This blog post was updated on September 27, 2019.
It’s January 1782, and you’re a British captain barking orders for your men to get to their stations right away. The air is thick with Caribbean humidity and the smell of gunpowder from the cannons under your command. You’ve got a great vantage point perched on one of the most impressive fortifications the British ever designed in the Caribbean: Brimstone Hill on the island of St. Kitts. With its position on high ground, strategic views of the ocean, and sturdy walls made of volcanic rock, it had never been breached. But now, as you wipe the sweat off your brow and the last drops of rum from your lips that you hastily gulped to ease your nerves, you see something that actually makes you fearful. On the horizon, you see the heavy masts and tricolor flags of heavily gunned French frigates: A bitter battle is coming … and you just may not live through it…
History definitely comes alive at Brimstone Hill Fortress, and it’s something you feel in every sturdy brick, every weather-beaten cannon, and every deep breath of salty air. The bastion was designed by British engineers and built by African slaves, who also were responsible for its maintenance. The British found a need for the fortification as the uneasy treaty to share the island was eventually broken by the French in 1689. As British reinforcements helped take back the parts of the island that were lost to the French incursion, the fortress commenced its construction in 1690 in order to keep out any further invasions by the French. Its towering (for its time) 800-foot walls and battlements took almost 100 years to fully complete.
By 1780, the bastion had the reputation as being impregnable and was dubbed “The Gibraltar of the Caribbean.” However, the 1782 attack by the French quickly doused the myth of its invincibility; after almost a month of holding out with 1,000 soldiers and armed African slaves against the 8,000-strong French force, the garrison finally surrendered. The Treaty of Paris that was signed a year later returned the fortress, along with the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, back over to the British, who promptly went about bolstering the fortress’s defenses. Successfully repulsing a French attempt to take it once more in 1806; it never fell into enemy hands again.
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Today, Brimstone Hill Fortress is a national park, and one of the most popular tourist attractions on St. Kitts. As one of the one of the most well-preserved British polygonal-style fortifications in the Western Hemisphere, it has also been honored as one of the 19 Caribbean UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you’re one of those travelers who loves history and architecture, or just a great view, then Brimstone is one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean!
Visitors to the fortress can see spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea, and you can even get a clear view of five neighboring Caribbean islands (St. Barts, St. Eustatius, Saba, St Martin, and Nevis). You can also see some other great sites around the fortress complex on your visit. While on the Island Main Road leading to the national park, you can catch a glimpse of the Lime Kiln ruins. This is where limestone was heated to make the mortar used to hold together the volcanic rocks that make up the fortification’s walls.
As you progress inside the entrance to the fort, you’ll also see Barrier Redan, which has four cannons that cover the road. As you walk through past the Magazine Bastion you’ll also see the massive wall that was breached during the 1782 assault by the French. Once you work your way to the visitors center, you’ll see the ruins of the Artillery Officers’ Barracks to its right. Standing out with its distinct arches, this two-story building served as living quarters for the Commanding Officer and his Second Lieutenant.
Above these barracks, you will see a slope that once housed the Governor’s house. While the house is no more, the slope is now playfully referred to as “Monkey Hill” thanks to the curious primates that are found all through the island and who sometimes find their way on to the compound. You may not be guaranteed a meeting with these mischievous monkeys, but a climb up the slope will give you a scenic view of the island’s southern coastline.
Fun fact: Some say the monkeys found on the island were first brought over as pets by French officers arriving from Africa, while another theory is that they were used as pests by the French to damage British crops and reduce food production for the garrison.
Another must-see at the fortress is the Citadel, which is now home to the Fort George Museum. You can access the Citadel by climbing a small ramp up from the visitors center, and in addition to the museum you can also see more cannons facing the sea as well as the mountains.
While at the top of the fortress, don’t forget to ring the Tower Bell that can be found near the flagpole with the St. Kitts & Nevis flag! It is thought that the bell was used to signal day-to-day activities like changing of guards and meal times.
Tips for your visit:
- You’ll need a tour guide with a van to get you to the fortress from the port. Most vans will be hesitant to take one or two passengers, as they wish to be paid for a full van. Try pairing up with other travelers for a group of four or more.
- Make sure to carry cash with you. This will give you flexibility in purchasing roadside souvenirs on the ride to and from Brimstone.
- As the entire complex was built on a hill, there are lots of steps to climb, so make sure you’re wearing lightweight and comfortable shoes.
- As mentioned above — there’s a LOT of climbing involved, so make sure to pack some light snacks and plenty of water.
With its rich history, lush surroundings, and unbelievable scenic views, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park is well worth booking cheap flight deals to holiday in one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean!
Have you visited Brimstone Fortress? Share your experience and tips with us in the comments.
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