Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Best Forts in the Caribbean for History and Great Views

Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Felipe del Morro; credit: U.S. National Park Service

Anyone with an interest in history will find that the old Caribbean forts are often worth visiting while on vacation.

Going to an old fort may not sound like the ideal cruise or beach activity, but it is something to do in the morning when the sun isn’t hot enough or being on the beach for 10 hours straight is a bit too much.

For families, it also is a way of educating children about history in that part of the world.

Besides, some of these old forts offer great photo opportunities or a chance to see the island from a different point of view.

Old San Juan: Castillo San Cristóbal

Castillo San Cristóbal takes its place at the top of the list. Anyone who visits San Juan, especially as part of a cruise, will find that Old San Juan is the top tourist attraction and that Castillo San Cristóbal dominates this New World city.

Castillo San Cristóbal was the largest fort built by the Spanish in the Caribbean. It surrounded the original city and covered 27 acres.

Visitors can climb up the massive walls for views of the city or explore its depths for lessons about the fort’s history that dates back to 1539.

The Spanish spent 250 years developing the fort until it dominated access to and from the Caribbean, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

It is now both a U.S. National Historic Site and a UNESCO (United Nations) World Heritage Site.

Old San Juan: Castillo San Felipe del Morro

The San Juan National Historic Site also includes the companion fort of Castillo San Felipe del Morro that was built by the Spanish to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay.

The smaller del Morro fort is about a five-minute walk from the main tourist area of San Cristóbal.

Visitors with limited time may want to skip del Morro, but the tour and walking distance make it a quick and convenient side trip.

St. Thomas: Fort Christian

This National Historic Landmark was built in 1672 by the Dutch and completed in 1676. Its main attraction is a three-story tower and a one-story Gothic revival structure, according to the National Park Service.

The fort now includes a museum with exhibits about the history of the Virgin Islands from the Stone Age to current times. It also has an art gallery, a natural history section and a furniture collection from the Danish period.

Fort Christian is about 2.5 miles or a five to six minute drive from the cruise docks.

St. Kitts: Brimstone Hill

Brimstone Hill Fortress
Brimstone Hill Fortress is one of the best-preserved forts in the Caribbean. © St. Kitts and Nevis Tourism Authority

One of the best-preserved forts in the Caribbean is Brimstone Hill on St. Kitts, the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park says.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built by the British to defend the island against the French.

The fort is located on the western side of the island. It is about 10 miles from the cruise docks at Basseterre and will require a taxi, rental car or excursion bus to get there.

Antigua: Fort Berkeley

Another example of early British military power in the Caribbean is Fort Berkeley at English Harbour in Antigua.

The English built the fort in 1704 and filled it with 25 cannon to protect the harbour, which was an important military installation and became the home of Nelson’s Dockyard. The dockyard, named after English naval hero Horatio Nelson, is the largest national park in Antigua.

Fort Berkeley is located on the southern coast of Antigua about 12 miles or 30 to 40 minutes from the cruise docks at St. John’s.

Dominica: Fort Shirley

Fort Shirley on Dominica is the island’s most important historical site and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The fort has historical significance because it is the location of an 1802 rebellion by slave soldiers of the 8th West India Regiment.

They took control of the garrison for three days in protest over conditions there, according to UNESCO. The rebellion led to the freedom in 1807 of all slave soldiers in the British Empire.

St. Martin: Fort St. Louis

This hilltop fort at Marigot, the small capital of the French side of St. Martin and St. Maarten (the Dutch side), has mostly fallen into ruin.

But people don’t go there for the cannon, the architecture or the history. They go there for the views.

On a clear and warm day, visitors will have far-reaching and even stunning views of the Bay of Marigot, the town below and other stretches of the island. They offer excellent subjects for photographers.

Marigot and Fort St. Louis are located on the western side of the island about 24 miles from the cruise docks at Philipsburg.

 > Category: Attractions