Our Christmas cruise took us to three islands similar in many ways but also very different. They are geographically close, in the eastern Caribbean near South America. They were created by volcanoes, are small in size and population, and gained independence relatively recently. But St. Maartin, St. Lucia and St. Kitts are each very distinct.
Heading north to St. Kitts from St. Lucia, one passes the great volcanic peak of Nevis, shrouded in the clouds. St. Kitts was our favorite island of the three.
St. Kitts is only about sixty-five square miles and has a population of around thirty-five thousand. It has a long pier to accommodate cruise ships but no good natural harbors and not as many great sandy beaches as some other islands.
English is spoken, and while the Eastern Caribbean Dollar is the standard currency, U.S. dollars are equally accepted. Like many Caribbean islands, it changed hands frequently. For much of the time, the English had the center of the island with the French on both ends. The English took final control in 1783. Now, St. Kitts and Nevis together are an independent part of the Commonwealth.
People live along the coast. The center is very mountainous, but there a relatively flat plains along most of the coast which were used for sugar plantations from 1640 right up to 2005. A narrow gauge railroad was built between 1912 and 1923 to take sugar to a central processing facility. But the sugar market was gradually lost (to government-backed U.S. sugar and EU plans to cut sugar prices), and in 2003 a tourist train was created using a Romanian engine bought in Poland and cars built in Seattle.
Local governance was established in 1983. In recent years, they have attempted to diversify, and we saw an industrial park near the airport with several U.S. auto parts manufacturers and at least one kitchen equipment manufacturer. But tourism is still the principle contributor to the economy, and there are a couple dozen hotels.
Michelle told us the diving was great. And we really enjoyed our train ride. It was Christmas day, and as we slowly went along we shouted “Merry Christmas” to the children and adults waving to us by the side of the tracks. A trio sang carols and island songs in lovely harmony.
I believe what appealed to us was that the island did not seem overly crowded with tourists. And while there is poverty, their per capita GDP is about twice that of St. Lucia. But more than that, when one looked at and talked to the people, one had a sense of optimism.