St. Kitts and Nevis, the two-island country located in the eastern Caribbean Sea, has long been one of the standout destinations of the region. The islands, which were both formed by volcanic activity, are beloved for their black sandy beaches, coral reefs, tropical climate, and much more.
Denise Zimber, the trade relations specialist at St. Kitts Tourism Authority, spoke to TMR recently about what’s happening on the islands, including how the destination is dealing with COVID-19 right now, and what makes St. Kitts and Nevis such an incredible destination for so many travelers.
“The beauty of St. Kitts and Nevis is really, what I would call ‘quintessential Caribbean,” she said. “It is vintage Caribbean with all the modern conveniences you could want.”
St. Kitts and Nevis dropped some of the COVID-19 restrictions in January, but it still has aired on the side of caution since. Zimber told TMR that the island’s size, population (just above 50,000 residents), and reliance on tourism have caused it to keep some of its COVID-19 protocols in place.
Currently, travelers into the destination still have to be fully vaccinated and test negative (rapid one day prior to entry or PCR test three days prior) if they are over 17 years old. Those who are under 18 years old will not have to be vaccinated, but will still have to test negative.
The tests and proof of vaccination have to be uploaded to The St. Kitts and Nevis Online Immigration Form prior to travel. Once they are seen and approved by the destination, travelers get a QR code to use once they land.
Zimber also said that those requirements aren’t just for incoming tourists.
“Anyone who is dealing with a tourist, whether you work in a restaurant, tour, hotel, or some other segment, will have to be fully vaccinated,” Zimber said, adding that even taxi cab drivers operate under that same requirement.
A Rich History
There’s a “rich history” in the destination that is still very much alive on the island.
In St. Kitts, Romney Manor, an eight-acre estate, was the home of Thomas Jefferson’s great, great, great grandfather, Sam Jefferson II, who purchased the property in 1625. The property, which goes back to the 1600s and has since gone through multiple ownerships, still has its original Bell Tower and a 400-year-old Saman tree, the largest living organism in St. Kitts at 24 ft. in circumference, available for visitors to see.
The manor includes Wingfield Estate, adjacent to Wingfield River, which was the site of the manor’s original rum distillery that had been buried for years before being discovered in 2013. The distillery is now recognized as the oldest intact rum distillery in the Caribbean.
The Estate also hosts five different zip lines, operated by Sky Safari Tours, which visitors can take through the area’s rainforest, reaching speeds of up to 50 mph.
Nevis also has roots among the U.S.’s founding fathers—Alexander Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis where he lived until he was either seven or nine years old, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, before moving to St. Croix.
Robert Lewis Stevenson’s great grandfather is buried in St. Kitts.
The destination is also the home to The Amazing Grace Experience, a visitor center celebrating the story of John Newton, the author of the song “Amazing Grace,” who spent time in St. Kitts prior to penning the song.
Connections and Cruises
Pre-COVID, a number of major airlines had regular flights into Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport on St. Kitts—American Airlines, Delta, United, and Air Canada, all regularly flew into the island.
Much of that was cut during COVID, but Zimber told TMR that the service is now returning including Air Canada’s Toronto to St. Kitts flight, United Airlines out of Newark, American Airlines daily from Miami, and JFK International in New York, and Delta out of Atlanta.
Those connections helped the destination build a strong base of North American consumers.
“The majority of our clients are coming from the Northeast,” ZImber said, but we have had a big influx of arrivals from California surprisingly. They want a destination that is unique and different.”
St. Kitts and Nevis has also long been a major port for Caribbean cruises. Seabourn Odyssey was the first cruise ship to make its return to St. Kitts post-COVID in October 2021 and, in the months that followed, ships including Celebrity Summit, Allure of the Seas, Celebrity Equinox, and Symphony of the Seas, all called on St. Kitts.
The destination continues to be a major port of call for those lines plus Carnival Cruise Line, Oceania, Norwegian Cruise Line, and more.
“We get a lot of cruise ship guests who love to come ashore,” Zimber added.
Value and Local Flavor
“We’re not an expensive island to go out and eat,” Zimber said, adding that “there’s no formal separation” between what’s considered a tourist area and a residential area. You can get $2 for a bottle of beer at a lot of bars that aren’t far from the major hotel zones or the cruise port.
The island isn’t also “over-commercialized,” she added. “You’re not going to see McDonald's or Dunkin’ Donuts on the island,” she said.
For instance, the Reggae Beach Bar & Grill, on the southeast peninsula, which sits directly at Cockleshell Bay, offers a well-known Friday night Lobster Fest and is one of the most popular restaurants on the island.
The Sunshine’s Beach Bar on Nevis’ west coast along Pinney’s Beach is also one of the destination's most well-known eateries. Its reputation has grown thanks to its signature drink called The Killer Bee, which is a rum punch unlike any other.
Nevis just wrapped up its Culturama, its annual festival that celebrates the heritage of its people.
St. Kitts-Nevis Restaurant Week, which shines the spotlight on Kittitian and Nevisian farmers, also just wrapped up, with locals and tourists enjoying one-off menus, each incorporating the country’s theme ingredient – sweet potato.
Coming up, the islands will celebrate Sugar Mas, St. Kitts and Nevis’ National Carnival. It is the destination’s largest event and 2022’s version will mark its 50th edition since its start.
Sugar Mas kicks off in the fall and runs for six weeks, highlighted by a calypso show opening, an early morning parade called J’Ouvert, and nonstop entertainment, including bar crawls, sunset cruises, and much more.
Travel Advisor Resources
The St. Kitts tourism board website hosts travel advisor training for U.S., Canada, and U.K-based agents. The course allows advisors to learn more about the destination and gives them some incentives including cash rewards (three $25 randomly selected per month and one $400 for most logged bookings), hotel upgrades, private promotions, and more.
Advisors can also get $200 for every booking that they log either through Travel Agent University or the St. Kitts’ travel advisor website.
“I am glad to see the agents coming back in full force and we want to say thank you for all the business they are giving us,” Zimber said.