by Nigel Tisdall,The Telegraph, May 11, 2018
St Kitts offers everything you want from a Caribbean island – clean white sands, volcanic peaks clad in lush rainforest, easygoing beach bars with hit-the-spot rum punches – but it's by no means a here-we-go-again port-of-call. For a start, it has attractions that are unique in the eastern Caribbean, including a World Heritage-listed fortress and a delightful scenic railway. It also covers just 68 square miles, making it easy to take a tour combining visits to heritage sites with downtime on the beach to give a satisfying taste of its charms.
Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts, lies in the centre of the island's south coast and has a dedicated cruise terminal known as Port Zante. This has two berths with the capacity to welcome some of the largest ships in the world, and has been designed to withstand the most powerful hurricanes.
Can I walk to any attractions or do I need transportation?
You can easily walk into Basseterre – Port Zante lies in the centre of the capital and the main hubs, The Circus and Independence Square, are just a few blocks away. The first takes its name from London's Piccadilly and is where you can always find a taxi, the second used to be known as Pall Mall Square and is now a small public park where you can watch Kittitian life roll by.
The best way to see St Kitts is with a pre-arranged shore excursion or on a tour with a local taxi driver. The latter will bring you closer to island life and let you travel at your own pace – you can chat about local issues and stop at roadside stalls and photo opportunities without any time pressure.
Don't bother with public transport which comes in the form of private minibuses following set routes. It's always good to agree a price for a taxi ride or private tour in advance, and clarify if this is quoted in US dollars or East Caribbean dollars. If you are going to a beach or restaurant that is some distance from the port, such as at Cockleshell Bay, arrange to be collected at a set time and get the driver's phone number.
Best beaches for cruise-ship visitors
South Frigate Bay Beach is a ten minute taxi ride to the east of Basseterre and home to a run of casual beach bars known as “The Strip” that are liveliest after dark. The beach is nothing special but it's where the party-seekers head.
A better option is to drive on east for another five minutes to South Friar's Bay Beach which has attractive sands on the sheltered Caribbean Sea side of the island. It's worth taking a snorkel and children will enjoy the clear, clean waters. There are no public facilities and limited shade so you might want to rent loungers and umbrellas from the bars - take cash.
The best beaches on St Kitts are on the island's south-east peninsula, a six mile drive from Basseterre, with Cockleshell Bay Beach justifiably the most popular thanks to its warm, shallow waters and superb view of sister isle Nevis.
What to see and do
Virtually all the key experiences on St Kitts are available as organised shore excursions, so it's up to you whether to join a group trip or take an independent tour with a local taxi driver. Top of the sightseeing list should be Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a colossal military fort dating from 1690 that offers panoramic views – it's well worth getting the audio guide to learn about its history.
The St Kitts Scenic Railway is another unique attraction that trundles around the north coast for 18 miles on a narrow gauge line once used to transport sugar cane. The ride comes with a guided commentary, drinks, sugar cakes and the enchanting harmonies of a Kittitian choir in traditional dress.
If you're into nature, take a 4x4 tour into the forested interior with Greg's Safaris. Other options including playing golf at the Royal St Kitts Golf Club, where the championship course stretches between the island's Atlantic and Caribbean shores, along with catamaran cruises, diving and ATV tours.
What can I do in four hours or less?
Port Zante has some 60 shops and a crafts market that only operates when there's a ship in. You could spend a few hours exploring this and Basseterre at a leisurely pace – the St Kitts National Museum in Bay Road won't detain you for long but you can also take a walk to see St George's Anglican Church and Independence Square.
The St Kitts Tourism Authority has an office in the Pelican Shopping Mall where you can get directions and advice. If you want to see more you'll need to take a taxi or book an excursion. Among the best of those offered by cruise ships is a trip to Brimstone Hill Fortress, a ride on the St Kitts Scenic Railway and - particularly if you have children - zip-lining at Sky Safari.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
You don't need eight hours to get the measure of St Kitts. Pre-booked shore excursions with Carnival, for example, generally last from three to four hours and a half-day is long enough to do an independent circular tour round the north of the island, which is the most interesting part in terms of scenery and history.
Most passengers make a decision to either head in this direction or go south to the beach-fringed peninsula for some seaside fun. Of course it is possible to tour the whole island in this time frame if you are keen to see as much as possible, but it will be expensive. Some cruise ships offer longer excursions – Marella Cruises has a five-hour bike ride and Celebrity Cruises a six-hour trip across to Nevis.
Eat and drink
Basseterre offers a bit of everything from street food stalls selling roasted corn and healthy ital (Rastafarian) fare to easygoing lunch stops serving goat stew and curried conch. For a mix of Caribbean and international dishes walk or take a short ride to Fortlands where the well-established Serendipity restaurant has a terrace overlooking the harbour. Spice Mill on Cockleshell Bay has good fresh fish and most beach bars offer simple dishes. Be aware that service can be slow, so order as soon as you arrive!
Don't leave the island without...
Buying some rum, which is keenly priced in the duty-free shops of Port Zante – you may have to show ID to purchase it. The island brands are Belmont Estate and Brinley's Gold Shipwreck which are blended and bottled here. Souvenirs are rather predictable but jams, hot sauces and handmade crafts are worth checking out while the colour-charged batiks that have been produced at Caribelle Batik in Romney Manor for over 40 years are a popular buy.
Need to know
Flight time from the UK
British Airways (ba.com) flies direct from London Gatwick to St Kitts twice a week; the flight takes just over ten hours including an hour-long touch down in Antigua (you don't need to get off the plane).
St Kitts has had crime issues but incidents are decreasing and you shouldn't be put off – a much greater worry are the gaping holes in the pavements! Cruise ship visits are vital to the economy and islanders know the importance of making passengers welcome. Just leave your valuables on board and enjoy yourself.
Best time to go
St Kitts welcomes cruise ships year-round with peak season from November to April. June to November is the official hurricane season with stormy weather most common in September or October. Visiting off-season has the benefit of less crowds and temperatures hovers at an inviting 25-28C year-round. Key events are the St Kitts Music Festival at the end of June, Latin Festival – which takes place in Port Zante in October – and the St Kitts-Nevis National Carnival held over Christmas and New Year.