Seeking a Caribbean break without hordes of tourists, Shereen Low enjoys a slower pace of life on the island of Nevis.
Two big brown eyes are peering directly at me. Then, in a flash, they disappear, with only the flicker of a long tail visible in the distance. Above me I hear the patter of tiny feet dancing across the roofs of nearby houses.
“Stay quiet,” our guide Kervin Liburd says. “Don’t move and they might come closer.”
I’m in the lush rainforest on the Caribbean island of Nevis, on the lookout for green vervet monkeys. In a country where there are almost twice as many primates as the 12,000 population, the creatures aren’t too hard to spot.
I’m so engrossed in catching a glimpse of the playful, furry creatures, that I fail to notice where I’m standing – until I feel a burning sensation in my feet.
Looking down, my heartbeat quickens when I see a number of red fire ants climbing up my leg.
Sensing my pain from the pesky stingers, Kervin immediately rushes over. “Don’t panic. This leaf from the soursop tree will soothe the irritation,” he says, handing me a bunch of non-descript green leaves, before taking my shoes and shaking the ants off.
“Rub them over the bites and the stings will subside.”
He’s right – within minutes my feet feel much better.
Kervin, whose father Lynnell founded local tour company Sunrise Tours in 1990, knows exactly which plants are poisonous, and which ones have natural medicinal properties. His expertise proves to be vital during a two-hour walk through the rainforest.
“Be careful of those flying insects,” he tells us. “You don’t want them getting into your ears and eyes because they’ll burrow and lay eggs. And watch out for spiders on the ground.”
For the rest of the walk, I act like a scaredy-cat, covering my ears and eyes and stomping on the ground to scare away any nasty spiders or hidden colonies of fire ants.
This wild and unpredictable environment is part of Caribbean island Nevis, the little sister of St Kitts.
Getting here isn’t difficult – a nine-hour flight on British Airways from London Gatwick to St Kitts, with a quick stopover in Antigua, followed by a boat ride across from St Kitts. There’s also a regular ferry service and water taxis are available on demand.
As soon as we arrive in Oualie Beach on the island’s north side, I feel the hustle and bustle of city life disappearing. Everything here is much slower than on other Caribbean islands, such as Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia.
I’m staying at the Montpelier Plantation, a beautiful former sugar cane plantation converted into luxury lodgings in the 1960s, where we are given a warm welcome by managers Karen and Jason Du Plessis and their playful labrador Ziggy.
Set in the foothills of Nevis Peak, 750 feet above the Caribbean Sea, this secluded hideaway, which Princes William and Harry visited with their late mother Princess Diana when they were young, is surrounded by tropical gardens and historical buildings, such as the 300-year-old sugar mill.
My days are spent with leisurely breakfasts and indulgent dinners, as well as lounging at the beach, a 10-minute drive from the hotel.
A driving tour around the island takes half a day, with stops at St Thomas’ Lowland Church, the oldest church on Nevis offering a great view of Nevis Peak volcano, the hot springs at Bath Village, the ruins of Hamilton Estate, and the main city of Charlestown, where goats and donkeys wander through the streets. We also stop at the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, once the family home of British naval hero Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson’s wife, Frances “Fanny” Nisbet.
It would be a travesty to visit Nevis without trying any rum. Both St Kitts and Nevis were once known as the sugar islands, because of the numerous plantations, but the last sugar and cotton plantation on Nevis closed in 1958.
Montpelier Plantation’s own special blend of Rum Punch, made from three different kinds of rum, lime, sugar and bitters, goes down the throat so smoothly you can’t resist reordering. But the most potent cocktail is the Killer Bee at Sunshine’s Beach Bar on Pinney’s Beach, so-named because it leaves a “sting” in your mouth.
I get so used to the leisurely pace of life and the laid-back lifestyle, that had I stayed any longer, I would have found it a real struggle to jump back into the normality of everyday life.
Rum, sun, sea and nature, what’s not to like about Nevis?
• Shereen Low was a guest of Montpelier Plantation & Beach, Nevis (www.montpeliernevis.com) and the Nevis Tourism Authority (www.nevisisland.com).
A seven-night stay at Montpelier Plantation & Beach costs from £1,699 per person, booked through British Airways (0844 493 0758, www.ba.com). Package based on two adults sharing a room on a B&B basis with return flights from London Gatwick (price based on travel in November 2014).