As with any cruise port; there is plenty of duty free shopping to be had. Porte Zante is the big shopping area with jewelry stores, liquor shops and souvenir shops all in one large area. Prices here were quite good in comparison to other islands we have visited; in particular the liquor prices.
When my wife and I visited Romney Manor we were able to watch a demonstration of Batik. Batik is a process where wax is painted onto fabric and then dyed to create color patterns and designs. We watched the beginning of this labor intensive process and were able to see different stages of the dying process as well as the finished product. If the product is truly Batik the reverse of the fabric will have the same mirroe image print on it; nice fun fact we found out during the demo.
After the demonstration we were able to peruse the shop offering numerous product of Batik from pillows, wall hangings, bags, and clothing.
One of our stops on our tour of the area was Romney Manor and its gardens. The gardens at Romney Manor were absolutely beautiful. The gardens were quite lush with a colorful and interesting mix of different flora and fauna. In particular we enjoyed the 400 year old Saman tree and Traveller's Palm. There were several benches for sitting back and enjoying the gardens as well as a lokk out point in which to see the old stone furnance from the sugar cane processing days.
Before we came to visit St. Kitts we were told there would be monkeys; small ones. My wife was excited by this as she loves animals and couldn't wait to see them. While we were on a local tour we saw a few of these monkeys out in the wild as well as a large group in a containment area in front of a residence. They are small creatures; size of a small baby.
My wife and I got to experience the monkeys up close and personal when back in Bassaterre. There are swarms of people carrying around monkeys on leashes and with diapers (thankfully) for tourists to pose with and touch (for a price; we paid $20 for the experience). We had a fun time posing with a monkey and petting him. My wife wasn't happy though that he took a seat on her head but was glad again he had a diaper on.
Most of the monkeys we saw looked well cared food, clean and well fed..hopefully that is the case all around.
If you arriving in Basseterre via cruise ship; you will arrive in Port Zante. Port Zante is the main shopping area for tourists with a large variety of shops; in oparticular duty free shops. You will find many stores carrying souvenirs, jewelry and duty free liquor. There are also several restaurants in this area as well as a local market. My wife and I enjoyed wandering around here and doing some shopping before we boarded the ship later in the afternoon after our local tour. We were able to find all of our souvenir items here and for good prices.
Port Zante is also where cruise ship passengers can meet up for their shore excursions or hop in a Taxi. Taxi fares are at a fixed rate so there is no worries about negotiating a price.
Realize this is the big "tourist" area so there will be tons of taxi drivers and merchants selling their wares. Be prepared to get alot of attention.
One of the stops along our tour of St. Kitts was Romney Manor. This is a 17th century estate which boats a large ten acres of property and had a large sugar cane crop. Romney Manor was once owned by the great Grandfather of President Thomas Jefferson (Sam Jefferson II). It was later owned by the Earl of Romney; hence the name Romney Manor. The grounds of the Manor were once the village of Carib indians.
During our visit we explored the beautiful gardens of the property; watched a Caribelle Batik demonstration; explored the ruins of the sugar cane processing area and saw the 400-year-old Saman tree on the property. We had an excellent time watching the Batik demonstration and perusing the merchandise. The garden were very nice; lush with interesting flora and fauna.
My wife and I had the pleasure of touring the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park during our visit to St. Kitts. The Fortress itself was a highlight of the tour and is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Fortress is also called the "The Gibraltar of the West Indies", meaning it is supposedly invulnerable. The Fortress is set high up the hill giving it some incredible views that also means a military advantage of seeing the enemy coming.
The fort was abandoned by the British in 1853, until 1973 when it was restored and later declared a National Park in 1987. In 1999 it became a World Heritage Site. The fortress was constructed during a hundred year period from 1690-1790; using slave labor for construction. The fortress is constructed mostly of limestone and mortar which must have been quite the undertaking without modern construction equipment and the steepness of the hill.
My wife and I began our tour by walking up the Alphabet Steps ( a series of 26 steps) leading up to the fortress itself. Our tour allowed us to explore the Citadel, Western Place of Arms, Eastern Place of Arms, Magazine Bastion, Orillon Bastion, the quarters and Fort George Museum. My wife and I are military history buffs and thoroughly enjoyed our explorations.
The best part of this tour are the amazing panoramic views of the area. We had a bit of a cloudy day so the view was not as perfect as it can be; but the views were still specatcular to us. This was a highlight of the visit for both of us. If we visit the island again; I will definitely return here.
**There is an admission fee: Residents - $6.00 E.C ; Visitors - $10.00 U.S and Children - Half Price. Our admission fee was included in the tour price. If you would like an audio guide; they are available for rent at $5 a set. There is also a small girft shop, cafe selling drinks and food items and restrooms available by the carpark.**
Nevis is smaller and cuter than its bigger brother – St. Kitts. It has almost perfect conical shape with elevation high enough to collect clouds on permanent basis. Moreover, it possesses some very special soil features that make sugar cane go “bananas” and in the process enrich its owners to the tilt. Gradually though, with the development of new sources of sugar in Europe, its sugar production became less profitable just as in any other Caribbean island or even useful altogether but the populace did not despair. Nowadays the local government with the blessing of its big brother, St. Kitts, has moved into financials, a business that is way less dependent on weather or soils, and allows saving for a rainy day in case its little-big ambition of independence realises itself one day.
Curious exposure to some unexpected undercurrents of St. Kitts’ social life can be obtained through a visit to some of the old plantations that have converted to inns and in this capacity show off the glory of the past through the practicality of the present. There are couple that are well advertised - Rawlins Plantation and the Golden Lemon. Well, the rumor that they are not operational started oozing down the pores of the 15 seat minibus but for non-believers this is not enough – they have to have a very hands-on cognitive approach. The sad truth of the matter (as dicovered so painfully) is that both are not in working order; the Golden Lemon has lost its proprietor to intrigue and the garden to a hurricane. The Rawlings Plantation has even juicier story to report going along the lines of the owner being indefinitely suspended till results of a murder case are figured out! Boy, who would believe that such horrific things might happen in Paradise!?!
Black rocks area is touted by the now well entrenched into tourism marketing business literature which previously could claim that was independent with the aspirations of the independent traveler at heart. Well – no more. The result is another stop on the St. Kitts’ circular road well equipped with stalls to entertain and feed the masses. The rocks are not “jaw dropping” and might not be disappointing if there were no hyped up expectations. They are on the more exposed Atlantic side of the island and thus present a rougher picture of this idyll called St. Kitts compared to the placid waters at Basseterre for example. But there is not much more to it unless one counts the presence of the cutest little donkey, apparently just recently introduced to life on this planet. So rush down there to see it before it has lost its appeal to over exploitation on the plantations that are no more!
Romney Manor is one of the few plantation houses left on the island of St. Kitts in particular and the Caribbean in general. The sugar cane production, once a mainstay of the colonial existence is in total shambles nowadays as the Europeans have embraced beats as raw material for sugar. Even worse, they have developed artificial sweeteners which are many times sweeter than the natural product thus practically eliminating the need for cultivating sugar cane altogether. In this situation Romney Manor is a beacon of bygone times and as such attracts the attention. Moreover, this property was at certain point in the hands of a man who had the honor to be the great-grand father of the American president Jefferson, a fact having the power of a 1000 volt magnet to the cruise ship clientele, naturally mostly American. The modern marketing conveniences aside, this shows the amount of money and prestige the islanders had and their ability to venture into poorer colonies, namely New England, and make a name and position for themselves to such an extend that to be able to bid for the highest office in a land. Of course, in order to reach such a point the pioneers had to kill the local inhabitants (poor souls they should have succumbed to civilization through slavery and everything would have been alright), assume ownership of their property (which was, of course, a God-given right to teach the heathens a lesson) and fend off French interests (very ambitious these French, eh). On the grounds a splendid tree towers over the estate. It has seen it all – from misery to fortune but luckily can’t talk.
To anyone visiting the St. Kitts, a trip on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway is one of the most unique ways to experience this unspoiled island. Even though it runs on 30-inch narrow gauge track, the train is made up of full-sized rail equipment, and it is not in any way an amusement park train as has been suggested elsewhere in earlier reviews. It also seems to be running quite reliably, and according to the Conductor on my trip does, the locomotive is very well maintained and very rarely has a mechanical issue: he said they have two good engines now, and have been running trains since 2002, for 9 years now (again, this confidence in the railroad's reliability - coming from one of the crew - is contrary to earlier reviews of the rail tour which appear to have been written by people who did not even take the train trip). Our train departed on time, and made its journey without incident.
The SKSR passenger train runs on a railroad that was built by British engineers to carry sugar cane from the fields in to the central factory 1oo years ago (1912 - 2012), and it is the very last link between the tourism economy of the present and the now by-gone era when when sugar was the island's main economic engine. The trip is 18 miles (2 hours) by train and 12 miles (45 minutes) by railway-owned sightseeing bus for a total journey of 3 hours (30 miles). It circles the entire island. The modern rail cars are double-decked: the view from the top observation level is fantastic, as you can see right out over the top of the tallest island vegitation. The lower level of the cars is air-conditioned, has tables and wicker chairs for group seating, and each car has a nice air-conditioned restroom. The on-board staff serves very nice complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (as many as you like!), there is a running commentary about the points of interest and the history of the island. The train even has live entertainment: there is a three-member choir group that comes through the cars and sings Caribbean songs.
On our train the locals in the villages and farmers in the fields would stop and wave at the train as it went by, and the pre-schoolers in one little town all ran out of their classroom and down to the edge of the schoolyard in their uniforms. They waved and yelled and went wild jumping up and down on the fence. I have never seen these kinds of reactions to visitors passing by when I have taken taxi tours in the other islands in the CAribbean: in fact, I haven't seen anything quite like this on any other island. The local people seem to have embraced this as "their train" in St. Kitts. As we came to the end of the train part of the tour, the choir sang the national anthem a three-part chapelle voice. It brought a lump to your throat. I didn't get the feeling that it was in any way a "touristy" thing to do (as one reviewer on this site did). Quite the opposite: I was told that the railway has 75 local people operating it, and that it is a major employer, especially in the villages where there is very little work. If there is such a thing as "sustainable" tourism, this railway would seem to be the last honest sustained link that connects the days of sugar cane to the new age of tourism.
As a note to price, I did inquire (because I had seen reviews about how "expensive" the train tour is). I was told the St. Kitts railway has not raised its ticket price at their Needsmsut Station in 9 years. Their 3-hour train tour ticket remains priced at US $89 per person, the same as it was back in 2003. I did compare this with the White Pass & Yukon Railroad in Alaska, and their ticket price for their 3-hour train is US $119. I have ridden this train as well: it is very scenic, but they do not offer unlimited free drinks.
I enjoy train travel where ever I go around the world because trains seem to show off the "real" colors of a country in ways that can only be seen from this type of transportation. You get the feel of a place, and of the people. You see the fluttering clothes on the line, and the naked toddler in the tin bath tub in the backyard. Some people who don't travel much would consider this to be a view of poverty. I consider it the real reason to get out of the house and travel to somewhere new.
I would recommend this tour to anyone who agrees.
Romney Manor is set on 10 acres and has only had 6 family owners. Sam Jefferson (which is the great,great...grandfather of Thomas Jefferson), once owned this place. The Gardens are lush and beautiful. There is also a saman tree, which is 350 year old and covers a 1/2 an acre. Beautiful.
Now Romney Manor is the home to Caribelle Batik, all batik products are produced right here. It is said that Caribelle is the most sought after batik product in the Caribbean.
On the day we went there there were children dressed up in colorful garb doing a dance. It was lovely. (see pic)
The Railway Tour is a wonderful concept in theory, and to some travelers, a not-to-be-missed highlight. However, website opinion is divided, with the other half echoing my view that it’s not worth the $89 fare.
The theme-park-like train runs on a narrow gauge track, encircling the island. The entire tour is 30 miles long, of which 18 miles is by train, and the remaining 12 miles by coaches. The train proceeds non-stop through rainforests, fields, and hamlets. Any sites of historical interest are too far away to view – such as the Brimstone Hill Fortress and Romney Manor.
However, from my train in March 2006, we didn’t even see the rainforests. We boarded and chose our seats on the open-air upper deck (lower level is A/C), with great views, albeit stationary ones of the nearby airport. We were served complimentary rum punches, given a brief introduction, and serenaded by a creole group. The train didn’t budge. The engine was broken, and repair efforts failed.
We were then loaded onto a bus for a consolation round-the-island drive, but we still didn’t stop anywhere of interest, except Black Rocks (photo #2), which I would scarcely call exciting.
Caveats before you decide on the train:
(1) The train is designed for cruise passengers, great numbers of which are disgorged every day here. The train was set up with this market in mind by whiz-tourism-guy Steven Hites, who also managed to Disneyfy Skagway’s White Pass & Yukon train. He once stated, “My job is to Walt Disney Alaska.” Well, the Caribbean also?
(2) Potential mechanical problems.
(3) Lack of sites of interest, due to no stops.
(4) The price is too high for value received.
Next time, I will hire a day taxi and guide to do some thorough sightseeing for an equal or lesser price. The highlight of our day was an impromptu taxi ride – with talkative driver-guide -- to the island’s southern end, whose narrow peninsula boasts the Atlantic on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other (photo #3). Of course, by then it was raining!
We arrived at South Frigate Bay around 10 AM ready to play at the beach. What we found there was a shallow clean beach with a coral reef. A few spots to get a drink or eat, and a very cool place to hang out. Now our tastes vary depending on the circumstance. And for a pleasant day at the beach, this was it. We plopped down in the beach chairs with a homemade palm leave umbrella, in front of The Shipwreck Bar. It was made of unfinished wood and picnic tables. It reminded me of the primitive forts I used to build as a child.
But this place was awesome! It was laid back, the food was good and the overall feel was relaxing. The music was good and not too loud, the crowd was mainly an over 30ish group with some families as well. It seemed to be more locals and expatriates than tourists.
We rented a jet ski there, had lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. It was the kind of beach you see in the postcards. Long, virtually empty with coconut palms waving in the breeze.
It may seem too rustic for everyone's tastes, but this has been our best time on the beach on Saint kitts.
Village Po Box 345, BASSETERRE, KN
Good for: Business
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