If you’re planning on spending a significant period of time on one of the Caribbean islands, then a trip to the local museum is a valuable way to understand your surroundings. Shuffling among the artifacts can put things in perspective, too – repairs, it appears, have always been costly, parts have always taken too long to arrive, and prices have always been too high!
In this issue, we pick some of the better museums in which to lose yourself…
St Maarten Museum
This compact, three-story museum in an early 19th century house has artifacts on the wreck of HMS Proselyte as well as a sobering display about 1995’s Hurricane Luis. From further back, you’ll find Arawak pottery, displays about the men and women who built St Maarten and plenty of knickknacks from the Dutch colonial ear. Entrance $1. Front Street, Philipsburg.
Tel: (599) 542-4917 www.speetjens.com/museum
Nelson’s Dockyard Museum, Antigua
A stroll around the magnificent Nelson’s Dockyard is one of the must-sees of Caribbean, but the museum, on the site of the Naval Officer’s house in English Harbour, is not to be overlooked, either.
The museum houses an excellent display that runs from the first arrivals by boat – the Arawaks in 900 AD, through Nelson, to the closure of the Yard in 1889, before the local yachting and charter industry began in the 1950s. From Nelson to Nicholson, this is a breathtaking collection maintained by some devoted volunteers. Entrance free.
Saba Rock Nautical Museum, BVI
Run by diver Bert Kilbride, who has located over 91 local wrecks, Saba Rock has a respectable collection of shipwreck artifacts, in particular from HMS Rhone, which went down in 1867
Tel (284)-495-7711. www.sabarock.com
Barbados Museum, Bridgetown, Barbados
Located at the Garrison, just outside Bridgetown, the Barbados Museum boasts over 270,000 artifacts from Amerindian, plantation and colonial times. There are 7 galleries housed in this former military prison, including rare books, photography, and African heritage displays.
Tel: 427 0201
Brimstone Hill, St Kitts
Once known as the ‘Gibraltar of the West Indies’, Brimstone Hill Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1690, Brimstone Hill was the British outpost responsible for defending St Kitts against the French.
Tel: (869) 465 2609 www.brimstonehillfortress.org
Nelson Museum, Charlestown, Nevis
Run by the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, the Nelson contains the largest collection of Nelson memorabilia in the New World – prints, porcelain, ships models, they’re all here.
Tel: (869) 469-0408
Pigeon Island Museum and Interpretative Centre, Rodney Bay, St Lucia
Located in a former British Officer’s mess, Pigeon Island has a good collection of artifacts from Admiral Rodney’s time. Situated on the Pigeon Island National Park, this is a great place to help understand the roots of the island’s dual French/British culture.
Tel: (758) 452-5005
American-Caribbean Museum of St Thomas
From the discovery of the Virgins by Columbus to the sale of the islands to the US in 1917, and beyond, exhibitions at the American-Caribbean museum bring the history of the island alive. Entry $7. Raddets Gade, (off Main Street), Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas.
Whim Plantation Museum, Frederiksted, St Croix
An 18th century plantation set among 12 acres, Whim Museum brings home the industry that transformed much of the Caribbean as a whole. Typical of the sugar plantations belonging to the Danish West Indian Company, the plantation house, mills and ruins provide a vivid picture of plantation life.
Tel: (340) 772-0598
Kura Hulanda Museum, Curacao
A stunning exhibition with a close link to African heritage. Although the museum encompasses the main cultures within Curacao, the outlook is far more global, putting the Kura Hulanda up there with any metropolitan museum.
Tel: (599) 9 434-7765 www.kurahulanda.com