Traveling within the Leeward Islands

A few people have asked me about the itinerary of a trip I took to Nevis, Anguilla, and the islands in between (St Kitts, Statia, Saba, St Martin, St Barths), so I decided to write up some notes. Warning: This got quite long.

My trip was structured around participating in the 4km open ocean Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim, scuba diving, and Caribbean history. This means my information is focused on these areas, which may or may not be your thing.

Planes and ferries

I started out by figuring out which islands I could get to from St Thomas. It's remarkably difficult to get between some of the islands in the Caribbean without leaving the Caribbean, having overnight layovers and/or having 3+ segments of travel. It so happens that I had previously nerded out and put together a Caribbean airplane & ferry route spreadsheet and route map photo album.

Fortunately, Nevis is one of the few islands that is only a single hop from St Thomas: it's serviced by a daily Cape Air 9-seater flight. Cape Air also runs a daily 9-seater flight between St Thomas and Anguilla. Unlike some airlines, Cape Air leaves on time (or even early!), as you can see from the flight history on FlightAware for St Thomas -> Nevis and Anguilla -> St Thomas. Cape Air is not cheap, but sometimes you can luck out by playing with dates or booking at the right time. Google Flights only includes some airlines, but it does have Cape Air, and it's easy to view a calendar grid of prices and to track flights and prices.

Trans Anguilla flies directly between Nevis and Anguilla, but I figured this would be a good opportunity to go to at least some of the islands in between which I can't get to directly. I knew from past travel that there were ferries between at least most of these islands, as well as flights from St Martin to all of these islands (mostly on Winair). Actually, there are now ferries between all of these islands. The ferries are generally cheaper than flying, but not always: at the time I was looking, Saba -> St Martin flights were almost identical in cost.

The Internet is full of personal accounts of rough ferry crossing, so if you are prone to seasickness, you might prefer to fly. Personally, I found the crossings fine (in April), even with getting to Saba a day before the port was closed due to rough weather. It may also be relevant that I took the ferries up the island chain, rather than down, so I was roughly going with the current, which should be the smoother direction. Another reason to fly would be if you want the "bragging rights" of landing on the shortest commercial runway. Despite many Internet descriptions of the landing as scary, I landed there ~12 years ago and didn't find it at all scary. The pilots are specially trained for the airport and do multiple takeoffs and landings there every day, and their safety record is better than many other airports in the region.

This trip, I opted for ferries. Makana runs ferries from St Kitts <-> Statia <-> Saba <-> St Martin, with each hop taking about an hour or a little more, and their schedule and rates are clearly listed on their site. I also found a Google Calendar of their schedule on, and Makana's active facebook page provided further evidence that they were consistently operating.

I found information on other sites about ~15 minute water taxis from Nevis to St Kitts (there are also ferries, but they are longer crossings and less convenient to the Nevis airport, though more convenient to Basseterre), ferries from Saint Martin to Saint Barths (multiple times a day, ~45 minutes from the Dutch side of the island, ~60 minutes from the French side), and the public ferry from Marigot, St Martin to Blowing Point, Anguilla (multiple times a day, ~20 minutes). Unlike the Makana ferries, these all run every day. With the exception of the short Nevis<->St Kitts water taxi, all of the boats I was on had air conditioned interior cabins.

I ended up making most of the ferry reservations at least a couple days in advance, but unless you are traveling during peak season, I suspect there is no need to do so; I'd be pretty surprised if the ferries were full. Note for scheduling that most of the ferries tell you to be at the dock 30-45 minutes before boarding time, as you need time to get your tickets, pay a departure tax, and go through immigration. I found it all pretty speedy. The only line during my trip that was slow was immigration upon arrival in Anguilla.


After researching and contacting dive shops and a lot of staring at Makana's schedule (and cruise ship schedules to avoid scheduling dives or sightseeing on busy ship days on St Kitts and St Martin) to figure out when and how long to spend on each island, I ended up with the following itinerary:

I also opted to do St Barths as a day trip from St Martin, which avoided moving to yet another hotel. If I'd had more time, I probably have stayed there for a night (2 days). I also might have added another night to each of St Martin and Anguilla. The St Martin part of my trip felt quite compressed, especially since that included the St Barths day trip and because I ended up staying in two different hotels on St Martin (1 night in Simpson Bay near dive operators and 2 nights in Grand Case near amazing restaurants). The pacing of the rest of the trip was about right for me. There is relatively little to do on Saba and Statia except dive (some hiking, some history, not much in the way of beaches), so if you're not planning on doing a lot of diving, you might want to shorten those stops. I'd also been to almost all of these islands before, sometimes more than once, and I'd just been to Nevis the previous year, so I didn't spend any time there this trip. So you might want to add another couple days for Nevis, but I still think St Kitts & Nevis combined could be done in 5 or maybe 6 days, especially if you aren't in a swim race one of those days.

I also considered visiting even more islands, but as this was already a lot of hops, I decided to save Antigua & Barbuda and maybe Montserrat for another trip, on which I could also potentially use Antigua as a gateway to almost any of the islands further south. Similarly, I can easily go to the BVI by ferry for a quick trip without much planning, or can use the BVI as a stopover to any of the many islands that interCaribbean flies to from Tortola.

Scuba diving

In case you're not familiar with the topography, here's a nautical chart. Nevis, St Kitts, and Statia are effectively one mound, St Martin, St Barths, and Anguilla form a second area, and Saba is really out in the deep on its own, with the shallower Saba Bank to its southwest.

I pretty quickly decided against Explorer Ventures' Caribbean Explorer II 18-person 7-night 27-dive St Martin/Saba/St Kitts liveaboard. It sounds quite convenient, and it's not a bad price, at least not for 3+ dives/day in a double occupancy room. But I wanted to do more exploring on my own and interact with locals and the local economy.

I researched what dive operators were on each island, how much they cost, where they were, and what past divers had to say about them. I searched using Google Maps, PADI, and SSI, and then I checked reviews on ScubaBoard and Tripadvisor for reviews of the dive operators, to see whether they seem to cater more towards new divers or experienced divers, and for general dive conditions on each island. I also checked operators' facebook pages to see if they were active and what kind of content they posted. Then I contacted many operators and narrowed them down based on their replies.

St Kitts: I only found two St Kitts dive operators with websites: Pro Divers and Kenneth Dive Center, both of which leave from Port Zante in Basseterre around 9:00-9:30AM and return around 1:00PM and have almost identical rates. Depending on the number of days diving, they charge $100-$120 for 2 dives, including hotel pickup/dropoff but not gear rental. Kenneth Dive Center does Sunday dives, but Pro Divers does not. Pro Divers has explicit information on their site geared to more experienced divers, including that they don't end the dive until the last diver reaches 500 PSI, and that they don't take bulk group bookings from cruise ships, so I ended up booking with them.

I had small personalized dives with Pro Divers, with just the owner as captain/divemaster anda pair of other divers the first day, and a fourth diver joining us the second day. The owner grew up in the Caribbean and has been diving St Kitts for 40+ years, so we had some good conversations about dive site health, fishing regulations, etc. He was really knowledgeable about the area, and one of the sites he took us to was a small reef-embedded wreck he had discovered. The other divers were interested in snaring lobsters, and I appreciated that the owner asked if I was okay with that. I had long relaxing dives, as I was allowed to go at my own pace and to stay down until I was low on air. I went to Harbour Reef (56min @ 67ft), Frigate Reef (56min @ 55ft), Brimstone Shallows (60min @ 63ft) which I think is the one where we saw a couple blacktip sharks, and Wreck of the Liamuiga (55min @ 61ft). I thought the quality of the sites was pretty comparable to what I'm used to on St Thomas. There was evidence of warmer temperatures -- some bleached coral and increased algae growth -- but still a lot of life to see. You can read more about most of these dives sites on Pro Divers' website and on My St Kitts Dive Buddy's reef and wreck pages; the latter website also has a series of videos of local fishes and corals & sponges if you want to get a sense of what there is to see.

Statia: There are two dive operators on Statia. One is Golden Rock Dive Center, which offers accommodation and dive packages at a few different hotels, but these seemed to start at 7 nights, which was longer than I was planning on staying. The other is Scubaqua, with 2 dives costing about $160, including marine park fees, nitrox (which I dove with), and scuba gear. Their morning dive meets at 8:00AM, and we got back between 1:00-1:30PM. There are no afternoon dives, but they'll do night dives if there's interest, which it seems there frequently is.

I was really impressed with Scubaqua. They were a large operation, with two boats and maybe a dozen staff, and a shop that also doubles as a coffee/beer/snack bar. Arrival time at their shop in Lower Oranjestad is 8:00 for the first day of diving, 8:30 on subsequent days. They split us into groups -- the largest group I was with was 9 divers, with I think two dive leaders -- and gave us what were by far the most detailed briefings I have ever had, including nicely-designed maps and a book of photos of fish/critters they'd seen at each site, which they used to point out specific things they would be looking for. (You can watch some briefings on their Facebook page, e.g., Double Wreck, and can see some underwater footage in their gallery and YouTube channel. Their photography book is available in their store, along with a book of hand signals co-authored by one of their staff.) After the briefing, they drove us to the dock, where we lowered ourselves onto their boat. The dock was much higher than the boat, so much so that I wasn't sure I'd be able to get back off the boat, but they assured me that they'd get me off the boat one way or another. It really wasn't easy. Then we got off the boat between dives and went back to their shop so we had to do it all over again. I'm not sure why they do this, but it seems to be their regular practice unless the dive sites are further away. (The second day was one of the diver's birthdays, and one of the staff made cupcakes for us all, which we ate during the surface interval.)

Much like Charlotte Amalie, Statia boasts having once been one of the world's busiest port, welcoming thousands of ships annually, so there are a large number of wrecks to explore. In fact, Statia recently won the Scuba Diving Magazine Readers Choice Award for best wreck diving (and for a few other categories as well). Divers often find marine artifacts and historic blue beads, and it's even a destination for archaeology dives. I did four dives with Scubaqua, all long dives using nitrox, half of them drift dives: Gibraltar (53min @ 49ft), Double Wreck (62min @ 59ft), which refers to the anchors of a former wooden ship wreck, Charles Brown (49min @ 94ft), a 100-meter cable-laying ship that was intentionally sunk about 20 years ago, and Princess Corner (64min @ 60ft). You can read more about some of these wrecks and Statia diving in general at DAN (2017), DAN (2023), and Diver Trek (2018).

Saba: To the extent that Saba is known at all, it is known for its diving, including deep diving and pinnacle diving. There's only one dive shop on Saba, Sea Saba, so that was an easy choice. They offer 3 dives every day: 2 morning dives departing at 9:00AM and an afternoon dive around 1:00PM. 2 dives is $150, 3 dives is $200, and there's a 10% discount for 3 days and a 15% discount for 5 days. There are additional daily fees for the marine park and gear, as well as fees for nitrox. Taking advantage of the 3-day discount, I ended up paying about $240 for 3 dives, which was comparable to the rate on Statia. They offer pickups from hotels or from their shop in Windwardside starting at 8:30AM and return transportation after the dives. We finished the afternoon dives around 3:00-3:30PM. Their boat leaves from Fort Bay, which is also where the ferry arrives, and I was able to time it so that I arrived on a morning ferry and immediately went diving.

Saba is supposed to have excellent sites and visibility, which I can attest to from having been there before, but this trip, the weather really wasn't cooperating. It rained most of the time I was on Saba. The ocean was a bit rough, enough so that the ferry was canceled one of the days I was there. Most islands have a few well-protected sites that are reliable for diving even on unfavorable days, but Saba lacks any real shelter. Which is to say that I didn't see Saba at its best. Actually, a couple of the dives were among the worst visibility I've ever had diving. I ended up aborting my third day of diving after the first dive.

I should mention that I'm an adaptive diver and use hand fins rather than the typical foot fins. I've done over 150 dives this way, and have had only two dives where there was enough current that I needed any assistance in the water (and both of those dives had far more current than I experienced in Saba). Dive leaders generally treat me like any other diver. The dive leaders on Saba, however, really hovered around me. I think there were 6-9 divers on the morning dives, and on the afternoon dives there were 1-2 divers including myself, and I was effectively paired with my own dive leader for most of the dives. On the first dive, they towed me during the surface portion of the dive, without any prior communication and despite my attempt to signal that I was fine. Being towed was pretty un-helpful, as not only did it mean loss of control, but the way they were towing me blocked my ability to use an arm for swimming, and I was towed on my hypersensitive side, so I was mostly just trying to avoid being bumped into. I resigned myself to the fact that they were going to do what they thought they needed to do to ensure safety and hoped they'd back off on subsequent dives once they'd seen that I was a competent diver. On someof the later dives, I felt like they weren't giving me enough autonomy, but other dives were okay, so although I should have been more direct about not liking being towed, I merely said that I didn't need to be towed.

The third day got off to a poor start. Despite the low visibility, we went to a pinnacle site further from shore. Although I didn't realize it at the time, there was miscommunication about the dive plan, and most of the group ended up descending down a different mooring line than the one the dive leaders had intended, which meant we ended up with a longer and deeper swim to the pinnacle. I was intently watching the depth on my wrist computer, as we were well below 90ft -- still with nothing in sight -- and the max depth I was certified for was 100ft; more importantly, I was diving with nitrox and considering my conservative oxygen toxicity limit to be around 100-110ft, maybe even less if it turned into an exerting swim. Again, one of the dive leaders grabbed me and towed me. I attempted to convey that I was okay, but didn't really have a way to break loose, and didn't know how much further we had to go anyway. He towed me until we reached a mooring line and indicated that I should hold onto it. When I indicated that I could hover near the line, he insisted I hold on. I wasn't sure if he wanted me to surface or continue down the line or to just stay there, so I waited to see what the others who were swimming ahead were doing. We were no longer quite as deep, but my computer now showed that my max depth had been 113ft, deeper than I was comfortable with. I could see what must have been the pinnacle in the distance, but not close enough to really make anything out. I decided that I should forget about seeing anything and just use the remaining dive to ascend the mooring line very slowly, which is what I did, so by the time I got to my safety stop a few of the other divers were there as well. As soon as my 3 minute safety stop timer cleared, a dive leader pulled me up, or else I would have done a longer safety stop as well. Not a great dive by any means, but it did meet the first -- and most important -- objective of a dive, which is to make it back. Figuring that the conditions weren't improving and that I had pushed my body enough, I decided to call it a day. The day did, however, end on a brighter note, as one of the other divers spotted humpback whales off the boat!

And despite the lousy weather/visibility and being towed, I did have some decent dives on Saba, spotting at least half a dozen turtles, a large sleeping nurse shark, a moderately large grouper, a pair of porcupinefish chasing each other, a shark that went after one of the lionfish a dive leader had speared, and many other fishes and critters. I logged the following dives: Customs House (51min @ 78ft), Tent Reef Shallow (52min @ 86ft, drift), Ladder Bay (58min @ 90ft, drift), Big Rock Deep (54min @ 74ft, drift), Ladder Bay (60min @ 61ft, drift), Hot Springs (62min @ 76ft), and Twilight Zone (26min @ 113ft). For more about diving in Saba, see Saba Tourism (2023), DAN (2022), Scuba Diving (2022), and Scuba Diving (2023).

St Martin: St Martin has one dive operator on the French side near Orient Bay, Bubble Shop (120 EUR or ~$129 for 2 dives), but looking at maps of dive sites, it's clear most of the diving is on the Dutch side, so I decided I should spend part of my time on the Dutch side and dive from there. After looking at and contacting Ocean Explorers, Dive St Maarten, and Aqua Mania, all of which had fairly similar prices of $118-$130 for 2 dives, I ended up diving with Ocean Explorers. I liked that they left from Simpson Bay, rather than Philipsburg, and they also had reduced rates for multiday dive packages.

Ocean Explorers' dives started at 7:45 from their shop at Kim Sha Beach on Simpson Bay (on the airport-side of the bridge). That was the earliest start time of any of the dives I ended up doing, and though I'm not really a morning person, I do appreciate getting less sun and having the whole afternoon left after diving. The boat was small, and had less shade than the other boats I was on during the trip. I don't remember exactly how many divers there were, either 5 or 6. We went to two wrecks: The Porpoise and The Gregory, a 33m transport barge. We saw some nice eagle ray action, a lot of barracudas, and a good variety of fishes including macros like tiny blennies. One of the dives was reef adjacent, so that contributed to the variety. I logged 42 minutes @ 85ft on the first dive and 50 minutes @ 54ft on the second, not quite as long as most of the dives I'd done on the other islands.

Other islands: I ruled out diving on Nevis, St Barths, and Anguilla based on cost. The lowest prices I saw were Islander Water Sports Nevis at $200 for 2 dives, Serial Divers on St Barths, which lists a 3-dive package for 240 EUR ($258 at the current exchange rate), Ouanalao Dive on St Barths, which lists 190 EUR ($193) for 2 dives, and Scuba Shack and Vigilant Divers on Anguilla, which both charge $230 for 2 dives. Considering I usually pay $100-$140 for 2 dives, including gear and tip, that was too expensive for me to justify.

Having tentatively planned out my dive schedule, I waited until much closer to my travel dates to actually book dives in case my plans changed. I did end up booking everything more than a week in advance though, because I would regret it if I got somewhere and found out there was no availability. This meant that I didn't really know what the weather would be like when I scheduled the dives. Depending on when you are going and how much diving you want to do, you might be willing to wait until later to book dives or to hedge your bets and book only some of your intended dives.


I've taken to booking most of my hotels via because it's convenient to have all my preferences and billing information saved and because I can usually find hotels that allow for cancellation until the last three days or so. I also often check Tripadvisor and Google Maps for reviews and to get a sense of the immediate location. For St Kitts & Nevis, the swim race I was participating in recommended hotels, and I simply picked those so that I'd be staying at the same place as other swimmers.

Here are the hotels I ended up choosing (and a few bonus options):

I'm not going to write detailed hotel reviews, but I will note a few things about the hotels and their locations. Most of the hotels I stayed at were between $100-$150/night and all were under $200/night including taxes; they were neither the cheapest options, nor the most expensive options. If you're looking to be pampered on vacation, you might pick different places. All except the hotels on Statia and Saba were on or within a block of beaches. This wasn't one of my travel requirements, but it turns out to be where a lot of hotels are located. While I stopped at these beaches for at least a few minutes and photos, I didn't take much advantage of them, and hardly swam at any of them. If I'd had more time (or if I'd spent less time in libraries), I could have slowed down my pace of sightseeing and enjoyed an early morning or evening at any one of these beaches. Also, although I was a solo traveler, many of the rooms (Nevis, St Kitts, Anguilla) were quite large, and could have accommodated 3 people. (Heck, the shower alone at Edwards Guesthouse was also big enough for 2-3 people.) All of the rooms had air conditioning and refrigerators; some had full kitchens. Many of the hotels had a restaurant and/or were near restaurants. Timothy Beach Resort and Hevea Hotel were both within easy walking distance of many restaurants and nightlife, so much so that I never had reason to go elsewhere. (I was at Hevea Hotel on a Tuesday night, when the main street of Grand Case turns into a weekly street fair at night; if you'll be staying in Grand Case on a Tuesday, ask in advance about the street closure and parking.) Both Oualie Beach and Timothy Beach required a bit of walking to get to the rooms (flat and sloped/steps respectively), which I note because I have difficulty walking. Some of the rooms at Saba Arawak were a walk as well, but I had one right near the check-in/restaurant.

Talk of the Town on Statia was less touristy (as is the island as a whole), but I appreciated the mix of people staying there, which included a number of people there for work. There wasn't much nearby (~15-20 minute walk to town), but there was a decent local restaurant just down the block, and a nearby pharmacy, which was convenient as I mostly stuck with bottled water on the trip. Definitely there are places to stay on Statia and Saba that are closer to restaurants and other things than the hotels I stayed in. The alternate hotels I considered on Statia were The Old Gin House, which is right next to Scubaqua's shop in Lower Town, and Quill Gardens, which is much further away, but intrigued me by the good reviews mentioning the Indonesian food and the view. The alternate hotel I considered on Saba, Juliana's, has a well-reputed restaurant and a really cool art studio with events and is in a location convenient for exploring Windwardside, but it was only available for part of the time I was on Saba. If/when I go back to Saba again, I will try to stay there (although perhaps not on a Friday, as I discovered they host a loud Friday evening happy hour). I've also heard good things about El Momo Cottages on Saba, but there are about 50 stairs to get to the hotel.

I stayed in two hotels on St Martin. Other than the beach, there didn't seem to be much in walking distance of Azure Hotel, but it was only a short drive to a wide variety of restaurants, as well as to the dive shop and the airport. Hevea was the only place I stayed that had mosquitos in the room, but it did have a mosquito net, and I didn't get bitten while I was there. I think the location and the gourmet French restaurants and bakery made it worth it, but I may be more used to mosquitos than most. Edwards Guesthouse wasn't very touristy and looked more like an apartment building than a hotel, but it turned out to be literally right on a salt pond that was good for bird watching and just across the street from a beach/small dock, as well as closer to the main town than most of the resorts, so it worked for me.

Rental cars and taxis

I was ambivalent about renting cars, but ended up renting more cars than I expected after comparing car prices and taxi prices. In many cases I rented cars just days before arriving and didn't have any difficulty with availability. Note that driving in St Kitts & Nevis is on the left side of the road with most cars having steering wheels on the right and driving in Anguilla is also on the left side but with most rental cars being for the US market so having steering wheels on the left, while driving on the Dutch and French islands is on the right with cars having steering wheels on the left. I've bounced back and forth between driving on the left and the right ever since I started driving, so this wasn't that difficult for me, but if you think it might be challenging, that would be an argument in favor of taxis.

I wasn't on Nevis this trip long enough to need a car, but last trip I rented one and used it to drive to Charlestown and Pinney Beach a couple of times and once to drive the ring road around the island (about 50 minutes driving time, plus stops). I rented a car on St Kitts, which allowed me more flexibility and to get to places off the beaten path so I don't regret it, but the dive shop offered transportation and the dive boat was at Port Zante, conveniently on the Basseterre waterfront, and I was staying at a hotel on what was probably one of the nicer beaches and with a ton of good relatively inexpensive food, so I could have done without one and just booked a tour or rented a car for one day of sightseeing.

Statia and Saba are both small enough that it didn't seem necessary to rent a car, but that meant I made sure to investigate food options near the hotels before booking. Taxis on Statia were pretty cheap, and I also didn't go anywhere outside of Oranjestad, having already seen the extremities of Zeelandia Beach and Fort de Windt on a previous trip. On the other hand, when I did take taxis, I often waited quite a while for them, so that was something to plan for. Note that Oranjestad is a tiny town, but it's divided into an Upper Town (where most of the restaurants and historic sites are) and a Lower Town (where the dive shop and a beach are) and traversing the two requires either walking the ~150 steps by Fort Oranje or walking a longer route along the road. Taxis seemed more expensive on Saba, but the dive shop provided a shuttle to and from dives, and I lucked out by running into someone from St Thomas who chauffeured me around. The Arawak Hotel turned out to be just enough out of Windwardside (one of multiple villages on Saba) for me not to walk there, whereas Juliana's is solidly in Windwardside, and there would have been many restaurant options right nearby. Keep in mind that the island is significantly steeper than St Thomas, the roads are curvy and have no sidewalks, and it rains quite a bit: all conditions which deter many people from driving and which make walking treacherous. If I go back to Saba, I would consider renting a car for a day to explore places I haven't been, but probably wouldn't bother having a car on any days that I was diving.

I'd initially been against renting a car on St Martin, since I've been there many times before, there's a ridiculous amount of traffic, and I was staying near food and beaches, but when I summed up the cost of taxis, it turned out to be cheaper to rent a car. And once I had a car, I took advantage of it to circumnavigate the island. Unfortunately, St Martin has a lot of theft, and someone cracked the back window of the car trying to break into it, so renting a car turned out to be more expensive than I'd anticipated. (The rental car company was very professional about it though and charged what seemed like a reasonable cost for the replacement.)

Renting a car in St Barths is a must, as there are basically no taxis there, but I was pleasantly surprised that, as on the other islands, it cost less than $100 per day (you can spend a lot more if you want a luxury car, which I did not). And finally, I also rented a car on Anguilla, since I knew I wanted to see a lot in a short period of time, including some less touristy spots.

Rental car companies I used:

Exploring the islands

Before I got to each island I read a bit about them, and checked out Tripadvisor for ideas. I also spent a bunch of time looking at online maps, made sure I had downloaded relevant maps to my phone for use navigating offline, and in a few cases pre-saved links to driving directions to multiple stops (e.g., Anguilla West).

Exploring Nevis

Nevis (indigenous: Oualie) is a nearly circular volcano cone island with dark sand beaches and hot springs that tourists have been going to since the 1700s. It's 36 square miles (so larger than St Thomas) with a population of around 12,000 (considerably less than St Thomas). The center of the island is undeveloped and mountainous -- Nevis Peak reaches up to the clouds at 3200ft -- with multiple villages along the main road that circles the island. The airport is to the north, and the main town of Charlestown is West-Southwest. Together with St Kitts (short for St Christopher), the islands form the country of St Kitts & Nevis, which has been independent from Britain since 1983. The currency in St Kitts & Nevis is the East Caribbean dollar, which is pegged to the US dollar (US$1.00 = EC$2.70). Most places will take US dollars, though you may get change in EC; credit cards are widely accepted as well, and there are ATMs. Voltage is 230V and power plugs are UK style, so coming from the US, you will need a power adapter (and a voltage converter if you have devices/power plugs that don't have a transformer).

This trip the only things I did on Nevis were have dinner and hang out on Oualie Beach before the start of the swim race, but last year I went swimming at both Oualie and Pinney's Beach (water clarity was much better at Pinney's), spent a few hours wandering around Charlestown and its museums, and drove around the island once, making quick stops at other attractions and buildings that looked interesting. I did not make it to the Botanical Gardens, though I hear they are nice, nor did I do any hiking.

Exploring St Kitts

St Kitts (indigenous: Liamuiga), just 2 miles from Nevis and also mountainous and volcanic in origin, is almost double the area at 67 square miles and has a population of around 35,000 people, almost half of whom live in Basseterre, the capital city and a major cruise ship port. The shape of the island reminds me a bit of a whale, with the northwestern head and body making up most of the island, and navigable by a ring road, and a southeastern peninsula tail that was only relatively recently connected by road, and which has little besides beaches and access to Nevis. Basseterre is at the southern end of the main part of the island, just before the tail. See the above section on Nevis for more on St Kitts & Nevis.

I didn't spend much time at the beaches other than for the swim race after party at Reggae Beach Bar on Cockleshell Bay and for lunch one afternoon at one of the many spots on Frigate Bay. I spent a bit of time wandering Basseterre (on a no-cruise ship day). The museum was closed for renovations, but I remember that I enjoyed it when I was there ~14 years ago. I drove the entirety of the island, taking in the views, and stopped at a few plantations and sugar mills. Finally, I spent much of an afternoon at Brimstone Hill Fortress, which is an impressively massive fort and UNESCO site. I also saw a few the island's green vervet monkeys.

Exploring Statia

Statia, or Sint Eustatius (indigenous: Aloi), is a small island: ~3000 people on 8 square miles, much of which is taken up by the Quill volcano crater. Statia and Saba are both Dutch (directly incorporated into the Netherlands since the Netherlands Antilles dissolved in 2010), but on both islands English is far more commonly spoken than Dutch, the currency is the US dollar, and electricity uses US standards. Most everything to see is in Oranjestad, the capital city built along a cliff, with the Upper Town perched atop the cliff and the Lower Town at sea level (and some Lower Town ruins submerged below sea level). There's not much to do on Statia besides scuba dive and hike, but it has a fascinating history, having once been a wealthy thriving port, especially when it was supplying the soon-to-be US with weapons and goods during the American Revolution. In fact, Statia was the first port to officially salute a ship flying a US flag. In retaliation for their role in the US independence, the British invaded Statia, seizing property and forcing the (primarily Jewish) merchants to leave the island. Incidentally, some of those merchants fled to St Thomas significantly increasing its Jewish congregation. (Video on Statia and the American Revolution.)

I spent a whole afternoon in the Upper Town, visiting the Fort, museum, library, and other buildings, but it would probably take others less time. My visit to Statia happened to coincide with the inauguration of their governor, so I met several people visiting for the event, and I learned a lot about local politics (simplified version: money good, Dutch intervention and lack of self-governance bad). I found everyone on Statia really friendly and helpful, even going so far as to offer me a ride back to my hotel.

Exploring Saba

At 5 square miles and a population of ~2000, Saba (indigenous: Amonhana) is the smallest island I visited. It's also the most isolated due to its incredible steepness. Even the villages of Saba were fairly isolated from each other until The Road was built in the 1940s. Saba didn't get an airport until 1963, and, with so little flat land, its runway is the shortest commercial runway in the world. You'd expect an island to be connected by the sea, and it was, but Saba, being steep, doesn't have much land at sea level, and it lacks a natural harbor. Until Fort Bay Pier opened in 1972, boats would anchor at Ladder Bay and people would carry cargo up the steep stone-carved steps known as The Ladder. A significant number of Sabans became ship captains and traveled elsewhere. (For example, the Virgin Islands have been home to many Hassel(l)s and Simmon(d)s of Saba, including a Charlotte Amalie harbormaster.) With their men at sea, many women remaining on Saba earned money producing and selling Saba lace for mail order, having learned the craft when one Saban went to school in Venezuela. (Check out these dated films about early 20th century life on Saba: 1937 and 1947.) Saba is also one of the rainier islands in the region, with the top of Mount Scenery being cloud forest. So it seemed appropriate that it was rainy, cloudy, and foggy most of the time I was on Saba.

Besides diving, one of the main activities is hiking, which I didn't do this trip, but did a bit of ~12 years ago when I was more mobile; actually, the previous time I was on Saba, I stayed in the rainforest at a wonderful former ecolodge where the Rendezvous restaurant still is. This trip I maximized my dive time, and spent the rest of my time at museums and the library; I ended up talking to the women who run the family museums in both Windwardside and The Bottom for hours. I also bumped into a Virgin Islander who moved to Saba, and spent pleasant evenings with him and his wife. I happened to visit during Art Month, but there seems to be arts & crafts all year, from the famous Saba lace to glass art and many activities at The Studio and elsewhere. Even though (or maybe because?) it's a slow-paced island, I could have spent more time there trying out some crafts and meeting people and just relaxing.

Exploring St Martin

St Martin (indigenous Soualiga or Oualichi) has the distinction of being split between Dutch Sint Maarten (~40,000 people in 13 square miles) and French Saint-Martin (~30,000 people in 20 square miles). That makes St Martin significantly more populous and denser than any of the other islands I visited, or than St Thomas itself. The border between the two sides of the island is completely open, marked only by a small sign and a difference in road surface. On the Dutch side, the primary language is English, the power is US standard, and while the official currency is the Netherlands Antillean guilder, the US dollar is widely circulated. Philipsburg has a large cruise ship port and many of the same shops as Charlotte Amalie. As another Virgin Islander derogatorily put it, "St Martin is a bad imitation of St Thomas". I wouldn't go quite that far (for one thing, Philipsburg has a downtown beach, whereas modern Charlotte Amalie does not), but certainly you could be forgiven for confusing Philipsbrg with Charlotte Amalie. French Saint-Martin, on the other hand, is decidedly French, with French being the primary language spoken, the power being European standard, and the official currency being the euro, though the US dollar is quite often accepted. The beaches are French (including the dress code), and the food -- ah, the food! -- is French as well.

I had very little time on St Martin this trip, but I made good use of it, staying on Simpson Bay, and then circling the island (on a no-cruise ship day) after my morning dive from Kim Sha Beach, with stops at the Philipsburg library, the self-guided Amuseum Naturalis outdoor museum, and Orient Bay, before swimming at Grand Case Beach. Otherwise, I concentrated on food, eating delicious dinners (and absolutely fabulous desserts!) at Bistrot Caraibes, one of the many excellent restaurants in Grand Case and visiting bakeries and Super U Hope Estate supermarket to drool and stock up on goodies with far better quality and prices than are available on St Thomas. Finally, I stayed in Grand Case during a Grand Case Tuesday and enjoyed the nighttime street fair. On past trips to St Martin, I've explored the towns of Marigot and Philipsburg and gone to many beaches, so I've listed some things I've done on those trips below as well.

Exploring St Barths

St Barths (indigenous: Ouanalao), a 10 square mile island with a population of around 10,000, is a collectivity of France, and officially the language is French and the currency is the Euro, but most people, especially in tourism, speak English and accept US dollars. St Barths was once an extremely poor island (which is why so many people from St Barths moved to St Thomas), but is now one of the most upscale tourist destinations. The capital city Gustavia (named for King Gustav III during the century when St Barths was a Swedish colony) is known for high-end shops, which I did not explore.

As I was only there for a day, most of what I did was drive around the island to see beaches. The beaches on St Barths are undeniably gorgeous, as are the dramatic landscapes. I had a refreshing swim at Corossol, and stopped at a library and a bookstore, as well as a couple of cemeteries (to get a sense of which parts of St Barths families that are now on St Thomas were from). I attempted to go to the Municipal Museum/Wall House, but it was closed. I did not visit the Swedish Clock Tower, nor the sites of the three former forts overlooking Gustavia: Fort Karl, Fort Gustav III (now Gustavia Lighthouse), and Fort Oscar (now National Gendarmerie). I didn't even stop for lunch, so, yeah, I definitely could have used more time on St Barths.

Exploring Anguilla

Anguilla (indigenous: Malliouhana) is about the same size as Nevis -- 35 square miles -- but instead of being circular, it is a long thin eel-shaped island with ~15,000 people. Unlike St Kitts & Nevis, it is still a British territory, having rebelled to remain with the UK rather than become part of a multi-island nation along with St Kitts & Nevis. And unlike all the other islands I visited, Anguilla is not mountainous; it is a drier coral limestone island that reaches no more than 240ft high. All that coral limestone breaks down into the super fine white sand that is found on Anguilla's beautiful beaches.

I wasn't expecting the terrain to be so interesting, but it was, especially the arch and ocean-carved cliffs I saw. Anguilla also has caves, which I did not see, where petroglyphs have been found. I stopped at many beaches, including Rendezvous Bay, where I explored the delightful Dune Preserve treehouse, Meads Bay, where I swam, Sandy Bay, where I watched a sunset, Savannah Bay, where I explored the tidepools, Shoal Bay, where I snorkeled, and Crocus Bay, where I enjoyed solitude. I also continued my book tour and stopped both at the library and at a wonderful bookstore, where the librarian and bookstore owner were super-friendly.


None of the islands I visited could reasonably be described as accessible destinations for people with limited mobility. This is not a trip I could have done a year ago, and I'm really glad my current mobility is such that I could make it work. I got so much use out of my cane seat, and many people commented on it looking like a really useful thing to travel with. As I mentioned, most of the islands I visited were mountainous. Anguilla was the most naturally accessible, by dint of being flat. St Kitts has some significant flatter areas as well. Almost all of the islands had some beaches wth easy water entrance and a fairly short flat walk from parking to the water. Obviously some other beaches and attractions and hiking were non-starters. I paced myself and did what I could, which sometimes meant skipping something or doing an abbreviated route. Several of the main towns were relatively flat, but nothing on Saba is flat. I had asked all the hotels about walking surfaces and distances to the rooms, and for the most part I was able to reserve the rooms with the least walking which helped. Getting to the room on St Kitts was something of a stretch, and the road closure in Grand Case was an unexpected surprise, but overall the hotels worked out well. I think maybe all but one of the showers had hand-held shower heads; a couple of the showers had benches, and I had my cane seat as an option for the others.

Air travel around the smaller islands usually doesn't involve that much walking; all of these islands have small -- in some cases miniscule -- airports. Getting on and off small planes is challenging though. On the whole, I find ferry travel more manageable than air travel if I'm not using a wheelchair. The distances involved are usually even shorter, though there was some walking involved on Statia and Anguilla. Getting on and ferries can be a bit tricky, but there are always people around to help, and they could just hoist me on if needed. There's sometimes a few steps to cabin seating, often with railings, or there's closer outdoor seating.

All of the dive boats setups presented some challenges, some more than others. The dives on St Kitts were probably the easiest for me: access to and from the water was straightforward, the only challenges were a half-flight of stairs at the dock and the walk from parking to the dock. The dive shop offers transportation though, and their parking is closer. St Martin also wasn't too bad: a slight walk from the parking area across the sand to wade (or swim) out to the boat. The boat was quite small, and we entered the water with a modified seated entry, which requires being able to get your legs up over the side of the boat; I'm not sure why we didn't do a back roll entry, but I assume it would be possible. The ladder to get back on the boat was taller than others I've been on, so that was a slight challenge (even without my gear, which I take off in the water before getting back on the boat). Getting back on the dock on Saba took a bit of maneuvering, but otherwise the boat was pretty accessible. The walk from the dive shop to the boat involved both a slope and steep metal grate stairs that were not cane-tip compatible. The dive shop does have a truck they use to transport their gear to the boat though. Statia was the most challenging dock, as the dock was well over a meter higher than the boat. Most people entered by sitting down on the dock and sliding into a standing position on the boat, which I could do with some assistance, but getting off the boat basically required me to be lifted. This might not have been so annoying if it was only once a day, but they usually leave the boat between each dive and drive the drivers to/from the dive shop during the surface interval, so there were a lot of transfers. I didn't investigate the liveaboard option in detail, but from an accessibility and logistics viewpoint, that probably would be a lot easier.

The Nevis Channel swim race wasn't designed with limited mobility in mind. The race starts on land with a bit of a slope to get to the water and again ends on land up a bit of a slope. And since the race starts on Nevis and ends on St Kitts, there is water taxi service provided between the two islands, but there's a walk between the water taxi docks and the start and finish lines. In the hour before the swim race, we had to go through multiple check-in stations, which involved walking to those stations (one of which was up a couple of steps) and queueing up at those stations. There was also minimal seating while waiting for the race to start, so once again, the cane seat came in handy. The coordinators had no problem taking my cane from me at the start of the race and then bringing it to me at the end of the race so I could use it to walk to the finish line. I've almost always found that these kinds of obstacles can be worked around, but it requires trying not to stress over the unknowns and being flexible in finding last minute solutions.


If you've made it this far and you'd still like to read more about these islands, browse these library shelves.

(Sara Smollett, last updated May 2024)