Pirate History Lessons on St. Lucia

St. Lucia may stir your beach fantasies, but the former pirate haunt offers history lessons as well.


Yarrr! Land Ho! Shiver me timbers! No, it is not “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” it’s a trip to St. Lucia in the Windward Islands in the Caribbean. Even though the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films were actually shot in Bequia and Dominica, St. Lucia has its own history with pirates—the real ones.

Whenever I travel with my kids, as difficult as it may be, I try to work some education into the trip. St. Lucia allows us to have fun and even learn a little history as well—and the kids may not even realize it. Originally, the island was settled by the Arawak Indians around 200 A.D.; although by 800 A.D., their peaceful lifestyle and culture had been totally dominated by the fierce, neighboring Caribs.

The idyllic island became “modernized” in the 1500s when the first European landed on its shores. St. Lucia remained a strategic stronghold for the British and French (the island changed hands 19 times before gaining independence in 1979), who used it as a base from which to protect their interests from both pirates and Spaniard.

Pigeon Island

To get a good understanding of the island’s rich history, visit Pigeon Island, a small outcrop on the northern end of the island connected by a causeway, and The Pigeon Island Museum and Interpretive Centre. I recommend spending the better part of the day here. While the museum can be a bit dry after a while, my kids love becoming pirates for the day searching for unsuspecting Spanish Galleons cruising off the coast and imagining all the booty that may be on board. A picnic lunch (most hotels will pack one for you) is a perfect break before reclaiming your position in the remains of Fort Rodney or commanding troops in the restored British officers mess hall.

Vieux Fort

Moving back in time a little bit, we enjoy hunting for stashed pirate’s booty in the town of Vieux Fort located on the southern tip of the island. Just as Pigeon Island was strategic for both pirates and settlers, Vieux Fort was the stronghold of the Carib Indians. The Caribs would wait for a storm to blow a ship off course and wash up on their shores; they would kill the crew and rob the ships. In 1605, 67 crewmembers washed ashore—only 19 left alive.

In the early 1700s, the famous pirate, Blackbeard was making his way up the Caribbean, plundering ships as he went. The waters off St. Lucia were particularly lucrative for the master pirate, and it is believed he used to stash his stolen booty in the Black Bay section of Vieux Fort. We have spent entire afternoons walking this town in search of some of Blackbeard’s treasure. We have never found any, but we have a great time trying to figure out where he would have been stashed the loot. A half day trip to Vieux Fort is certainly worth the time—especially if you can find a piece of Blackbeard’s hidden gold.

La Toc Battery

While not a fort, La Toc Battery was built by the British in 1888. The hilltop gun emplacement was designed to protect the Castries harbor. Since Castries was the Caribbean’s largest port, it could hold the entire British Navy as they loaded up on fuel (coal) and provisions. The views are spectacular, and my kids, always up for some good role playing, have been known to pretend at protecting the modern harbor from the wealthy and their yachts. (Okay, maybe I join in too). While there is a museum with maps and gun shells in some of the underground rooms, the highlight is the 18-ton rifled muzzle-loader cannon. Visits are by appointment only and can be arranged by your hotel.

Live and learn has been my mantra for a long time and when you can find an incredible vacation spot that will allow for both, it is a win-win for everyone. These spots are timeless and will appeal to children and adults of all ages.

Destinations: Saint Lucia

Themes: Family Travel

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