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New helicopter sightseeing tour settles into St. Kitts

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Cruisers to Alaska know helicopters. The crème de la crème tour in Skagway and Juneau is strapping into a Temsco chopper for an exhilarating landing on a glacier.

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"Of course, there are no glaciers in the Caribbean, so we have the next best thing," says chief pilot John Whedon, base manager for Skagway, who helped supervise start up operations in St. Kitts. "It's a great place to see from the air."

This new venture for Temsco Helicopters, Inc. required repositioning two of their fleet of jet rangers to St. Kitts from Juneau. Whedon says the trip took two weeks and 50 flight hours. Temsco's previous Caribbean experience was flying relief operations for the Antigua government when the volcano on Montserrat erupted. Last summer Temsco officials came to St. Kitts to determine the feasibility of offering flight tours.

"For the helicopter passenger, the focal point is the dormant volcano Mount Liamuiga, rising 3,792 feet," says Whedon. "The flight actually takes you into the crater - IF weather permits." Many times the summit is shrouded.

The crater is .6 miles / 1 km across. The last verified eruptions were 1,800 years ago. Beyond 1,500 feet elevation, lush rainforests drape the slopes. From your copter viewpoint, count the islands sprinkled through the Caribbean - Saba, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Barths, and Nevis.

Other sure-win sights to photograph include Brimstone Hill Fortress, dominating the south coast with its firepower aimed at St. Eustatias. Impressive for its size (largest fort built in the Eastern Caribbean), it is rightly called "Gibraltar of the West Indies." The pilot points out the equally shrouded Mount Nevis, punctuating the horizon and sister island two miles away.

You will pass along the more rugged, less developed north coast of St. Kitts. Look below for the railroad tracks of the only remaining passenger train in the Caribbean (Cuba still operates a freight train).

Try the Fly & Ride combo

The St. Kitts Scenic Railway is one of the newer attractions, offering a terra firma tour in the comfort of a double-decker railroad car. The three-hour journey follows the old sugar cane train tracks and gives gorgeous views of the island's landscapes. The cars are both open-air and air-conditioned.

The last "sugar train" rattled into the yard in 2005, bringing an end to over 350 years of sugar production in the nation. But wait, the train survived. In a unique partnership between government and private enterprise, the privately-owned railway began offering excursions. The "Last Railroad in the West Indies" is a link to a past when sugar was king.

Two tours to choose

When the helicopter lifts off, you know you made the right choice. Book the aerial overview up, up and away. Better yet, book the combo which includes the celebrated train ride around the volcano to see the most.

Temsco has been in business for 55 years, 30 years operating tours. "We also do charters, photography sessions, and search and rescue," adds Whedon. "The people and government seem to find these services appealing."

Booking information: www.temscohelicoptersltd.com. The Temsco office is located at Port Zante, where cruise ships dock. Looking to stay longer in St. Kitts than a day visit, good idea. American Airlines offers daily nonstop service from Miami International Airport. Should you need a five star transfer from St. Kitts airport to the Four Seasons Resort on Nevis, now you know the best option.

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