Mark Rogers roams St. Kitts // (c) 2009
If you motor around St. Kitts you’ll soon notice billboards proclaiming “TOURISM – IT’S WORKING.” Up until six years ago the island of St. Kitts ran on a sugar economy. Noticing that its Caribbean neighbors were making a success of full-throttle tourism, St. Kitts announced it would shift from harvesting sugar cane to greeting visitors. Changes have been slow, although in my eyes, this is a good thing. The island has the pace and ambience of real life being lived, and the residents are some of the friendliest I’ve met in the Caribbean. While St. Kitts is far from being a tourism powerhouse, there’s much to recommend it.
St. Kitts Marriott Resort &
The Royal Beach Casino
At present there’s only one brand name hotel on the island, the 450-room St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino (www.stkittsmarriott.com
). Built six years ago, it makes a comfortable base for exploring the island. Visitors from the U.S. will find all of the features and amenities they associate with a high end Caribbean beachfront resort.
While guests may be tempted to kick back and while away the day enjoying the Marriott’s pool, spa, golf course and restaurants, I recommend renting a car and striking out on your own to explore the island (just remember driving is on the left).
More than once I heard the phrase, “Everything on the island is only ten minutes away.” This sounds good but it isn’t accurate. Driving from east to west on the island will actually take you 45 minutes, although it’s a pleasant drive along the island’s main road, with almost zero chance of getting lost. The drive takes you through numerous small towns, gives you glimpses of the sea, and passes historic plantations and the ruins of bygone sugar mills. The common lore of St. Kitts claims there’s a church for every road on the island, and three rum shops for every church. St Kittians have a penchant for naming their vehicles and it’s a nice touch of local color. The names run the gamut from the inspirational “Believe & Receive” to the boastful “Black Beauty.”
St. Kitts Scenic Railway
The main tourist attraction on the island is the St. Kitts Scenic Railway. The two-hour narrow gauge ride along former sugar cane tracks is a little pricey at $89 for adults and $44.50 for children, but it’s a unique way to see the island. You’ll have the option of riding below in one of the enclosed railway cars, or above in open air seats shaded by a canopy. Unless you have a health issue, definitely head to one of the open air seats. You’ll pass through former farmland, past mountains and the shoreline, but your favorite sight will probably be the small kids who wave to the train as it passes. The train doesn’t have a set schedule (it survives off cruise ship business) so you’ll have to call ahead once you’re on St. Kitts.
Brimstone Hill Fortress
Another attraction on the island is the Brimstone Hill Fortress, which dates back to 1690. A pleasant hour can be enjoyed roaming the grounds and enjoying the views. On the winding road leading up to the fortress, keep an eye out for vervet monkeys. These were brought over as pets by early French settlers, although now they’ve gone wild and become pests to local farmers. Scarecrows were first utilized to scare the monkeys away. When that didn’t work, they brought in dogs to keep the monkeys at bay. Pretty soon, the monkeys were riding the dogs. As much as the monkeys are a problem to locals, most visitors will get a kick out of seeing them.
Minutes away from the Marriott are a string of beachfront restaurants. I whiled away a couple of hours at one of the most popular -the Reggae Beach Restaurant - dining on mahi mahi, sipping mango margaritas and bobbing up and down in the Caribbean. Reggae Beach is a good recommendation for families – the water is calm and the offshore snorkeling is fine. The restaurant is open every day and a steel band plays on Sundays. If you’re looking for Reggae Beach on the map you won’t find it – it’s the name the locals use, associating the beach with the restaurant.