It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. That is, make a choice between St. Kitts and Nevis, the "Sisters of the Caribbean." Although both islands have their charms, we cast our vote for Nevis. Separated by a 3.2km (2-mile) channel from St. Kitts, Nevis, like its twin, is volcanic (dormant, that is) and has golden-sand beaches. But for rustic charm and a certain old plantation bucolia, it is becoming a secret address for celebrities and the discerning travelers who shun overpopulated islands such as Barbados or Puerto Rico.
Nevis is the sleeper of the Caribbean. With its old-fashioned West Indian charm and its intimate island inns, it is a rustic alternative to St. Barts -- but doesn't charge those celestial prices. Nevisians will tell you that Kittitians are more interested in the dollar and more anxious for hotel development. To cinch their argument, Nevisians like to point out that overstressed Kittitians take the ferryboat over to Nevis for their R&R weekends and for public holidays.
A local once said that the best reason to go to Nevis was to practice the fine art of limin'. To him, that meant doing nothing in particular. Limin' might still be the best reason to venture over to Nevis. If you want to lie out in the sun, head for reef-protected Pinney's Beach, a 5km (3-mile) strip of dark-gold sand set against a backdrop of palm trees with panoramic views of St. Kitts.
Columbus sighted Nevis in 1493. The explorer called it Nuestra Señora de Las Nieves -- "Our Lady of the Snows" -- because its peak is often shrouded in clouds, making it look snow-capped. From St. Kitts the island appears to be a perfect cone, rising gradually to a height of 970m (3,182 ft.). A saddle joins the tallest mountain to two smaller peaks, Saddle Hill (375m/1,230 ft.) in the south and Hurricane Hill (only 75m/246 ft.) in the north.
Centuries before the British settled the island in 1628, Nevis was a habitat for the friendly Arawaks and later the fierce Caribs. These native populations were replaced with the arrival of the British, who established sugar and tobacco plantations beginning in the mid-1600s. In the ensuing decades, both the Spanish and the French battled the British for control of the island, the British finally winning out in this tug-of-war in 1783 when both Nevis and St. Kitts came under British control. The two-island nation would remain under British control until independence was achieved in 1983.
Nevis's beauty has remained relatively unspoiled. Coral reefs rim the shoreline, and there's mile after mile of palm-shaded white-sand beaches. Natives of Nevis, for the most part, are descendants of African slaves.
The volcanic island is the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, the American statesman who wrote many of the articles contained in The Federalist Papers and who was George Washington's treasury secretary. Nevis is also the island on which Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson married Frances Nisbet, a local widow, in 1787, an episode described in James Michener's Caribbean (the facts are romanticized, of course).
In the 18th century, Nevis's hot mineral springs made it the leading spa of the West Indies. The island was also once peppered with prosperous sugar-cane estates, but they're gone now -- many have been converted into some of the most intriguing hotels in the Caribbean. Sea Island cotton is the chief crop today.
On the Caribbean side, Charlestown, the capital of Nevis, was fashionable in the 18th century, when sugar planters were carried around in carriages and sedan chairs. A town of wide, quiet streets, this port gets busy only when its major link to the world, the ferry from St. Kitts, docks at the harbor.