The Getaway: St. Kitts by Land & Sea

 

With Memorial Day Weekend marking the unofficial start of summer, we're launching a new travel column highlighting getaways easy to access from Miami

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By Shayne Benowitz | shayne@shaynebenowitz.com

With rainforest canopies climbing the heights of volcanic peaks, and craggy, sun-baked bluffs rippling across the horizon, St. Kitts is a striking Caribbean island destination. Located in the West Indies’ Leeward Islands, emerald green and aqua waters lap against soft gold sand shores. At 70 square-miles, there’s not a single stoplight on the island. Locals (known as Kittitians) are a laidback, happy lot quick to crack a joke or offer up a recommendation, and they’ll explain that their beloved island is shaped like a drumstick with sister island Nevis to the south.

Where To Stay

The oceanfront St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Club is centrally located in Frigate Bay on the island’s Atlantic side. The grounds are sprawling with Frigate Bay House serving as the main hotel, as well as 19 freestanding, garden-style buildings housing one- and two-bedroom suites perfectly suited for families on vacation (for prime ocean views, request a suite in buildings 5, 6, 7, 13, 14 or 15).

As the largest resort on the island at 393 rooms, St. Kitts Marriot offers all the creature comforts you might expect, and then some—an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, casino, three swimming pools, multiple restaurants and bars, a spa, fitness center and activity center.

 

Opened in 2003, the lobby is grand and open air, there's an oversized map of the island behind reception and a Disney-esque wooden boat replica can be found in a fountain overlooking the Grand Plaza. Guest rooms, while clean and comfortable, are in need of a modern refresh and pool furniture is standard aluminum and plastic. What the resort may lack in style, it makes up for in expanse and friendly hospitality. Not to mention, a tranquil private beach with gorgeous views of the mountainous landscape. (Go for a swim, and you might just share the waters with a pod of sea turtles). Daily programming is designed to entertain and ranges from pool volleyball and aqua aerobics to horseshoes and “dive-in” movies.

What To Do

Get the lay of the land from sea on a day sail to Nevis with Leeward Island Charters aboard a 78’ catamaran. The drinks will start flowing as soon as you step on board and this is a perfect opportunity to try the local beer Carib or a "Ting with a Sting." Ting is a local grapefruit soda and the sting comes when it’s served with Cane Spirits Rothschild or CSR, a local white rum distilled from sugar cane.

You’ll sail south along the Caribbean and stop to snorkel at a protected cove. Next, sail across The Narrows, the channel separating St. Kitts from Nevis, where the wind and the waves will pickup as you leave protected waters. The catamaran beaches just north of The Four Seasons Resort Nevis on a secluded beach for a barbecue of fresh fish and hot dogs.

Spend the afternoon cooling off in the refreshing crystal clear waters and nursing a Ting with a Sting or two. A little exploring will lead you to fishermen with colorful wooden outboard boats beached on the shore preparing conch and snapper for the markets. Walk in the other direction and a bluff will lead you to an unexpected pasture of cows searching for shade.

While closed during our visit, Sunshine’s (just south of The Four Seasons) has a reputation for being a raucous beach bar with former patrons including Beyonce and Jay-Z.

What To See

For a crash course in St. Kitts history and an exploration of the island’s bio-diversity, embark on a jeep tour and rainforest hike with Greg’s Safaris. Led by fifth generation Kittitian and extremely knowledgeable naturalist Greg Pereira, you’ll wind your way up the island’s interior as the terrain shifts from arid and sweltering to lush and dewy.

Pereira narrates a fascinating tour detailing the island’s colonization first by the Spanish, then the French and later the British, and its 360 year history producing sugarcane, which came to a halt in 2005. The island’s highest point is at 3,700’, and we stopped at local farmer Yellow’s Garden to hike through the “Valley of the Giants.”

You’ll see colorful flowers like morning glories, heliconia and black-eyed Susans blooming through green tangles of tree ferns and elephant ears. Due to its rich, porous soil, the rainforest produces such fruits and crops as guavas, bananas, pineapple, sweet potato, tamarind, soursop and breadfruit, many of which have medicinal purposes.

Pereira has keen observational skills in the forest and he will demonstrate and explain the intuitive functions of the ecosystem. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a vervet monkey tucked away in the trees.

Where To Eat & Drink

Kittitian cuisine draws upon West Indian, Creole and indigenous Carib influences, and curries, stews and rotis are common dishes. For a truly local experience, head to El Fredo’s Restaurant and Bar in the capital city Basseterre for lunch. There are no menus, but the day’s selections are scrawled on a chalkboard reflecting what’s fresh and available. Grab a seat inside the small screened-in porch and dine amongst local politicians and businesspeople.

The kitchen itself is the size of a closet, but the aromas wafting from it, drenched in garlic, curry and spices, signal that big flavors are simmering inside. Selections range from Creole snapper, curry conch, garlic shrimp and chicken roti served with mashed bananas or rice and pink peas. Goat water, a savory stew, is the local comfort food, and adventurous eaters may wish to sample it here.

 

For a refined, modern take on local cuisine, head to Spice Mill at Cockleshell Beach for dinner. Located at the southern end of St. Kitts, you can see the lights of Nevis twinkling across The Narrows. You’ll be charmed at once by its rustic chic dining room, composed entirely of natural wood with cathedral ceilings, exposed beams and shutters opening up to the beach breeze. Overhead, woven wicker light fixtures dangle in abstract shapes reminiscent of pineapples and jellyfish.

This attention to detail extends to the menu, which plays up Thai flavors (a seafood soup with coconut and lemon grass, coconut-scented jasmine rice, chili flakes) on an otherwise straightforward gourmet menu. Selections range from spiny lobster with a housemade butter sauce to beef tenderloin in a cognac pepper sauce, but the seafood risotto with pumpkin, parmesan and truffle-scented oil is hands down the winner.

Spice Mill makes for the perfect evening out, but it’s also a daytime beach club destination boasting a private beach, abundant cushy lounge chairs and cabanas, and a bon vivant air. For a similar scene by day and night, head to Carambola Beach Club in Friar’s Bay. The mouth-watering sushi menu is the highlight here, and they also have a variety of surf and turf entrée options.

If it’s nightlife that you’re after, the St. Kitts Marriott is walking distance to “Da Strip,” a row of beachfront bars blaring reggae, reggaeton, hip hop and house music. Da Strip attracts both locals and tourists, and the scene from bar to bar ranges from low key to high energy. Shiggidy Shack is the place to be on a Thursday night, Vibes is on Friday and Chinchilla’s draws the ex-pat med school students.

Why Go

St. Kitts stands out as a Caribbean island that’s still somewhat undiscovered. It was late to adopt tourism as a major economic force because of its long history producing sugar cane. This gives it an off the beaten path quality and an upwardly mobile local populace. With plenty to discover by land and sea, it’s ideal for the beach bum or the adventurer, and a strong local cuisine will also satisfy curious foodies.

The Logistics

 

  • Flights from Miami (MIA) depart daily to Basseterre (SKB) on American Airlines. Roundtrip rates from the $700s. Three-hour, non-stop direct flight. 
  • St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Club is a 10-15 minute transfer from SKB. Nightly rates from $199.

 

 

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