Brimstone Hill Fortress was at the top of our list when my husband and I stopped at St. Kitts on an anniversary cruise vacation to the Eastern Caribbean in 2011. It's not every day that we have a chance to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our cruises to Alaska and the Western Caribbean, we hired taxis to take us exactly where we wanted to go in each port. Our experience on St. Kitts was different. Here is what we learned about visiting Brimstone Hill Fortress.
You can't just take a taxi
St. Kitts has tour guides, not taxi drivers, waiting at the port when cruise ships arrive. At least a dozen drivers were pitching half-day or full-day van tour packages when we arrived in port. None of them wanted to take only two passengers to the fort and then pick us up a couple of hours later. If we had been willing to pay enough to make up the loss of a full van of passengers, we probably could have got anything we wanted.
If you're serious about seeing St. Kitts your way, consider booking a private tour in advance or renting a scooter. There is plenty of shopping at the port, but not much else within walking distance.
Groups have more leverage
If you are traveling with a group of four or more, you can probably arrange any tour you want. The driver just wants to be paid for a full van. We had negotiated unsuccessfully with several tour guides and were getting discouraged when the guide we had first spoken with caught up with us and told us that he had found others who shared our interests. We joined them for a customized half-day tour that included extra time at Brimstone Hill.
Brimstone Hill Fortress was worth it
We are history nerds, and Brimstone Hill did not disappoint. Perched atop an 800-foot hill, this massive monument of the colonial era took 100 years to build. The British built the fort with African slave labor, beginning in the 1690's.
There is a short film about the fort, but we decided to explore instead of spend our limited time seeing it. The climb to the main fort is strenuous, but should be manageable for most people. It was fascinating to wander around and contemplate the history of the place. The views of the fort, the island, and the deep blue sea were gorgeous.
There are several ruins around the fort and it was fun to explore those too. The vegetation on St. Kitts was interesting because it was desert-like compared with the other islands we visited on our cruise. I found what looks like a cactus on the grounds of Brimstone Hill Fortress.
There is a US$8 fee for adults and $4 fee for children to visit Brimstone Hill Fortress. We spent about an hour at Brimstone Hill Fortress. It was adequate, but I still wish we could have spent a little more time there.
The rest of the tour
We were initially not very interested in seeing all the stops that were included in our tour, but in the end, I was glad we saw them. It was interesting to hear about the history of the island and what it is like to live there now. There are a surprising number of medical and veterinary schools that attract students from many nations, including the United States.
Our tour included petroglyphs, the beautiful gardens of Romney Manor, the Caribelle Batik shop, Black Rocks and a number of other short stops. Our tour guide did not walk us through all of these, but gave us a little introduction and let us explore on our own.
Bring cash, including small bills
You will need cash to pay your tour guide, tip and the entrance fee for Brimstone Hill. Expect to pay at least US$20 per person for a half-day tour. You will probably also have the opportunity to purchase drinks and souvenirs, and possibly the chance to take a photo with a monkey on your shoulder, with your own camera, from roadside vendors who will not take credit cards.
St. Kitts and Nevis has its own currency, but our U.S. dollars were accepted everywhere. Be sure to clarify which currency you're negotiating in when you hire a driver or make a purchase.
Water and snacks
Our van had no air conditioning, and our half-day tour returned in the mid-afternoon, so we were more than ready for lunch when we returned to the port. Cold beverages are sold at stops along the way. Consider packing re-usable water bottles and snack packs of trail mix in your luggage.
We got more than we bargained for in St. Kitts, but in a good way. Hopefully, these tips will help you know what to expect when planning your own visit to this beautiful island.