A Case for St. Kitts

Cooler. drier and more laid-back than your stereotypical tropical playgroud, this windward island has a lot to offer for some but isn't for everyone.


A Case for St. Kitts

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by jemery on March 8, 2001

The cool, humidity-free breeze hitting me in the face at the airport told me this wouldn’t be the stereotypical Caribbean experience. In fact, St. Kitts is only half Caribbean: The other half faces directly into the Atlantic tradewinds.

If you stay in the Frigate Bay area, where most of the resort hotels are, you can walk from Caribbean to Atlantic in about 20 minutes --- a great way to see the contrasts between the two coasts.

The island’s not heavily tourist-infested --- yet --- but in Jan. 2001 there was at least one large, upscale resort complex under construction and the first casino had just opened.

Sea kayaking, snorkeling and diving are very big on St. Kitts and adjoining Nevis. There’s a superb public golf course. Though I didn’t try it personally, the inter-island catamaran daysailing trip was highly recommened by my fellow hotel guests.

For comprehensive listings of visitor attractions, lodgings and other amenities, visit www.geographica.com/stkitts-nevis/index.htm.

For my personal experiences, see the ‘Activities’ entries in this journal.

St. Kitts, in my opinion, is mainly for active outdoor types. There are other islands better suited for sunbathers and beach-chair potatoes.${QuickSuggestions}

Resort Update In January, 2004, the 18-hole Royal St. Kitts Golf Course was reduced to nine holes while undergoing a massive redesgn and rebuilding. A contractor told me the second nine should be open by summer. A massive Marriott resort complex --- more than 650 rooms --- is open across from the golf course and next to the casino.

Dining Update, Jan. 2004: PJ’s, an Italian family restuarant cum pizza kitchen that I reviewed in 2001, has new ownership and a new name and has become what appears to be a sports bar.${BestWay} Unlike most of the Caribbean islands I’ve visited, St. Kitts has no inexpensive mini-buses serving the popular tourist areas. On the other hand, life on and along the highways is considerably more tranquil. I’d have been terrorized at the thought of walking along some of the roads in nearby Dominica, but not so here.

Taxis can be costly for parties of less than four. A trip into town for dinner would be reasonable for two couples travelling together, but a prohibitive $18 for a single.


Timothy Beach Resort

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by jemery on March 9, 2001

Most of the resorts on St. Kitts are at Frigate Bay, clustered around the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club.

The Timothy Beach Resort offers plain-Jane accommodations but location, location, location. It’s within 100 yards of the watersports center and popular beachfront Monkey Bar, and there’s only a 10-foot cliff and some rocks between the restaurant terrace and ocean. Unfortunately, hurricanes have left the beach littered with stones and the most comfortable swimming is a quarter-mile away.

Built on multiple levels cut into a steep hill, this property requires considerable stair-climbing. Staff --- including maintenance employees --- were invariably friendly and, except for some lapses during the busy breakfast hour, attentive. My room was comfortable but furnished only with the basics plus a cable TV (Which let me follow the stock market on CNBC).

The open-air restaurant was pleasant and the food ok, but I had better dinners at other restaurants nearby. Still, for basic lodging in a great location at reasonable prices, you won’t go wrong here.

Timothy Beach Resort
Frigate Bay
St. Kitts, St. Kitts and Nevis
(869) 465-8597

Frigate Bay Beach Resort

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by jemery on April 9, 2004

St. Kitts’ Frigate Bay Beach Resort is a moderately-priced hotel with many of the amenities of a more expensive property. About 3.5 miles from the international airport, it’s within walking distance of many of the island’s most popular Caribbean-side beach bars and dance spots.

The resort isn’t exactly on the beach, but about a city block inland, built into the side of a hill between 50 and 100 feet above sea level. It’s laid out as a collection of two or three-story town-houses; many of the 64 rooms are actually studio apartments, with kitchen facilities and breakfast bars for longer-term guests. There’s a walking path down to the beach, part paved, part not. Nighttime lighting on this path should have been better, but management said it was addressing that problem.

There’s a large, though not especially deep, outdoor swimming pool with an inviting swim-up bar. The pool terrace offers magnificent views of the bay, a valley and lagoon, and the distant volcano on the island of Nevis. Light poolside dining is available throughout the day and the property’s fine-dining restaurant, The Garden, is one I highly recommend for dinner even for those who aren’t guests at the hotel. Though the dinner hour nominally begins at 6:30, the Garden went out of its way to provide a full dinner menu for me as early as 5:30. I’d eaten there during a 2001 visit to St. Kitts, and having a quality, customer-oriented restaurant on the premises was a major reason I chose Frigate Bay for my return trip.

Frigate Bay is about four miles --- U.S. $8 each way by taxi --- from Bassettere, the only major city, and $13 from the international airport. However, it’s within walking distance from the newly-rebuilt Royal St. Kitts Golf Club, beachfront sailing, kayaking and snorkeling outfitters, and the casino. The huge new Marriott resort complex is just down the road and, with it, the island’s Atlantic seacoast. (You can see both oceans simultaneously from the high promontory nearby.)

Frigate Bay Resort’s website lists 2004 rates at U.S. $69-280 per night before tax and service fees of 14%. I paid $97 for my third-story, studio-size unit with an inland view, and balcony, a special promotional rate for a five-night minimum stay. Poolside units carry a premium rate. First-and second-floor units on the opposite side have windows at eye level with a roadway often used by hikers and joggers, creating a privacy issue. (I had one at check-in, but the hotel moved me to a higher, more private, room at no extra charge.)

All the major tour operators will pick up and deliver passengers booked through the hotel’s front desk. You can arrange rain-forest hikes, around-island tours, sailboat snorkeling/picnicking excursions or dive expeditions -- whatever.

Frigate Bay proudly proclaims its designation as “St.Kitts 'Hotel of the Year' 2002.” I have no reason to dispute that. I’ve paid a lot more, often for less room and amenities, on other Caribbean islands.

Frigate Bay Beach Resort
P.O. Box 137
St. Kitts, St. Kitts and Nevis

The Garden

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by jemery on March 8, 2001

The Garden at Frigate Bay Resort was the class of my St. Kitts dining experiences. There’s an outdoor resturant terrace with views of the bay, golf course and distant mountains and an indoor pavillion with similar views from a slightly higher level. Freshly-caught seafood is the specialty, but red meats, poultry and local St. Kittian treats are also available. All-you-can-eat buffets on Wednesday and Saturday nights. The Saturday Barbecue Night featured top-notch sirloin as well as the traditional ribs, chicken and seafood.

Dinner isn’t until 6:30, but you can wait at the poolside bar and transfer your tab to the dinner check. Somewhat pricey, but justifiably so for the quality of food and service and highly recommended.

Garden Restaurant at Frigate Bay Resort
Frigate Bay
Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis
+1 869 465 8935

Marshall''s

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by jemery on March 14, 2004

Atop a high promontory overlooking Frigate Bay, hundreds of feet above the Caribbean, Marshall’s is informal in dress and decor but elegant in everything else.

This would be a memorable location even without memorable food. My table was on an enclosed deck just a few steps from the brink of a high cliff. There were gorgeous views of the sunset, a four-master moored in Frigate Bay and, beyond, the neighboring island of Nevis.

Menu prices (entree only) topped out at U.S. $35 for steak fillet, broiled salmon or Chilean sea bass. Mid-range items included salmon fillet, breast of duck, rack of lamb or ribeye steak from $24-$29. However, given a list of tantalizing-sounding appetizers, I opted for two of those instead of one dinner.

The St. Kitts Baked Crab, at $12, was disappointingly dry and seemed to contain as much filler as it did crab. Liberal use of pepper gave it a bit more Caribbean "fire" than I’d have preferred, but with a good wine to wash it down, it was definitely appetite-stimulating. Smoked salmon, several huge slices over wilted greens with onions, red peppers and a flavorful sauce, was a huge success. It left no room whatsoever for a third appetizer I’d hoped to try, "Coquille St. Kitts" simmered in olive oil, white wine and cream. Seeing the entree dishes pass by en route to other tables made me wish I had time for a repeat visit.

Service was prompt, pleasant, and thoroughly professional. Some restaurants are hostile to singles dining alone on a Saturday night; these people treated me as though I owned the place. Wine, surprisingly, was a better buy here than at most Caribbean restaurants: Just $4.80 for a 7-ounce glass of a quality Cabernet/Shiraz.

Marshall’s is tucked away in a quiet and relatively isolated residential community with no highway signs to advertise its presence. Visualize St. Kitts as a whale, with the head to the northwest, the tail a narrow peninsula between the two oceans, and the southeastern portion of the island forming the flukes at the "whale’s" nether end. About two miles east of the airport, where the "tail" begins, there’s a small traffic circle. The main road continues east toward Timothy Beach, the new Marriott resort complex, and the parks at Turtle Bay. Off to the right, a secondary road winds its way up a steep hill toward some fancy houses high above. Follow this up and around to a sign marking the entrance to an affluent-looking subdivision. In there, you’ll find Marshall’s.

(About 200 yards above the traffic circle, you’ll pass the entrance to the Frigate Bay Beach Resort and its Garden Restaurant, two other St. Kitts venues I heartily recommend.)

If you find Marshall’s too expensive for your everyday dining, choose it for an evening especially worth celebrating and savor the experience. This is a small restaurant; reservations are a must for anything but very early dining. Hours are 6-10 Mon.-Sat.

Marshall's
Frigate Bay
Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis
+1 869 466 8245

St. Kitts Rainforest Trek

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by jemery on March 8, 2001

Starting out on the main coastal highway, you’ll ride a 4-WD mini-truck from your hotel to about two-thirds of the way up the flank of the island’s central mountain range. Climbing upward, you’ll watch monkeys raiding the coconut plantations and see the transition from cultivated land to hardwood rainforest.

The walking trail follows a series of undulating ridges and the valleys between them. Our guide said it was only a mile and a half hike but it seemed much longer. However, there were frequent stops for identifying the various exotic plantlife and --- occasionally --- spotting an exotic bird.

The hike was a serious challenge for this 60-something flatlander --- the guide had to help me over several difficult spots --- but appeared to be only moderately strenuous for the others in our group, And despite my hurting legs I was damn glad I did it.

For people experienced in rough-terrain hiking --- or reasonably fit people who are aren’t embarassed to ask for help when needed --- I highly recommend this half-day experience. ($45/person, minimum of four.)

St. Kitts Rainforest Trek
Thru hotel Concierge
St. Kitts, St. Kitts and Nevis

St. Kitts 'Round the Island Tour

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by jemery on March 8, 2001

The half-day Island Tour starts in Basseterre, the French-named but decidedly British-appearing capital, then follows the rugged coastal highway along both the Caribbean and Atlantic coasts. It passes many 19th century plantation estates and guest houses, with a half-hour visit at the Romney Manor/Batik Factory and an hour to explore the remarkable fortress on Brimstone Hill.

You’ll pass miles of sugarcane and be briefed on how changing market conditions have threatened St. Kitts’ sugar-based economy. (Evidenced by remains of several long-abandoned processing plants.)

Train buffs can track the still-operating two-foot gauge railroad that circles much of the island, hauling the cane to what’s now a centralized processing facility at Basseterre.

US$15/person, (as long as the van has at least four passengers), including hotel pickup and return. Highly recommended.)

St. Kitts 'Round the Island Tour
Thru your hotel concierge
St. Kitts, St. Kitts and Nevis

Romey Manor/Batic Factory Tour

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by jemery on March 8, 2001

n the 1880’s the Romney Estate was a huge sugar-cane plantation. Ruins of an 1883-built sugar refinery --- very photogenic --- remain on-site today. The former Romney manor house now houses the Caribelle Batik Factory, surrounded by a magnificent --- and also highly photographable --- garden and hundred-year-old trees.

Sugar is still the major crop on St. Kitts --- you’ll pass mile after mile of canefields on your way here --- but most of the old plantion homes have been converted into upscale guest houses or, like Claribelle Batik, tourist attractions.

This site is included in the ‘round-the-island’ tour package. Otherwise, you’ll need a rental car or chartered taxicab.

Romey Manor / Batic Factory Tour
North of Basseterre
St. Kitts, St. Kitts and Nevis

The Fortress at Brimstone Hill

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by jemery on March 8, 2001

The massive Fortress on Brimstone Hill, with bastions on multiple levels ascending the hill on which it's built, was started in 1690 and took nearly a century to complete. It was a major pawn in the wars between Britain and France over control of the Caribbean and was occupied by both countries at various times. It was abandoned and allowed to crumble after the Brits and French finally made peace but now it’s meticulously restored to the way it probably appeared in the 1800s.

The must-see Citadel at the summit requires a daunting climb, but the ramp is paved and there are low stone walls you can lean on if necessary. MANY photo ops here.

($5 admission for non-residents of St. Kitts/Nevis. Can be reached only by group tour, rental car or chartered taxi.)

Brimstone Hill Fortress
Sandy Point
Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis
+1 869 465 2609

Riding the St. Kitts Scenic Railway

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by jemery on March 12, 2004

Driving out of the airport on St. Kitts, it’s hard to miss the diminutive but colorful train parked just beyond a small railroad viaduct. Such wild, jungly colors ... and double-decked cars, yet!

This, however, is no toy amusement-park train ride. Though the tracks it runs on are just 2-1/2 feet wide, the St. Kitts Scenic Railroad travels a full 30 miles around the not-quite-extinct volcano forming the center of this Caribbean island. To see St. Kitts as you’ll never see it from a tour van, you’ve "gotta" ride this train! Some people have compared the terrain it passes through to Maui; I’d personally say that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there's plenty of lush vegetation and mountainside landscape to savor.

Successfully turning a working, but highly seasonal, sugar-cane railroad into a year-’round tourist operation, the St. Kitts Scenic Railway Ltd. completed its first year of revenue passenger service on Jan. 28, 2004. The tracks, dating from 1912, are those of the St. Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Company, which leases them from the federal government of St. Kitts & Nevis.

According to President Steven Hites, the new St. Kitts Scenic Railroad was on track to have hauled at least 15,000 passengers by the time it celebrated its first anniversary Jan. 28. (We had 97 aboard on Jan 21, 2004, eighty of them from visiting cruise ships.) During harvest season, the tourist train shares the tracks with a fleet of some 200 rack-equipped flatcars, each capable of hauling six tons of raw sugar cane. The passenger train is equipped with double-deck passenger cars custom-built in the U.S. The railroad is surprisingly well-engineered, with several impressive steel trestles and 23 bridges overall.

The full ride around the island takes about 4-1/4 hours. Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast; rum-based tropical drinks are free throughout the journey and serving begins right after departure, usually at 9:30 am. Each ticket entitles you to TWO seats: A wicker easy chair in the air-conditioned parlor downstairs or a cushioned bench on the open-air deck above.

Trains operate from the International airport at Basseterre, about 250 miles east-southeast of San Juan, P.R. Adult fare is U.S. $89, pricey but competitive with other tour options of similar length and amenities.

Because 80% of the train’s business comes from cruise lines, passenger schedules are often dictated by those of the ships; many packages cover just 18 miles by rail and complete the ‘round-the-island journey by van. The best opportunities for independents wishing to ride the entire line are on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, but call or e-mail first.

E-mail:

scenicreservations@caribsurf.com

Website:

www.stkittsscenicrailway.com

After your train ride, repair to the popular Monkey Bar at Frigate Bay, three miies down the road from the airport, where the beach is undergoing major renovation after years of storm damage.

St. Kitts Scenic Railway
Sands Unit A6, Bay Road
Basseterre, St. Kitts
1-869-465-7263

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