I read somewhere that St. Kitts has more than 200 historic sites. While I cannot now find the source, I don’t doubt it to be true based on my time on the island. Here are my top five picks for the historically minded:
1. Check out the petroglyphs: Before European settlers came to St. Kitts, the native Carib Indians carved petroglyphs (rock engravings) to signify important events. One small site, just off the Old Road leading to Wingfield Estate, is easily accessible. To see what some believe to be the largest petroglyph grouping in the Caribbean, visitors will have to hike into the rainforest at Bloody Point, something best accomplished if one has experience as a hiker and relies on the services of a local guide. This is also the site where over 1,000 Carib Indians died battling the English and French for their homeland – hence, the name, Bloody Point.
2. Take the winding road up to Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park: This world heritage site has been called the Gibraltar of the Caribbean, sitting almost 800 feet above sea level. Truly the views are panoramic, making this a must see for all. Built in the late 17th century by the British, the fort was operational until 1852. The craft of the Afro-Caribbean stonemasons who built Brimstone Hill is all the more impressive given the vastness of the fort and its condition 300 years later. You’ll find a small museum and gift shop, self-guided tours, and picnic area and canteen. For more information, see www.brimstonehillfortress.org.
3. Visit the town of Basseterre and the National Museum: Despite its French name, Basseterre (in French “lowland”) has a decidedly English feel in both nomenclature and design. Its Circus, modeled after Piccadilly though much smaller, bustles with activity from the locals; that reason alone makes it worth visiting. Directly across from the Circus is the Treasury Building, the customs house through which everything coming to or leaving the island passed. This handsome building dates from 1894 and now houses the National Museum. Miniscule by modern standards, this museum and its employees have something many larger institutions lack – heart. Here you will learn about how Kittitians, past and present, lived, worked and played. For more information, see www.stkittsheritage.com.
4. Tour a restored great house: The recently restored and re-opened Fairview Great House and Botanical Gardens gives visitors a chance to see up close the sugar plantation life that has dominated the island for most of the last three hundred years. Fairview, built 300 years ago for a French military leader, offers tours and meeting spaces as well as dining at Nirvana Restaurant and six acres of gardens through which to stroll. For more information, see www.nirvanafairview.com.
5. Explore an architectural dig: Wingfield Estate, the first working plantation established in 1625, has another distinction – first owner Sam Jefferson was the great, great, great grandfather of US President Thomas Jefferson, himself a plantation owner. Another excellent example of stone masonry able to withstand time and the elements, Wingfield was operational until 1929. Today it is an ongoing archeological dig – something I did not expect to find on a Caribbean Island. I found myself again and again admiring the functional beauty and cleverness of the ever-increasing number of buildings being uncovered: thus far, an aqueduct to carry water to the wheel used to crush the cane, the wheel house, the boiling house, the fire wall tunnel and, most amazingly, an intact rum distillery from the 17th century. For more information, visit their website.
If all this history leaves you yearning for present day, you’ll be glad to know that Wingfield Estate hosts a newly established zipline. I think Sam Jefferson would approve.