St. Kitts: The Caribbean for little monkeys

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Mark Bickerdike and his daughter Holly travel to St Kitts and Nevis to sample a luxury family holiday

So there we were, me and my ten year old daughter Holly, high in the serene, lush greenery of the St Kitts rainforest overlooking the Atlantic Ocean – then with one big push (and a surprisingly small scream) she was gone.

The island of St Kitts.

The island of St Kitts.

Off she went careering through the trees then soaring high above them on De Boss, the biggest scariest zipline you’ve ever seen, over 1,300 feet long and 250 feet above the ground to be exact, and that’s just for starters with three other rides – Mango Tango, Brimstone Blast and River Rocket – to go.

If you thought Caribbean holidays were all ‘chill out’ and relax then think again.

The Wingfield Estate sky safari is just one of the activities on the St Kitts Tourism Authority’s Kids ‘R’ VIP’s. St Kitts, along with sister island Nevis, are hoping to tempt more families to visit the islands with special offers for kids encouraging them to try out new sports and hobbies.

St Kitts has a rich history from being discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, through the arrival of Europeans in 1623 where it became the first British colony in the Caribbean, to full independence from Great Britain in 1983.

Tourism is now very much their number one industry after the closure of the last sugar factory on the island in 2005 which brought an end to over three hundred years of production.

Combining the two industries, and a really relaxing way to get a feel for the island, is the St Kitts Scenic Railway which uses the tracks formerly used to transport sugar around the island. This gives visitors a 30- mile round tour taking in some of the sugar plantations, with their disused windmills and chimneys, and passing many towns and villages along the way where the locals smile and wave as the train passes through.

St Kitts is dominated by the dormant volcano Mount Liamuiga, or Mount Misery as it is sometimes known, with the rainforest which covers it and much of the central part of the island playing a vital role bringing fresh water to the local population. Indeed, the forward-thinking residents of St Kitts have had water collection systems in place since the 19th century.

Fifth generation islander Greg Pereira is only too happy to pass on this kind of knowledge to his guests as he takes them on a hike into the rainforest. Greg’s Safaris offers a range of hikes but ours took us on a half-day trek up the path of the Wingfield River deep into the rainforest, where as you breathe in you can feel the air become more humid, then climbing high up to a ridge above the forest for a commanding view of the treetops and Mount Liamuiga.

If you’re lucky you might also catch sight of the green vervet monkeys which were brought to St Kitts as pets by the European settlers but now live wild on the island.

As you might imagine for an island blessed with so many beautiful beaches and such a glorious climate (an average of 28 degrees Celsius during our stay in February) water sports are very popular with visitors. Whether it be learning to sail or simply trying a spot of snorkelling the St Kitts Sailing School, at the wonderfully-named Reggae Beach, have all you need. Holly and her new best friend Flora were raring to have a go at sailing and thanks to some expert tuition from teacher Nick they were soon tacking and jibing like naturals, I think the 2012 Olympics may be too soon for them but watch out 2016.

If you prefer your sailing a little less hands-on, then you’ll probably find one of the catamaran cruises more to your taste – a day out at sea, stopping only for a spot of snorkelling and sunbathing, with the crew attending to your every need with complementary drinks for all. Watch out for the Rum Punch though, it’s got both rum and a pretty hefty punch in it.

One of the most remarkable things about St Kitts though is the unspoilt beauty of the island itself with none of the huge developments of some of the more established Caribbean ‘paradise islands’ such as The Bahamas and Bermuda. The feeling on St Kitts is that this is the real Caribbean with tourism being accommodated into island life rather than taking over it.

Just a 45 minute ferry journey away is St Kitts’ sister island Nevis, also volcanic.The highest point of the island is Nevis Peak although it is rare to see the top as it always seems to be shrouded in cloud. It is said that the name Nevis is derived from early settlers mistaking the cloud for snow, the Spanish for snow being ‘nieves’.

We were welcomed ashore by Nevisian Masquerades in their brightly-coloured costumes giving the sort of musical and dance performance which inspired the West Indian Carnivals of the UK.

Whilst on Nevis you can get an insight into traditional island life at Peak Heaven. Here you find a hidden refuge high in the hills where you can experience a recreation of an old Caribbean village showing farming and cooking techniques from bygone times, all being run by a smiling Edward Herbert who returned to the island of his birth in 1994 after 31 years living in Leeds.

There are not huge numbers of hotels on St Kitts at the moment but the 5-star Marriott Hotel is the undoubted jewel, with its own beach on the Atlantic coast. Its position at Frigate Bay is unbeatable with nearby nightlife on ‘the strip’ where bars like the Shigidy Shack and Monkey Bar will serve you wonderful Caribbean cuisine with the warmest of welcomes.

Unsurprisingly for such a fledgling tourism industry there are plans aplenty for development on the island but the hope of the locals is that the powers that be will insist on any works being done in sympathetic fashion.

It’s difficult to imagine a more stunning place to holiday than St Kitts with its beautiful scenery, long sandy beaches and hidden coves to relax in, but the Kids ‘R’ VIP’s programme is particularly enticing because it actively encourages families to enjoy their holiday together. After all, it is a family holiday.

Travelfacts

For more information about St. Kitts and to request a copy of the 2011 Kids ‘R’ VIPs booklet, contact St. Kitts Tourism Authority. Telephone +44 (0) 0207 376 0881 or email uk@stkittstourism.kn. Visit the website at www.stkittstourism.kn

BA PACKAGE EXAMPLES Easter Travel: 5 star St. Kitts Marriott Resort, 7 nights from £4459 (£1115 pp) AO, Standard Garden View (2 Adults and 2 Children aged 2-11 sharing) Travel 07-24 Apr 11 Summer Travel: 5 star St. Kitts Marriott Resort, 7 nights from £2889 (£722 pp) AO, Standard Garden View (2 Adults and 2 Children aged 2-11 sharing) Travel 22 Aug-25 Oct 11 www.ba.com/stkitts For full terms and conditions please refer to www.ba.com.

Greg Safaris ‘ Valley of the Giants Tour’ – www.gregsafaris.com

Zipline with Sky Safaris – www.skysafaristkitts.com

Blue Water Safaris – www.bluewatersafaris.com

St. Kitts Scenic Railway- http://www.stkittsscenicrailway.com/

St. Kitts Sailing School- stkittssailingschool@gmail.com

Shiggidy Shack - http://www.mrxshiggidyshack.com/index.asp

The Monkey Bar – www.monkeybarstkitts.com

Travel from Leeds to London King’s Cross was by rail with East Coast Trains: advance return fares, booked online, start from £26 Standard Class or £79 First Class. Booking is via www.eastcoast.co.uk, by calling 08457 225225 or visiting any staffed station.”

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