I have to confess that I form a strong opinion of an island pretty much on first sight. You just get a feel for a place, from the smell of the land, the type and level of noise, the customs and immigration clearance, the look of their tomatoes at market…..
St Kitts won me over before we even set foot on land, that first night, anchored off the swanky Salt Plage beach bar , drinking my celebratory birthday bubbles, training the binoculars on the jet set ashore, relieved not to have packed my floaty white sundress (what floaty white sundress, some of you may ask?!) so I could have gone ashore and blended in. Far more enjoyable was the impromptu dance floor the girls and I made on the poop desk, our music being whisked out to sea by the strong trade winds that had got us there so fast.
On St Kitts, we were truly able to relax and unwind for a while. The people are friendly, relaxed and capable and it is safe enough for the children to wander about unaccompanied. There is plenty to do on land and all within easy reach with our small but air conditioned hire car.
We took the boat up to Port Zante marina where she stayed for a week so we could explore this delightful island. Port Zante marina is rarely visited by cruising yachts as it is in the shadow of the enormous cruise ship complex and mainly home to the day tripper sailing cats and dive boats that take the passengers off on their daily excursions.
I’d never seen the cruise ship holiday up close like this before and it was fascinating people watching. As some delightful US neighbours of ours pointed out the passengers are mostly the ‘newly weds and nearly deads’ with a smattering of families as we were there over Easter.
One or two cruise ships docked on 6 out of th 8 days we were there, including he world’s largest, Symphony of the Seas which disgorges over 6000 people. Believe me she was an absolute monster, towering above us like a small city centre cut adrift. Apparently she has two indoor climbing walls (which were the only appealing features we could discover).
The ships tend to dock around 7am and by 8.30am passengers start to flood through the gates to be whisked off to the various excursions: beach trip, Brimstone Fort visit, scenic railway, zip lining, day sail on an overcrowded catamaran etc. The Kittitians are amazingly efficient and charming in entertaining these visors and seemingly retuning them safely at the end of the day to their ships . I never actually saw any search parties sent out for the wayward last passenger, but surely it must happen.
Wingfield Estate. The bridge was part of the old sugar cane plantation and below was a special tank for extracting indigo. We’d seen similar on Martinique.
I absolutely see that, to an island heavily reliant on tourism, it must be a very welcome source of income to have these guaranteed visitors each day. However, it does colour the experience for the minority of visitors staying in hotels or self catering to cope with this enormous influx at a chosen spot. You have to get up very early to beat the crowds or as in the case when we visit the stunning Brimstone Fort, you add social anthropology to the mix. All in all, they didn’t bother us too much, but we did find a dearth of good and imaginative places to eat on the island since restaurants cater to the lowest common denominator.
Dora walking through the rainforest
One place we were guaranteed to escape the hordes was my chosen family treat for Easter Sunday, which was to turn the family out of their bunks at 6am so we could climb to the top of Mount Liamuiga, the dormant volcano that dominates the landscape of St Kitts. I first read about the walk in the Lonely Planet guide which said it was “tough, tough, tough” and shouldn’t be attempted without a guide. I then kept googling (as you do!) until I read a review that said it wasn’t really that bad and you certainly didn’t need a guide. So off we went. I have to say hats off to the children, for lack of bleating. I think it actually stunned them into silence as it was a tough uphill walk followed by a significant climb up boulders, tree roots and scree slopes which required a lot of stretching for the shorter limbed members of the family. To my great delight, we were actually walking inside rainforest, with the canopy intact and providing complete shade, the sounds of monkeys and elusive birds and the smell of rotting vegetation. Heavenly.
At the top we emerged onto a ridge and peered down into the crater, Jurassic Park set out below, the clacking pterodactyls easy to conjure up in our imagination. We took the wise decision not to climb down into the crater but lowered our aching limbs back down the mountain, which in itself was no mean feat.
Tom and Dora with crater behind.
I’m now mapping out our next island visits according to accessible volcanoes, which conveniently leads us to St Kitts’ northern neighbour St Eustatius.
A very satisfyingly impressive looking Mt Liamuiga behind as we sail for St Eustatius.