Adventures on the Last Railway in the West Indies
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.
Rail TravelerRelated to:
- Historical Travel
Romney manor - Home of Caribelle Batik
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)Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Family Travel
The St. Kitts Scenic Railway
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!Related to:
- Family Travel
- Jungle and Rain Forest
The Greatest beach on Saint Kitts
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.
The Strip at Frigate bay
We were directed to the strip in Frigate bay to find a place for nightlife and dancing. What we found were a string of cabanas to drink and eat and not much else. There are at least a dozen bars and many of them have food. And at each end there is a more permanent structured restaurant. We did not see anything that resembled a dance floor. So if you like to drink a lot and stumble drunk dance then this is the place for you. The beach was beautiful and the views, spectacular. But forus the search for a dance floor continues.
Saint Kitts' Beaches
The Southern part of Saint Kitts is all about beaches. Beaches in a lot of different ways.
If you are looking for a place to party, to eat and drink and to have a great time at a great location, then the beach at Frigate Bay is where you should go to. This is where the party starts every night and where all popular bars and restaurants of the island are located directly at the sandy beach and at only 20 metres from the Caribbean Sea.
Further to the southeast there are more, smaller beaches where you can be all alone when you're lucky, and where you can find great places to surf or to swim. These beaches are hidden behind the hills, and are a great surprise when you end up at one of them.
And then there is the area around Turtle Beach, at the very South of the island. From here you are very close to neighbour Nevis. Turtle Beach is a popular beach for suntanning, but also a great place to have a good lunch, to play a game of volleyball, or to have a swim. The views from here are fantastic!Related to:
The Southern Loop
Basseterre, the capital of Saint Kitts, is situated exactly at the point where the island is devided in two. The northern part contains the high mountain range of the island while the southern part becomes very narrow, quite flat and very empty at the same time.
All around the southern peninsula you will find the beaches that attract a lot of people to the island. But even though these beaches are quite popular it still is very easy to find one that is completely empty and where you have everything for yourself alone. Just rent a car or a scooter and take a small road or the mainroad and you're almost sure to end up at a beach.
But besides the beaches there are quiet saltponds, great viewpoints from where you can see the neighbouring island Nevis, and hills with dry forests on them where the green velvet monkey hides. These monkeys were taken here from Africa by the French when they were the boss on the islands, and they obviously are havng a great time there because they can be found everywhere in the south of Saint Kitts.Related to:
- Road Trip
The Northern Loop
One of the most famous attractions on the island of Saint Kitts is the "St Kitts Scenis Railway". This railway used to be an important way of transport in the sugarcane era, but nowadays it is a very touristic attraction where cruiseship passengers are being loaded into this little train and taken around the island in an hour or two.
Although the tour that the train makes is a very interesting one, I thought this was a bit too touristy for me. Instead me and my hosts on the island went for the same Northern Loop around the island by car. The same route, but a lot more relaxed if you ask me.
The route takes you to great viewpoints, like in the northwest where you can see the islands Statia and Saba being very close. To the central area of the island where you can see the unspoiled jungle of the island, to the Atlantic Coast where the landscape is rough and to the northern part where you're crossing the sugar plantations.
A trip like this, from Basseterre to Basseterre will take you about 2 hours minimum and with a few stops un the way a bit longer. It's a great trip for a morning program, and then still you'll have plenty of time to relax on the beach in the afternoon.Related to:
- Road Trip
Downtown Basseterre: Circle and Fort Street
The other centre in Basseterre is the real centre, where the daily life of the Kittians takes place. This centre can be found around the central roundabout "Circle" and the mainstreet that start here that is called Fort Street.
Circle is the place where you can find the taxi stand, some souvenir shops and almost all banks in the island. The rest of the centre is located along Fort Street, that goes straight north from Circle. Shops, small restaurants, loud soundsystems, street vendors and small bars are everywhere here and here you'll see where all the people in Basseterre hang out: the streets here are crowded all day long and cars fill the streets and can create chaos on Circle.
At the end of Circle you end up at Bay Road and the Marina where the cruiseships arrive pretty much every day during the season. For the tourists too, a walk to the already busy area around Circle is often the first thing they do.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Downtown Basseterre: Independance Square
Basseterre, the capital of Saint Kitts and Nevis, is only a small town: it counts 12.000 inhabitants only. It is also said that it is not the most attractive capital in the Caribbean, but nevertheless it is well worth a visit I think.
The "city basically has two centres. When looking at the map you would expect that the Independance Square would be it: a big square in the middle of town where the central Cathedral is the biggest eyecatcher. Looking at the buildings that you find around the square it definitely is the centre. Some beautiful old buildings can be seen here. Besides the old, clearly anglican church there are several old villas made of wood.
And in between these old buildings there is a nice and green park with a big fountain in the middle and several kinds of palmtrees around it. What you would expect at a big centrally located square like this though, a lot of traffic and a lot of people, is no where to be found here. For these two things, you should go a little bit further towards Circle.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Brimstone Hill Fortress
The only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the small Antilles can be found on the island of Saint Kitts. It clearly is the main attraction of the island, but still it is hardly discovered by mass tourism. The Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park is an absolute must-see during your stay on Saint Kitts.
The Fortress is situated at about 12 kilometres northwest from the capital Basseterre. When you look up from the road along the coastline you can already see some walls on top of the hill, but from here you can't imagine the beauty you'll find up there. It takes a short taxi-ride or a 15 minutes walk to get to the entrance and from there you'll get more amazed by every step you take.
Cannons facing the sea, great views of the neighbouring islands Statia, Saba and Saint-Martin, and the beautiful blue sea and the green fields below you. But even more impressive are the all the old remains you can find here: old barracks, guard-towers, castles, gates and other buildings. The dark stones that are made to build them make a brilliant contrast with the green surroundings.
The history of the Brimstone Hill Fortress dates back to the 18th century when the Brittish built it to protect the island from French attacks. A few times it changed owner, but in 1782 it finally came back into Brittish hands and in 1850 it was finally abandoned. After thorough restaurations it was officially reopened in 1985 by Queen Elisabeth and nowadays it is not only a National Park, but it's also on the famous UNESCO-list.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Relaxing and Cosy
We visited St. Kitts during a cruise. We decided after doing some research, to go to Cockleshell beach. A very good choice! In the harbour, there are enough taxi drivers willing to drive you there. You can go in a group, in the "banana boat", costs 6USD one way pp. It is about a 30min. ride through fantastic scenery, wild beaches and amazing view over both the Caribbean sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Cockleshell beach is at the south tip of St. Kitts, nice view of Nevis. Lounge chairs are 5USD pp. It is not too crowded, but lively. It is a relatively small beach. If you opt not to use a lounge chair, you have plenty of space and peace a bit further on the beach. Cosy bar and restaurant, with a "famous pig" at the bar. There are, as everywhere else, people coming to ask you for massage, etc, but didn't find it disturbing. Recommended for a nice and relaxing day.
Ride the safari truck
'Saint Kitts' is also known as St. Christopher - named by Columbus in 1493 after his patron saint during his famous voyage.
We arrived at St Kitts via a cruise after disembarking we decided to see the island with a local safari tour as we all know the ship trips are very expensive anyway we climbed on board a large open sided truck with ten other people we didn't know off the ship, the driver who was also the tour guide was fantastic we covered a vast area of the island loads of sugar plantations even though these had been scaled down in the 80's. There are loads of gardens to visit on the way with exotic birds and plants even local dancers.
For a fantastic view you must stop on the very top of the hill before you reach Dieppe bay, as you look out to sea, the Atlantic lies to your right and the Caribbean to your left one still side and the other very rough truly a magical site .But the jewel in the crown has to be located on the tip of St. Kitts’ Southeast Peninsula, the Beach House it's a restaurant on the beach when the tide comes in you can hear the water lapping the boards under foot. You can also watch the sea planes land at the end of the jetty .The food was fantastic seafood and local plantain yummy. Be mindful of the local punch it packs one hell of one!
All too soon the time was over I would do it all over again, a wonderfully friendly place.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Wander the streets of Basseterre
Basseterre is perhaps the least touristy and most genuine of all the capital cities in the Lesser Antilles. As a result, most tourists will tire of the city in a few hours, if not minutes, but it does provide a rather unique look into Caribbean life. Besides people watching in the Piccadilly Circus area, the walk from there to and just past the central bus terminal is well worth the little time it will take you. Just west of the marina, ferry dock, and main bus terminal along the shores of Basseterre Bay, local fisherman gather mid-morning to sell their catch. Most of the fish they sell are reef fish, some of which may well be endangered or at least protected. Regardless, it is an interesting place to observe unspoiled local Kittitian life.
Frigate Bay Beach
Most tourists who stay on St. Kitts end up staying at the Marriott or one of the other resorts located on or near Frigate Bay Beach. The beach falls far short of some of the Caribbean’s best beaches but is still a nice enough place to while away an afternoon. Perhaps the best thing about this area is Mr. X’s Shiggidy Shack, which serves up some of the best fresh grilled fish and lobster in all the Caribbean (there can be a long wait if you don’t arrive early, but the food and atmosphere trumps that at the equally popular Sprat Net Bar and Grill on the northwest coast). There are also some nice views to be had from the hills overlooking the beach.Related to:
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