Basseterre, St Kitts
Basseterre, St Kitts Overview
In 1493, Christopher Columbus was so smitten with this volcanic island that he named it after himself. Since its discovery, St. Christopher, later shortened by British sailors to St. Kitts, has been fought over by the Spanish, British and French. Frigate Bay, a popular sunbathing and swimming spot, was the scene of brutal naval and land battles. Pirates, including the notorious William Kidd, enjoyed lucrative careers in Basseterre Harbour.
Prior to 1967, St. Kitts and sister isle Nevis were part of the British empire. That year, though, the islands earned semi-independent status when they were named associated states of Great Britain. In 1983, the 65-square-mile St. Kitts and Nevis became an independent two-island nation with a parliamentary government headed by a Prime Minister. Two decades later, holdovers remain -- like British accents, cricket and driving on the left side of the road.
The island's lush geography lends itself to eco-tourism, starting with the dormant volcano, Mount Liamuiga (known locally as Mt. Misery), which is covered by dense tropical rainforest. Colorful birds and butterflies, as well as the green Vervet monkey, reside here.
Sugar cane, the staple of the economy since the 17th century, was St. Kitt's main export until production stopped just a few years ago. Particularly in the west the sugar cane fields remain -- and offer a scenic ambience that is more reminiscent of Hawaii than the Caribbean these days! While tourists have discovered St. Kitts (especially the white sand beaches of the southeastern peninsula) the island is still relatively unspoiled and crowd-free, with a relaxed, authentic atmosphere.
Basseterre, St Kitts Quick Facts
Carib petroglyphs north of Basseterre. Etched on huge black rocks, these preserved drawings offer a glimpse into the lives of the people who originally discovered this island.
Bloody Point is the haunting site where French and British troops massacred over 2,000 Caribs in 1626. The view of Mount Liamuiga is spectacular.
Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a complex of bastions and barracks built by the British. On a clear day, the view includes six islands: Nevis, Montserrat, Saba, St. Barths, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.
Basseterre's Marketplace on Saturday morning is the place for people watching as well as buying flowers, mangos, guavas, apples and wild cherries.
At Black Rocks along the northeast shore, the surf has sculpted huge lava deposits into unusual shapes.
Best for a Half-Day Visit: There are half a dozen white sand beaches along the island's narrow southeastern peninsula. One of the best areas is the two-mile stretch between Cockleshell Bay and Banana Bay.
Best for the Dedicated Beach Bum: On the Atlantic, Conaree Bay is popular for bodysurfing. Water sports rentals are available in the south at Turtle Bay and Frigate Bay.
Best for Active Types: Frigate Bay is popular for swimming, windsurfing and water skiing. Further south, Turtle Bay is another popular beach for wind surfing. With a sunken tugboat attracting schools of fish, White House Bay is for snorkeling.
Best for Naturists: Great Salt Pond at the southeastern end of St. Kitts is an unusual inland beach opening onto the Atlantic Ocean in the north and the calmer Caribbean Sea to the south.
Best for Privacy: The gray and black sand beaches on the north coast attract fewer people. But because of turbulent waters from the Atlantic, beaches like Dieppe Bay are better for sunbathing than swimming.
English is the official language, spoken with a distinct accent and West Indian idioms.
The best way to explore St. Kitts is to take one of the island's widely available taxis. It's advisable to agree on the price up front since there are no meters. Buses also circle the island all day in the form of minivans. A visitor's driver's license costs $62.50 EC ($23 U.S.) from police stations and car rental agencies. It's best to drive slowly. Children walk to school via the roads and people often stop their cars to talk. Goats, sheep, donkeys and cows have the right of way.
Where You're Docked
Three years ago, Port Zante, at the southern end of the island, opened to accommodate the big cruise ships and now features restaurants and shops. Just a stroll from the port is Bassettere, the capital of St. Kitts. Established by French explorers in the early 17th century, the town features white colonial houses and a few surviving 18th-century buildings.
Staying in Touch
Sun Surf Internet Cafe, at the TDC Mall on Fort Street in Basseterre just north of the Circus, offers high-speed Internet access, as does nearby Dot Com Cafe.
St. Kitts boasts a wide variety of restaurants ranging from restored plantation houses to casual beach hideouts. Here are some of the most memorable tables:
In Basseterre, the Glimbara Diner in the Glimbara Guest House (7 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily, Cayon Street) is a locals' favorite; menus feature Creole cuisine that varies with the mood and inspiration of the cook. You might find stew-like goat, pumpkin soup and fresh fish. Burgers are also on the menu.
For a very special lunch experience, Rawlins Plantation, a former sugar plantation on the slopes of Mount Liamuiga, 10 minutes from Brimstone Hill, is famous for blending Kittian and French cuisine. Its Creole-inspired buffet lunch features dishes like shrimp fritters in mango salsa, lobster and spinach crepes, and chocolate terrine with passion fruit sauce. The set fee is $30 per person. There's a bar with quite a good French wine list; drinks are extra. Reservations are strongly recommended.
St. Kitts Scenic Railway is a good way to get to know the island quickly. The double-decker railcars follow the old sugar cane train tracks, offering views of the Caribbean Sea and mountains.
Romney Manor, 10 miles west of Basseterre, is the headquarters of local clothing manufacturer, Caribelle Batik. The highlight is five acres of botanical gardens, including a 250-year-old saman tree.
Kayakers and snorkelers can take a paddle trip from White House Bay, along the rugged southern coastline past coves, cliffs and caves to Friars Bay, stopping to snorkel among coral, rays and schools of fish.
A catamaran trip to St. Kitts nearby neighbor -- the towering Nevis -- is often offered; the trip involves a snorkeling stop and lunch at a private Nevis beach.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the East Caribbean Dollar, about $2.70 to the U.S. dollar (check xe.com for current exchange rates). However, the U.S. dollar is commonly accepted. The most convenient bank -- with an ATM -- is St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank on Central Street in Basseterre.
While many original buildings have been destroyed by hurricane, fire and earthquakes, the surviving Colonial and Georgian architecture gives bustling Basseterre a unique look. The town's hub is the Circus, a square styled after London's Piccadilly Circus. Art galleries, music and bookstores, Internet cafes, boutiques and craft shops make this a fun place to explore. St. George's Anglican Church has a stormy history, destroyed and rebuilt three times in three centuries. Pall Mall Square, encircled by stately Georgian manors, was once Basseterre's slave market.
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