As tropical holiday destinations go, the Caribbean offers some heavy hitters. From the sandy shores and ritzy hotels of Barbados to the coffee and music of Jamaica and the laid-back vibe of Antigua, the archipelago’s larger islands offer more than enough choice for tourists – which can leave their smaller siblings somewhat in the shade.
This, frankly, is a shame. Quieter, more authentic and, in many cases, cheaper than their more famous counterparts, there is much to love about the Caribbean’s lesser known islands – as Gentleman’s Journal discovered when we headed ashore for a whistle stop tour of St Kitts.
The larger of the two islands which make up St Kitts & Nevis, the 170 kilometre square island lies due west of Antigua and appears as a rain-forested emerald speck in the middle of the glittering Caribbean Sea. If you’re looking for the ultimate ‘getting away from it all’ destination, this is hard to beat.
Despite its size, there’s no shortage of luxury hotels on St Kitts. Team GJ checked into the Royal St Kitts hotel, a sprawling complex of villas, swimming pools and relaxation spaces tucked within Frigate Bay, on the island’s south coast. But, while we could have happily wiled away our time on the island lounging on its sandy beach, indulging at its five restaurants or sipping rum cocktails at its numerous bars, we were here to explore.
Jumping into our Jeep – like most Caribbean islands St Kitts is lush and mountainous resulting in roads that are bumpy at best – it was off to the capital Basseterre. Like much of the island, the markers of St Kitts’ colonial past are in strong evidence here, particularly in the Circus, a fountain modelled on Piccadilly Circus which dominates the town’s main square. Likewise a tour of the Wingfield Estate, one of the island’s oldest sugar plantations, threw into sharp relief that Caribbean life was not always as carefree and relaxed as one might imagine.
For the modern tourist, however, carefree and relaxed is exactly what St Kitts has to offer. Throughout our trip, adrenaline fuelled activities – zip lining, off-roading and hiking up Mount Liamuiga – were interspersed with moments of pure leisure. There are few days better spent than snorkelling in the Caribbean Sea before drinking in the incredible views, and some seriously great cocktails, at Salt Plage in Christophe Harbour while the sun sets.
And, while we’re on the subject, dining in the Caribbean can be a notoriously hit and miss affair, with the more Americanised islands often offering overpriced and inauthentic fare. Happily, St Kitts is not one of them. Instead it plays host to a plethora of independent restaurants and eateries waiting to serve you fresh seafood and local delicacies such as goat stew, breadfruit, roti and tomato droppers (dumplings).
For a romantic evening, book a table at Marshall’s – an island institution overlooking the ocean where specialities include blackened grouper with shrimp and saffron sauce and Caribbean chicken curry with pineapple and coconut. If you’re after something a little livelier, head to Sprat Net where local fishermen cook the day’s catch on large grills to a soundtrack of live music. The perfect place to start a night out on Basseterre’s strip.
Where to stay: Gentleman’s Journal stayed at the Royal St. Kitts hotel, in Frigate Bay. Rooms start from $179 USD a night.
How to get there: British Airways flies twice-weekly from London Gatwick to St. Kitts, with a flight time of 10 hours and 15 minutes. Book at ba.com/stkitts