St Kitts Railway provides one of the most popular tours on the island—a tour that takes you through breathtaking scenery and through the fascinating history of the island. Sugar cane was first introduced to St Kitts in the mid-seventeenth century. Plantations were established and slavery introduced to reap the profits that bolstered empires in far away Europe; today, the historic great houses of many plantations are elegant plantation inns.
St Kitts was a British possession and the most profitable of all the Caribbean islands during the time that sugar was as valuable as oil is today. But by the twentieth century, sugar beets had made sugar cane just about obsolete. What is today the St Kitts Scenic Railway was established by a group of investors to efficiently bring product in to a central processing factory near the town of Basseterre. Thus, sugar cane production remained profitable on this island much longer than on any other Caribbean island. Raw cane took the St Kitts rail tour from February to June, avoiding the rainiest weather and hurricane season.
Most Caribbean islands stopped sugar cane production around the 1930s (including neighboring Nevis). Only Antigua continued struggling with the diminishing profits of its crop until 1971. The St Kitts Railway, kept the enterprise going all the way into July of 2005. But the value of the St Kitts rail tour that once provided passage only to raw cane was recognized, and the privately owned St Kitts Scenic Railway began offering passage to tourists in 2003. When sugar cane production ceased in 2005, the train kept going much to the delight of thousands of visitors.
Fabulous views and vistas are available to those in good enough physical shape to attempt the challenging hike to the summit of Mount Liamuiga, and the St Kitts Railway offers many of these views to those not quite up for a hike up the steep volcano to nearly 3,800 feet.
The narrow gauge St Kitts Scenic Railway cars have double decks, with the upper deck being an open-air observation platform. This places you high above the trees and vegetation for panoramic 360-degree views. Windows in the lower deck are six feet high. The cars are carpeted and furnished with plantation-style rattan chairs and inlaid tables. There is a bar where complimentary tropical drinks are served, along with delicious tastes of sugar cane. There is even a local choir onboard. The St Kitts rail tour lasts about three hours, the perfect length for a shore excursion offered by the many ships on Caribbean cruises that dock here for a night or two. Eighteen miles of the tour are onboard the train and twelve miles on buses.
The route skirts Mount Liamuiga, crosses high steel girder bridges over dizzying gorges, and visits the historic fortress on Brimstone Hill. Other sights seen along the way include historic old plantations, as well as views of neighboring Nevis, St Barts, St Maarten, Saba, and St Eustatius, and beautiful and pristine black sand beaches. You don't have to be a cruise passenger for this exciting tour. It can be booked in town, and most of the St Kitts hotels can assist you with tickets.
Image: jthetzel (flickr)