St. Kitts: Not a Stereotypical Caribbean Island

Imagine the stereotypical Caribbean island: palm trees swaying in the wind, long white beaches with gentle waves washing ashore, waiters carrying piña coladas…

This is not Saint Kitts. Or, well, I’m sure all of these can be found at Saint Kitts too, but there’s so much more to this island. At first, we were reminded of a past trip to Gambia, and not just because of the ebony skin of locals. The goats that seem to be grazing on every field and inbetween houses, most of the cars at least 15 years old, houses in need of paint and maybe a new roof… but unlike in Gambia, here people didn’t constantly try to sell us something or “help” us. Instead, the islanders seemed genuinely friendly and our day on the island was stress-free.

St. Kitts

Celebrity Equinox in Basseterre port

Our ship had anchored at Basseterre, the capital of Saint Kitts, while we still slept. When we got out, multiple shore excursions were hustling around the pier at the same time, but we managed to find our contacts at St. Kitts Scenic Railway and get on a minibus. On the way to the depot, the driver showed us important sights around town: there’s the pharmacy, there’s an auto repair shop, that’s an empty commercial space if you’d like to start a business here, there’s a construction site where they’re building a business center. The latter was funded by the Citizenship by Investment program, which is meant for rich people to get St. Kitt’s tax status – there’s no income tax – and passport that allows visa-free travel to the EU.

St. Kitts Scenic Railway

St. Kitts

The train had an air-conditioned carriage, but we climbed to the upper deck to enjoy the views, as did everyone else on board. The wheels of the train screeched ear-piercingly as the locomotive slowly started us off on our journey. The morning was cloudy and slightly rainy, and that combined with wind from the movement of the train made me pull on a cardigan.

The views were at first a bit desolate, industrial backyards and abandoned cars. The guide started off on her narrative, pointing out a local landfill. Ocean was constantly on our right side, deep blue and rough, and the volcano rose on our left with its peaks enveloped by clouds. Only later we’d start to see villages, gardens and islanders running errands.

St. Kitts Scenic Railway

St. Kitts

Would you like some piña colada?  the train waitress asked us as the guide continued with excellent and detailed explanations of local culture and history. Everything here seemed to revolve around sugar. English and French farmers built sugar cane plantations here in the 17th century, and as the plantations grew so did the island’s slave population. For the next 400 years, sugar was a key export of the island, basis for the whole economy, until last century arrived and it was no longer profitable, what with descendants of the slaves now demanding fair pay. At some point, the plantation owners left the island and government took over, trying to keep the economy running, but in 2005, they had to admit defeat. Sugar cane production was stopped and thousands were left unemployed.

St. Kitts

Sugar Cake of St. Kitts
Sugar cake, a Kittisian dessert, was served on the way. Tastes like sugar!

St. Kitts

It turned out we also had sugar to thank for our train ride. The tracks had been laid down to more efficiently transport sugar cane around the island, and only when the sugar industry had slowed down had tourists started using them for sightseeing. Now, we had the pleasure to take it easy on the train, listening to traditional Kittisian songs by the train choir, and take in the views as we sped past villages, fields, and schools where children rushed to windows to wave to us.

St. Kitts

St. Kitts
The wide and short black tower used to be a windmill for a sugar plantation. We saw many of these windmills on our way, all in ruins.

St. Kitts Scenic Railway

Tracks don’t circle the whole island anymore, so after a couple hours of leisurely riding the train we were transferred back to mini buses. The same friendly and enthusiastic driver took care of us, talking about the island for the whole 45 minutes it took to get back to Basseterre and showing us sights on the way: a tree that had served as a border marker between French and English settlers, a home belonging to one of the government’s ministers (with a couple goats in the yard), a cemetery where US president Thomas Jefferson’s (purported, not proven) grandfather Samuel Jefferson was buried, and a river by which the Europeans back in the days slaughtered the island’s thousands of natives, and that flowed red for two days after the massacre.

St. Kitts

St. Kitts

Back in Basseterre, we were feeling tired from the early wakeup. Our breakfast had been heavy enough that we weren’t hungry yet, but we figured we could use some ice tea and a quiet place to chill for a while. This we found at The Gallery Cafe (10 North Independence Square, Basseterre), just a couple blocks from the port, although in Basseterre, everything seemed to be just a couple blocks from everywhere. In the courtyard, there were only us two – and a small lizard, a dog and a green vervet monkey looking for something to eat.

The Gallery Cafe

Green vervet monkeys were brought to Saint Kitts by the French, who intended them as pets. As you might guess from history, the “pets” were soon running wild around the island and thrived in its friendly environment. Now there are apparently as many monkeys on the island as people, and the islanders’ reactions towards them seemed to vary from nonchalant to irritated. Although many regard the monkeys as a nuisance, we couldn’t help but marvel at the creature that was sitting just a couple feet from us.

Green Monkey of St Kitts

Downtown Basseterre with The Circus, a sure spot to find a taxi.

We still had one sight left that we wanted to see: Brimstone Hill Fortress. This 17th century military fortress the largest in East Caribbean and a UNESCO world heritage site, and we’d only caught a glimpse of it so far on our way from the train. Based on that, we knew it’d be a 25-30 minute ride one-way, and it would only be three hours until our ship was leaving.

I’d harbored hopes we could get to the fortress via public transportation, but that seemed to not be an option. Our only reliable means of transport would be a taxi, which had a flat fee of $50 for the trip plus an hour’s wait. If we’d left in the morning, we could have probably gotten other tourists to split the cost with us, but at this point, we knew we’d be the only ones. Iiro suggested we’d just leave it.

No way! If we’d come this far – and we might not come again – then I sure wouldn’t leave a UNESCO site out of my collection.

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

Afterwards Iiro admitted that the trip was worth the money and time. Brimstone Hill had magnificent views over the island and out to sea. No wonder the English had chosen this spot to build their fortress against the French: a black streaked lava mount with sides so steep that the trip up through the narrow turns was nerve wracking.

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

The fortress was either well preserved or well restored – probably both – and its exhibitions further brought the island’s history to life. One interesting detail was the British West India Regiment, which only enlisted black soldiers. Many of them were recruited from the ranks of slaves, which was a good deal for the men, as the life of a soldier was far easier than the life of a slave.

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

What did I think of Saint Kitts at the end of the day? Out of the Caribbean islands we visited, Saint Kitts seemed the poorest and at the same time most expensive. In GDP rankings, the country does rank better than some other island nations of the region, so our perception might be due to widespread corruption that several islanders we met were complaining about.

Saint Kitts is not the stereotypical Caribbean island, and maybe that is a reason to visit it. Even though Saint Kitts isn’t as developed from a tourist’s point of view as Barbados or Sint Maarten, people are friendly, we were treated well, and crime or tourist scams seemed nonexistent. I wouldn’t recommend it to a backpacker because of the prices, and someone looking for pure resort life might want to choose a more developed destination, but if you’re looking for “authentic” Caribbean, you might just find it here.

First and foremost Saint Kitts needs you and other tourists to get its economy back on its feet.

Brimstone Fortress, UNESCO world heritage site

Thanks to St. Kitts Scenic Railway for inviting us on the train ride. Cruise companies offer the train as a shore excursion, and hotel guests can contact the company through its website for reservations.

This is what our Honeymoon will look like!

I doubt anybody’s surprised when I reveal that we planned our honeymoon just as much if not more than our wedding. We got married last September and planned to go on our honeymoon straight after, but with so many plans and a hectic fall, we decided to postpone it for this year. Now it’s only two weeks before we leave on the trip of the year! Where, you ask? Well, here:

Honeymoon Cruise on the Caribbean - Celebrity Cruises
[photo: Celebrity Cruises]
For our honeymoon, we reserved a 10 night cruise on the Caribbean with Celebrity Cruises. We’ve never been on a cruise before – if you don’t count the party boats sailing between Helsinki and Stockholm, and you don’t – and the reason we picked one for our honeymoon was to have time to relax. You see, I have a tendency of packing as many things in a trip as I possibly can, and there’s not too much you can do on a cruise ship while it’s sailing at sea. But don’t worry, we won’t spend all of our days just tanning by the pool. Shore days are a time for adventure!

Häämatka Karibialla - Celebrity Cruises
[photo: Celebrity Cruises]

Honeymoon – relaxing and adventure make a relaxventure!

We picked Celebrity Cruises as our cruise liner, because we heard they have a great offering for honeymooners. Better food than usually on cruises, a pool area that’s adults only, lots of shows and entertainment for an adult audience, ships that are just a touch more luxurious than normal, plus a honeymoon package for those who have celebrated their wedding max 6 months before the cruise. I’ve heard rumors of what this will enhold, but I’ve intentionally tried to ignore them. Hey, I like surprises!

We wanted a cruise that would last more than a week and would have both sea and shore days, and that’s what we got. We reserved a cruise with 4 sea days and 5 shore days and departing from Fort Lauderdale, partly because flying there from Colorado is cheaper than to Puerto Rico, but also because that’s the reason for the sea days, while the ship sails towards South Caribbean. The ship stops on four different islands, like this:

US Virgin Islands & St. Thomas

The first stop won’t take us out of the US yet but will land us on one of its territories. Guess which country sold these islands to the US in 1917? Denmark! This was because slave trade had been forbidden already in the 19th century, which made sugar plantations unprofitable when you had to (gasp) actually pay to your workers, and Danes were spending a ridiculous amount of their budget supporting the economy of these faraway islands.

The ship will park for a day at the port of Charlotte Amalie, the capital, on the island of St. Thomas, but we won’t stay there for long. We’ve already reserved a shore excursion that will take us on a boat ride around the nearby island of St. John and drop us off there for around four hours. Once there, we plan on visiting the Virgin Islands National Park. Looking forward to some snorkeling and hiking!

Trunk Bay, St. Johns, US Virgin Islands
Trunk Bay, most popular beach at Saint John [photo: John Piekos]

Saint Kitts (and Nevis)

The second stop on our cruise will be a day at the island of Saint Kitts. This former British colony drives cars on the left side of the road, and renting a car would require obtaining a “guest driver’s license”, so we’re still contemplating on how we’re going to get around the island. One way or another we’ll visit Brimstone Hill Fortress, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and a little way out of the capital.

Brimstone Hill Fort, St Kitts
Brimstone Hill Fortress is a world heritage site, because it’s one of the best preserved examples of Caribbean military architecture from the 17th century. [photo: size4riggerboots]
I doubt the Fortress will take the whole day, so we’ll probably do something else, too – but what? Hike up a volcano in a rainforest? Visit a sugar plantation? Drive around the island, checking out fishing villages? Hang out at the beaches and beach bars? If you’ve been to Saint Kitts, please leave a comment!

Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Kitts [photo: SarahTz]


The most Southern point on our cruise, Barbados is an anomaly among the Caribbean islands, out East from the main group and not even formed around a volcano. It’s also by far the most populous island on our trip, and it’s capital, Bridgetown, is on the UNESCO list of world heritage. Therefore I’m guessing we’ll spend a day wondering around the streets and checking out the sights of the city.

Bridgetown - Shopping Street
A local shopping street in Bridgetown [photo: Roger W]

Sint Maarten / Saint-Martin

Here’s an island that’s neatly divided in the middle by two countries: Netherlands and France. Both countries still govern their side of the island, explaining its two similar-but-not-quite names. We’re spending a night here, because the ship will arrive to port early afternoon and only leave early next evening.

The French overseas territory of Saint-Martin [photo: Terrazzo]
We’ve already rented a car on the island and plan on checking out both sides of it. I’ve heard the French side is smaller, quieter, more charmant, while the Netherlands side has one sight we won’t miss: Maho Beach, right at the end of a runway at the airport. This is how that works out:

Siis tällainen lentokonebongaajien ranta tämä Maho Beach. [kuva: Elina / Vaihda vapaalle]
Like airplanes? You will love Maho Beach. [photo: Elina / Vaihda vapaalle]
Which one is your favorite island out of these? Do you have any tips for us before we leave?

In partnership with Celebrity Cruises