From quad bike tours to rainforest hikes, Andrew Doherty finds that despite St Kitts’ glitzy image, the island has a wild side that is well and truly coming out to play.
The roar of my quad bike’s engine cuts through the silence of the surrounding sugar cane fields at the foot of Mount Liamuiga, its mist-covered peak towering more than 1,000 metres above me. Speeding ahead, my guide, “Manners”, manoeuvres his vehicle onto two wheels before executing an impressive jump over an earthy mound. I slam on the accelerator to keep up, sending mud flying as I skid around the tight bends of the nature trail.
“Go for it,” he yells, pointing to a large puddle in front of me. Setting the ATV (all-terrain vehicle) to four- wheel drive, I gun it through the water. It was a lot deeper than I thought. Soaking wet but beaming, I kill the engine and dry myself under the Caribbean sun.
It’s a far cry from the chilled-out experience I’d expected from St Kitts. To my delight, I’ve discovered an island that offers an abundance of exhilarating outdoor pursuits.
At only 65 square miles and with a population of just over 55,000, St Kitts and neighbouring Nevis is the smallest country in the Caribbean. Yet there are plenty of activities across the islands to appeal to intrepid clients.
I kick off my week by joining O’Neil Mulraine on one of his rainforest hikes at the ruins of the Wingfield Estate sugar plantation.
With more than 40 years’ experience leading treks through the tropical jungle, Mulraine is touted as one of St Kitts’ best tour guides. Also a well-known herbalist, Mulraine possesses a wealth of knowledge of the island’s flora and fauna. I spend a fascinating two hours learning about various species of fungi, orchids and wildlife in the forest, including the “stinking toe” fruit, which, ironically, is used as an appetite enhancer and aphrodisiac.
Impressively fit at 62, it’s not long before he has me scaling a tree. I reach for the sturdiest branches, occasionally turning to look at the forest floor 50 feet below.
“Try doing this twice a day,” Mulraine laughs.
Mulraine also offers a longer five-hour trek to the summit of Mount Liamuiga, which will challenge even the fittest climber. So, if clients are interested, recommend they pack sensible shoes, water and mosquito spray for the journey.
For less adventurous customers there are alternative ways to explore the jungle around the Wingfield Estate too, including a Sky Safari Zipline experience (from £62), or a Spectrum ATV tour, which involves an adrenaline-inducing two-hour journey with stops at the ruins of the Lambert’s Estate and the gardens of Romney Manor, where Caribelle Batik produces and sells its famous “wax-resist” dyed clothing.
While St Kitts is enjoying the bounties brought by its booming cruise market, Nick Menon, chairman of the board of directors, St Kitts Tourism Authority, says it must find a balance between luxury clients and mass tourism.
“We want to bring in the high-end yachting community with the new Christophe Harbour luxury development in the Southeast Peninsula. We had great success when we exhibited it at the Monaco Yacht Show recently. We also have the Kayan Jet air terminal, which is open to private and commercial jet passengers.”
But Menon says the importance of mass tourism must not be forgotten.
“This summer we achieved Marquee Port Status, welcoming 1 million cruise passengers from November to May. And in order to facilitate the increasing popularity of St Kitts as a cruise destination, we have a new pier set to open in the capital of Basseterre by the next tourism season."
Regarding hotel openings, Menon welcomes the announcement that Six Senses will build a property on the island, joining the Marriott, Belle Mont Farm, Royal St Kitts and the recently opened Park Hyatt.
“This will be the first Six Senses in the Caribbean and we’re very pleased to have it,” he says.
Of course, for those who prefer to take life at a slower pace, St Kitts serves up plenty of laid-back pursuits. Keen golfers can take in a round at the Royal St Kitts Golf Club, while Blue Water Safaris sells a selection of catamaran, speedboat and snorkelling excursions.
For history buffs, a visit to Brimstone Hill Fortress national park is a must. Built by the British in the 17th and 18th centuries, the site is renowned for its cannons and exhibition rooms depicting life in its colonial military barracks.
The St Kitts Scenic Railway, built to transport sugar in the early 20th century, is a great way to take in the island’s sights. I board for the threehour, 30-mile journey, passing Black Rocks heritage site, home to volcanic stone deposited by Mount Liamuiga that erupted aeons of years ago, and Keys Beach, protected due to its population of leatherback sea turtles.
As we take in the sights, we are entertained by a cappella choir performances and stay refreshed thanks to the complimentary bar.
And, of course, a visit to St Kitts isn’t complete without unwinding, or as it’s referred to on the island, “liming”, with the friendly locals.
I head down to Cathy’s Ocean View Bar and Grill in Frigate Bay for a dinner of succulent jerk chicken, before chilling with a few rum punches at the Vibes Beach Bar on The Strip. Watching the sunset, I can’t think of a better way to end my adventure on St Kitts – an island offering the perfect balance of exhilaration and authenticity.
PARK HYATT ST KITTS
THE FACTS: The five-star, 126-room hotel opened in Banana Bay on the Southeast Peninsula in November 2017. A 30-minute drive from Robert L Bradshaw airport, the hotel is child friendly too, with a kids’ club, family pool and anartififcial beach to play on. Park Hyatt has three dining areas incorporating fresh seafood and farm-to-table concepts. Speedboat transfers can be arranged to take clients to Nevis, which sits opposite the hotel.
THUMBS UP: Park Hyatt has an ultra-modern feel. The rooms are full of techie additions such as smart TVs, USB wall-charging points and a top-of-the-range espresso machine. Connectivity is good too, with free Wi-Fi available across the hotel. Guests have 24-hour gym access and can book yoga sessions in a converted sugar mill. An adults-only pool and on-site spa adds to the hotel’s relaxed vibe.
THUMBS DOWN: Navigating the way from the main reception to the rooms can be quite confusing, especially when it’s dark at night, as the lighting is not very bright. At times the hotel lacked atmosphere, with the bar often closing early. However, it’s still early days, and that may change as it becomes more popular.
SELL IT: The Inspiring Travel Company has seven nights at the Park Hyatt St Kitts from £1,929pp. Package valid for travel from January 7 to December 20, 2019.