Be a Smart Tourist and Make Sure Your Trip is an Enjoyable One
St. Kitts is a great Caribbean vacation destination, increasingly popular with tourists worldwide. One of the great features of St. Kitts is that it is quite safe with a relatively low crime rate. That said, a smart traveler can still do much to ensure that their vacation to St. Kitts is enjoyed safely by following certain common sense rules of behavior and caution. Based on many years of travel to the island, here are seven tips to keep in mind to ensure your St. Kitts trip is an enjoyable and trouble-free vacation.
1. Go to one of the island’s banks to exchange your native currency or travelers’ checks for Eastern Caribbean dollars.
Get the best prices around the island and avoid rip-offs by paying in the local currency of Eastern Caribbean or “EC” dollars. While the exchange rate has been consistent at about 2.68 – 2.70 EC to 1 US dollar for many years, you will not get that rate at all restaurants and shops. Some may actually only give you 2.50 EC for the US dollar and expect tourists not to notice the difference. Another trick I’ve seen street vendors use is to quote a price of, for instance, “three dollars” for a drink or snack. When asked if they mean three US or EC, they’ll say “three US” to an obvious tourist and “three EC” to a local, or someone with EC cash in hand. Any of the island’s banks will give you an accurate exchange rate – and be sure to get small bills and coins that you may need for taxi fares, food at the beach, and other small expenditures. Take out at least several hundred dollars worth of cash at one time so you won’t constantly be running back and forth to the bank.
2. Secure valuables in your room. Don’t carry them with you to the beach or around town.
Most of the island’s hotels and guest houses have safe deposit boxes, either in the individual guest rooms or in their main office. It is advisable to use them to store passports, tickets, expensive jewelry, credit cards and cash so you are not walking around or going to the beach with them on you. Take out only what you need for the day.
3. Be wary of going to isolated beaches on your own.
St. Kitts has many beautiful, undeveloped beaches to explore, especially along its southeastern peninsula. However, seemingly deserted beaches can be a thief’s paradise, not yours. If exploring isolated beaches, do not leave any valuables, snorkeling gear, purses or bags out on the beach while you go swimming or walking around. Keep them locked in your rental car, ask your taxi driver to wait for you instead of picking you up later, or make sure to travel around with other vacationers who can keep an eye on things. Better yet, stick to swimming and going in the water at beaches where there is more activity, beach bars, or hotel staff nearby. Leave your rental car keys with someone at the bar while you go swimming instead of in a bag on the sand.
4. Swim and snorkel where its safe.
The waters off St. Kitts’ beaches are generally very safe for swimming and snorkeling. Those along the Caribbean Sea generally have calmer currents than those on the Atlantic Ocean, so use your judgement based on your swimming skill. A local friend who worked for many years spear fishing in St. Kitts’ waters also once gave me the advice to avoid swimming where there are thick beds of sea grass, as the grass is a favored resting place for sand sharks. While sharks typically go into deeper waters during the day, they will return to the shallows in late afternoon or early evening as the water cools off. A more common hazard to watch for are occasional small jellyfish. When snorkeling, avoid touching or brushing against mustard-color “fire coral” which can cause extreme skin irritation. Also keep an eye out for spiny sea urchins, or sting rays along sandy-bottomed shoals.
5. Keep your stomach safe as well.
Hot tropical climates can make food safety a major issue – especially for travelers whose systems are not used to local cuisine and drinking water. To be on the safe side, stick with bottled water as much as possible. Be cautious consuming foods heavy with dairy and egg products, such as cream-based soups and salads with mayonnaise or creamy dressings, especially at beach bars and other places where refrigeration conditions may be questionable. Make sure you bring Imodium or other anti-diuretic products with you on your trip, in case traveler’s diarrhea strikes. If you suspect actual food poisoning, however, contact a doctor on island immediately.
6. Go on tours, boat or scuba trips only with proper tour guides.
If someone approaches you at the beach, in town or at your hotel and offers to take you on a rainforest hike, deep sea fishing or other such adventure, make sure they work with one of the island’s established tour agencies. Other individuals may not be properly trained in safety guidelines or have the proper equipment. Kantours, Tropical Tours and Dive St. Kitts are three large and long-established tour and adventure businesses on the island which you can contact to arrange travel adventures – or speak with your hotel concierge when on island.
7. Be respectful of island customs and standards of modesty.
Nude and topless (for women) sunbathing is strictly prohibited on St. Kitts’ beaches. While attire around the rest of the island is typically casual, bathing suits, bikinis, bare feet and short-shorts would not be considered proper attire in town or in shops and restaurants. Also be courteous as far as asking permission before photographing anyone or their homes as you sight-see.