St Eustatius

This tranquil little Dutch outpost is one of the Leeward Islands' most overlooked destinations. Known worldwide as Statia, was discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. Statia's history reveals 22 flag changes until in 1636, the Dutch took final possession. During America's War of Independence, Sint Eustatius, at one point, was the only link between Europe and the struggling American colonies.

During the islands history it reached a population of 20,000 inhabitants. Today, its population hovers around 2,100 with more than 20 nationalities represented within Statia's populace with many residents being direct descendents of these times.

Although it may lack glorious beaches, it also lacks hordes of tourists. Visiting the island is a bit like stepping back into the Caribbean of decades past - islanders enjoy striking up a conversation, stray chickens and goats mosey in the streets and the pace is delightfully slow.

Oranjestad, the island’s capital and its only town, is a pleasant place with a fine sense of history. Located along the waterfront, Lower Town was the location of the original port town and still has some ruins from the colonial era, as well as the island’s best beach and its harbor. Upper Town is Oranjestad’s main commercial and residential area.

Right in the center of town, Fort Oranje is an intact 17th century fort complete with cannons, triple bastions and a cobblestone courtyard. It’s perched on the cliffside directly above Lower Town and offers a broad view of the waterfront below.

The St Eustatius Museum, operated by the St Eustatius Historical Foundation, gives visitors a glimpse of upper-class colonial life on Statia and is one of the region’s finest historical museums. It occupies the Simon Doncker House, a restored 18th-century Dutch merchant’s home with collections of nautical artifacts, china and hand-blown bottles. The basement, formerly a wine cellar, houses the museum’s pre-Columbian collection.

The Honen Dalim, an abandoned synagogue that dates from 1739, is the second oldest in the western hemisphere. About half a kilometer east of the synagogue ruins is a Jewish cemetery with gravestones dating from 1742 to 1843. The thick stone walls of the old Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1755, remain perfectly intact, but the roof collapsed during a 1792 hurricane and the building has been open to the heavens ever since. You can climb the steep steps of the church tower for a good view of the surrounding area.

Although high seas and hurricanes have taken their toll on Lower Town’s historic waterfront, the remains of the old foundations from some of the 18th-century warehouses that once lined the coast can still be seen jutting into the water along the shore. Submerged sections of the old seawall that once protected the harbor front can be explored by donning a mask and snorkel.

The road south from Oranjestad ends abruptly at Fort de Windt, where a couple of rusty cannons sit atop a cliffside stonewall. While there’s not much else to this small 18th-century fort, you’ll be rewarded with a fine view of St Kitts to the southeast. The most interesting geological feature in the area is the white cliffs to the east of Fort de Windt, a landmark readily visible from neighboring islands.