Have you ever heard of St Kitts?
If you’re not familiar with this almost-hidden Caribbean gem, you’re not alone, but this Lesser Antilles island is quickly growing in popularity as a vacation spot. It offers beautiful scenery, unique attractions, and isn’t overrun with tourism.
To get the best that this island has to offer, you’ll want to book your trip soon. It won’t take long before the little paradise blows up in popularity, and you’ll be vying for your reservations with countless other tourists.
In this guide, we’ll give an insider’s look at everything you should know about St Kitts and its nearby neighbor, Nevis. Keep reading before making your island vacation plans!
Where is St Kitts?
This West Indies island is often forgotten in the shadows of its better-known neighbors, like the Virgin Islands. If you’re not familiar with the area, it can be hard to spot St Kitts and Nevis on a map.
The Greater Antilles consist of the larger Caribbean island countries many people around the world can easily recognize: Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and more. The Lesser Antilles is the string of smaller islands to the east and south of them.
St Kitts is one of the Lesser Antilles’ Leeward Islands, or the northernmost islands in the chain. Nestled inside the archipelago, many islands surround it to the north and the south. It’s about 1,300 miles southeast of Miami and faces the Caribbean Ocean to the west and the Atlantic to the east.
History of St. Kitts and Nevis
St Kitts and Nevis, its closest neighbor, form a single country: The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Between the two islands is a narrow, shallow channel, just two miles wide, called “The Narrows.”
Let’s take a look at how these islands came to be the growing tourist destination that they are today.
Volcanic activity first formed the islands many millennia ago, and today St Kitts sports three main groups of volcanoes.
The northwestern range is sometimes known as the Mount Misery Range, after Mount Misery – now renamed Mount Liamuiga – the island’s highest peak. Liamuiga means “fertile land” in the island’s native language. The middle range is the Verchilds Range, and the southeastern stretch of volcanoes is the Olivees Range.
Mt. Liamuiga last erupted some 1,600 years ago, however, the island was already populated well before that, though.
During the most recent Ice Age, the sea level was much lower, and St Kitts and Nevis were connected with some of their now-neighboring islands.
Because of the connections between what are now separate islands, migration was easier. Pre-agricultural cultures migrated down the Caribbean archipelago from the Florida peninsula, however, around 100 BC, traces of these pre-agricultural people disappeared. They were replaced by agricultural groups migrating north from modern-day Venezuela.
A number of nearby native groups displaced each other over the centuries that followed. Finally, the Carib or Kalinago people had settled on St Kitts when Europeans arrived. The name “Liamuiga” comes from their language.
In 1493, Columbus’s group of Spanish invaders claimed the island to be Spanish territory. The native populations were decimated as Spanish, English, and French people arrived and vied for control of the island. Various European settlements were built and rebuilt throughout the next few centuries, as different European powers took control.
The Europeans used the land they seized to first grow tobacco, then sugarcane. Growing sugarcane took a lot of labor, and Europeans brought people they kidnapped from Africa to work on the island as slaves.
However, in 1807, the British Empire that currently controlled St. Kitts outlawed the purchase of slaves. In 1834, slavery itself was abolished. This law was put into place on August 1, which is celebrated as a public holiday on the islands to this day.
The production of sugar remained an important part of St Kitts and Nevis’s industry until 2005 when the government shut down the sugar industry.
For centuries, the island had been a monoculture. In a monoculture, the agriculture focuses on a single crop. But sugar had become less profitable over the years, leading to the industry shutdown. Now, other types of agriculture can play a growing role in the island’s economy. Tourism has also become an important economic force in St. Kitts.
St Kitts and Nevis Culture
The St. Kitts locals call themselves “Kittitians,” while the locals of Nevis Island call themselves “Nevisians.” These islands have friendly, welcoming people, who are glad to see tourists come and boost the local economy.
Many African traditions live on in the culture of the island, mixing with British culture. This is because the island has been affiliated with Britain for most of its modern history. St Kitts and Nevis became an independent country in 1983 but were a British colony from 1782 until then.
English is the official language of the islands, and many of the island’s inhabitants are devout Christians. Cricket is the island’s national sport, and the St Kitts and Nevis cricket team are one of the best in the world.
Celebrations and art
Around Christmas, Carnival celebrations capture the attention of the islands. Carnival events span from mid-December until after New Year’s. You’ll see many traditional and modern dances and performances at Carnival. The music and dances include soca, calypso, and salsa.
A newer celebration, called Culturama, seeks to preserve more native traditions, including music, dance, art, and religious ceremonies. This celebration happens in early August, as part of the Emancipation Day festivities each year.
These islands are also famous for their beautiful pottery, often made using red clay, while the fired pieces sport colorful glazes. Carving, rug weaving, and leatherworking are other popular forms of visual art.
Food and drink
The traditional food of St Kitts and Nevis is notably West Indian, including fresh produce, seafood, goat, and other meats. A tomato-based stew called goat water stew is one of the islands’ most notable dishes.
Like many Caribbean islands, rum is the most popular spirit on St Kitts and Nevis. You can buy locally-made rum from the Brinley Gold Company in St. Kitts. However, the official national spirit is actually Cane Spirits Rothschild, which uses sugarcane.
St. Kitts Attractions
That such small islands offer so much to do might surprise you. Here are a few of the top attractions on St Kitts to help you plan your itinerary.
Ride the Scenic Railway
While on St Kitts, you should make time to see the West Indies’ last Scenic Railway. This train was originally built in the early 20th century to transport sugar. Today, the 18-mile ride takes you through some of the island’s most picturesque sights.
The train’s top deck is open air, so you can enjoy the sun while taking in the sights – with a cocktail in hand, if you’d like.
Golf and snack
The second golf course on St. Kitts opened recently, and it offers something a little different than your standard golfing experience.
The expansive hillside course holds not just beautiful views, but also a multitude of organic fruit trees and bushes. Grab a ripe guava, mango, or passion fruit while you play.
Visit the citadel
Don’t miss out on the island’s remarkable historical sites while you’re there. One of the must-see attractions is Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park.
This is a Unesco World Heritage Site, because it contains a citadel from the late 1600s, during the height of the battles between European powers on the island. The old battle site forms a stark contrast with the peaceful Caribbean scenery.
Hike a volcano
Choose from three major volcanic peaks on the island to tackle.
You’ll need to be in peak physical condition to reach the top of Mt. Liamuiga, the tallest one, but you don’t need to get to the peak – try an easier hike that takes you part way up the mountain instead. You can still see wild orchids, vervet monkeys, and other wildlife in the dense rainforest on its slopes.
“Liming” is the local word for relaxing and having a good time. Make time to unwind at a local bar or restaurant, dance to live music, and chat with the people that make St Kitts so warm and welcoming to tourists.
Nevis Island Attractions
St Kitts is the better-known island, but there’s plenty to do if you hop over to Nevis, too.
Visit the museums
Nevis is home to the Alexander Hamilton Museum, which contains fascinating details about the historical figure’s life.
Hamilton’s face still appears on American $10 bills, but how much do you really know about the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury? Visit the exhibits at the museum, then stop by the Café des Arts for handmade lemonade and snacks.
You can also check out the Museum of Nevis History to learn more about the island itself. This museum is conveniently close to the Bath Hot Springs, which is the perfect spot to unwind at the end of the day.
See the botanical gardens
Nevis’ Asian-style botanical gardens were opened in 1998, and feature a great Thai restaurant as the centerpiece. Check out local plants including orchids, fruits, and different kinds of palms. Don’t miss the conservatory that houses local butterflies and birds, too.
Tour by bike
Try a guided bike tour by Bike Nevis, the organization behind the Nevis Triathlon that happens each November. You can choose an easier or more challenging ride depending on your level and this is one of the best ways to see the villages, churches, old sugar mills, and other local sights.
Plan Your Trip To St Kitts
It may not be the Caribbean country on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but St Kitts and Nevis offer the perfect Caribbean vacation.
On these islands, you’ll find the perfect blend of tourism and authenticity. The islands of St Kitts and Nevis are welcoming and offer plenty for outsiders to do, plus they have a rich blend of local culture that their inhabitants have worked hard to preserve.
Whether you’re into art, adventure, or simply hanging out with a beverage in hand, St. Kitts has it all. What will you do on a trip to these islands? Leave a comment and let us know!