From natural beauty to bustling bars, St Kitts proves that good things come in small packages
For a small island, St Kitts really punches above its weight. The little-known Caribbean gem has beautiful beaches, gourmet cuisine and culture aplenty—all in just 68 square miles. Tourism is still relatively new and there’s only one big resort: the St Kitts Marriott, a bustling beachfront hotel, casino and spa that just celebrated 10 years. Workers haven’t yet perfected the tourist patter, which means they’re neither slick nor fake. The easygoing culture gives the place a “live and let live” vibe and, best of all, there’s none of the underlying homophobia you sometimes find in other Caribbean destinations (stand up Jamaica).
“They call St Kitts ‘Sugar City’ because of the sugar cane production in the island’s history, but also because the people are so genuinely sweet,” says Lavern Stevens, St. Kitts Marriott PR Manager. “We open our arms to people of all races and backgrounds and want to make each visitor feel welcome, regardless of their sexuality. St Kitts does not cater to one particular segment of people in any one given area; the entire island is a playground for all travellers.” The slogan of the favourite local beer, Carib, says it all: “Know who you are. Drink what you like.”
And drink they do. Kittitians love a good time, from beers on the boat to dancing ’til dawn. They even have their own phrase for partying hard: “Busting a lime.” Ask a Kittitian where you should be “liming” and they’ll probably say The Strip, a row of fun beach bars in Frigate Bay. It’s one of those rare spots where tourists rub shoulders with locals and everyone gets along just fine. Start at Cathy’s Ocean View Beach Bar and Grill with a plate of succulent chicken ’n’ ribs, garlic shrimp or lobster and a glass of Cathy’s famous rum punch. Everything is fresh from the barbecue and comes with tasty island sides like rice and beans or fried plantain. It’s the best kind of casual dining, where you sit on picnic tables, eat off plastic plates and sink your feet in the cool sand.
Next stop on The Strip is Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack, a happily ramshackle place that spills out onto the sand. “No shirt, no shoes, no problem mon,” is their motto and it seems to fit: unselfconscious revellers throw shapes on the dance floor as a tipsy crowd looks on. Depending on the night, you might see live music, karaoke, a bonfire or even a fire-eater. Order the island tipple, Ting with a Sting (local cane-sugar rum and citrus pop) and take it all in from a twinkly-light festooned booth on the beach. Still up for liming? Just walk along the shore to Vibes—the newest and swankiest bar on The Strip—for silly cocktails and serious dancing.
It’s a party scene that’s far from pretentious. People dress casually to go out and relaxation is taken very seriously. In fact, St Kitts is a great place to do nothing at all. At the Emerald Mist Spa, serenity comes by way of their fabulously-named treatments—indulge in a Cocolicious Organic Facial, perhaps, or the massage-based Honey Ginger Propolis Journey. Tucked away in a corner of the St Kitts Marriott, the spa is a hidden paradise of fluffy warm towels and scented lotions. Once you’re all primped and polished, don your swimsuit and spend the day beach-hopping along the southeastern peninsula. Grab some lunch and a bed-cabana on the sand at hip hotspot Spice Mill Restaurant. Then splash along the shore to Reggae Beach and nibble their homemade banana bread pudding to the tune of Reggae Beatles. Finally, end up at Shipwreck Bar, where monkeys and mongoose roam free and the sunset has to be seen to be believed.
Beyond the beach, there’s plenty to stimulate the senses. Venture into the busy capital city of Basseterre and you’ll get a taste of workaday St Kitts—lobsters sizzling on cast-iron barbecues, pastel-coloured storefronts and the ubiquitous honking of car horns. Everyone toots everyone else. To an outsider it can seem like mass road rage. Local guide O’Neill laughs at the idea. “The horn is for a couple of things: get the hell out the way, but mainly hello,” he says. He’s the man behind O’Neill Tours (arranged through the Marriott) and what he doesn’t know about the rainforest isn’t worth knowing. His tours of the tranquil tropical oasis are fun and interactive, as he cracks open seed pods for tasting, points out monkeys in the trees and encourages Tarzan-style swinging from them. He’s full of local wisdom, too. Never ever step on monkey poop, he advises, and “don’t stand under the coconut tree. You never know which one is gonna say ‘down de hill!’”
Look up, way up, and you’ll see zip-liners taking the scenic route above the rainforest canopy. It’s typical of laidback St Kitts that even the adventurous stuff is easily accessible. Hit the water for scuba, snorkelling and jet-skiing, or rent a car and take off on your own private tour of the island. There are no traffic lights and it only takes a leisurely couple of hours to get all the way around. The main road snakes through Basseterre, past the bustling port and out into the countryside. Just outside the city, in a clearing at the side of the street, is a big tree hung with empty rum bottles. It’s quite a sight to behold, the glass glinting in the sun and each branch sagging under the weight of its bottle bauble. But this is no artful collection of empties. Touching this tree, the locals say, will magically get you drunker more quickly. And who wouldn’t want that? This is Sugar City, where ending your day busting a lime—with the best people, in the most happenin’ spot, with the rum aflowin’—is just as important as starting it with a good breakfast.
WHERE TO STAY
ST KITTS MARRIOTT RESORT
The island’s only full-service resort has everything you could ever need, including duty-free shops, car hire, seven restaurants, a huge pool and a gorgeous beach with free cabanas. It’s also a 15-minute walk to The Strip, so it’s easy to explore without relying on taxis. stkittsmarriott.com.
WHERE TO EAT
Even locals make the trip to the Marriott’s Calypso restaurant for their bountiful breakfast. The buffet is packed with fresh and seasonal delights, and there’s a full menu of brunch favourites with a Caribbean twist, like Cajun eggs benedict and cornflake-crusted French toast.
SPICE MILL RESTAURANT
A scenic spot for lunch, the beach-chic Spice Mill looks just as good as it tastes. The global-fusion menu keeps it simple with zingy jerk chicken pasta and crunchy fish tacos. After a spot of dessert, grab a fresh-fruit punch and head to one of their luxurious four-poster-bed cabanas.
CARAMBOLA BEACH CLUB
Dinner is a stylish affair at Carambola, where you can savour succulent lobster or red snapper in the beach club’s own secluded bay. There’s an eat-in wine cellar and an excellent sushi bar—order the Kittitian and Frigate Bay rolls for a tangy taste of heaven. carambolabeachclub.com.
WHAT TO DO
CARIBELLE BATIK AT ROMNEY MANOR
Meet local artisans and find charming souvenirs at Caribelle Batik. Expert demonstrations of batik—dye-resistant hot wax painted on cloth—take place throughout the day, with work for sale in the retail shop. It’s all housed in Romney Manor, a historic 17th-century building set in a beautiful tropical garden. caribellebatikstkitts.com.
BRIMSTONE HILL FORTRESS
Designed by British military and built by African slaves in the 1700s, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a monument to the island’s many power struggles. The Brits and French fought for control of this profitable sugar-cane producer until 1783 when the British won out. Today, you can tour the restored fortress, browse historical artifacts and get a breathtaking view of the island.
CATAMARAN SAIL TO NEVIS
Nevis is St Kitts’s quiet little sister across the sea. It’s best experienced on a Leeward Islands catamaran trip, with some snorkelling en route and a barbecue on the beach. Walk along the sand to the infamous Sunshine’s Bar and try the Killer Bee, a potent rum punch that’ll knock your socks off.