The Lesser Antilles - part II:
Part II covers our travels across St. Kitts, Nevis and Saba, which are remote and somewhat forgotten islands in the north-western corner of the Lesser Antilles.
The islands of the Lesser Antilles stretch ~700 km from Puerto Rico in the north down to South America.
Along the way the island chain forms two parallel arcs of islands: a western/inner arc consisting of younger, volcanic rocks, called the Volcanic Arc, and an eastern/outer arc consisting of primarily limestone, called the Limestone Arc. The islands in the Volcanic Arc are fallout of volcanic activity, whereas the other islands are made from limestone coral islands - see the Lesser Antilles part I.
We’ve been exploring this complex geological makeup on several tours across both arcs.
This tour took us across the northern arc, whereas another tour took us across the southern arc - see part III of the Lesser Antilles.
Location: The Caribbean islands of St. Kitts, Nevis and Saba, during 3 weeks
The starting point of the trip was Nevis, which is very “Caribbean”: extremely sleepy, rural and low-key with a mountainous and tropical rain-forested interior too steep for habitation. The entire island is one big piece of countryside, where brown volcanic curves slope down to luminous green flatlands, with a few villages dotted along the coast where goats, hen and vervet monkeys stroll the streets, while locals mingle and make roadside BBQ. The best thing to do is rent a pickup and drive around the island exploring its opulent sugar plantation houses, many beaches, stone churches, and forested interior which rises to the scenic Nevis Peak. We quickly realized that Nevis simply has no mass-tourism. Even at the one real hotel, there are no buzzing jet skis, but small bungalows where visitors listen to the island breathing. We rented a house on the black-sand north coast through AirBnB and stayed here for a full week. It was a highlight of our trip. We´ll never forget that shrimp BBQ and rum punch in a ramshackle hut with just a couple of worn-down picnic tables on the beach. Once we’ve tasted the sweet, syrupy “killer bee” rum punch, a signature rum drink of the local owner, and burned our lips on the insanely hot and spicy charred shrimp, served straight from the fire pit, we did not care about anything in the whole world. We just wanted to stay there forever, sitting under the shade of a palm-formed umbrella in the heavy, humid air of the West Indies on tiny Nevis Island. Now, we said to ourselves, we are living like an islander.
St. Kitts was a big surprise. Perhaps because we did not expect a lot? Yet, St. Kitt’s mountainous interior and several splendid beaches was easy to fall in love with. In north, Brimestone Fortress is easily one of the best forts in the entire Caribbean, and in south, a very scenic, curving, and remote peninsula drops dramatically into the sea. We did several hikes on the island. Especially the southeast peninsula is no less than stunning. Its hilly and dry characteristics with the azure sea reminded us of the Komodo and Rinca Islands in Indonesia! The local population is very charming and easygoing. Wherever we were, there was always high-volume music in the streets – calypso, salsa, soca, steelpan and jazz beats. Air of life on the island is breezy, down-to-earth and relaxed. In the evenings we would drive to any beach, find a beach hut and sip cold Carib beers while listing to the crashing waves.
Saba is one of the smallest but also loftiest islands in the Volcanic Arc. Saba is the tip of an immense, extinct underwater volcano, rising out of the blue sea to 850m, with no pause for lowlands or beaches, but instead volcanic massifs and green slopes dotted with quaint white houses with green shutters, red roofs and gingerbread trim. The reed roofs of the villages offer a stunning contrast to brilliant blue sea surrounding the island. Saba only has four charming villages all of which we visited on foot - Hell’s Gate, St. John’s, Windwardside, and The Bottom. Walking around the island was a nice way to explore the unhurried atmosphere and serenely beautiful views towards other Caribbean Islands, including St.-Martin, Sint Eustatius and St. Kitts. We did lots of trekking and climbed Mt. Scenery (the summit of the island), and also spent some time diving in the excellent offshore Saba marine park. Saba’s shallow reefs are still pristine, and the offshore walls, pinnacles and rocky summits are home to incredible numbers of large fish and pelagics.
Selected pics from our island hopping adventure in this region:
The islands of the Lesser Antilles form an arc along the eastern margin of the Caribbean sea. North of Dominica the arc is a double arc. On this trip we visited the islands of the western arc which consist almost entirely of younger volcanic rocks and are called the ‘Volcanic Caribbeans’.
We based ourselves in Newcastle on the northern shore of Newcastle. Here, we rented a house through AirBnB for the full week we had on Nevis. The entire island is very rural and low-key, and even more so as we moved inland along tared, pot-holed roads. Our house was a bit inland in the hills and behind the house the forested interior would rise to scenic Mt. Nevis (3.182feet), which is often cloaked in clouds. The neighbors had a big pig and lots of chicken running in and out of our garden.
There a several lovely and remote beaches around Nevis. One of them is Hurricane Cove Beach in north which is about a mile long with golden sands. It was extremely tranquil and in walking distance from our house. In the backdrop, the southern peninsula on St. Kitts is sticking out into the ocean.
We had our own car (an old pickup) during the entire stay, and each morning we would drive into Charlestown to buy fruit, vegetables and fish. It is a cute little capital that can be explored in less than 2 hours.
Both Nevis and St. Kitts have several vervet monkeys. There are so many that they have outnumbered humans two to one. Traveling in packs up to 30, they are spotted in the rainfoerst, on the roads and sometimes on the beaches, too.
Compared to its western counterpart the entire eastern part of Nevis is very remote with very few villages and wind-swept beaches. The village names here are quite exotic: Hick's Village, Brick Kiln, Butlers, Lime Kiln, Zion and Mannings. The population is thin and the sloping, green flatlands run down to the turbulent Atlantic. It's desolate and dramatic. Anders son, Nilan, is in the picture during a beach hike from Nisbet Beach down to Hick's Cove. It was in walking distance from our house.
The Botanical Gardens of Nevis is a symphony of exotic trees, vines, orchids and other flora, and it has great views towards Mt. Nevis. On the outskirts of the garden the rain forest that once covered the entire island is very visible. Now, most of the lower parts of Nevis has been deforested due to sugar production, resulting in dry and grassy coastal areas where goats and cows roam freely.
Walking through any residential area on Nevis we saw locals being out in the streets, listening to reggae or calypso, chatting with friends or preparing BBQ. On many nights, many villages have communal barbecues.
Probably the best beach on Nevis and in walking distance from our house. It is a long, laid-back strip of gray sand backed by palms and sea-grape plants. The views over to St. Kitts are amazing and offshore are good coral reefs. We recommend the Monkey Shoals reef close by, which can be reached by experienced skin divers.
It was a bit hard to find this romantically ruined sugar estate, which is being reclaimed by the jungle. But we had it recommended by a local shop owner in Charlestown. We could see the foundation of the house, the windmill, the boiling house and the chimney. Other good estates that we visited are: the Nisbet Estate (splendid beach location), the Eden Brown Estate (old ruin) and the Mount Pleasant Estate (high up with good views), and the Coconut Walk Estate (right on the "main" road).
There are several pretty churches around the island. In east, the church in Lime Kiln had a splendid location with Mt. Nevis in the backdrop. In the west, right on the road, the St. Thomas Anglican Church stares serenely out to the sea from its hilltop perch, while goats keep the cemetery grounds trimmed. In south, the St. John's Fig Tree Church is a lovely stone church.
In the west, Pinney's beach is a 4-mile long lovely stretch of tan sand, backed by spiky coconut palms. It has lovely views of St Kitts across the channel, especially in the morning. The northern part is far more remote and charming than in south without beach bars. There is a smart short-cut down to this part of the beach from Jessup's Village via a dirt track.
Also in walking distance from our house. In the morning local fishers would go out, only to return later in the morning with the catch of the day.
Circling around the entire island by car takes only around 2 hours. Stop to see the sights, do some hiking etc. it would take us all day. The route in the south passes through the districts of Fig Tree and Gingerland, an area that is very lush and green with bougainvillea, hibiscus, wild roses, and other flowering bushes that attract numerous humming birds. Everything is backed by cloud-shrouded Mt. Nevis.
Nevis is a tight-knit community. Just how tight is in evidence every Friday and Saturday when upbeat locals take to the streets for barbecued chicken and ribs, gossip and music. It starts around 4pm. The guy in the picture is a foreign worker from Suriname who sees to the BBQ grill while playing some sort of local board game.
Oh, it adds up after a few evenings on the veranda. Life is sweet and enjoyed to its fullest during our travels.
Our favorite spot during the afternoons after a full day of exploration around the island.
...in Charlestown, Nevis. As we had our own house we cooked our own meals every evening, expect from Fridays and Saturdays where we joined the local barbecues out in the street.
Windward Beach, also known as Indian Castle Beach, in the south is probably the most remote location on Nevis. It has views across to Montserrat. Along the way to the beach are many goats and cows.
...from the area east of Windward Beach in southern Nevis. Since we wanted so desperately to go to Montserrat we started to inquire around villages in south. A local fisherman offered to take us there in his speedboat and we got quite far in the planning process, but the price was astronomical and the trip he suggested sounded extremely rough. So, eventually we bootstrapped. Instead, we visited Montserrat (twice!) on another trip - see elsewhere in the island pages.
On the morning before we left Nevis to go to St. Kitts. Lovers beach was also in walking distance from our house in Newcastle.
As we had our own pickup truck we took the Seabridge car-farry from Cades bay on Nevis to Major's Bay in the south of Nevis. Is was also very convenient to have the pickup during our week and St. Kitts. Nevis at its mountain looms in the background as the Seabridge comes into the bay.
Anders' oldest son and daughter on the ferry from Nevis to St. Kitts. Aged 5 and 2 this is their second month-long tour to the Caribbean during three consecutive years of island hopping in the part of the world.
This simply is one of the best forts in the entire Caribbean (together with Citadelle Henri in Haiti). Is an exceptionally well-preserved example of 17th- and 18th-century military architecture and stronghold, and offers insight into the violent past of the former Caribbean colonies. The fort is nicknamed 'Gibraltar of the West Indies', standing atop an 800ft volcanic cone.
...is the main hilltop compound of the Brimestone Hill Fortress, lined with 24 big cannons. In the backdrop is St. Eustatius and Saba. We visited Saba later on during this trip.
St. Kitts actually is very fertile and lush. Shaped like a tadpole the main body of the island is mountainous and therefore irrigated by water from the mountain ranges. However, this is of little value to the geographically isolated, arid southern peninsula which is covered with sparse, desert-like cacti and yucca. It is very scenic and looks like something from the Komodo and Rinca Islands in Indonesia or similar. The hiking, snorkeling and diving in this region is simply spectacular.
View over Ballast Bay during a long hike from the Great Sand Pond back to Basseterre. The trail is mostly scrubby wild plain filled with grassy hills, barren salt ponds and meandering goats. The trail leads down to remote white sand beaches and the turquoise Caribbean ocean. We brought our snorkeling gear and did several stops along the way. There are many offshore reefs and a few sunken wrecks marked by buoys, which attracts lots of fish.
The sort of place where a party vibe is created each day from about midday onward. St. Kitts definitely has a beat, and it's not just the one blasting from the many minibuses - it's the very population how loves to lime, make BBQ in the streets, and hang out on the beaches. There are several beach huts around St. Kitt's that serve okay food and drinks. Good places are e.g. Beach House (Turtle Beach), Reggae Beach Bar, Spice Mill and Lion Rock Bar (Cockleshell Beach).