Everyone who has ever visited the Caribbean will guarantee they will go back, and every patron has a favourite island, bar and story to share. As it was my first visit to Nevis and its colonial capital- Charlestown, I was excited to soak up all the traditions, food and sun as I could muster in my misjudged one week.
by Sara Darling
Apparently, the tiny island of Nevis is the deserted playground of the rich and famous, and is where celebrities are said to come and chill out. Allegedly some of the large houses in the hills are owned by A-list sun seekers, who only come over for two weeks a year, zipping in via private jet (natch). They are not even spotted in the villages, as the swimming pools and abundance of local staff take care of everything behind the electric gates! But I wasn’t strictly there for celeb spotting (or the rum). I was there on investigative travel writing business.
Doing my research, I uncovered images of endless white sand beaches and the stunning palm-fringed Pinney’s Beach, and I can confirm that the pictures did not lie! There is not a pebble in sight, the sand is powder-soft and the tropical (warm) ocean is alive with colourful coral reefs and marine life. With even more to see if you make it over to delightfully named Booby Island, which short boat-ride away and great offshore dive site to see sheltering sea turtles and stingrays, and then some more images of hammocks and loungers to see in the sunset at laud back, Oualie Beach
However, I’m known to love an adventure, so heading to a one stop destination has never been my thing. Nevis is a leisurely nine-hour flight from London (LGW to St Kitts) with a short stopover in Antigua, allowing me to get an idea of how hot it was going to be when I eventually disembarked. It also meant that my first view of the island of Nevis was at sunset, which couldn’t have been a more picturesque experience.
Chatting to other vacationers on the ten-minute boat ride, whilst sipping on a cold beer, was as close to paradise as I had ever been; And when the boat docked on Oaulie beach, it was quietly buzzing with patrons enjoying the sunset at the beach bar. Much as I could have easily stopped for a cocktail there, I was keen to de-robe and get out of my city clothes and get into beach mode.
My first destination was the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, which consisted of a collection of individual bungalows or duplexes, spread across a stunning grass walkway, the ‘Avenue of Palms’ which lead directly on to the vast expanse of the Atlantic coast.
With private bungalows, each named after towns on the island, each had their own character. But I fell in love with mine! With a private balcony and lounger, you could easily spend a day without leaving your porch. The sea breeze is amazingly refreshing, and all you would need to do is pop inside top up your drink with ice from the freezer.
However, being a bit of a fidget, I was happy to undertake some morning excursions around the island, for me to wear myself out for an afternoon on a lounger or hammock- and read of course! So, I slotted in the island’s most recommended excursions and went hiking to the waterfalls- highly recommended for those who like a challenge; My tip is to make sure you have sturdy boots as there are some steep inclines and lots of ducking and diving! Very worth it though when you get to soak your feet in the ice cool pools and the nature is amazing.
The Botanical Gardens are a must see for anyone who appreciates plant-life. This privately-owned venture has been a showpiece in Nevis for years, and is a perfect place to get some serious peace and quiet (although the whole island is very peaceful, this takes it to a new level!) and is the ideal spot to head to in the hills and enjoy the scenery. With tropical trees, plants and monkeys, this Eastern-inspired setting offers an encyclopaedia of nature – with palms, aloes, bromeliads and orchids emitting the most delicious of scents. Finish off your visit with some authentic Thai food in the onsite rooftop café- extremely romantic, and open for dinner on Fridays.
From magnolias to monkeys, if you need an adrenalin boost, I would recommend an off-road Monkey Tour; Consisting of a jeep ride with a local driver through the rugged heart of the island, you get to see lots of spots that you would never get to without a jeep. One of the stops was the much-photographed Lovers Beach. Alas I had no lover, but the pure white sands, crystal water and deserted cove screamed romance. The beach is public, but no sun loungers dotted the beach and there is no bar, making it the ideal place for proposals … Or at least a bit of midnight skinny dipping!
With swimming, very much on my mind (how could it not be on an island surrounded by the clearest water I have ever seen??) I was intrigued to find out that the fifteenth Nevis to St Kitts cross channel swim was taking place whilst I was there. As much as I love swimming- and Nevis is a lot more appealing than swimming in my home town of Brighton, I hadn’t put in the training for a 4km paddle across the channel. But being cursed with FOMO, I thought it would be rude not to give it a go with a snorkel.
I got introduced to the Ameo Powerbreather snorkel by Olympic swimmer Keri-Anne Payne who was on Nevis for the swim, and for her summer Swimfit course which was taking place at the Four Seasons Hotel. So, taking advantage of this, I also packed in a cheeky lesson, and got to grips with the snorkel. Being a new breed of snorkel, one where you breathe in and out of your mouth, allowing a continuous flow of oxygen, meant it is great for lengthy swims and as I was hoping, exploring the Caribbean sea-life.
So, kitted out with a borrowed pro bikini and goggles, I was raring to go. Even at 7am, the atmosphere was electric on the beach. Chatting to people from all over the world- newbies and those who had done the swim before, there was a great sense of comradery. And all due respect to the ten- year-old from America who was doing the swim snorkel free.
The pro swimmers headed out at first horn, aiming to beat the sixty-minute record, and the ‘assisted’ snorkel/flipper wearing motley crew went next. With a whoosh of emotion, I have never felt more part of a team. If I could have whooped I would have- but my mouth was full of mask! Diving into the waves was exhilarating, and although I wasn’t in it for the competition, swimming alongside these strangers was inspiring. Alas I didn’t make the whole leg: ocean swimming takes some practice, but the canoes were on standby to assist the stragglers, and I was whisked off to the St Kitts Cockleshell Beach feeling mighty proud!
This swim is gaining reputation as more than a race, but a challenge to push yourself, and one I am very pleased I tried. Gaining more momentum every year, the date is already set for 2018. Contestants I spoke to had popped over for the weekend, and planned to stay for the early April, Nevis Blues Festival which made me a wee bit envious. After all, Nevis is such a laid-back island it is easy to fall in love.
Ideally, I would have stayed for at least two weeks to soak up the rugged, lush landscapes, endless beaches, wildlife, sea-life and hiking trails. And don’t get me started on the beach bars, food and cocktails.. Sunshine Bar I will be back! The people are happy in Nevis for a reason. And whilst I was there, the smile didn’t leave my lips either.
Getting to Nevis from the U.K.
BA offers two flights per week to and from St. Kitts on Wednesday and Saturday from London Gatwick Airport to Robert L Bradshaw International Airport. The fight duration is 9 hours and 50 minutes, including a brief stopover in Antigua. Nevis is a 10-minute ride from St. Kitts by water taxi. For the best packages and to book visit www.ba.com/stkitts or call 0844 4930758.
There are also daily flights to Antigua with BA and Virgin with Caribbean Helicopters for direct connections to Nevis on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.