Photo by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
If you’ve never heard of Nevis, you’re not alone. This little Eastern Caribbean island is one of the region’s unexplored delights. The quiet sister island to the bigger and flashier St. Kitts, Nevis draws travelers who enjoy low-key exploration and untouched natural beauty. With only a handful of hotels and a stunning landscape that allows for uncrowded excursions, you can glimpse the old-school Caribbean lifestyle that few islands offer anymore.
Although it’s tiny and sparsely developed, Nevis is a multi-faceted island. It might measure only 36 square miles but there are a lot of layers crammed into such a small area. I spent a lot of time trying to capture the natural beauty, the historic monuments and the people. Here are some can’t-miss Nevis highlights.
Nevis is noted for its natural beauty but there’s also a lot of history packed into every corner of the island. Perched high on a hill overlooking the Caribbean Sea sits St.Thomas Lowland Church, the oldest Anglican church in the Caribbean. Built in 1643, the church is surrounded by a cemetery that features many of the island’s founders.
Just north of the Nevis capital of Charlestown, the ruins of Cottle Church beckon. The church was constructed in 1824 by John Cottle, a former president of Nevis, who bucked the system by allowing the enslaved workers of his plantation to worship in the church with his family. It was illegal for slaves to worship, so the church was never consecrated. The names and ages of all of the enslaved workers hang on the walls of the church and the beautiful limestone structure remains a popular site for weddings.
The most famous Nevis native is Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who was born on the island in 1757. The simple Georgian house where he was born is now the Museum of Nevis History, which documents Hamilton’s life as well as the island’s history. One of the most unusual historic sites is an open air sugar mill museum on the east coast of the island. In its heyday as a lucrative British colony and “Queen of the Caribees”, Nevis boasted 100 sugar mills. New River sugar plantation, which is where the museum is located, was the last operating sugar mill, which closed in 1958. You can roam through artifacts including a steam engine, cistern, boilers and other machinery.
You’re not in Nevis if you’re not absorbing scenic natural wonders. The most prominent is Nevis Peak, a mostly dormant volcano which rises 3,232 feet and serves as the island’s main landmark. The highest point and visible from every area of Nevis, it’s a challenging hike for the adventurous. A more accessible green site is the
sprawling Botanical Gardens of Nevis. The five-acre garden supplies flowering trees, tropical vines, water fountains and waterfalls as well as 100 species of palm trees. Perhaps one of the most therapeutic natural spots on the island is Nevis Hot Springs. The historic Bath Hotel, opened in 1778, sits on the bank of a hot bath stream.
Five thermal baths, free and open to the public, flow with 100 degree water loaded with minerals reputed to cure gout, rheumatism and arthritis. A lively hallmark of Nevis are the vervet monkeys that scamper around freely. There are more monkeys than people on Nevis but the critters are an elusive bunch.
The warmth of Nevis doesn’t just come from the sun. The people are a major part of what makes the island special. Hang out in local watering holes like Sunshine’s Beach Bar, which is practically a requirement for every visitor. Sunshine himself will likely greet you with a smile as wide as the Caribbean Sea and serve you his legendary Killer Bee rum punch.
Or if you’re a lightweight like me, you can request the less lethal Baby Bee.
Double Deuce is another friendly beach bar, spread out on the pristine backdrop of Pinney’s Beach. The gregarious Lyndeta will probably serve you and encourage you to sing karaoke on Thursdays or dance to soca hits on Saturdays.
For something fancier, head to Nisbet Plantation for elegant cocktails and meals presided over by Patterson, the Maitre D with an astounding memory for guests faces and a legendary, 6,000-piece tie collection. For the ultimate local Nevis experience, join the annual carnival celebration of Culturama, where the whole island parties, parades and celebrates during the 12-day festival in July.