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What Should I Know About Saint Kitts and Nevis?

A portrait of Christopher Columbus, who explored Saint Kitts and Nevis in 1493.
Saint Kitts and Nevis are known for their beautiful beaches.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 August 2014
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Saint Kitts and Nevis are two islands that comprise a single nation. They cover 100 square miles (260 sq. km), making them just a bit larger than Washington D.C. Saint Kitts and Nevis are located in the West Indies, near Antigua, Barbados, Saint Barts, and Saint Martin.

Saint Kitts and Nevis were first settled by indigenous people from what is now the state of Florida, around 3000 BCE. These settlements lasted for a few centuries, before all of the inhabitants died out and the islands were left empty. The islands remained unoccupied until roughly 100 BCE, when people from Venezuela made their way to them. By 800 AD the island was further settled by Arawaks, who established a relatively large and stable population base. Five-hundred years later the Caribs arrived on the island, driving the Arawaks further north and using Saint Kitts and Nevis as bases of operation for their aggressive settling of the nearby islands.

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European contact with Saint Kitts and Nevis was first made by Columbus in 1493, who settled the island. With the exception of a few forays into settlement by the French, no further colonization of the islands took place until 1623. In that year the British settled Saint Kitts, under Captain Thomas Warner. Two years later Warner allowed the French to develop their own settlement on the island as well. A year after that, following the revelation of a planned raid by the Caribs on the island, Warner led a virtual extermination of the Carib population, deporting the few who survived.

Nevis was settled by the British from Saint Kitts in 1628, and remained under British control even while Saint Kitts occasionally switched to French hands. The British finally regained full control of Saint Kitts by treaty in 1713, and the solely-British pair of Saint Kitts and Nevis was established. This pair had the distinction of being the most profitable of Britain’s colonies, per capita, for more than a hundred years. It was not until the abolition of slavery in British colonies, in 1834, that the lucrative profits from the sugar industry began to subside. The sugar trade, in spite of these setbacks, continued to dominate Saint Kitts and Nevis’ economy until the industry was finally shut down in 2005.

After following a track similar to that of other dependencies in the West Indies, Saint Kitts and Nevis were eventually granted independence in 1983. Although there have been occasional rumblings of secession by Nevis, the nation remains unified. It is likely that this will change at some point in the near future, however, as political sentiment on Nevis continues to favor separation.

Saint Kitts and Nevis are both jewels in the West Indies, with tropical beaches, glittering waters, and friendly locals. The tourist industry is well developed — indeed, Nevis was home to the first hotel in the entire Western Hemisphere, the Bath Hotel, which opened in 1778. Saint Kitts is generally a much more active place than Nevis, with a happening nightlife, and more upscale resorts. Nevis is more suited to the tranquil traveler, with quieter beaches and a more laid back approach. Outside of natural beauty, visitors often enjoy looking at the ruins of British and French outposts, such as the British Brimstone Hill Fortress from the 1700s. On Nevis a major attraction is the Botanical Garden, sometimes called the Caribbean Eden, which boasts an astounding array of flora.

Flights arrive in Saint Kitts from Miami, Boston, and New York, and from many European cities via either St. Martin or San Juan.

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