Double the fun with dual-island escapism
Just two miles apart, the beautiful sister isles of St Kitts and Nevis tick many of the boxes for a satisfying Caribbean holiday. Relaxed white sand beaches, a lush green mountainous interior, engaging heritage sites and top class hotels – you can look forward to all these delights, but that's merely the beginning. St Kitts, the gateway island, is also home to a World Heritage site, the colossal Brimstone Hill Fortress, and a unique scenic railway that trundles around the coast.
Nevis is equally appealing thanks to the 3,232ft (985m) Nevis Peak rising from its heart and a rare collection of independently-owned plantation-style hotels. Travelling around and between the islands is simple, so there's always plenty of time to kick back on a catamaran cruise, snorkel in brilliantly clear waters, hike up a volcano and dine under the stars on freshly caught fish.
Most likely you'll be staying in the centre of the island, so enjoy a swim in the sea or your hotel pool before breakfast. You'll then need some transport, either a rental car or arrange a tour with a taxi driver (they can be recommended by your accommodation). First stop should be Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park (00 1 869 465 2609), a mighty citadel and World Heritage site on the west coast that dates from the 1690s. This is the island's star attraction and you can easily spend a couple of hours here.
Afterwards, it's just a short drive going clockwise around the coast to The Amazing Grace Experience near Sandy Point, which explains St Kitts' role in the creation of this famous hymn. A morning devoted to war and religion will almost certainly make you want a drink and a bite, so continue north to Dieppe Bay for a simple and satisfying lobster lunch at beach restaurant Mugsy (00 1 869 664 4434).
Continue driving east to complete the loop around the northern part of St Kitts. Now it's time to relax by the sea, so carry on south to South Friars Bay Beach.
If you like somewhere smart take the first turn off for Carambola Beach Club (00 1 869 465 9090), where there is a large modern bar and restaurant serving modern European dishes with a Caribbean twist, or push on to the second turn (signed to ShipWreck Bar and Grill) which leads to the beach and a selection of informal watering holes.
After freshening up at your hotel, drive or take a taxi to Serendipity (3 Wigley Avenue; 00 1 869 465 9999) in Fortlands. It's best to make a reservation – the tables have a good view of Basseterre and the wide-ranging menu includes dishes such as Caribbean bouillabaisse and chicken curry.
If you're up for more fun after that, move on to the beach bars and wood-built restaurants of 'The Strip' on South Frigate Bay Beach. The party mood here peaks on Friday nights, with Mr X's Shiggidy Shack (00 1 869 663 4578) a good place to start.
If you're staying by the beach, start your day with an early swim in the warm sea. Or if you're based inland, spend a contemplative moment in the garden and admire the birdlife, vivid flora and magnificent trees that are one of the joys of this lushly forested island. Have breakfast at your hotel, or alternatively at Café des Arts (Main Street; 00 1 869 667 8768) in Charlestown, which is a good starting point for exploring the island capital.
From Charlestown, head clockwise round the island on the main coastal road – driving is on the left and while you could complete the circle in 45 minutes, that's not the point. Stops of interest could be Lovers Beach, Cottle Church (Rawlins; follow signs for the Mount Nevis Hotel), which was completed in 1824 and the first church on the island to allow slaves to join the worship, and the ruins of the New River Estate.
For a relaxing lunch, call into The Rocks (Golden Rock Inn; 00 1 869 469 3346), a venerable sugar plantation that is now an arty boutique hotel – try the curried chicken with mango salad and be sure to have a wander in the fabulous gardens.
Now it's time to take things easy. If you fancy finding a wild and windy shore, turn left at Gingerland and head down to Windward Beach, or alternatively call into the Botanical Gardens of Nevis (00 1 869 469 3509) where you can admire their flora and trees and also get a drink.
After freshening up at your hotel, drive or take a taxi to Bananas (Hamilton; 00 1 869 469 1891), a hillside restaurant with a lovely garden setting. Have a cocktail on the upper deck then enjoy its indulgent menu of global flavours, including Thai beef salad and coconut laksa with fishballs. If this inspires you to carry on partying (and it's the weekend) continue to the bars on Pinney's Beach where there'll be music and dancing under the stars – try the 'Killer Bee' rum cocktails at Sunshine's Beach Bar & Grill.
The two-bedroom beach houses at Paradise Beach Nevis are exceptionally well-designed, being set on stilts with stairs that can be pulled up like a drawbridge. The style is international luxury with a Balinese feel that will best suit travellers looking for a tranquil seaside escape. The gated villa resort enjoys a tranquil location on the west coast with tropical gardens and a small residents-only bar and restaurant. Snorkelling, kayaking and paddleboarding are available.
Villas from $1,983 (£1,637). St Thomas; 00 1 869 469 7900
Rates provided by Mr & Mrs Smith
New York-based artists Brice and Helen Marsden have transformed Golden Rock Inn, a venerable plantation hotel lost in the verdant hills of Nevis, into a hip and vibrantly furnished getaway. There are only 11 rooms, plus a hideaway pool, fabulous gardens and a zestful restaurant serving modern Caribbean dishes. The gardens offer plenty of dreamy spots to relax in and it's well worth taking a tour with the Nevisian head gardener to learn about local plants.
Doubles from $250 (£206). St George; 00 1 869 469 7900
Rates provided by Booking.com
With a handy location in the centre of St Kitts, four-star Ocean Terrace Inn rests on a hillside overlooking Basseterre with 34 well-equipped rooms and an inviting lagoon-style pool. It's an easy walk into the capital with several good restaurants nearby. On Friday nights, there is a Caribbean buffet with vendors, steelpan music and complimentary cocktails for guests.
Doubles from $257 (£212). Fortlands; 00 1 869 465 2754
Rates provided by Booking.com
Rum bottled and blended on St Kitts is good value – pick up a bottle of the local Belmont Estate in the duty-free shops in Port Zante, Basseterre (take your photo ID), or at the airport when you fly out.
On Nevis, seek out the Nevis Artisan Village just north of Charlestown (Island Main Road, closed on weekends) where local crafts and produce are sold including handmade leather sandals, beauty products, hot sauces and tropical fruit jams.
High season on St Kitts and Nevis runs from mid-December to April, when the cost of accommodation peaks and the weather is at its most attractive. Rates drop in summer, but due to the limited number of direct flights from the UK, you'll have to travel outside of the school holidays to get the best deal.
While the Caribbean hurricane season officially runs from June to November, September and October are the most likely months to encounter major storms. Some hotels and restaurants close for a few weeks during this quiet period. Consider visiting when the islands are in party mood – popular events include St Kitts Music Festival (June), St Kitts Carnival (December/January), international cricket matches at the Warner Park Stadium in Basseterre (various), and the Nevis Culturama Festival (July/August).
Flight time: Around 10 hours from London Gatwick; nine-and-a-half hours back. Flights touch down for an hour in Antigua but continuing passengers do not have to disembark.
Time difference: GMT -5
Currency: The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, written EC$. It is pegged to the US dollar at US$1 to EC$2.70, but local shops and restaurants often use a slightly lower rate which is displayed on boards and menus. Hotels, upmarket restaurants and some activity providers only quote in US dollars.
As a general rule, it is usually a little cheaper to pay in EC dollars. You can purchase most things in US dollars, but the change may well be in EC dollars. Most cashpoints only dispense EC dollars and there are only a few on Nevis, so it's best to get money out when you find one working. When taking local transport, and shopping and dining, always confirm if the prices quoted are in EC or US dollars.
Safety: Kittitians and Nevisians are friendly and welcoming and many islanders have visited or lived in the UK. If you want to find something out, just ask. While St Kitts feels easy-going and safe, violent crimes on the island do happen. Avoid poorly lit areas at night in Basseterre and don't leave valuables on display in cars, or on hotel balconies and beaches.
Foreign Office Travel Advice: gov.uk
Emergency numbers: Police 911; Fire 333; Ambulance 911
Nigel Tisdall is an award-winning travel writer who specialises in the Caribbean. He has been visiting St Kitts and Nevis for more than a decade and particularly loves their natural beauty, historic sights and easy-going lifestyle.