Location: Saint Kitts and Antigua
Saint Kitts is the larger island of the two-island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Made up of three converging volcanic peaks. The highest peak, Mount Liamuigia lies in the centre with lush jungle leading down to the beaches below. A single road circumnavigates the island, with the turbulent Atlantic ocean to the north and the calmer Caribbean sea to the south.
The capital, Basseterre, in the southeast of the island, was originally the capital of the entire French West Indies colony, before the British took control in 1660. In this compact city, you’ll be able to appreciate the variety of cultures that have influenced the island, from Georgian-era architecture, Chinese street stalls, a Jewish cemetery and locals speaking African-influenced Creole.
The beaches around Frigate Bay are long swathes of silver sand, trimmed with chic beach bars and local beach bars very popular with cruise ship passengers visiting for the day. Snorkeling trips are possible here into the islands clear tropical waters where you might spot barracuda, rare sea snails, tiny sea horses and the island’s favourite dish: the spiny lobster. Turtles also nest on some of the secluded areas of the beach.
The rest of the island is relatively sedate with sleepy villages and rural smallholdings dotted along the rest of the coast. Secluded coves are scattered round the island’s coast, some with exotic black volcanic sand. The southwest of the island is dominated by the imposing Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inland, the island is littered with remnants of the sugar industry. One of the largest producers in the Caribbean, Saint Kitts was once home to thriving sugar cane plantations and factories. Some of the plantations still exist, having been carefully converted into boutique hotels or restaurants. The Saint Kitts railway, built to transport sugar cane across the island, has been restored and is an unusual way to explore the island.
As Saint Kitts no longer produces sugar cane, many of the fields are gradually being reclaimed by the rainforest and Saint Kitts bears the rare accolade of having one of the only increasing areas of rainforest in the world. An extensive network of hiking routes meander through the rainforest, leading into the untouched forests of the interior. The paths can be tricky to navigate so it’s worth taking a guide, especially if you want to summit Mount Liamuiga. On reaching the top, you’re rewarded with views into the extinct volcano’s crater which has grown its own lush microclimate inside and has been nicknamed by the locals as the ‘giant’s salad bowl’.
Antigua is said to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, but the island also boasts an impressive historical pedigree. No less a sailor than Admiral Nelson based his fleet here, and the easygoing Caribbean ambience of the island is complemented by a tangible British influence. The historic Nelson’s Dockyard is testament to this colonial history, though the luxury yachts bobbing in the water hint at a more glamorous side to modern day Antigua.
The people are incredibly friendly, and the island comes together to party every Sunday night as the sun sets at Shirley Heights, an old naval garrison overlooking the majestic English Harbour. The brightly coloured buildings and duty free shopping of the capital, St John’s, make for an interesting half day excursion, while the south west of the island is home to a picturesque landscape of rainforest, ruined forts and old sugar mills.
The beaches range from bustling stretches lined with lively bars to little visited bays and secluded coves. Escape the crowds by taking a trip over to sister island Barbuda, blessed with miles of unspoilt pink sands, or tread the road less travelled and explore Antigua’s rugged east coast, where conditions are ideal for a whole host of watersports. The more tranquil waters of the Caribbean Sea, meanwhile, offer ample opportunities for diving and snorkelling.