The island is known for its turtle conservation and lush Caribbean offerings.
“Ah, you’re heading to turtle heaven,” says a guard at the airport in St. Kitts, where we land en route to Nevis. I smile. That’s precisely what’s drawn my 9-year-old daughter Maxine and me to the small island.
We have arrived at the tail end of summer with the hope of seeing endangered Hawksbill, Green and Leatherback turtles that call these waters home. We’ve chosen to spend the weekend at the Four Seasons Nevis, which is the anchor hotel for this tiny island and which also happens to be committed to the protection of the sea turtles, whose numbers have plummeted due to hunting.
Nevis is a 36-mile island flung in the middle of a spectacular stretch of the Caribbean. The 3,232-foot Nevis Peak is the spine of the lush island and attracts tufts of clouds that swirl about its top like a halo.
As our boat draws near the island, we notice low-slung bungalows tucked amid the thicket of towering coconut palms. We are greeted on the dock by a friendly coterie of staff before being shown to our second-story room with a palm-fringed ocean view.
We quickly make our way to the largest infinity pool (one of three on property) and order tropical fruit smoothies. As we settle into our lounge chairs, we’re spritzed with a cooling mist that keeps the 90-degree temperatures from gaining on us. But, we don’t last poolside long. We are pulled toward the golden-hued sand of Pinney Beach, which ebbs and flows along the ocean’s edge for three miles.
Maxine and I zero in on a quiet stretch of sand, drop our towels and scamper into the warm sea. A man mounting a paddleboard tells us that while snorkeling that morning, he spied a squid and a group of stingrays right where we bob. Later, we learn that the waters here are so fertile that the resort offers a Dive & Dine program, where guests can join a master driver to capture their own lobsters for dinner using underwater lassos, a traditional island technique.
For our dinner, we choose the easy route and head to Mango, an open-air restaurant with a view of St. Kitts. The farm-to-fork table sources most everything from the Four Season’s garden or from Nevisian farmers to create dishes like chilled corn and coconut soup, lobster fritters with chipotle-mango sauce and even old-school soul food like barbecue ribs.
Once the moon has risen, we hit the beach again, this time to join volunteers from the Nevis Turtle Group, which is dedicated to protecting the sea turtles for nighttime walks to identify nests. Turtle nesting season runs from June through October. That night we don’t turn up any live turtles, but we do see their telltale tracks in the sand. And, with turtles that can weigh as much as 400 pounds, the tracks are large and deep.
Had we visited in July, we could have witnessed the Four Seasons’ “Tour de Turtle.” During the event, two turtles, outfitted with transponders that the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses as monitoring devices that are sponsored by the resort, are released. Guests, staff and scientists line up on Pinney Beach for the “Tour de Turtle” to watch the turtles amble back to the sea. Between the phalanx of photographers and the cheering crowd, this is Nevis’s version of the Hollywood red carpet.
The island has a reputation as an exclusive getaway where green monkeys outnumber residents. There is just one road circling the lush island. Nevis harbors a soft spot for Americans, since it’s the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, who lived here until he was 9 years old. His family home is now a museum dedicated to island history. Just up the hill sits the eerie ruins of the Hamilton family’s sugar plantation, a spot with arguably the island’s best view of St. Kitts.
The next morning, Maxine and I could have played golf, tennis or basketball, but we book ourselves into one of four private cabanas, which are designed as miniature beach houses. Each cabana comes with a butler, who thoughtfully plies us with cooing aloe-infused towels throughout the day, along with refreshing salads topped with papaya seeds culled from the property. Although there’s a TV and DVD player, we never turn them on. I nurse a mojito and gaze at the sea, while Maxine darts in and out of the cabana chasing a thick-tailed gecko.
While I visit the spa, which relies on the property’s healing garden that’s planted with herbs like rosemary, basil and lemongrass for treatments and for French-style tisanes, Maxine delves into the environmental program that the staff has created for kids from three to nine, much of which focuses on the plight of the sea turtle.
That night, the wood-paneled Library Bar, which has more than 100 different rum selections, tempts me but friends have called us to Sunshine’s for a bar/beach party. Maxine and I go early, before sunset, when the party really gets started. As Sunshine himself says, “I’m open from 11 a.m. to whenever.” We sit by the driftwood wall and order a conch salad and grilled marlin caught right off the beach an hour before. I order the signature cocktail, the Killer Bee, a passion fruit and rum concoction, which causes giddy vertigo after only a few sips. The couple at the next table tells us that last year around midnight while sitting right here they saw freshly-hatched baby turtles race towards the sea in such number that it looked like the beach was rippling.
As the sun slips behind the horizon, we stroll along the beach back towards the Four Seasons, our flip-flops in hand as the water laps at our toes. Our eyes dart from the sea to the sand. Again, no turtle sightings, but we take comfort in knowing that this stretch of land offers one of the world’s best hopes for the survival of these majestic creatures.