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St Kitts: Things to do on your cruise day ashore

st kitts form the cruise ship

Drenched in warm Caribbean sunlight and blanketed in picturesque mountains, St Kitt’s was one of the more impressive Caribbean islands I’ve seen. The terrain is quite flat around the capital of Basseterre before the mountains to the north push civilisation outward, forcing villages closer to the coast.

Interestingly, it was a stark difference between two ends of the island that espoused 2 very distinct personalities, almost as noticeable as on St Martin/Maarten.

North of Basseterre, where the cruise terminal is located, there are mostly rural towns, with dilapidated buildings, local establishments, and bumpy, narrow roads. But in the south, the terrain is flatter, the roads are newer, wider, and much more even. There are many larger hillside houses and of course, there is the gargantuan beachside Marriott Resort and Royal Golf Club. It is clear that money has flowed more so to one end than the other.

Along the ring road on St Kitts

We hired a car and did a full loop around the island starting and ending in Basseterre. The rental car was great to have, but I don’t think a full lap is necessary as there is not a lot to see once you get past the main sites on the west coast.

It takes around an hour and a half to do a full lap of the island without stops and if you don’t feel the need to see every bit of the road just to “say that you did it”, this is time you could be spending enjoying the weather on a beach instead of in a car wondering where else you could be stopping.

Romney Manor

The first major stop on the tourist circuit is Romney Manor, where the biggest claim to fame is that the great, great, great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson used to own it.

Big whoop.

I’ve never seen a more useless connection used to entice visitors to an attraction since, well, ever.

Romney Manor, St Kitts
Around the gardens of Romney Manor

The manor is pretty small and does not have much of a view. In one of the historic buildings there are a few locals doing batik demonstrations, where fabric is drawn on in patterns with wax, then dyed. It is actually a pretty impressive art, but the pieces and clothing are very expensive. It felt like the historical significance of the site was an overstated excuse to entice you in to buy some Indonesian artwork.

I also didn’t see an actual workshop and one of the managers said he goes to Indonesia (the birthplace of batik) very regularly. I wonder how much batik he brings back with him to sell in the gift shop…

Brimstone Hill Fortress

Despite the fact that zero presidents’ distant uncle’s cousin 4 times removed ever lived there, Brimstone Hill Fortress is the star attraction of St Kitt’s. It was a military fortress on a low hill that changed hands between the English and the French a number of times throughout history as they fought for control of the Caribbean.

View over St Kitts from Brimstone Hill Fortress
View over St Kitts from Brimstone Hill Fortress

The fort is blessed with impressive vistas over the entire west coast of the island. To say the view is spectacular is to understate it.

Signage is pretty poor throughout the facility so if history really fascinates you and you want to spend a solid amount of time there learning, get the audio guide.

Blackrocks

After this, the next stop was Blackrocks, which I think has been added to the tourist maps just to break up the loop for visitors when doing a lap. The rocks were formed out of lava from a volcano eruption and settled on the coast. There’s not a lot to see, just that on the coast is a bunch of black rocks.

Another hint that this was just for tourists is the handful of souvenir stalls set up with the obligatory palm tree shirts, caps and magnets for sale. Not that I am complaining at all, since I bought this sweet one with flamingos on it, and it is bloody awesome.

Blackrocks St Kitts
Yep, black rocks

There are also a few “pubs” there, or more accurately shacks with wooden signs with drink prices scrawled in paint. I learnt that if you’re paying more than $2 for a beer on St Kitt’s they’re overcharging you.

Completing the Loop

After this, we drove south until there was no more road, with one photo stop to appreciate the stunning view over the south-west peninsula at Sir Timothy’s Hill. For those that aren’t aware, Sir Timothy was a man who had a hill named after him on the Caribbean island of St Kitts.

View looking south from Sir Timothy's Hill St Kitts
View looking south
View looking north from Sir Timothy's Hill St Kitts
View looking north

Southwest we went until we hit Cockleshell Beach; a fairly narrow beach with deck chairs available for hire in front of any number of beach bars. There is plenty of parking and would be a great place to spend a day ashore if you didn’t want to do the full adventure like we did.

Watch: My enttire Caribbean cruise in 3 minutes:

South Frigate Bay

South Frigate Bay is not only fun to say, but it also touted as the best play to park yourself for drinking in the sun’s goodness. It is just a few bays around from the cruise terminal in Basseterre but being so close, means it’s also one of the busiest. But this can have its perks: there are plenty of water sports to entertain you, as well as no shortage of beach bars and restaurants to keep you adequately lubricated.

Everything I read before going ashore said South Frigate Bay was the place to be. My opinion is that Cockleshell Beach might be nicer in terms of sand quality and tranquility, but South Frigate Bay might be more fun, with a little help to the many beach bar shacks the line the very long beach. It depends on the type of day you’re after.

South Frigate Beach St Kitts
South Frigate Beach

Similar to most popular beaches in the Caribbean there are ample deck chairs available for hire, but if you’re happy to sit on the sand, I don’t see any reason you can’t sit anywhere you’d like.

The drive from Basseterre to Cockleshell Bay was actually one of my favourites of the whole Caribbean Cruise as it passed over Sir Timothy Hill, which not only gave incredible views of both St Kitt’s and Nevis, but the drive wound up and gave mountains, and around lakes, giving a new, spectacular view of the region around every corner.

Basseterre

Lastly, after dropping back the rental car we explored Basseterre on foot. Basseterre was lively and colourful and plenty busy – the roads seemed at capacity both in the morning and afternoon. This made driving slow and walking/pushing a stroller somewhat interesting/exciting, as it seemed like you were dodging traffic every second step.

Broken Fountain at Independence Square Basseterre St Kitts
Broken Fountain at Independence Square, Basseterre

The Circus, which takes top spot in most tourist guides was as mundane as I expected it to be, but Independence Park gave a nice break from the relative chaos of the rest of the streets. Plus, on its border is Immaculate Conception Catholic School, housed in a very impressive stone church with some obvious British and French influence from the 18th Century.

The Circus, Basseterre St Kitts

Scenic Railway

One option for cruise days is to do the scenic railway, which takes you on a journey through sugar cane and small towns. We opted not to do the scenic railway because it seemed like a really expensive way to get sloshed on rum punch and see a lot of sugar cane.

I honestly can’t comment on how good it is as an attraction, but based on the reviews I read it seemed like something you would either love or hate. We chose not to risk it and just drive ourselves and I’m glad we did.

Are you heading to St Kitts on a cruise soon? How do you plan on spending your day?

Village and mountains on St Kitts

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South Frigate beach, one of many things to do on your cruise day ashore.Things to do in St Kitts. How to spend your cruise day ashore.


St Maarten: How to spend your cruise day ashore

Not many islands this small offer visitors the opportunity to visit two very distinct cultures on the one island. Settled by the Dutch and the French, each side has its own personality, culture, and language. Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is one such unique island and was the first stop on a 10 day Caribbean cruise with Princess.

The easiest way to maximise your St Maarten cruise day is to hire a car. Hertz and a few others smaller operators have offices there and you can pre book. But if you don’t, just be prepared to have a Plan B incase they are sold out.

Our cruise gave us a total of 8 hours on shore; from docking at 8:30 to all aboard at 4:30, which was almost enough time to see almost all that we wanted to, but it was a little tighter than we’d have liked. Nonetheless, here is how to do a DIY highlights tour of Saint Martin and Sint Maarten.

Maho Beach

You will arrive in the Dutch capital of Philipsburg, but it will likely be too early for anything to be open so save your time there until the after on your way back to the ship.

Assuming you’ve picked up a car, start by driving counter-clockwise towards Maho Beach. Maho Beach is famous as being plotted at the end of the runway of the St Martin Juliana International Airport. From this small strip of sand you are seated in prime position to witness small passenger planes and jumbos come into landing.

Planes flying over Maho Beach St Maarten

The first thing to note is that it is a small beach. If not for the airport this beach would never rate a mention. But, the brilliant turquoise sea is an excellent place to take in the action.

And if the sand blasts from the jet engine power becomes too much (and if you are directly behind it, it will) you can just duck under the water. But I preferred to stand off to the side to get the dramatic over-sand plane photo.

The Sunset Beach Bar right next to the beach posts the landing times of the major aircraft, which are the exciting ones, but you’ll find planes of all sizes coming in to landing every 10 or so minutes.

I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t get to see any jumbos come in (we’d been there an hour and others wanted to move on) so your best bet is to work out prior when they’ll be coming in. They started for us around 11am, which was, sadly, just as we were leaving.

Marigot

If you couldn’t tell by the name, Marigot will be your first stop on the larger French side.

We didn’t give Marigot a lot of time, however, it is worth noting we also happened to visit on New Year’s Day, which was also a Sunday, so most things were closed anyway. The Sarafina Bakery was open though and it was pumping.

Fort Louis Marigot St Martin
View from Fort Louis, Marigot.

What actually made us stop in Marigot was Fort Louis, an old fortress ruin from the 18th Century that the French used to defend their territory against the Dutch and the British. From the main street it is no more than a 10 minute walk up an obvious path of steps and pavement (flip flops are sufficient).

For such a small walk it’s a magnificent view, giving a 360 degree panorama of Marigot to the east and Simpson bay to the west. It’s well worth the stop and you can be up and down in 30 minutes, easily.

Grand Case

Because we’re on the French side still, it is pronounced Gron Kaz. Grand Case was not what I expected it to be. I generally read guides and blogs before going to a place and I expected little shacks dotting the beach with locals selling food and beers to visitors. If you’ve read any other guides you might have this same assumption.

The town was more low key than I expected, and actually felt quite residential, save for a handful of local eateries and accommodations along the beach and main road. These places were all raised above the beach, with stairs down for easy access.

Grand Case Beach St Maarten

The beach at Grand Case is still a nice beach, in fact it was definitely more spacious and less crowded than Maho Beach, but keep your pants dry for now because I think there are better beaches for swimming and relaxing if you aren’t tied here.

I’m getting sidetracked. the reason to go to Grand Case is actually to have lunch. Of the handful of eateries along the shore a few are referred to as lolos. I’m not sure what the translation is, but essentially they are small diners serving local delicacies such as Grilled Lobster, Conch sausage, Ribs, fish, and jimmy cakes.

All this while sipping a few $2 Carib beers with the local steel drum band, nay orchestra, serenaded you with unique melodies, backed by bass guitar and drums. It was quite something. In the video below, the last 20 seconds are of the band and you’ll understand what I mean.

Lunch was served and was incredible. I mean, it was no luxury resort seafood buffet (that was Christmas Day!), but it was barbecued to perfection. Even though the day was only half over this was already the highlight.

Incredible local food at Grand Case St Martin

Pic du Paradis

Pic du Paradis was one thing we missed, but even if we had have planned the day differently, it still would have been a stretch. You see, around St Maarten is a ring road. It’s not a big island, but most of the attractions are on the coast.

…Except for Pic du Paradise, which translates to Paradise Peak. I.e. a big ol’ mountain in the middle. There’s a road that goes up, but to get the view that’s worth seeing it was going to be a 1km walk from the car park and back, which was time we at the time could not spare.

If eating the local food is not important to you, you might choose Pic du Paradis over lunch at Grand Case, because they are quite close. Or if both sound like non-negotiables, think about what else on this list you could forego.

Already you are starting to feel like 1 day on this magnificent island is not enough!

Orient Beach

If you wanted to come to St Maarten for a day and just spend a day at the beach, this is where you’d come. The beach is long, it’s wide, and it’s bursting with water sports.

Orient Beach St Martin

For these reasons the beach is very popular with visitors and there are a great number of resorts that back onto the beach. The resorts all have a plethora of beach chairs and umbrellas that you can hire and park yourself for the day.

Orient Beach is perfect for the family, couple or group who want to get off the ship, and just want to relax on a beach with a book, absorbing the idyllic surroundings.

Philipsburg

About 10 minutes from Orient Beach is Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side and landing point for all cruise ships. It is perfectly setup to receive tourists with no shortage of beach bars, cafes, clothes and souvenir shops, and of course places to buy the famed guavaberry liqueur.

The beach is pretty big, also with plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs, and it is right in front of the ship so it’s very easy to setup camp here for the day. However, I found the beach at Orient Bay to be much nicer. The sand was softer, and there were more opportunities for activities.

Front Street Philipsburg Sint Maarten

Other Notes about St Maarten

Gambling is oddly legal here, we saw casinos everywhere. In fact, the first building we saw when we disembarked was a casino. It made me wonder how many people don’t actually make it any further.

The beer on St Maarten is mostly $1.50. This was the cheapest beer I found in the Caribbean so I made sure to bring some back onto the ship (which was really easy).

St Maarten was one of my favourite islands I visited on the cruise, and one that I would happily return to. If you’ve been to St Maarten, what was your favourite place?

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St Maarten cruise day: How to spend one day ashoreMaho Beach, St Maarten. How to spend one day ashore St Maarten.


St Lucia: How to Spend Your Cruise Day Ashore

Veiw of Castries St Lucia

St Lucia is a very common stop for many Caribbean cruise liners. It’s volcanic formation has resulted in a very mountainous island with challenging roads that provide stunning views literally around every corner.

You will likely make port in Castries, which is on the west coast. The beaches are up north and other activities worth doing are down south.

It’s an island of reasonable size – 617 square kilometres – but driving anywhere takes time because the roads are so slow due to their winding nature up and down mountains. So the first thing to realise is you won’t be able to see everything.

The colourful main street of Soufriere St Lucia
The colourful main street of Soufriere

When visiting St Lucia on a cruise, you have a few options: do an official cruise shore excursion, hire a car, or hire a guided taxi ride for the day.

Cruise excursions are always overpriced, and you spend your day on tour in a bus full of other people. Hiring a car is risky because cars on islands sell out quickly, and sometimes they don’t even honour your booking (I saw both of these happen this week). Lastly, as you exit the terminal you will no doubt be bombarded with tour and taxi salespeople, which generally feels like its own red flag.

It can be easy to immediately disregard these hawkers but I encourage you to actually ask around. They have different options and you’ll be able to find something you want to do. The prices vary depending on how many are in your group and you will get your own private taxi driver/tour guide for the day, which will give you as much (or as little) flexibility as  you need.

To give an idea on pricing, we had a group of 5 adults, who paid $45 each, but my parents also did their own (similar) tour and they paid $60 each, so the more you have in your group the  cheaper it will be per person.

Street Vendors along the main highway of St Lucia
Street Vendors along the main highway of St Lucia

Driving to Soufriere

We headed south from Castries towards Soufriere, which is a hub of a number of a number of attractions. To get to Soufriere you must drive about 90 minutes up and down at least 10 mountains (I genuinely lost count and the driver had no idea). This is easier said than done, as the road is windy, bumpy, thin, and riddled with potholes.

I was very glad to have taken a private tour at the cruise terminal rather than hiring a car for this reason alone. Although the extra flexibility would have been nice, the drive would have been long and stressful.

That said if you think you can handle yourself on the roads – like if you are from New Zealand which has similar roads – then go right ahead because it would have been cool to stop at one or some of the many local restaurants and bars with what I imagine are magnificent oceanic views.

Colourful houses in Canaries, St Lucia
Colourful houses in Canaries

Despite being so steep and windy – or in more likelihood because of it – it is a spectacular drive. Every gap in the trees is another opportunity to glimpse the stunning mountainous coastline. In typical Caribbean style, many of the houses in the villages are painted in differing pastel colours and looked really pretty from above. One village actually reminded me of Cinque Terre, Italy, being on the coast with coloured houses built closely up he side of a mountain.

Sulphur Springs Volcano

The first stop on the tour was Sulphur Springs Volcano, famed as the Caribbean’s only drive in Volcano. You pay US$12 for your entry which includes a very brief “tour” (or a walk up some steps with a guide), and entry into the mud baths.

It has an elevation of around 300 metres, it last erupted in 1769 and at its hottest point the water and mud is around 100 degrees Celcius.

Sulphur Springs Drive in Volcano St Lucia

It was really more of a rock formation with mud than an actual volcano so don’t expect to be seeing too much lava bubbling away. But the steam is obvious and it is a very dramatic location.

The mud bath was a bit fun. The water flows through the springs and at the baths I estimate that it had to have been over 40 degrees celcius. The heat was immediate and made me recoil at first. After you were feeling suitably relaxed they have buckets of the sulphur mud for you to lather up with, wait for it to dry, then wash off in the steaming muddy water.

I’m not much of an exfoliator, but I do think that my skin was noticeably smoother after the mud bath, so it’s not just a gimmick.

It can get really crowded on cruise days as it is a very popular activity, so just be prepared for lots of people – the baths are not very big.

Mud bath at the Sulphur Springs Volcano St Lucia

Toraille Waterfall

Our taxi driver took us to Toraille Waterfall, which was a nice waterfall, not to far from the Botanical Gardens. It is a refreshing place for a dip after the mud spa. In fact, many people left the mud on their face to wash off in waterfall as the distance between the two is not far.

Toraille Waterfall near Soufriere, St Lucia

Soufriere

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Soufriere unfortunately. We could have, but the day we went was January 2nd, which in St Lucia is still a public holiday for New Years. It was a lovely little seaside town, not much beach, but plenty of local places to eat and drink in well maintained, colourful colonial timber buildings.

There is also an ATM inside the Bank of St Lucia, housed in a beautifully well-preserved colonial building along the main street.

Bank of St Lucia Colonial Building in Soufriere, St Lucia

The Pitons

The Pitons are two steep mountains located right on the coast, dominating the landscape of Soufriere and surrounds, reaching a height of around 800 metres. Gros Piton, the larger of the two can be hiked, but it is a very strenuous and steep 2-3 hour hike – and that’s just to reach the summit. Your driver will likely stop at an excellent viewing point on the way into Soufriere.

Gross and Petit Piton dominating Soufriere, St Lucia

Due to the length of time it would take to hike, I probably wouldn’t advise doing it as a cruise excursion, because it would be the only activity you’ll have time for. Plus you’ll need to organise a guide and transport there.

Not impossible, but it would be tight.

Marigot Bay

We didn’t go down to the bay itself, and I doubt you would have time on a regular day trip, but our driver did stop at a place with a pretty special view of the bay. The only catch was you had to buy a drink at the place he stopped as it wasn’t just a lookout. Given that beers were only $3, and I was pretty thirsty this was an easy decision to make.

View of Marigot Bay, St Lucia

As an added bonus we were treated to a bit of a show as well. As I mentioned, you had buy a drink or at least pay $2 to take some photos and enjoy the view. Some large German guy thought he would try and take advantage of these people by taking his photos and just leaving. The owner lady, who was fairly hefty herself closed the gate and said he couldn’t leave until he paid, which he refused to do.

He pushed her, she pushed back, arms were thrown, the fence was bent, shirts were ripped and police were called. B.man couldn’t handle the excitement and broke into tears, I felt bad for the owner who is just trying to make an honest living and this man on vacation is just trying to take advantage of her for the sake of a couple of bucks.

Discover Castries

When we got back to the terminal, our tour had ended but we still had a couple of hours until “all aboard” so we took a short “taxi” into town to have a poke around. I use the word taxi loosely because it was clearly just some dudes car.

He dropped us near the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and since it was still the New Year’s holiday the whole town happened to be out in droves at a street market nearby.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Castries, St Lucia

There was a DJ playing music, stalls with drinks, food, toys, other random wares. Best of all, I didn’t see a single white person apart from our little group.

We missed lunch so we found a lady cooking chicken on a BBQ by the side of the road who sold us a leg and thigh for $2 each. I don’t know how this magical lady did it but the meat was perfectly moist with the skin ever so crispy, all in some delicious home made tomato sauce. It will go down as one of my favourite meals of the trip because of the experience and lack of food poisoning.

Lunch from this lady's bbq at the New Year's festival in Castries, St Lucia

We kept walking and since we had a few more dollars to spend we sat down at an outdoor bar and ordered a few beers: Piton, named for the towering mountains “Gros and Perit Piton” near Soufriere. It was another local joint and it was great to be able to sit down and watch the locals go by.

There were so many little bars along this road, many only just larger than a hole in the wall operation. We selected one where we were most sure we wouldn’t get murdered called Triple D’s and had a round of Pitons.

A couple of the local bars we didn't linger at in Castries, St Lucia
A couple of the local bars we didn’t linger at

Beaches of St Lucia

Unlike other Caribbean islands, St Lucia is not known for its beaches. In fact many beaches have black sand due to the volcanic nature of the island. While I didn’t visit a single beach on St Lucia, here are a few that had been recommended to me in one form or another.

  • Anse Chastanet, near Soufriere
  • Anse Mamin, near Soufriere
  • Smuggler’s Cove, northern St Lucia
  • LaBas Beach, Marigot Bay

Things to Note for visiting St Lucia

Getting a tour the day of at the cruise terminal seems counter-intutive as it feels like you’re just begging to be ripped off. But all things considered I actually think it is the best and most efficient way of seeing a lot of the attractions for a reasonable price with a fair bit flexibility built in. You’ll get a private tour and will pay less than half what you might pay with a cruise line excursion.

The cost of a taxi ride is also mandated by the government and is $20 each way to and from Soufriere, so we figured we might as well get a tour for a similar price.

Our tour cost $45 each with a group of 5. The van seated 14-15 but i think it would be rare that they fill it all the way up. The price would be more per person with a smaller group, I imagine, as they asked me how many people were in our group before giving a price.

St Lucia operates equally in USD (for the benefit of tourists) and the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD) at an exchange of around 2.7. Tourist attractions are priced in both and most places will accept either. But know that almost no one accepts credit card so ensure you have enough cash with you to get by. This caught us out and actually had to borrow money from our tour guide.

Take snacks with you because our driver didn’t take us to any lunch spots, yours might not either.

Fast Facts

Price of a beer: USD$2.50-$3.00

Currency: USD and Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD).

Local beer: Piton Lager

Local distillery: St Lucia Rum Distillery and Marigot Bay Distillery. Keep an eye out for delicious banana and coconut creme liqueurs.

Make sure to bring: old swimmers (I had some disclolouration on mine from the sulphur springs mud bath)

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View of Marigot Bay, St Lucia. Many cruises stop at St Lucia and there is too much to see in one day. Here is how I spent my day ashore and how I recommend it for you. Gros Pitons, St Lucia. Many cruises stop at St Lucia and there is too much to see in one day. Here is how I spent my day ashore and how I recommend it for you.


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