A brief intro to the island, its people, history and culture
Nevis is a wonderful, picturesque traditional Caribbean island with little in the way of ugly strip mall and cheap hotel culture that has blighted other Caribbean islands. Its very much like how the Caribbean used to be before rampant development took over. It does however still have most modern amenities (island wide broad-band for example) and some fairly luxurious ones. Plus it has the laid-back island life-style and gorgeous tropical scenery and climate that most people dream the Caribbean as being like.
Nevis is the smaller partner island in the independent nation officially known as The Federation of St. Christopher (St.Kitts) and Nevis. It is located in the northern half of the Leeward Islands, 30 miles west of Antigua. Former British colonies, the islands were granted full independence in 1983, and have a UK styled parliamentary system.
Nevis is a truly gorgeous looking island; very much what most people would conjure up in their minds if asked to imagine a Caribbean Island. It is roughly circular in shape encompassing 36 square miles almost completely surrounded by turquoise water, golden beaches and coconut palms. The islands most dominant feature is the majestic 3,200-foot, cloud capped volcanic peak of Mount Nevis at its centre. Nevis may be unique in having several very distinct environmental zones on such a small island, the mountain for example is heavily covered in rain forest and teems with troops of noisy Green Vervet monkeys. The western Caribbean coast where the majority of the population live is lush, tropical and rich in coconuts, mangos, banana and other fruit trees, while the east coast is a very arid savannah-like environment.
Historically Nevis was an incredibly wealthy sugar-producing island, as verified by the large number of ruined fortifications, sugar mills and plantation houses dotting the island.
It is claimed that during the late 1700’s Nevis generated more revenue for Britain than the 13 American colonies combined. However, after the bottom fell out of the sugar market after the Napoleonic wars, Nevis slipped into a gradual obscurity and poverty. Fortunately this situation has changed quite dramatically over the last 25 years and Nevis has reinvented itself as a very up market tourist destination and offshore financial services provider.
From Europe or the US, the easiest way to get to Nevis is by flying to St. Maartin, Antigua or Puerto Rico and then take a “puddle jumper” commuter flight over to Nevis, though there are now an increasing number of direct flights to St. Kitts from the US, Canada and the UK especially in the winter months.
If you can catch a charter flight directly to St. Kitts during tourist season, you can take a very scenic 45 minute ferry ride over to Nevis on several operational ferry boats and a number of faster private water taxis.
The People: The population of Nevis is approximately 12,000 with another 40,000 or so on the sister island of St. Kitts. The majority of the population is Afro-Caribbean, but there is an expat population of several hundred, mostly centred around the hotel, financial services industries and medical school. Nevisians as they are known, are by and large a very cheerful and friendly lot and will often stop and ask if you need a lift or other assistance.
Climate: Nevis has a tropical climate but with fairly constant trade winds that keeps humidity at livable levels and the seasonal temperature only varies by a few degrees year round.
There is a “rainy season” around November-December, plus a fairly active hurricane season particularly in late August and early September.
Economy: The East Caribbean (EC) dollar is the official currency and is permanently pegged at $2.68EC to $1 US. There is no income tax on St. Kitts or Nevis, however there are import duties of various severities on everything, plus a 17% VAT on top of that. Consequently the cost of living tends to be very high in relation to other Caribbean islands. Food in particular is quite expensive. Currently the Island’s economy is heavily based on tourism with its only large hotel, the luxurious Four Seasons Nevis, being the islands largest employer and providing a large percentage of the islands revenue.
There are a handful of other beautiful but smaller up-market hotels & inns (30 rooms or less) on the island, most built in and around 200 year old sugar plantation houses, Montpelier, The Hermitage, Golden Rock, Nesbitts and Old Manor are all great examples of these. The financial services and offshore banking sector has over the last 10 years or so started to play an increasingly important role in the Nevis economy with numerous trust companies and other service agents providing financial services to customers worldwide. A recently built medical school has also started to contribute significantly to the local economy. The increase in tourism, financial services and the medical school has attracted a lot of expats looking to live, work, invest and retire. It has also encouraged many Nevisian’s, who have been living abroad for the last 20-30 years, to return home. This in turn has fed a boom in residential and commercial construction.
Leisure: Nevis has all the usual activities one would normally expect on a small Caribbean island, scuba and water sports, charter boating, horse back riding, great hiking tours, several excellent restaurants (mostly in the hotels), numerous beach bars and other informal eateries.
The island also fairly oozes with history with numerous battles fought on and around it. Admiral Horatio Nelson was based here in the 1780’s and married a local planters daughter, Fanny Nesbitt; US founding father Alexander Hamilton was actually born here and his former home now houses a museum in his honour.
There are old ruins and fortifications all over the landscape and several very knowledgeable historical guides are available for tours of various kinds.
Up-market shopping however is virtually non-existent, with most locals and expats catching day flights to St. Martin or Puerto Rico to buy “big ticket items” or just buying and shipping them online.
For more information on Nevis please check out the Nevis Tourism Offices website www.nevisisland.com