GETTING THERE: There are no direct flights to St. Kitts-Nevis from Washington. From Baltimore, American Airlines flies daily to San Juan, where you can connect with an American Eagle flight to St. Kitts. The current midweek fare is $322 round trip; winter rates begin at $362 (Nov. 20 to Dec. 12) and $488 (after Dec. 12), all round trip. To obtain the current midweek rate, tickets must be purchased within 24 hours after making reservations; the Baltimore-San Juan portion of the fare is nonrefundable, and changes are not allowed (except for medical reasons). Proof of U.S. citizenship is required to enter St. Kitts-Nevis (passports preferred). WHERE TO STAY: For such small islands, St. Kitts and Nevis possess a remarkable range of accommodations -- everything from luxury condos to remote cottages. But the best way to enjoy the "Old Caribbean" character of these two unspoiled islands is by inviting yourself as a house guest at one or more of the restored plantation estate inns. Winter prices range from $150 to more than $250 a day for two, including breakfast and dinner; lunches, usually served buffet-style, are around $10 per person. The other hotels are more modern, often less expensive (from $80 a day double, in season), are better equipped with in-room facilities but lack that old-fashioned charm.
Among the inns:
Fairview Inn, P.O. Box 212, St. Kitts. Built around an 18th-century French great house near Basseterre, surrounded by flowering plants and trees.
Nisbet Plantation, Nevis. This 30-acre plantation was the home of Lord Nelson's bride, Fanny Nisbet, and is one of the only places to stay that fronts a white-sand beach.
Montpelier Plantation, P.O. Box 474, Nevis. Modern cottages set on the ruins of the great Montpelier estate, site of Lord Nelson's marriage to Fanny Nisbet in 1787.
Rawlins Plantation, P.O. Box 340, St. Kitts. This rebuilt plantation (the original great house burned in 1790) is now an inn set in landscaped grounds among the ruins of old sugar-making plants.
Golden Rock Estate, P.O. Box 493, Gingerland, Nevis. A charming inn, built on the lush grounds of an 1815 sugar estate.
The Golden Lemon, Dieppe Bay, St. Kitts. A restored, 18th-century plantation house near a black-sand beach, it is known for its elegant, antique-filled rooms.
Cliff Dwellers, Tamarind Bay, Nevis. A hillside hotel with panoramic views from its 14 guest cottages. Known for the sunsets from its bar area. GETTING AROUND: Rental cars are available on both islands. Rates range from $25 to $35 a day, and you must obtain a local driver's license ($12) from the police in Basseterre or Charlestown. Remember to drive on the left!
Taxis are plentiful and are usually easy to obtain through your hotel. Guided island tours start at $40 (St. Kitts) and $35 (Nevis).
Daily shop-hop flights are available between St. Kitts and Nevis, at $15 a hop. Or take the ferry -- the "Carib Queen" leaves Basseterre harbor for Charlestown, Nevis, twice daily (except Thursdays). The fare for the 45-minute crossing is $5 one-way. WHERE TO EAT: Sampling the spicy, savory West Indian cuisine is one of the special pleasures of the islands. One of my favorite memories is breakfast at the Montpelier Plantation Inn in Nevis, with baskets of passion fruit, sugar-apples, soursops and mangoes gathered fresh from gardens brimming with hibiscus, bougainvillea, oleander and jasmine. INFORMATION: St. Kitts-Nevis Tourist Office, 414 E. 75th St., New York, N.Y. 10021, (212) 535-1234.