Aside from the tranquil beaches and flavorful Caribbean food, one of the biggest draw of St. Kitts is its rainforest. Protected since 1902, the Central Reserve Rain Forest covers almost 25% of the island extending from the foothills of the mountains that rise up from the interior of the island, all the way to the coastline. They’re lush, pristine, and very well protected – with little or no intervention from external parties.
Into the Jungle
On an opened land rover, we headed out into Wingfield-Phillips Rainforest with our trusty guide Dion from Greg’s Safaris. After a 15-minute drive to the start of the trek, we got off our open-roofed truck and a friendly dog joined our group as Dion gave us some tips before starting the hike.
“This jungle is as safe as you can imagine. The spiders are friendly and there are no poisonous trees. Just make sure not to step on one of these fire ant colonies.” Dion said, as he pointed out to a mound of sand. Just when he removed his hiking stick, a troop of army marched to the surface, quickly dispersing in a spree.
“What about the velvet monkeys?” I asked. We’d heard so much about the monkeys that roam St Kitts but we’d yet to see them in the wild. These velvet monkeys had been brought in by the French from Africa during the colonial days and were never brought out. There are now more monkeys than humans on the island, with a population of around 98,000 versus 50,000 humans.
Dion explained that it would be difficult to see them in the forest as they’re often camouflaged and with their sharp hearing, they can often hear humans coming from a far distance and run off before we can see them.
A Different World
We continued up the walking trail past farm lands and into the start of the rainforest, evident from the lush foliage and wet, humid climate. The temperature dropped to a comfortable level and the tree canopy provided natural shade.We found ourselves pushing past tall palm trees, thick bamboo thickets, emerald green elephant ear fronds and banyan roots hanging from the treetops. Beautiful bright red heliconia, yellow bell and purple hibicus (St Kitts’ national flower) all dangled from the branches, adding a touch of color to the forest. Hummingbirds flew overhead, curiously sussing us out from a distance.
Along the way, Dion pointed out the different varieties of plants: from soursop and lemongrass to bananas, sweet potato, silver trumpets. The variety of plants found throughout our short hike was astonishing, and every single one of them was used for a specific medicinal purpose. Be it a remedy for the stomach ache or a healthy diet for the island’s pigs, there is no plant on the island without a cure.
As an expert in herbs and plant life, Dion has been sent by the Kittitian government to other parts of the world such as Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the United States to do research and learn about plants. When I asked how he found his love for plants, he said, “My grandmother was a mid-wife and she always used plants as medication. She was the one who taught me all these.”
A Glimmer of Hope
Contrary to what is happening to most rainforests around the world, the tropical rainforest on St Kitts have been expanding at a steady pace due to the halt in sugar cane production and the excellent conservation work from associations and operators like Greg’s Safaris. This expansion has caught the attention of other countries in the Caribbean and South America, which are now adopting similar conservation techniques.
We eventually emerge from the rainforest to a welcoming view of the Atlantic Ocean, a sparkling blanket of blue and grey. Back on the truck, Dion serves up some homemade sugar cake and coconut scones, which we washed down with some fresh rum punch that we will surely miss after we leave the island. After a day out in the jungle, this was the perfect way to end.
Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by St Kitts Tourism, but all opinions expressed above are our own.