Nevis is the smaller of the two islands that make up the small Caribbean island nation, the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. A former British colony, these islands became independent from Britain in 1983. St. Kitts and Nevis are separated by a 2-mile wide channel known as "The Narrows". Several ferries run every day between Charlestown, the capital of Nevis, and Basseterre, which is the capital of St. Kitts.
Nevis is not very commercially developed. It is still a very quiet and relaxing island, and a lot safer than many Caribbean islands. The local people who live on Nevis are kind and welcoming, but Nevisians who don't work with tourists on a regular basis tend to be shy at first. Nevis has one of the highest literacy rates in the world; education and religion are very important aspects of the islanders' lives.
Nevis was the birthplace and childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. It was also the place where Horatio Nelson was stationed as a young sea captain and where he met and married his wife, a young plantation widow, Fanny Nisbet.
Nevis is almost round in outline, with a large dormant volcano (known as Nevis Peak) in the middle. The island divides naturally into three regions: the peak itself, which is so steep that it was never farmed, the coastal plain which rises up towards the central mountain, and hills of various sizes around the island which are the remnants of far more ancient volcanic activity.
The island of Nevis is also divided administratively into five parishes: Saint George, Gingerland; Saint James, Windward; Saint John, Figtree; Saint Paul, Charlestown; and Saint Thomas, Lowland. Each of these Nevis parishes is shaped like a slice of pie, and they all come together at one point on the top of the mountain.
During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries almost all of the less steep parts of the surface of Nevis were cleared of natural vegetation and the land was completely covered in sugar plantations. Numerous ruins of the old plantation buildings (especially the conical mills where the cane was ground up) are found throughout the landscape of Nevis.
There are no cities in Nevis; the settlements are mostly villages. Only the capital counts as a town.
- 1 Charlestown – the capital of Nevis, is a small, picturesque port town. The main street is lined with handsome Georgian stone buildings which are examples of the architectural style of the British colonial era, sporting breezy balconies and wooden upper floors over a ground floor built of stone.
- 2 Newcastle – is a settlement in the northern part of the island, next to the airport. The Newcastle Pottery makes and sells attractive items from the red clay that is found in that area.
- 3 Bath – is situated a little south of Charlestown and features the historic 18th century Bath Hotel, now used as government offices, as well as two outdoor bathing spots where the volcanic hot spring water can be enjoyed free of charge by anyone who wishes to soak their bodies in this extremely hot water, which is full of salts and is considered to have restorative properties.
- 1 Nevis Peak – the top of a dormant volcano, is an attraction to hikers and nature buffs. There are various walks and trails on the lower slopes of the Peak, as well as a challenging route that goes all the way to the summit.
The people of Nevis who are not in the tourist business tend to be very shy, but are friendly and helpful once you get past the initial shyness, which can take some time. It is appropriate to greet everyone you pass or meet, saying either, "good morning," "good afternoon," or "good night" (which is said instead of "good evening.")
Nevisians in general attend church regularly. Cursing in public is against the law. Provocative dress and rudeness are frowned on. Topless sunbathing is not allowed on the beaches of Nevis.
Most non-tourist places on Nevis such as banks, grocery stores, and government offices will often have lines. Ferries frequently do not leave on time. Service in local restaurants can be very slow. Local people expect that you will not complain or show irritation about these delays, which are considered normal.
Don't take photos of the local people or their houses without asking their permission first; this is considered to be very rude.
The first inhabitants in Nevis were Amerindians who reached Nevis over 2,000 year ago from what is now Venezuela.
Christopher Columbus saw the island but did not land there. The island was given the name "Nuestra Senora de las Nieves", meaning "Our Lady of the Snows". Captain Barthemow Gilbert was the first recorded European visitor in 1603. In 1628, the British settled on Nevis. In 1629, the island was invaded and taken over by the Spanish.
Eventually Nevis became a British colonial holding, valued for its very rich production of sugar, the whole island other than the steep slopes of Nevis Peak was all turned into sugar plantations. By the early 20th century, the sugar industry was going downhill, and eventually all of the sugar mills closed.
Nevis used to be a British colony, and as a result everyone on Nevis speaks English. Local people who do not often deal with tourists (like farmers on the local market) may sometimes be hard to understand because of their strong regional accent, as well as the fact that they use some dialect words and occasional pieces of unfamiliar grammar.
Coming in by air you may have to take two flights to get to Nevis. If you arrive from Europe or the USA, your first flight will take you to one of the Caribbean hubs, an island much larger than Nevis, such as Puerto Rico or maybe St. Maarten. Then you will get on a much smaller plane and fly over to the small airport on Nevis.
Some visitors can instead take a non-stop flight to the sister island of St. Kitts, and then a ferry or water taxi over to Nevis. If you are staying at a hotel in Nevis and arriving in St. Kitts, the hotel staff will make the necessary arrangements for you to get over from St. Kitts to Nevis.
There are two main ways to get from St. Kitts to Nevis via ferry. If you decide you want to rent a car in St. Kitts, you can then take a car ferry over to Nevis. The car ferry is called the "Sea Bridge" and it also takes pedestrians. It leaves every 2 hours during the daytime from Majors Bay, at the extreme tip of the southeastern peninsula of St. Kitts. It is about a 25 minute (very hilly and very scenic) drive from the airport on St. Kitts to Majors Bay. The "Sea Bridge" takes about 15 minutes to cross over to Cades Bay on Nevis, a few miles north of Charlestown. If you don't want to rent a car in St. Kitts you can take a taxi to Majors Bay, get on the Sea Bridge and then get a taxi or bus once you are on Nevis. I you want to make things really easy, you can negotiate a taxi to take you all the way from the St. Kitts airport to Majors Bay and onto the "Sea Bridge" and off again, all the way to your destination in Nevis.
The regular ferries all leave from the port in Basseterre, St. Kitts (which is only a short distance from the airport) and arrive at the port in Charlestown, Nevis. They are mostly passenger ferries. Only the RO/RO ferry boat known as the "Sea Hustler" can carry vehicles. The ferries from Basseterre have to travel a much longer distance on water than the "Sea Bridge", and so they take about 40 minutes, but it's quite a beautiful ride. These ferries can also be used for a day trip over to St. Kitts if you are staying on Nevis. Just bear in mind that the times of departure are approximate (the ferries often leave later than scheduled), and sometimes a ferry run maybe cancelled without prior notice.
Private water taxis will also run the route from St. Kitts to Nevis, but are more expensive, although the cost is not at all unreasonable if you can find enough passengers to fill the boat. The Four Seasons has its own boats to take guests from St. Kitts to the resort on Nevis and will take extra passengers if space is available (this cost approximately USD 60 in 2014). All the larger hotels on Nevis will set up the necessary transfers for you in advance if you need to come over from St. Kitts.
- Taxis are vans that have yellow license plates that start with T or TA. They are large, efficient, clean, and the drivers are mostly very knowledgeable and friendly. Drivers can bring you to your destination and wait for you, or can come back and get you at your convenience. Although a bargain in terms of what you get (really more like a personal limo -- and the charge is the same no matter how many people are coming with you) -- taxis are relatively expensive in absolute amounts (USD10-20 is typical) to go even a rather short distance. And in general whenever you use a taxi, ask in advance how much the cost is going to be, and determine whether the amount quoted is in East Caribbean dollars or US dollars; there is a big difference because 1 US dollar equals 2.7 EC dollars! If you are only visiting Nevis for a day or two, it is well worth the cost to take a guided taxi tour of the island, which can last two or three hours according to what suits you.
- Buses on Nevis are vans with a lot of seats and a license plate which is green and starts with the letter H. The vans are privately owned, but government-registered. These buses are safe, cheap, extremely convenient, quite fast, and are a fun way to see a little of real life on Nevis. Everyone from old ladies to little kids will be getting on and off. Buses are extremely frequent during early morning and late afternoon, but are not as frequent in the middle of the day; they also do not run at all after about 9 pm. A bus will pick you up anywhere on the main road and drop you off anywhere else on the main road, or even on a side street if you pay a little extra. The buses take people from point to point very inexpensively for around XCD3-5 (USD1-2, depending on how far you are going) per person. Buses generally make circuits on one part of the ring road (the road running around the island) with each van running back and forth on roughly a third of the 17-mile road. To catch a bus, you just stand on the side of the road anywhere, look for a van going your way whose license plate is green and starts with H, then wave at them with a downwards motion (like saying "slow down") as the van is approaching. Occasionally a bus will only beep and drive past, but that is simply because the bus is already completely full. You can pay when you get on the bus, or on your way out (it is easier and faster if you have EC dollar coins that you can give to the driver). Just tell the driver where you are going. if the bus is very full you may want to call out a reminder when the van is approaching the point where you want to get off. If you want to go somewhere that is far outside the loop that the van is running, the driver will drop you at a point where you will can meet the next bus. Buses are really great: they can save you a lot of money and they give you a taste of local culture.
- Car Rentals are good if you plan to stay for more than a couple of days and want to have more freedom than the buses offer, or want to go to inaccessible places that the buses don't service. The car rental agency will issue you a temporary driving licence at the time you take possession. Arrangements can be made via phone or email prior to arrival, including airport pick-up and drop-off. Drive on the left and proceed with care and courtesy toward other drivers, Watch out for livestock and pedestrians in the road.
- The museums. There are three museums on Nevis: the Nelson Museum, the Alexander Hamilton House (home to the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society), and the Sports Museum. There is also the Philatelic Bureau, of interest to stamp collectors.
- Hermitage Plantation in Saint John, has one building that was built of lignum vitae wood in 1640; this is the oldest surviving wooden house still in use in the Caribbean today.
- 1 Bath Hotel of 1778. Just outside Charlestown, this was the first hotel built in the Caribbean and may even be said to have started tourism in the Americas; it was a luxury hotel and spa. The soothing waters of the hotel's hot springs lured many famous Europeans, including the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Antigua-based Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson and Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, the future William IV of the United Kingdom. These luminaries attended balls and private parties at the hotel. The hotel's time of splendiferous entertainment and revelry collapsed with the sugar industry in the 19th century, and the original structure suffered damage in a 1950 earthquake. However, the building has been repaired and restored, and now serves as government offices. Open-air access to the volcanic hot-spring water is available to anyone without charge, and in 2013 a channel was built to allow people to access pools of the volcanic water when it is less than extremely hot, as it is when it first emerges from the spring. Free.
- Historical churches Many of the churches on Nevis also date to the 18th century, as well as some of the reconstructed mills.
- Ruins. Architecture from the past includes historical estate buildings and sugar mills. Popular destinations with ruins worth viewing include Hamilton Estate, New River Estate, Coconut Walk Estate, The Lime Kiln, and Cottle Church.
- Culturama is an annual cultural festival celebrated in the first week of August, as part of the Emancipation Day weekend.
- Green vervet monkeys. Nevis is one of only three West Indian islands which have a population of these handsome large monkeys, which were introduced and became naturalized many centuries ago. The monkeys have extremely long tails, and they spend a lot of time on the ground. Their fur is olive-green and beige, and because of this, when they are motionless they are very hard to spot, because they blend in so well with the vegetation. Hundreds of troupes of these monkeys sleep at night in the forest on Nevis Peak. They are usually seen by humans only when a troupe goes out foraging for food in the early morning, or the quiet part of the afternoon, when the monkeys venture into gardens and cultivated areas looking for not only edible seeds of wild plants but also mangos, tomatoes, and other delicious cultivated items. The tourists find the monkeys exciting and picturesque, but they are considered a nuisance by locals, because they raid farms and gardens mercilessly. During the driest parts of the year troupes of monkeys come all the way down to the coast, travelling on foot in the "ghauts" or ravines, and then you might see some of them almost anywhere on the island, although they prefer to stay at a safe distance from people.
- Pinney's Beach on the western (Caribbean) side of the island is a straight sandy beach several miles long which features the Four Seasons Resort, various beach bars, etc.
- Oualie Beach, further north on the Caribbean side, this is a very sheltered bay beach with very calm shallow water, a scuba centre, a laid-back hotel, etc.
- Golf at The Four Seasons. Each golf hole has an absolutely gorgeous view of the island and the ocean. The golf course winds around the lower slopes of the volcano, Nevis Peak. If you are not into golfing, Four Seasons offer a tour right around sunset during which you may see the monkeys that wander the grounds, as well as the spectacular views. It is breathtaking and a "must do" when visiting Nevis.
- The Eva Wilkin Art Gallery. Evan Wilkin lived in a windmill that was built in the 18th century. She died in 1989, but people still visit her home to see her sketches and paintings representing Nevis culture, including views and the interaction of people.
- The Nevis Racetrack. Yes, there is horse racing on Nevis! In the southeast of the island, near Indian Castle, is a racetrack with grandstand and concession huts. The races are held infrequently, maybe once a month or so, but they are very exciting for everyone involved. Nevis also has car racing and motorbike racing at the drag racing track, the St. James Raceway.
- For the adventurous, there is mountain biking and hiking to the top of Nevis Peak, all the while admiring breathtaking views of the island. There is also deep sea fishing and scuba diving.
- For the romantic, southeast of Charlestown is a botanical garden consisting of seven acres of beautifully landscaped gardens.
Nevis should not be thought of as a "shopping" destination; however there are some nice things you can buy to take home. The restaurant "Riviere House" shows a lot of local art which is for sale, and sometimes locally-made jewellery too. Near Newcastle, the Newcastle Pottery makes a variety of interesting authentic pieces using the local red clay. For people who collect stamps, the Philatelic Bureau in Charlestown has a large selection. Books on Nevis topics and Caribbean topics are for sale at the Alexander Hamilton Museum.
Nevis food is a blend of European, American, with hints of African and Asian. Some local delicacies which may be features in meals are breadfruit, coconut jelly, fresh mangos, and fresh tamarind. It is nearly impossible to get a bad meal on Nevis. The food is fresh and further complimented by the island's lack of pollution. The simple but delicious (and widely available) roti is a roll-up with a savoury filling. Restaurants serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and are usually closed in between these times. Restaurants also close early at night, so expect to eat dinner before nine or ten, or not at all.
There is a surprisingly wide range of different places to eat, including quite a few Chinese restaurants, and a well-regarded Indian restaurant called "Indian Summer". Not all restaurants on Nevis look grand, but do not let this sway your decision on where to eat, as very often the food is really good even in the simplest places. The local bars and grills are in the lower price range, and feature a lot of Nevis's culture. There are also many moderately priced food venues. The highest-priced restaurants are mostly in the hotels.
Food service on the island is mostly very slow, often with errors that will lead to more slow service in the process of correcting them. However, the wait staff of the restaurants, although sometimes substandard in performance, are generally very kind and pleasant to deal with. If you want to cut down on your wait time, some restaurants will let you call your order in before you arrive.
"Snackettes" are informal restaurants which sell home-cooked meals and also sell drinks. Most villages have several different snackettes, which serve as a central feature of village life.
The open-air market in Charlestown (near the port on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) sells fruit and vegetables, much of which is local produce. The vendors who set up small tables outside the building itself often have the freshest produce and the lowest prices.
The "Yellow Bus", which parks on the waterfront near the port in Charlestown, is widely regarded as a great place to get a roti. The "Fancy Jamaican Bakery" a little further north and facing the water, has great raisin pastries (called raisin rolls) and other interesting baked goods, as well as fresh bread and bottled drinks, including local specialities such as "sea moss" (a creamy thick sweet drink made from a local edible seaweed).
The two different ice cream shops in Charlestown each sell their own home-made ice cream; be sure to try it!
You may also want to try:
- Riviere House uphill a little on the edge of Charlestown -- a very elegant, cool breezy setting, and very good food, not expensive.
- Chrishi Beach Club at the south end of Cades Bay, not far from the Sea Bridge ferry stop -- really excellent food.
- Nature's Way not far from Ram's supermarket -- very good vegetarian food at excellent prices, no alcoholic drinks served.
There are plenty of good things to drink on Nevis, ranging from perfectly good tap water to wonderful homemade ginger beer made from locally grown ginger, to innumerable different rum punches made in the hotels and beach bars.
Each of the various hotels and beach bars has a barbecue party with music on a different night of the week. Nevis features a number of very popular beach bars, most of which are on Pinney's Beach. There are of course elegant bars in all of the upmarket hotels.
There are numerous local bars, and in addition, many local "snackettes", informal restaurants which sell home cooked meals and also sell drinks. Most villages have several snackettes, which serve as a central feature of village life.
- There is a local Caribbean grapefruit soda called Ting, which is very straightforward and wholesome; just grapefruit, sugar, water and fizz, that's all.
- Buy the island's most outstanding home-made ginger beer at "Mansa's Last Stop", a farm stand near Cades Bay.
- If you can find any, try the local home-made Sarsaparilla, which is very mildly alcoholic and supposed to be very good for you!
- A popular cocktail is Ting and Sting, which is Ting with the addition of Cane Spirit Rothschild (CRS), a locally produced white rum.
- Carib Beer is a standard of course; Stag Beer is a more assertive and tasty beer produced by the same company.
- Rum punches -- every hotel and beach bar has their own version; the one from Sunshine's Beach Bar is called a "Killer Bee".
There are a number of different places to stay on Nevis, ranging from luxury hotels to small local guest houses, and also including house rentals. Some places to stay are right on the beach, some are inland but have a beach that they will run you to; one is up on the mountainside, which is cooler. The hotels and inns are:
- Four Seasons Resort Nevis, Pinneys Beach, ☏ . Very expensive, rather generic, luxurious, a good golf course.
- Montpelier Plantation & Beach. This place northeast from Charlestown is expensive but also elegant and atmospheric.
- Nisbet Plantation Beach Club. East of Newcastle and next to the beach. Also costly but elegant and atmospheric, with superb staff.
- Mount Nevis Hotel and Beach Club.
- Oualie Beach Resort, Right on sandy Oualie Bay. Not cheap, very laid back, great location, next to the scuba center etc. Oualie is a very calm shallow bay good for children and people who don't swim well.
- Golden Rock Inn. Up fairly high on the mountainside, lush plantings, fabulous view, poshly renovated restaurant, a good place to see monkeys.
To visit Nevis, there are no vaccinations needed, and the tap water tastes good and is perfectly safe to drink. Nevis has a very low crime rate and only very rarely is a tourist in danger; there have been occasional crimes. There are also no poisonous snakes, no large, dangerous animals, there was only one shark attack and that was back in September 2009. As is the case in any other island, when snorkelling or diving do not wear anything that shines or sparkles; this attracts fish who may think it is food.
User common sense: do not sit under coconut trees for fear of falling nuts. Do not let your children try to pet a baby donkey who is with its mother -- the mother donkey may become very angry! Be very careful not to get a bad sunburn during the first few days you are in the tropics. When hiking, go with a guide, and tell someone where you are going. This is important in case of an accident, because there is a better chance that you will be found and helped.
On Nevis you have to drive on the left side of the road. Driving on the other side of the road without thinking is your biggest risk as a tourist.
The easiest place to "go next" after Nevis is the sister island of Saint Kitts, the other part of the "Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis". St. Kitts is right next door and easily accessed via ferry.
If you are on Nevis for a couple of weeks or more, it may be worth your while to ask at the port, specifically at the ticket window for the "Sea Hustler" ferry or the "Carib Queen" ferry, to see if any other trips are being offered while you are on-island. Occasionally there is a trip available to another islands, such as Antigua, Montserrat or Sint Eustatius. These trips are not luxurious, but they can be an interesting adventure, and they are not expensive. Just remember that these other islands are different countries, so even for a day trip you will need to take your passport, and you will have to go though customs and immigration both coming and going.
If you don't mind spending the money, you can fly from Nevis to Saint Martin, which is an airport hub, and from there you can access several different islands.
The Nevis airport is usually easy to get in and out of: customs is quick, and the lines are usually not too long, because the airport is so small and Nevis is not commercialized. However, going home they do search your carry-ons, and you are not allowed to bring anything you found in nature back home with you. If the staff find shells, or even a vial of sand, these items will be confiscated, although it is possible (in advance) to apply for and get the necessary permit to take shells out of the country. In the Nevis airport there is no large cafeteria; they basically only sell things like canned sodas, hot dogs, chips and pretzels.