1. From a volcano
“Remember, we aren’t goin’ shoppin’,” our guide, O’Neil, says in his Kittitian accent. “Do you have any physical or other problems I need to know about before we get started?” he continues, pulling a stack of walking sticks from underneath the seat of his Land Rover.
“Nah, I’m all good.” I grab a stick from the bundle.
“Aight.” And we’re off.
Mt. Liamuiga is a dormant volcano standing 3,792ft, the highest point of St. Kitts and most of the surrounding islands. It’s located on the western side of the island, about an hour’s drive from my home base at the Marriott. O’Neil, born and raised on St. Kitts, has been leading hikers to the top of Mt. Liamuiga for 30 years.
The incline gets steeper as we climb over tree roots and boulders and duck under fallen trees. The rainforest canopy provides shade, but the warm air is sticky and the forest floor damp and sometimes slippery.
O’Neil stops regularly to point out large termite nests, mimosa plants, rubber trees, and other native flora, but I think he’s really breaking to give us a chance to catch our breath. He’s well versed in botany and explains the scientific names of plants as we continue on.
Rainforest covers 35% of St. Kitts. However, I’m surprised to learn there are no snakes or parrots on the island. The high population of mongooses, imported by the British to control indigenous snake species, did their job a little too well, taking out several tropical bird varieties in the process. There’s also a shocking lack of insects — I see a few spider webs woven between branches, but not a single mosquito or gnat.
A hog plum, which I mistake for a mango, lies in the trail with a small bite taken from it. O’Neil calls to the vervet monkeys that left it by screeching and barking. Another invasive import, the monkeys now outnumber people on St. Kitts. I don’t see them, but the nibbled fruit and a pile of scat are signs of them watching from a distance.
We reach the summit, and I look out over the rainforest canopy to the Caribbean Sea. Behind me, a cloud moves across the opposite rim of the volcano, enveloping it in haze. I look straight down 1,000 feet into the crater — or, as O’Neil calls it, the giant salad bowl. A hot spot at the bottom breathes a puff of smoke and a faint smell of sulfur hits us.
I wonder when the volcano might rouse from its sleep. It’s been at least 400 years since it last erupted, but O’Neil suspects it will explode again in about 30 years.
The view of St. Kitts from atop Mt. Liamuiga is the best on the island.
O’Neil’s Rainforest Tours
Cost: $90 per person
Time: 6-7 hours
Note: For the fit hiker
2. From the water
Four Kittitian men greet me on a pier in the capital city of Basseterre. I remove my shoes and toss them in a bin before climbing aboard the 78ft catamaran, Spirit of St. Kitts.
“If you fall overboard we’ll pick you up, but hang on to your sunglasses and cameras; if they go over, we don’t go back for them,” Damian, the captain, gives a quick safety briefing as we untie from the pier.
I take a seat on the trampoline netting suspended between the two hulls at the front of the cat. The turquoise water of Basseterre Bay splashes in from beneath as we pick up speed. I set my drink in one of the holes formed by the grid of the trampoline. It’s held over the water in a perfect fit.
A smaller catamaran passes us going the opposite direction. The crew yells and waves. St. Clair, one of the crew members, tells me it was another of the boats in their fleet.
There’s finally enough wind to hoist the sail. The crew makes it look effortless as each member takes his place and they work together to secure the ropes. Spirit of St. Kitts is also used for racing. Just the weekend before they won a local race around the island of Nevis.
Cushioned seating rings the dining area at the back of the boat, and cold hors d’oeuvres are laid out as the lights of St. Kitts begin to twinkle on the shore. I fill my plate with stuffed tomatoes, a crabmeat sandwich, and fruit skewers. Ian, the bartender, brings me another Ting-with-a-Sting.
Tunes are cranked, and Ian leads the dancing. I can’t say no to the rhythm of the Soca Boys. The lyrics — “one-cent, five-cent, ten-cent, dollah” — speed up and repeat until the crew and all passengers are rocking the cat.
The sun sets.
Leeward Island Charters
Phone: (869) 465-7474
Cost: Depends on cruise option
3. From the past
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park is considered one of the best-preserved historical sites in the Americas.
The British built it, with the “help” of African slaves, in the 18th century as a defense station for St. Kitts. The fortress provided an impenetrable refuge for the British as they battled the French for decades and ultimately maintained their occupation of the island.
The best way to get to Brimstone Hill is by taxi or mini-bus; any driver will know the way. If you’re in a rental, take Island Main Road west out of Basseterre and look for the signed turnoff just before Sandy Point, St. Kitts’ second-largest town. The road up to Brimstone Hill is narrow and switchbacked. At the top, a grassy field and former parade ground is used as the parking lot; the visitor center, along with a snack bar, are adjacent to it.
The first area I explore is the Artillery Officers’ Quarters. Crumbling brick pillars and two archways are all that remain of this structure, which was once the first-class home of the fort’s commanders.
Next, I’m drawn to the Infantry Officers’ Quarters, which is built into the side of a hill. It’s difficult to recognize from above ground — not until I enter the basement-like structure do I realize it was a large subterranean housing unit.
I take the short walk up the cobblestone ramp to reach Fort George, the main structure and museum. I cross the dry moat on a weathered wooden bridge to enter. The rooms of the citadel house historical exhibits, which provide detailed information about the plants, animals, and wars of the island.
I read about the struggle between the French and British to control St. Kitts and its sugarcane fields, before the lack airflow and stagnant heat compel me toward the upper level of the fort.
Rusted out cannon remain stationed on the outer walls, pointed toward the Caribbean just as they were in the 1700s. I climb the narrow steps to the highest lookout point. From this vantage, I can see the town of Sandy Point below, the southern coast of St. Kitts, Nevis to the southeast, and the islands of Statia and Saba to the northwest.
The stonework of the entire compound fascinates me. The elaborate shapes and angles of the architecture are impressive, and I understand why it took nearly 100 years to complete.
Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park
Phone: (869) 465 – 2609
Cost: Adults – $8USD / Children – $4USD