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St. Kitts, THE ISLAND TOURISTS FORGOT UNTIL NOW

By David WinderStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / March 12, 1981



St. Kitts, British West Indies

The best beaches in St. Kitts, one of a cluster of British West Indian islands known as the Leeward Islands, are practically inaccessible. No roads travel down to the white sands of Banana Bay or Cockleshell Bay at the southern extremity of the drumstick- shaped island, which looks across three miles of sea to its smaller sister island of Nevis.

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The only "convenient" way to reach these beaches and their hideaway hotels is by a bumpy, 45-minute speedboat ride from the capital of Basseterre (population: about 16,000).

There is another way of getting there: by foot. But it is a long, rugged hike over the mountains where mongooses run wild and the eerie chatter of curious vervet or green-backed monkeys leaping among the branches breaks the dawn's silence.

Nearby Barbados and nevis also have small colonies of monkeys. But they're nothing compared with the 30,000 reputed to roam the dense vegetation on the 65 square miles of St. Kitts.

"They are the only real collection of Old World monkeys in the New World," says a scientist at the McGill University- sponsored Behavorial Science Foundation Primal research Center here.

For the monkeys, the adaptation to St. Kitts is easy. There are succulent fields of sugar cane and rain forests with their cool, moss-backed glades of fern, ginger, and wild orchids. Here live exotic butterflies, hummingbirds, and other birds so tiny that a brace of them could nestle confortably in the palm of your hand. Tumbling streams and rivers rush from the mountaintops and drop precipitously down the steep cliffs to the placid Caribbean Sea or the turbulent Atlantic Ocean below.

A Bostonian in the land managment business who has come to the Caribbean every year for 19 years, never repeating the same island, says of St. Kitts, "It is one of the prettiest, lushest, most primitive islands in the Caribbean. It is undoubtedly the friendliest. The people are genuinely friendly here. that's not true of other spots in the Caribbean. Many, especially those in the 19 to 25 age group, are politically hostile to tourists. But I see none of that here."

Ironically, st. Kitts, which was in the forefront of Caribbean colonization -- it was the first British settlement, back in 1623 -- is about the last to queue up for tourists.

That has its compensations. Old-fashioned values, like trust, persist.

On two occasions, two different taxi drivers drove the writer from the hotel to Basseterre, some 20 minutes away. In each case the driver was requested to return some hours later to take his passenger back.Both times the driver said, "Pay me on the trip back."

"You can walk safely around the whole island," says an American who lives at the other end of the island.

But St. Kitts (population: less than 40,000) is not for the jet set. An assistant hotel manager remarks: "Some young people find it too quiet. They come for the disco. They want to boogie."

Life in Basseterre is unsophisticated. In the town's central park which has the rather ostentatious name of Pall Mall Square, two billy goats butt each other. Another goat stands on its hind legs to nibble the leaves of the spreading bread- fruit tree. At the Palms Restaurant, with its sparkling white tables and chairs, a kittitian waitress is moving among the guests dusting off the tables and unself-consciously singing a sweet melody. She moves to the second-floor window, cranes her neck out, and starts comversing in a loud voice with a friend in the street below.