Getting to the island of St. Kitts late at night is something out of a 1940s film noir.

Connecting to the last flight to the island from San Juan, Puerto Rico, was a puzzle. When you get to the San Juan airport, no one is around, no gate agents or even the lonely janitor swabbing the floor. The flight coupon for St. Kitts said Gate A1, but the first gate is B2. There seems to be no A1. I walk the length of the concourse. I finally find a flight attendant that informs me that Gate A1 is downstairs. You can't see it from Gate 2.

Escalatoring down to a sea of people, the A gates are crowded with late night fliers, all flapping off to different Caribbean points. A short shuttle takes me to the plane. Rain is splashing everywhere; quickly loaded, the American Eagle Bombardier bounces down the runway and into the night, the props grinding in the wind.

The flight to St. Kitts' Golden Rock Airport is about an hour. Landing on the jumbo jet approved runway seemed longer. There is no jet port; the wind seems to whip the carry-on out of my hand. Hang on to your hat. A short custom interlude and it is off to the Jack Tar Resort. Everything around Basseterre, the capital, is close at hand.

Get Your Dive Gear Here OnlineCaledonia charters from Great Britain and Signature Tour charters loaded with Canadians are the primary budget flights to the island, subsequently the English language gets a brisk workout of crisp British and drawling Canadian accents, most notable after a few rounds at the hotel bar. Signature Tours has an agent desk at many of the local hotels. There are no direct flights to or from St. Kitts from the United States, only through San Juan, where you go through U.S. customs on the return.

The Frigate Bay area is one of the most developed areas on St. Kitts, with an additional casino coming soon. Jack Tar Village, also known as the Royal St. Kitts Casino, also known as Allegro Resort, sleeps astride salt ponds, away from the beach — the oldest resort on the island. I had gambled at Jack Tar 12 years prior, arriving by Windjammer at Banana Bay on the southern peninsula — again late at night.

There are only 3,000 rooms on St. Kitts, more are planned under a controlled growth plan by the progressive government (as of 2005, about 5,000 rooms). White Hall, on the north shore (Atlantic side), will eventually have hotels, housing, resorts, and convention services. Jack Tar is on the more benign drier side of the island. Walking through the bush will ensnarl you in cacti; that is how dry it is on this side of the island.

Driving is British style — on the left. Often people park their cars along the narrow roads west of Basseterre, making the journey slow and painful, but leisurely; time to slow down, island time. The constant trade winds blowing down the sole volcano cool any road rage.

"Wot - You're British?"

Even though St. Kitts is an independent nation and a former crown colony, the attitudes are still a sort of British stiff upper lip with a Caribbean lilt. The locals are well educated, with a strong middle class, all with a hang loose attitude, and not arrogant like the Bahamians. St. Kitts is a well-kept garden, clean and comfortable.

The currency is the EC or Eastern Caribbean Dollar, with the Queen of England embossed on the notes. You can get one-dollar coins in round or octagonal coins. The exchange rate was about 2.6 EC to the US$1 when I was there. The American dollar is accepted everywhere, as are credit cards in the major establishments. Get a wad or two. The Royal St. Kitts Casino slots take only U.S. coins.

Book Your Online Resort NowYou have to love a country that paints its government house pink. I think that is the Caribbean influence because Basseterre — the capital — was historically a French town. The French split the island down the middle with the British, the French taking the southern and northern ends, with the British sandwiched in the middle. The British ended up with the entire island after the Treaty of Versailles in 1783.

The government re-elected the unicameral government for another 5 years, encouraging an entrepreneurial climate on the island. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis also has its American political roots. Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis, and his home is now a national museum in the dual capital of Charlestown. William Jefferson, the grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, built the family's sugar fortune near Basseterre, in the foothills of the rain forest.

The Food Is Fabulous

The dual island nation grows fresh and healthy food. No one on the island goes hungry. Think of one big macrobiotic landscape. I was asked by the Ministry of Tourism what restaurant I enjoyed the best, and I had to admit there was no bad restaurant. They all served fresh, clean, tasteful, and large quantities of the locally grown staples. Salt fish is a main staple, but you will find tuna, red snapper, grouper, sea bass, mahi mahi, pork feet, beef, and all types of vegetables. The potential for aquaculture could compete with agriculture on the island, if fully developed, as the government plans.

Fisherman's Wharf at harbor side on the west side of Basseterre Bay is managed by the Ocean Terrace Inn, and it is a great local hangout for the best in seafood, barbecued meats, baked yams, potatoes, and fresh vegetables. This is one of my favorite spots. The atmosphere reminds me of a Caribbean era long past. During the day, dine at Ballahoo in town, again a local preference. For more on dining see our short dining guide for St. Kitts and Nevis.

Beautiful Basseterre

Basseterre is one of the finest examples of Caribbean architecture in the West Indies. In 1991, "The Beautiful Basseterre Committee" was formed; its main objective is to prevent the town from developments inconsiderate of the surrounding areas and architecture. It is also through various means encouraging owners of existing incompatible buildings to implement changes and give their building a look which conforms with the traditional architecture.

The focal point of Basseterre is the "Circus" dominated by the "Berkeley Memorial." A look to the northwest and you will see "The Palms." Liverpool Row is a traditional West Indian street with a variety of styles, and if you look south you will see the Treasury Building, which has been standing for more than a century. It has been renovated and will become a National Museum. Across Bank Street you will discover the Barclays Bank with a new façade influenced by the Beautiful Basseterre Committee. Here you will also discover the Ballahoo Restaurant building, which was in fact completed in 1992, even though it appears to have stood for centuries. All this can be seen from the Circus.

At Independence Square you may admire the Georgian House, with beautifully cut stones. The Courthouse is almost a replica of a 19th Century building, which was destroyed by the fire in 1982. While in Independence Square you will identify old baking ovens in the gardens of several properties.

Taking the route from Central Street to Church Street you will discover the Government Headquarters, completed in 1996.

The Caribbean architectural style is beautiful, it is unique and nowhere is it more revered, respected, and recreated than in beautiful Basseterre.

History of St. Kitts & Nevis

The Volcano on Nevis as Seen from St. KittsSt. Kitts has been inhabited for over 4,000 years, although only periodically due to three volcanic eruptions over the years. We know little of these inhabitants except that they lived near the coast and were hunters. The first real settlers probably arrived in the first century AD and came from Guyana and Venezuela. We have proof of their occupation of the island in the form of fragments of pottery, tools made of bone and stone, petroglyphs and skeletal remains. These people were farmers and grew their cassava, corn, and potatoes; they raised animals for food and fished in the surrounding waters. They called the island Liamuiga, which means "fertile island" — and it is also the name of the singular dormant volcano on the island.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the island in 1493, but he did not land here; he was the one to name the island St. Christopher, which later became known as St. Kitts. In 1624, when the Englishman Thomas Warner arrived with fourteen other settlers, he discovered that the inhabitants at the time were known as Carib Indians. The Caribs were cannibals and aggressive, preying upon the peaceful Arawaks.

The English settlers had previously received financial backing for their venture and were later granted a royal patent to colonize St. Kitts and other neighboring islands.

In 1625, a French settlement was established and recognizing the security in numbers, the English allowed the French to share the island. In 1626, the English and French raided the first settlers, almost totally massacring the Caribs/Arawaks; the few who survived were kept as slaves. The French took the northern and southern ends of the island, the British took the middle portion; the salt ponds were considered as shared property.

The first years of colonization were difficult ones, due to a hurricane, and the invasion of a Spanish armada, which destroyed plantations throughout the island. However, within a few years profitability began as their first crops of tobacco and sugar cane were in great demand in Europe.

The two nations co-existed until the conflicts in Europe spilled over into the Caribbean in 1666. At the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the island became British. Africans had already been imported as slaves and by 1700 they outnumbered the Europeans in St. Kitts. There was a great demand for slaves to clear the forests and plant sugar cane as the sugar factories sprang up around the island. The 18th Century was a period of great prosperity. By mid-century the population reached 25,000 — 90% of whom where slaves. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, but full emancipation came in 1838; the newly freed slaves had no choice but to return to work and this time for almost no wages. The depressed conditions continued well into the 20th Century. However, the population continued to increase through the rest of the century. Today St. Kitts and Nevis have a vibrant and prospering middle class.

In 1912 a modern central sugar factory began production of sugar at 90% efficiency compared to the 50% efficiently of the now antiquated mills. In the 1950s, 10,000 Kittitian laborers flooded the English industrial cities. The plight of working class people was improved by reduced competition for scare jobs.

In 1967, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla were granted limited self-government, from which Anguilla broke away during the same year. St. Kitts recently held independent elections in early 2000, and has a unicameral government, with a Prime Minister as its head.

The Churches of St. Kitts

On the island of St. Kitts, which measures only 69 square miles, there are almost 100 churches (more than one per square mile) of a great variety of denominations. History buffs will be in their element as they discover the Caribbean, French, German, Spanish and English influences on the religions, as well as on the architecture of the churches. Religion plays a very important role in the lives of the Kittitians; children are taken to church from very early age so that they may learn respect and honesty, and they are a god-fearing people.

There is no religious hostility on St. Kitts; the various denominations live and let live. Amongst the religions that you will find here are Catholic, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, and Muslim. Whenever you come in the world and whatever your faith, you are sure to find a church of your denomination on the island.

Gibraltar of the Caribbean
One of the most awesome sites on St. Kitts is the Brimestone Hill National Park. Just a walk around the gun turret area overlooking Sandy Town far below will amaze you at the enormity and enduring feat that thousands of people made to complete this structure. It is the ultimate government project. The guns on the top turret can hurl a cannon ball five miles out to sea. In fact, the fortress was the deciding factor in many a sea battle during the era of the Jolly Roger and European conquest.

Brimstone Hill is a mass of hard volcanic stone covered with limestone, so in fact all the building materials for the fort can be found on the site. Construction of Brimstone Hill Fortress began in 1690 but was not completed for over 100 years.

In 1782, 8,000 French soldiers surrounded the fort, the defenders were forced to surrender after only one month. They came out with drums banging and flag flying. After the treaty of Versailles, a massive reconstruction program began and lasted the next fifteen years. Brimstone Hill became a hill top town known as the "Gibraltar of the West Indies."

But by the mid-19th Century, Brimstone Hill Fort was abandoned and the vegetation took over until 1965, when the Brimstone Hill Restoration Society was founded. Today the fort is a major tourist attraction and an architectural monument.Tel: 869/465-2609.

The best way to see the
magnificence of this fortress is
by a helicopter tour that also
visits the interior of
the island's volcano.

Island Helicopters
P.O. Box 1479
St. Kitts, W.I.
Tel: 869/46-1325
Fax: 869/466-1363
Mobile Phone 869/467-2930

The view of the inland rain forest is fascinating from Brimstone Fortress — you can see the rainforest actually encroaching on developed sugar cane fields, one of the few rainforests in the world that is expanding down the slopes of . . .

Mount Liamuiga
Dormant But Verdant

Mount Liamuiga is a dormant volcano, which is almost 3,800 feet high. It is composed of both volcanic and sedimentary rocks. The mountain is covered with a tropical rain forest vegetation, which gives, a permanent supply of water. When you take a walk up to the top of the mountain, you will discover a wealth of flora, including giant leaves, vines, creepers, ferns, moss, and a delightful orchids. Liamuiga is the name that the Carib Indians gave to the island and you will realize that it is very true when you take the climb up the mountains of the "Fertile Island."

Volcano Hiking

Take Greg Safari's hiking tour of the rainforest; contact Greg at Greg's Safari's

If there is one thing you do on the island you must take a rain forest hike with Greg's Safaris. He can even accommodate time-strapped cruise passengers on a shorter trek. If you have the time take the longer and more adventurous and educational high mountain trek. The eco-influenced Greg Pareira is Portuguese, he has been running hiking tours for over 10 years, taking visitors into The Bloody River area where the last of the Carib Indians were killed by the combined forces of the French and British. Canyon walls depict religiously carved rock petroglyphs. No Arawaks are left on the island or in the Caribbean. Caribs can still be found on Dominica.

Along the trail Greg points out wild indigo plants, the source for the valuable purple dye used by European royalty. I hear seeds pod popping around me; Greg stops to examine valuable and medicinal plants. Anything will grow in the rain forest or on the island for that matter. The green-backed vervet monkeys are hard to see in the dense foliage, but they are running all over Fort Brimstone Fortress National Park. The local farmers plant an extra third of a crop to feed the monkeys.

Sugar Cane In St. Kitts & Nevis
Still Sweet

St. Kitts used to cultivate and export tobacco, indigo, ginner, cotton, and sugar cane, but the competition from abroad was so strong that only sugar cane has stayed on as an economical commodity for the island. It is said that Christopher Columbus was the first person to bring sugar cane to the New World, but the cultivation of sugar cane in St. Kitts did not begin until 1648; it was only in 1783, under British control, that the development of an agricultural community began.

When the sugar industry was threatened at the beginning of this 20th Century due to competition from other countries, a central sugar factory that could process all the sugar cane harvested on the island was built in 1912. For years the United Kingdom bought all the sugar that St. Kitts could produce, but the First World War put a stop to that and a deep recession was felt. Today, the government owns about 90% of the agricultural lands on the island.

Sugar cane reaches a height of over 12 feet; the harvest is annual and the method of growing it has not changed over the centuries. In St. Kitts the planting is scheduled over a period of seven months so the crops ripen at different times. Once cut the cane is taken to the factories where it is crushed. The sucrose is extracted and this then becomes the cane juice. The juice is then refined, concentrated, and crystallized to obtain brown sugar. Rum is a bi-product of sugar and a distillery has been installed on the island to produce cane spirits for all you tourist rummies.

You can find the ruins of old sugar mills near the foothills of the rain forest near Romney Manor and the . . .

Caribelle Batik Factory
Gardens of Romney Manor
Open Monday -Friday
8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tel: 869/465-6253

Only a few short miles by road on the west side of the island, Romney Manor is the former home of the grandfather of the United State's third president, Thomas Jefferson. William Jefferson built the family fortune in sugar in the area.

Developed in the 17th Century. the estate used waterpower to drive the mechanism that crushed the sugar cane. The aquaduct still stands alongside the chimney, built a century later as testimony to the skill of masons from the by-gone era.

A stretch of tropical rain forest separates the estate yard from Romney Manor. Spectacular is the only way to describe the giant ferns, heliconia, elephant ears, and lilies that guide you to the Manor entrance. From the disorder of the rain forest to the manicured order of the estate is amazing. These formal gardens boast a 350-year-old Saman tree that covers half an acre and is possibly the largest in the Caribbean. You will always find shade under the tree on the croquet lawn near the bell tower; orchids, hibiscus, bougainvillea, and rare plants abound.

Get Tropical Gear HereRoam the batik factory for some of the loveliest batik pieces, pillowcases, shirts, caps, gowns, and dresses, in the world. Watch a talented artist hand paint each piece individually. The prices are very reasonable. The Sea Island cotton becomes a stunning work of art under the artists' hands The 17th Century sugar estate and factory was recently rebuilt on the foundations of the old manor. Purchases of batik can be made right on site.

In the gardens watch for the wonderful inhabitants buzzing by — hummingbirds are everywhere. Nestling about 500 feet above sea level on the slopes of the volcano, the estate is set on nine acres of tropical paradise, featured on many TV presentations and host to royalty and celebrities from around the world. Close by are the Carib Rock Drawings, and Old Sugar Estate.

Wedding Hints at Romney Manor — The gardens of Romney Manor are great for weddings. Photos only hint at its splendor. If you are planning to get married at Romney Manor, exchange vows before 2 p.m., when the best light is for photography. You are in the foothills of the rainforest, and the colorful plants will be more dramatic for photos around that time. Nevertheless, this is still one island that I could come back to time after time, just for the smiles.

By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.

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The Caribbean: A Walking and Hiking Guide

The Caribbean: A Walking and Hiking Guide

This new edition has been fully updated to bring you the very latest information on hiking trails on Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Nevis, Saba, Statia and the Virgin Islands. From easy walks along sandy beaches to rugged overnight hikes and quick uphill treks with stunning vistas en route, this guide has something to suit every member of your family. Walking times for each hike are given, along with descriptions of the route. Points of interest are highlighted, including plant and animal life you might see. An introduction to each island offers tidbits of the island's history, tourist information offices, air travel details and hiking organizations you can contact ahead of time.