As I just wrote about Barbados, a lot of small Caribbean islands are great vacation spots, but can lack in sights and attractions. When Michelle and I visited in 2014, we found St-Kitts not to fall in that category. Great sightseeing tours are organized by local companies, there is a mighty fortress and I tried flyboarding for the first time. Check out the link if you want to see me humiliate myself. But this time around, we figured we would instead go to the other half of the country, Nevis.
Any cruise ship company docking in St-Kitts will organize boat transfers for tourists to Nevis for something like $150 and claim it’s the only way to make sure you will be back in time and not miss the ship. If you don’t believe that lie, you can buy a return ticket on any of the 6 public ferries for $20. The islands are separated by The Narrows, only 3 km wide. The ferries are also a strange experience in racial segregation. Needless to say, that is not by rule, but by preference. Almost all tourists are white and they want the view the upper deck offers. Locals are all black and they couldn’t care less about the view; they want the comfort of the lower deck, which is air conditioned. It’s nice – and rare – when self-segregation is by mutual choice and not the tourists in the good expensive seats and the locals in the cheap ones.
By any definition, Nevis is a quiet place today. With a population of about twelve thousand spread over 93 square kilometres, it is the small island in the smallest country in the Americas. Economically, it is fairly rich by Caribbean standards and even manages to slightly outperform the bigger St-Kitts. The economy relies primarily on resort tourism and offshore finance. A project is under way to built a cruise ship terminal, but it will only host small and medium sized vessels.
In the 17th and early 18th century, the island was known as the “Queen of the Caribees”. The local soil and weather conditions produced a sugar cane with a much higher yield than other islands. This may explain why it was consistently fought over by the British, French, Dutch and Spanish. This unassuming building in the capital of Charlestown is the most important on the island. Originally built as the Bath Hotel in 1778, it is the first hotel built in the Caribbean. Various aristocrats and adventurers would flock to its thermal baths and formal balls. US founding father Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis and Admiral Horatio Nelson met his wife here. Today the building houses the Premier of Nevis and its executive branch.
The local government has a lot of power because the country is a federal state. We were there during an election and I noticed this electoral billboard. The NRP was originally a separatist party, but seems today to be more in favour of constitutional reform. Reading about this reminded me of Quebec politics, so I immediately stopped, fearing that I might suddenly die of boredom. Amusingly, the country’s politics was in Canadian news just last week, when the visa-free policy on its residents was rescinded. This was a response to the country’s very liberal immigrant-investor program. Basically, the previous Government apparently allowed it to get to a point where one could just mail order a passport. After an Iranian businessman entered Canada on a St-Kitts diplomatic passport he claimed to have purchased for one million dollars, the visa-free program was cancelled.
At the Museum of Nevis History, I asked the lady running it why the NRP logo featured a bottle, but she didn’t know. Ban alcohol? Let’s make more rum? “NRP, I’ll drink to that?” It will remain a mystery. The museum is a very modest affair but has a few things of interest and costs next to nothing to visit. Photography is not allowed, but you are not missing much.
Before the sugar cane industry collapsed in the mid 19th century, there were a lot of Jews in Nevis. At some point up to a quarter of the white people were Jewish. I can’t think of a reason why they would have stayed past the collapse and judging by the condition of the Jewish cemetery, I will assume there are none left.
By chance we stumbled upon some sort of high school race. These two boys were the leaders, preceded by a lead car of the Disaster Management Department.
The cheering sections.
This being a very religious island, I am not surprised this restaurant closes on Sundays. As far as the actual opening hours, they are not advertised, but I read the following about Nevis on Wikitravel: “Expect to eat dinner before 9 or not at all”!
And that’s it! Enjoying a local beer while waiting for the ferry. Not so much because we were thirsty, but because we had run out of things to see! On a side note, this picture contains a strong optical illusion. In real life, my hand is not as long as my forearm.
And Independence square in St-Kitts’ capital, Basseterre, very close to the cruise ship terminal.