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May 2, 2017

Flamingos and cocktails on Renaissance Aruba Resort private island

Flamingos and cocktails on Renaissance Aruba Resort private island

Flamingo in front of Mangrove Beach Bar - Renaissance Aruba

Luxury hotels around the world vie with each other for a Unique Selling Point that differentiates them from the rest of the very luxurious herd. Well, the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino has an ace up its highly-coutured sleeve. Its very own private island … with its very own flock of flamingos. And Flamingo Beach on Renaissance Island is adults-only so the kiddies don’t pester the birds. I have been fortunate to stay in some of the loveliest hotels in the world but this one tops them all for sheer gorgeousness with a quirky twist.

Hotel Renaissance Aruba flamingos - photo zoe dawesThere is something delightfully bonkers about flamingos. With their spindly legs, sinuous necks, hooked beaks, salmon pink plumage and weird yellow eyes, they look like something designed by Salvador Dali. I first remember seeing a picture of a flamingo in Lewis Carrol’s surreal story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; she had a large flamingo tucked under her arm. It was looking understandably cross as she was using it a croquet mallet. I’ve seen them in zoos but never, until a truly memorable holiday in Aruba, had I seen them in their natural habitat.

Flamingo on Renaissance Aruba island - photo zoe dawes

Well, actually it’s not really their natural habitat as they have been brought in by Renaissance Aruba to add some quirky colour to the island. There were seven of them when I visited, very tame and very fond of cocktails! They seemed especially fond of Aruba Ariba, a heady mix of local liquer Coecoei, Caribbean rum and a lot more. Visitors can buy flamingo food from the beach bar and it’s a novel experience to sit in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sipping a cocktail and have a flamingo peck from your hand 🙂

Feeding flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Island

Renaissance Aruba has two hotels on Aruba; I stayed in the adults-only Renaissance Marina Hotel in downtown Ornajestad, the island’s capital. The Renaissance Ocean Suites across the road, has comfortable suites perfect for families or couples. Both hotels have access to Renaissance Aruba Private Island via the hotel launch which runs regularly from morning to evening. It’s a real treat to step onto the boat INSIDE the Marina Hotel lobby, emerge into the Caribbean sunshine, pootle past the millionaire’s yachts to the Ocean Suites to pick up more guests then whizz across your every own private island.

Renaissance Aruba Private Island paradise

There are two main beaches; Iguana Beach is for families and Flamingo Beach is for adults – and flamingos. Sun beds and hammocks entice visitors to relax and forget about everyday cares. Spa Cove is ideal for full-on pamper sessions and Papagayo Bar and Grill serves simple meals, including excellent wood-fired pizzas with beach waiter service.  At the Mangrove Beach Bar you can get one of those popular Ariba Aruba cocktails the flamingos are so fond of. (You can watch one necking back a cocktail in the video at the end of this article …)

Ariba Aruba Cocktail

Ariba Aruba Cocktail

Renaissance Island offers a range of water sport activities, beach-tennis courts and a fitness facility. You can even watch the planes land at Aruba Airport opposite. The 40-acre island has mangroves all around and a nature reserve at one end. I saw lots of iguanas including a bright blue bobby-dazzler and a friendly pelican perched very close to my hammock one day.

Hotel Renaissance Aruba Island pelican

However, it’s the flamingos that make the island so special and the reason I’d book to stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino, as opposed to any of the many other excellent hotels here. There are plenty of things to do on Aruba but without doubt, my favourite was relaxing on a beach with a little flock of quirkilicious flamingos …

Watch Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Island

Want to see the flamingos up close – and quaffing a cocktail? Here you go!

Special thanks to our host Amayra Boekhoudt, who looked after us on behalf of Aruba Tourism. If you’d like to find out more, visit Aruba website and follow their hashtags #discoveraruba and #onehappyisland on Social Media.

Find out more things to do on Aruba here

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Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Private Island

August 16, 2016

Quirky Travel Guide: top things to do on Aruba

Quirky Travel Guide: top things to do on Aruba
Eagle Beach and Palapa Tree Aruba - image zoedawes

Eagle Beach and Palapa Tree

Famous for its white sands and sunshine, Aruba is popular with couples, honeymooners, families and visitors of all ages looking for a relaxing holiday or action-packed break. Just off the coast of Venezuela in what was formerly known as the Dutch Antilles, Aruba has more sun than most other Caribbean islands and many visitors return year after year. I spent a relaxing week exploring the island with a group of fellow bloggers, soaking up its friendly, lively atmosphere. Yes, there are lots of gorgeous, sandy beaches on Aruba but there are plenty of activities if you fancy a change from sunbathing.

Fun things to do on Aruba

Aruba #onehappyisland - Baby Beach

Aruba #onehappyisland

With international resorts, year-round festivals and sport competitions, a wide range of restaurants and bars, many tours and activity centres, an intriguing history, unique natural landscape and a vibrant night-life, there really is something to suit every age and taste.

Watersports and Boat Trips

Kitesurfing on Palm Beach Aruba - zoedawes

Kitesurfing on Palm Beach

Refreshing breezes blow most days (and sometimes much stronger winds) making Aruba a windsurfer’s delight. The Windsurfing World Championships were being held whilst we were there and it was wonderful to see both windsurfers and kitesurfers whizzing across – and above – the water like enormous seabirds. My fellow travellers had a go at stand-up Paddle Boarding with Dennis Martinez of Aruba Surf and Paddle School and did very well, especially as a rainstorm hit just as they were getting into their stride. (Turns out the island has been suffering a drought and more rain fell in that half hour than in the past 18 months. It was the only rain we saw all week.) Frigate birds and pelicans add an exotic touch to the scene.

Aruba Paddle boarding on Aruba - zoedawes

Paddle Boarding lesson

Swimming on Aruba is a joy, as is snorkelling. I’ve never seen so many colourful fish. Irridescent pink and purple, lime green, zingy yellow, scarlet, apricot, sapphire … stripes, spots, splodges … opalescent scales glimmer and flicker in the shadows. Drifting slowly over a coral reef is to enter another world of rainbow silence. I went snorkelling over the wreck of the WWII warship SS Antilla during our Jolly Pirates Boat Trip along the coast of Aruba.

Jolly Pirates Boat trips Aruba - zoedawes

Jolly Pirates Boat trips

You could try SNUBA, an underwater breathing system that combines snorkelling and swimming. There are many Diving Schools with expert tuition for every level from beginner to advanced and other watersports include wakeboarding, kayaking and paragliding.

De Palm Island - Aruba - image zoedawes

De Palm Island

On De Palm Island, not far from the airport, you can try their underwater Sea Trek and Power Snorkelling and lots of other activities, with plenty to keep children happy. I braved the Banana Boat – never again! I much preferred lying back on one of the sun loungers …)

Off-road Safari Tours

De Palm Tours 4x4 Safari Aruba

De Palm Tours Land Rover Adventure

One of the most popular ways to see the island is on a 4×4 Safari Tour. We did the half-day Natural Pool Land-Rover Adventure with De Palm Tours. They pick-up from all the major hotels in downtown Oranjestad up to Palm Beach; check time and place so you don’t miss the start like we did! Travelling in convoy with four other vehicles our tour included California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, Wariruri Beach, Bushiribana Gold Mill and and the ruins of Natural Bridge, which had been the largest natural bridge in the Caribbean until storms destroyed it in 2005.

Aruba De Palm Tours 4x4 Safari - collage zoedawes

Adventure Safari Sites

The final stop is the Natural Pool. After a breath-taking bumpy ride over the rocks and sand dunes of Arikok National Park, we walked down a long flight of steps to a large rock pool on the north coast. It is not quite as idyllic as it may sound as there were many other tours at the same time. You’re given a snorkel and life-jacket and enter the pool in a big group; it’s difficult to enjoy the fish when you’re worried about being being kicked by a nearby swimmer. I’m assured that going early in the morning or later in the afternoon you can avoid the crowds and then it is no doubt lovely.

Natural Pool Aruba - photo zoedawes

The Natural Pool

 

Arikok National Park

One of the surprises on Aruba is how dry it is. Due to its southerly position, it has much less rain than some other Caribbean islands, meaning it’s a hot, sunny destination all year round. In Arikok National Park, which comprises 20% of the Aruba’s surface area, you can see examples of the island’s geology, flora and fauna. They include rattlesnakes, lizards, iguana, many exotic birds, cactii of all shapes and sizes, the wind-hewn divi-divi tree, aloes and wild flowers.

Arikok National Park Guide Aruba

Guide in Arikok National Park

Book a guide to make the most of your time and to learn more about the park. There are also historic sites including 1000 year-old cave paintings by the Caquetio Indians. The island’s oldest cactus (150 years) towers over other spiky monsters and in the restored adobe farmhouse bats flitter across the ceiling.

Adobe farmhouse and divi-divi tree Arikok National Park Aruba - image zoedawes

Adobe Farmhouse and Divi-divi Tree

 

The Bon Bini Festival

Every Tuesday evening there’s a lively show in the courtyard of Fort Zoutman, the oldest building in Oranjestad. Now home to Aruba’s historical museum, the Fort was built in 1798 by the Dutch and is the oldest building in the capital. A cheery compere introduces local singers and folk dancers, along with marching bands and there’s a wonderfully informal Carnival Parade complete with sparkly costumes and splendidly ornate head-dresses.

Aruba Bon Bini Festival - collage zoedawes

Bon Bini Festival

The audience is mainly tourists but on the evening I was there, the compere shone the spotlight on one of the island’s Ministers, casually dressed, enjoying the show with friends. He looked quite embarrassed to be picked out but smiled and waved to the crowd.

Fort Zoutman in Ornajestad Aruba

Fort Zoutman

Fort Zoutman Museum is well-worth visiting during the day. It has some interesting Aruban art and exhibits covering the early history and development of the island, including the story of weaving and hat-making. If you ask, it is possible to get up on the roof, where there’s a great view of Oranjestad and its charming Dutch Colonial buildings from the Clock Tower.

Oranjestad, capital of Aruba

Oranjestad, capital of Aruba

Eating Out

Sitting at a table on the beach, cocktail in hand, silky-soft sand between your toes, watching the sun go down as you wait for your dinner, being serenaded by the resident singer … what’s not to like?

Passions on the Beach cocktail - Aruba - image zoedawes

Cocktail on Eagle Beach

This is the dining experience offered by Passions on the Beach, a restaurant on famous Eagle Beach, just one of the many excellent eating-out experiences to be had on Aruba. Whilst we there, we saw a wedding on the beach; perfect place to tie the knot.

Celebrating wedding on Eagle Beach - Aruba

Celebrating marriage on Eagle Beach

Another great place to eat is the quirkily named Screaming Eagle Restaurant.  As well as indoor and outdoor dining you can be pampered with a ‘Dinner-in-bed’ experience on their very comfortable lounge beds. I had the best food on the island here. Chef Erwin Hüsken serves a superb variety of French-fusion cuisine. The Caribbean Journal voted Screaming Eagle the #1 Restaurant in the Caribbean on their Top 50 list for 2015.

Screaming Eagle dishes Aruba

Food photography by Screaming Eagle Restaurant

Other places I ate at include Moomba Beach Bar on Palm Beach (delicious seafood chowder), Papillon Restaurant in the Village Mall near Palm Beach (salty oysters),  Seasalt Grill in the Renaissance Marina Mall, Oranjestad (tasty Caribbean and seafood dishes), Pinchos Grill & Bar on Surfside Beach (super steak and grilled fish) and for breakfast and great pastries, Huchada Bakery in Santa Cruz.

Huchada Bakery in Santa Cruz, Aruba - image zoedawes

Breakfast – and more – at Huchada Bakery

Top of the Caribbean dining experiences for me was lunch at The West Deck on Governor’s Beach. Set on a wooden deck overlooking the sea and airport, it’s very popular with locals and tourists. Informal and fun, they serve freshly-caught fish, shrimp, crab and lobster as well as chicken and steak cooked simply with a strong Caribbean influence.

Oh yes, there are pelicans too …

Pelican at The West Deck Aruba - image zoedawes

Pelican at The West Deck

Aruba Travel Facts

I travelled to Aruba with KLM, which flies daily from UK airports via Schiphol Airport. I stayed at the luxurious Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, which has a great roof-top pool overlooking Oranjestad Marina. The hotel has excellent amenities but its unique attraction is the Renaissance Aruba Private Island. You get there by launch from INSIDE the hotel lobby and it’s home to the island’s only flamingos. It truly is a little piece of Caribbean paradise.

Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Private Island - image zoedawes

Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Private Island

If you’d like to find out more, visit Aruba website and follow their hashtags #discoveraruba and #onehappyisland on Social Media. Special thanks to our host Amayra Boekhoudt, who looked after us on behalf of Aruba Tourism with kindness and good humour all week.

Lunch at The West Deck Aruba

Lunch at The West Deck with our host Amayra

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Quirky Travel Guide - fun things to do on Aruba

October 11, 2014

Top 10 things to see and do in St Kitts

Top 10 things to see and do in St Kitts

Oh yes, there are plenty of Caribbean islands with beautiful beaches, funky bars and top-class restaurants. But I suspect very few can match St Kitts for the diversity of activities and attractions in such a small area.

Reggae Beach babe - St Kitts - image Zoe Dawes

Reggae Beach babe

Of course you can lie on a beach, swim in the translucent warm sea and find a luxury place to eat, but there is so much more to this historic and intriguing island. Here are my top 10 favourite things to do in St Kitts.

1. Wander the ramparts of Brimstone Hill Fortress

Brimstone Hill Fortress Cannons St Kitts - image Zoe Dawes

Brimstone Hill Fortress Cannons

Once the bastion of British defence against marauding French troops vying for occupation of St Kitts, Brimstone Hill Fortress is an imposing edifice with stern cannons primed for potential enemy attack. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is “the earliest surviving British example of the type of fortification known as the ‘polygonal system’, and one of the finest examples known anywhere in the world.” Built by slave labour in the 18th century on a volcanic rock, it’s set high above the sea with great views around the island and over to nearby Nevis.

2. Sail over to Nevis from Cockleshell Bay

Hobbie Cat on Reggae Beach Cockleshell Bay, St Kitts - Zoe Dawes

Reggae Beach Hobbie Cat

If the view from the fort has tempted you, why not hire a Hobbie Cat on Reggae Beach at Cockleshell Bay for a couple of hours and nip over to Nevis for lunch?  Just make sure you have a qualified sailor with you and check the weather! When you get back you could go snorkelling, try para-gliding, fly-boarding, water-skiing or simply chill out at the Reggae Beach Bar.

3. Discover the island’s story in the National Museum

St Kitts Museum Basseterre, St Kitts - image Zoe Dawes

St Kitts National Museum – Basseterre

In Basseterre, the charming island capital, you’ll find the National Museum in the Old Treasury building. It showcases the history and culture of St Kitts and has a quaint air, reminiscent of school classroom displays. You’ll learn about sugar cultivation and the slave trade, ecology and geography of this volcanic isle, Carnival tradition and the Independence movement.  I loved it much more than some of the soulless international museums of chrome and minimalism.

4. Explore the remains of rum-making at Wingfield Estate

Wingfield Estate Industrial Heritage - rum distillery St Kitts - image Zoe Dawes

Wingfield Estate

Originally producing tobacco and cotton, the fascinating Wingfield Estate, set in the picturesque foot hills of the central mountain range, became a rum distillery in the early 1600s. You can view the original industrial workings including the mill and distillery, thought to be the oldest still extant in the Caribbean.


Make sure you visit nearby Caribelle Batik, where you can see how to make batik, buy beautiful cotton souvenirs and admire the lush, colourful gardens of Romney Manor. 

5. Zoom through the rainforest on the Sky Line

Sky Safari zipwire St Kitts - image Zoe Dawes

Maynard and Gorgeous on the Sky Safari zipwire

This was a real highlight of my trip to St Kitts. Laughing hilariously, our guide Maynard still managed to look immaculate in his cream trousers and white cotton shirt, safely harnessed and helmeted as he raced down the Sky Safari zipwire alongside our instructor, the mischievous ‘Gorgeous’. Situated on the Wingfield Estate above the tangle of huge trees and fast-growing shrubs of St Kitts rainforest , the Sky Safari has 5 cable lines of differing heights and lengths and it’s great fun for all ages.

6. Learn how to cook Caribbean food

Fairview Great House Caribbean cookery lesson - St Kitts - image Zoe Dawes

Fairview Great House cookery lesson

The charming Nirvana Restaurant at 18th c Fairview Great House and Botanical Garden serves West Indian Afternoon Tea and offers a Caribbean Cooking Class where you can learn how to make some of the local dishes. Chef Janice showed us how to make Green Banana Escovitch, Creole Fish in Tomato Broth, Island Rice n Peas and Jerk Pork Loin.  Dessert was Coconut Bread Pudding, with rum-soaked raisins adding a real ‘mmm’ kick. The grounds are a treasury of trees and plants, many of which have medicinal and health-giving properties.

7. Eat like a local at El Fredo’s

El Fredo's in St Kitts, Caribbean - image Zoe Dawes

El Fredo’s in St Kitts

You’ll want to try local food for yourself and there is nowhere better than El Fredo’s on the main road into Basseterre. Run by Jasmine and Ken (who met in Cardiff, Wales) this unassuming eaterie is popular with islanders from all walks of life. You might see St Kitts’ politicians eating beside the guys who fix the roads, and not many tourists. Everyone comes for the great food, cooked with passion and precision. Try the Conch Curry or Mutton Stew served with rice and plantain with a glass of fresh fruit juice or cold beer.

8. Wander the markets and explore the streets of Basseterre

Basseterre food market St Kitts - image Zoe Dawes

Basseterre market

There’s no better way to get a feel for a place than by exploring Basseterre’s markets and narrow streets. The capital of St Kitts is a colourful mix of quaint wooden buildings, quirky shops and lively eateries. People haggle over a basketful of fresh fruit or vegetables and the busy port is the place for freshly-caught fish and other seafood. School children in pristine uniforms sit around the fountain in Independence Square, site of the old slave market. Grab a seat by the window upstairs in the Ballahoo Restaurant overlooking The Circus with the Victorian Berkeley Memorial and watch the world go by.

9. Get into carnival spirit with the Masquerade Dancers

Masquerade dancers at Shiggidy Shack - St Kitts

Masquerade dancers at Shiggidy Shack

The Masquerade dancers on St Kitts are a living manifestation of 300 years of dance history. During Carnival time the Paraders wear tall peacock-feathered headdresses, masks, and fringed aprons that reach just above the knees. The entire costume is decorated with bangles, mirrors and ribbons. You can see them shake their booty at the lively Shiggidy Shack on The Strip beside the sea on Frigate Bay.

10. Watch the sunset with a cocktail at SALT Plage

SALT Plage St Kitts at sunset - image Zoe Dawes

SALT Plage St Kitts at sunset

What could be more relaxing than sipping a cocktail, watching the sun set across the ocean? There are plenty of places to do that on St Kitts but I especially loved Christophe Harbour SALT Plage on Whitehouse Bay, at the southern tip of the island. Built on the site of an old sugar and salt factory, the bar uses recycled industrial equipment in its design and its corrugated iron roof gives a nod to traditional building materials. Order a SALT Pond Jumbie or a Plage Magarita, grab a comfy cushion on the pier and get ready to really unwind on St Kitts.

Coconut pub overlooking Black Rocks, St Kitts - image Zoe Dawes

Coconut pub near Black Rocks

The St Kitts Scenic Railway was closed for the season when I visited but I’d definitely add it to your list. I stayed in stylish luxury at St Kitts Marriott Resort hotel. Many thanks to Zarina McCulloch and everyone at St Kitts Tourism for a really memorable trip to this fascinating Caribbean island.

September 18, 2014

Top 4 Saint Lucia foodie favs

Top 4 Saint Lucia foodie favs

Home of spices, cocoa, rum and a taste of Creole, Saint Lucia has an infusion of flavours to tempt any palate. The small island packs in a punch into its cuisine as well as entertaining food celebrations including the Friday night Jump Up street party and the Anse La Raye Fish Fry.

We've picked out our top reasons why Saint Lucia is THE Caribbean island for you if you're a foodie fan!

1.  Saint Lucia is a chocolate lover’s paradise.

Boucan Hotel Chocolat restaurant food St Lucia

Tempt tastebuds at Boucan by Hotel Chocolat

Cocoa plantations are scattered across the island and a handful of resorts offer a mouth-watering Tree-to-Bar experience. The much-loved Hotel Chocolat has actually set up camp amongst the cocoa groves of Saint Lucia and Boucan, by Hotel Chocolat is one of the resorts with the Tree-to-Bar experience. Involving the careful selection of ripe cocoa pods, the experience allows guests to roast the cocoa themselves to create their very own velvety chocolate bar. Saint Lucia even holds its own Chocolate Heritage Month in August celebrating all things cocoa-centric.

Cocoa pods - Boucan Hotel Chocolat St Lucia

Cocoa pods – Boucan Hotel Chocolat St Lucia

2.  Saint Lucia food embraces Caribbean, West African, French, British and West Indian influences

Taste a world of flavours with Saint Lucia food

Taste a world of flavours on Saint Lucia

What makes these flavours really unique is the natural sourcing through sustainable agriculture. The island's fertile soil and clean waters make delicious ingredient sources as recipes include home-grown fruits, spices and fish to name a few. Learning about the wide spectrum of locally-sourced foods has never been easier as nature trails such as Tet Paul, based in the farming community of Chateau Belair, offers not only spectacular views of the island, but a tour guide will explain the nutritious and medicinal purposes of tens of exotic fruit trees. Head to Castries Market where natural spices and flavours surround visitors. The Rum Distillery also offers a sneak peek into the makings of the Saint Lucian delight, offering the chance to see the procedure from the fermentation to tasting.

3.  Saint Lucia knows how to host a foodie party!

Fish Friday on St Lucia

Fish Friday on St Lucia

The Jump Up street party is held every Friday in Gros Islet for locals and visitors. Music blares through speakers which frame the street, weaved between food stalls, bars and dancing crowds. The carnival-vibe party celebrates local cuisine amongst other cultural ambiances. Barbecued meats, fried bread and local street foods fill the street with enticing aromas. The Anse La Raye Fish Fry offers another celebratory environment, based in one of Saint Lucia's fishing villages. Fresh seafood is available in an authentic environment where you can even spot local fishermen bringing back their catches of the day.

4. Saint Lucia has an array of fine dining options

Delicious food at Ladera Resort Dasheene Restaurant St Lucia

Delicious food and beautiful setting at Ladera Resort Dasheene Restaurant

Stunning resorts such as Ladera indulge their guests with their Dasheen restaurant which offers a taste of luxury. The fine dining is diverse across the island including family-owned authentic restaurants such as Coal Pot, The Edge (Bobo Bergstrom's innovative cuisine), and flavour-bursting delights such as Orlando's, which is ran by top chef, Orlando Satchell. Private dining is also available at a large number of hotels which can include a romantic beach meal or even in the midst of a tropical setting, surrounded by flora and fauna.

Ladera Resort - Dasheene Restaurant - St Lucia

St Lucia sunset from Dasheene Restaurant

This post is brought to you by Saint Lucia Tourist Board. To discover more about Saint Lucia and to check out the amazing offers, visit www.stlucia.org

July 3, 2014

Discover the natural treasures of St Kitts rainforest

Discover the natural treasures of St Kitts rainforest

Ah, there it is … at last I catch the scent of the place.  Peppery, leafy, smoky, fresh, salty, sweet, tangy – yes, tangy and definitely exotic to someone from the north of England.  I am standing on the edge of lush rainforest beside a beautifully twisted, gnarled tree with fronded leaves and vibrant scarlet flowers.  The Flamboyant Tree (or Royal Poinciana), national emblem of St Kitts, tiny island in the West Indies, gives an exuberant welcome on my first visit to the Caribbean.

Wingfield Estate rainforest and industrial museum in St Kitts

The rainforest is part of the Wingfield Estate, owned by Maurice Widdowson, originally from Lancaster.  There’s a unique industrial heritage open-air museum being excavated on land that was used to produce tobacco, cotton, sugar and rum.  In the beautiful old plantation house, Romney Manor, is Caribelle Batik, where we learnt how to make batik.

This walk is a sensory delight.  Zarina McCulloch, Chrissie Walker and I are led by O’Neil Mulraine, local guide and enthusiastic advocate of St Kitts rainforest.

O'Neil on path through St Kitts rainforest - by Zoe Dawes

Green velvet monkeys screech high up in the canopy.  They peer down, waiting for us to disappear so they can return to scrumping the ripening mangoes hanging temptingly from heavy branches.  The Wingfield River trickles over age-smooth rocks, pebbles and boulders and tiny fish dart from sun to shade over fallen leaves littering the river bed.

Wingfield River in St Kitts, Caribbean - by Zoe Dawes

Burnt orange butterflies flitter about with gay abandon and a hovering humming bird aims for a direct hit into a deep purple flower. Ahead strides O’Neil, enthusing over the glories of this natural paradise.  Every so often he stops to tell a story about the track on which we are walking or use his stick to point out a leaf that has healing properties.  O’Neil has created his own path through the undergrowth and knows every inch of the way.  He shows us a little plant that is rainforest Viagra and another that makes healthy bush tea.

O'Neil in Wingfield Rainforest St Kitts

This area is now a national park and locals are slowly discovering the joys of a walk in the rainforest. Soon we are scrambling over rocks to the other side of the river to look at the gorge wall that has been carved out of the massive hillside. Standing in the shade of the red rocks, warbling birdsong drifts through the dense foliage; unfamiliar and hauntingly lovely.  An imposing dam and bridge are built over the water.  Apparently it was made by slaves in the 18th century to control the flow for the water mill on the Wingfield Sugar Plantation.

Bridge over River Wingfield St Kitts rainforest - by Zoe Dawes

We’re warned to avoid the jaggy bark studded with Kapok tree bark in St Kitts rainforest - by Zoe Dawesvicious looking spikes.  O’Neil tells us it’s the Kapok tree (Ceiba Pentandra), which grows to an enormous height and produces long, strong fibres that have been used for hundreds of years to fill jackets, mattresses, pillows, dolls and other household items.

The buttress roots of these trees can become outdoor works of art, as we discover further on into the forest.  A massive root system ribbons organically from tree to river, decorated with shadows and sunlight.  Our guide tells us it’s an ideal place to sit and reflect.  Nature at her most eloquent and tranquil …

Kapok tree roots in rainforest St Kitts - by Zoe Dawes

Suddenly we hear a scream from above.  We peer into the sky, shielding our eyes from the glare of the sun – and see a distant figure zooming over the treetops squealing with delight.  It’s the Sky Safari – and the day before we too had been flying high on the zipwire.  Without doubt it’s  the most adventurous way to see St Kitts rainforest …

Zoe Dawes on Sky Safari St Kitts

As we start to make our way back we find enormous leaves littering the ground – green on one side and white on the other.  O’Neil says something about it turning white when rain’s due, but as it rains almost every day at this time of year, not sure if I have heard right.  Whatever the reason, Chrissie picks one up, places it on a rock, we take photos and then I use it as a fan.  The late morning temperature is increasing, humidity is rising and the Caribbean heat is starting to make itself felt.

Weather forecast leaf

And so we finally leave this peaceful haven, one of the world’s very few ‘growing rainforests’ and a place where nature is permitted to show her ability to not only look gorgeous but also provide mankind with invaluable natural wealth.  O’Neil gave us a brief glimpse of St Kitts rainforest in all her glory that I am sure none of us will forget.

 O'neil by kapok tree in Wingfield rainforest St Kitts - by Zoe Dawes

Wingfield Estate St Kitts – a colourfully lush Caribbean delight

I stayed at the luxurious St Kitts Marriott Resort Hotel and was hosted by St Kitts Tourism.  Special thanks to Zarina McCulloch for organising such a fascinating introduction to the delights of St Kitts, a truly charming Caribbean island.

Caribbean Tourism Travel Blogger Award St KittsUpdate November 2014

I was absolutely delighted and genuinely surprised to win the Caribbean Tourism Award for ‘Best Blog Feature 2014’ for this article. The judges said, “I love that it [‘Discover the natural treasures of St Kitts rainforest’] focuses on something different.  Zoe’s really looked at something a bit different. Not many people think of rain-forests when you mention the Caribbean to them and there was just loads in it I wasn’t aware of and I think that is what really makes a great blog post.”

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