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