There are over four hundred years of fort history in the Caribbean. These centuries-old bastions for and against flag planting and foreign plunderers are sites today of great historical significance. Here’s a sampling of 10 top Caribbean forts to see.
1. Citadelle Laferriere, Haiti. This colossal stone-and-mortar-built fortress, rising 130-foot higher than the 3,000-foot elevation Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain on which it was built in the early 1800’s, looks a perfect setting for a medieval Hollywood movie. That’s not likely given how hard it is to get here. The final quarter of the 7-mile trail from the village of Milot requires horsepower of a four-legged kind. The reward is a spectacular view in the distance of the city of Cap-Haitien and Atlantic Ocean beyond. Local guides available. Entrance fee: $5. www.citadellelaferriere.com
2. El Morro, Puerto Rico. It’s hard to miss this impressive 16th century citadel. Located on the northwest corner of Old San Juan and formally named Castillo San Felipe del Morro, this fort was built to protect San Juan Bay from privateers like Sir Francis Drake, which it and the men inside did so successfully in 1595. Guided tours of this World Heritage Site fortification, which rises 140-feet above the sea with 18-foot-thick walls, are held daily and fun for kids and adults alike. Entrance fee: $7 for adults. www.nps.gov/saju/index.htm
3. Fort Christian, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. This red-painted imposing structure built by the Danes in the late 1600’s and located across from the Legislature Building in Charlotte Amalie has been a focal point of the harbor for over 300 years. After over a decade of restoration, slowed by findings such as human remains, the fort finally opened for tours during the territory’s centennial of U.S. ownership in 2017. Entrance fee: $10. www.visitusvi.com
4. Fort Christiansvaern, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. A gorgeous green grass lawn sits in contrast to this yellow-painted ballast brick-built fort that defends Christiansted harbor. Inside once held the former Danish colony’s jail, which at one time called Alexander Hamilton’s mother an inmate. A teenage girl at the time, the refusal to live with her first husband proved her crime. The wider U.S. National Park Service run historic complex on which the fort sits also includes 18th and 19th century church as well as customs, scale and government houses. Admission: US $7. Tours available. www.nps.gov/chri/index.htm
5. Fort Oranje, St. Eustatius. Built on a rock face of the island’s capitol city of Oranjestad, the beautiful bastions and comely courtyards make this one of the most picturesque forts in the Caribbean. Yet, this 1629-built, fully-restored military strong-hold boasts a bigger claim to fame. That is, on November 16, 1776, Fort Oranje was the first to formally recognize via friendly fire a flag few had seen before: that of the newly independent United States. A plaque at the fort today commemorates this historic world headline. www.statia-tourism.com
6. Brimstone Hill Fortress, St. Kitts. A plaque unveiled by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1985 declared this 1790-built fort and its surroundings as a national Park. Today, the chief points of interest are the Fort George Museum, Western and Eastern Places of Arms, magazine bastion and ruins of several divisions of army quarters. Atop the fort, among the many cannons, is a view that spans from the island’s mountains and fields to neighboring Caribbean islands like Saba, St. Eustatius and Nevis. Guided and self-guided audio tours available. Admission: US $10. www.brimstonehillfortress.org
7. Fort James, Antigua. Stationed at the entrance of St. John’s Harbour, this fort started construction in 1706 in anticipation of a French invasion. Several cannons still remain guarding the former glory of what today is ruins of the fort and it adjacent colonial building. Still, just walking around the grounds and a strong imagination can really make the place come to life. The fort overlooks pristine Fort James Beach. No admission. No guided tours.
8. Fort Saint Louis, Martinique. A stunning 360-degree view of the city of Fort-de-France and the Caribbean Sea beyond is visible from this 17th century fort. It’s not possible to walk in and wander on your own. Since the 9/11 attacks in New York, the fort has been re-activated as a French naval base. Instead, buy tickets across the street and a guide leads a personal tour. Ramparts, an old magazine room, canons and moats are visible parts of the fort’s history. Tours given hourly. Tickets: € 8 Euros or $9 USD. Children age 6 or older. us.martinique.org
9. Charles Fort, Barbados. Steps away from the sun loungers and tiki bar of the Hilton Barbados, in Needhams Point, is this place of military history. Charles Fort, built in 1650 and renamed when Charles II regained the throne, protected the island from enemies approaching through Carlisle Bay. The fort today is part of the hotel property and a beautiful vantage point for sunsets over the Caribbean Sea.
10. Fort King George, Tobago. Start and stop work, and name and country affiliation changes between the French and British marked the first nearly 30-year history of this 18th century fort built on a hill overlooking the town of Scarborough. Today, it’s possible to walk around and see the prison, officers mess, several cannons and the Tobago Museum, located in a former guardhouse. Fort admission is free. Museum admission: US $2 ($5 EC). Open weekdays. www.visittobago.gov.tt