The two-island nation combines beaches, volcanic mountains and the legacy of the sugar industry. History centres on Horatio Nelson and Alexander Hamilton and the local culture is almost a Caribbean cliché: mellow, friendly and familiar with a soca beat.

Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, an 18th-century military stronghold, is one of the largest forts in the Caribbean and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The main citadel is lined with 24 cannons, while inside, barrack rooms hold displays of colonial history (00 1 869 465 2609;; St Kitts; £5, audioguide £3).

At Frigate Bay, you’ll find sun chairs and watersports. Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack near Timothy Beach Resort offers waterskiing and hires snorkels, sailboats and windsurfing equipment (00 1 869 465 4995;; St Kitts; snorkel hire £6 per hour, sailboats from £12).

Charlestown is good for a wander, taking in curiosities such as a small Jewish cemetery and the Alexander Hamilton Museum, which details the life of the US founding father (00 1 869 469 5786;; Charlestown; £3).

St Kitts and Nevis have an abundance of untouched native vegetation, a selection of treks and great views. Tracks are not well-defined so it’s advisable to hire a guide; Greg’s Safaris offers half-day hikes into the rainforest of St Kitts and full-day hikes up Mount Liamuiga volcano (00 1 869 465 4121;; half-day £38, full-day with lunch £55).

The Botanical Gardens of Nevis has tropical greenery, orchid and rose gardens, a conservatory and modern sculptures (00 1 869 469 3509;; Nevis; £6).

Eat and drink
Casual the atmosphere may be at the narrow, open-all-day Kalabash café, but its food is superb. And varied too: depending on the time of day, and your appetite, take your pick from salads, vegetarian curries, falafel sandwiches and some delightful baked goods (00 1 869 466 2398; Basseterre; mains from £2.80).

A good place for sundowners is 1787 Bistro and Bar at Nevis’s botanical gardens, where you can view the gardens and Nevis Peak. Lunch on grilled brie and prosciutto sandwiches and steaks or seafood for dinner (00 1 869 469 2875; Botanical Gardens of Nevis; mains from £5).

Like the clam shells, you’ll be clapping for the Mediterranean- style seafood and tapas dishes at Rock Lobster. This relaxed, open-sided patio and bar serves plates of crispy calamari, followed by silky lobster bisque or the menu’s highlight, its namesake rock lobster (00 1 869 466 1092; Frigate Bay; mains from £10).

St Kitts’s former sugar estate turned inn the Rawlins Plantation Bananas Bistro is a plantation-style house that’s perfect for tropical drinks and Caribbean fusion food. Try guava-barbecued shrimp and marinated tuna (00 1 869 469 1891; Charlestown; mains from £12).

Rawlins Plantation, a former sugar estate, is among the most gracious of St Kitts’s plantation inns. It offers a creative West Indian buffet, which you can enjoy from the broad veranda with views to the coast and Sint Eustatius (00 1 869 465 6221;; St Kitts; buffet lunch £18, mains from £20).

Bird Rock Beach Hotel, along the shoreline from Basseterre, is a motel-style property with its own beach and jaunty beach bar. Rooms, with tiled floors, cane furniture and dated bed linen, aren’t fancy – but they are the best-value ocean view rooms on offer (00 1 869 465 8914;; Basseterre; from £55).

Timothy Beach Resort is the best deal in Frigate Bay. A simple low-rise, it has rooms and apartments which sleep up to six people. Most rooms have large balconies with sunset views and all are furnished with cane furniture and bright fabrics. This is the closest place to the joys of Frigate Bay Beach (00 1 869 465 8597;; Frigate Bay; from £75).

The family who runs Oualie Beach Resort has been on Nevis for more than 350 years. Rooms are scattered about in low-rises; the architecture’s humble but the white bungalows are breezy, with bright lime accents and private verandas (00 1 869 469 9735;; Nevis; from £135).

The Golden Lemon is a vision in yellow. Each room in this 17th-century manor house has high ceilings and is decorated differently with bright colours and bold prints. A long porch lined with comfy wooden chairs looks across its small lawn to the surf (00 1 869 465 7260;; Dieppe Bay; from £160).

At Ottley’s Plantation Inn, a carefully manicured lawn fronts the 24 rooms scattered about in historic buildings and villas, some with their own plunge pools. Guests can enjoy breakfast at the open-air restaurant, which serves a mean banana pancake (00 1 869 465 7234;; Ottley’s Village; from £200).

When to go
Year-round temperatures are 27-30°C. Go out of season (mid-April to mid-December) for better deals and the St Kitts Music Festival ( in June and the Nevis Culturama festival in July.

How to go
British Airways flies from Gatwick to St Kitts (from £725). American Airlines flies from Manchester via east coast US cities (from £780). Connect with Nevis by boat or inter-island flights. A taxi from St Kitts Airport to Basseterre costs around £6 and £12 from Nevis Airport to Charlestown.

The article 'Mini guide to St Kitts and Nevis, West Indies' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.