructure in place to welcome visitors. With direct flights from Miami, multiple cruise ships in port each week and established accommodations like the family friendly Marriott St. Kitts and the intimate 23-room Ottley’s Plantation Inn at the base of Mt. Liamuiga, St. Kitts is very close to becoming one of the world’s next hot destinations.
In 2014, the YU Lounge opened, a concept that removes the stress of customs and immigration lines and replaces it with Champagne and gourmet meals in air-conditioned luxury just a stone’s throw from the airport. Guests don’t have to fly on a charter to use it either; even commercial passengers are welcome to use the fast-track service to skip airport drama and go straight to the plane when it’s ready for departure. Two new properties are in varying stages of development; sustainability-focused Kittitian Hill and ultra-luxe Christophe Harbour. Once completed, Kittitian Hill will feature farm-to-table dining options, savvy green practices and thoughtful architecture. Christophe Harbour will eventually open a superyacht marina and a pro golf course.
The real joy of visiting St. Kitts is the choice to do it all, or maybe better still, to do absolutely nothing. The beaches encircling the island offer more than enough opportunity to settle in with a good book, a high SPF and views to remember.
There’s a casual nonchalance in the air that makes it ok, if not preferable, to unplug, spending hours staring off at some mysterious island mountain in the distance.
If St. Kitts isn’t on your list yet, put it at the top!