Pigeon Island is one of my favorite tourist attractions in St Lucia. Located off the northwest coast of Saint Lucia near Gros Islet, the 44-acre national landmark has a colorful history, and it draws you in with panoramic views of the ocean and Rodney Bay; plus, there is a wide range of activities that will appeal to outdoorsy and adventurous travelers. But before listing out the top things to do at Pigeon Island in St Lucia, now officially named Pigeon Island National Landmark, it is important to provide insight into the history of the island.
History of Pigeon Island in St Lucia
Castilian navigator Juan de la Cosa passed by Saint Lucia and Pigeon Island during his 1499 voyage and recorded the sighting on his world map of 1500. However, long before European explorers became aware of Pigeon Island, Amerindians who migrated from South America were the first people to spot and settle on the island. In fact, Amerindian artifacts dating back to 1000 A.D. are located on Pigeon Island in St Lucia. The Arawaks were the first, but they were driven out by the Caribs, who are thought to have lived in caves along the shore of the island, fishing and hunting for small animals and birds to survive.
Then starting in the 16th century, Pigeon Island was used as a hideout by pirate gangs who could see approaching ships long before they saw them. The most famous pirate gang with 300+ men making Pigeon Island in St Lucia their hideout was led by a Frenchman, Francois le Clerc, known as Le Capitaine Jambe de Bois because of his wooden leg.
The pirate gangs on Pigeon Islands were followed by European colonizers, with both the French and British establishing settlements on Saint Lucia, and at the signing of the Treaty of Breda in 1667, French sovereignty was recognized. However, for 150 years that ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1814, control of Saint Lucia and Pigeon Island changed fourteen times. Seven times for the French and seven times for the British, who were the ultimate victors and who actually built Fort Rodney along with the other military facilities on Pigeon Island starting in 1778.
Military operations were abandoned on Pigeon Island in St Lucia by the British circa 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War. Pigeon Island was then used as a quarantine station for East Indian indentured laborers from 1877 to 1909. It was later used as a whaling station and even leased to an Englishwoman, Josset Agnes Huskinson, from 1937 to 1976. Josset had a popular restaurant on Pigeon Island, catering to yachties and visitors from neighboring islands like Martinique. Her lease on the island was suspended during World War II when the United States Navy used Pigeon Island as a US Naval Air Station as part of the protection of the Panama Canal.
Through all of this change of usage, it wasn’t until around 1972 that Pigeon Island was connected to mainland Saint Lucia through the construction of a causeway as part of the Rodney Bay Development Scheme. That ultimately led to the development of Pigeon Island as a national park with numerous attractions, now known as Pigeon Island National Landmark.
5 Things to Do At Pigeon Island National Landmark in St Lucia
At a minimum, I would recommend spending a full day at Pigeon Island National Landmark in St Lucia as there are many things to see and do, including hiking, exploring the 18th-century military ruins, enjoying the beaches, and dining at one of two restaurants. Also, depending on the time of the year that you visit, you can attend a major event like the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival at Pigeon Island National Landmark.
1. Hike To Top of Fort Rodney & Signal Peak
To start the day at Pigeon Island National Landmark would recommend hiking up to Fort Rodney which is 225 feet high, to take in the views of picturesque Rodney Bay. On a clear day, you can also spot St Lucia’s Pitons to the southeast and the neighboring Caribbean island of Martinique to the north. Along with the beautiful views from the top of Fort Rodney, built between 1778 and 1782, be sure to check out the cannons and bunker that were used mainly for protection during attacks.
From the bunker, you can take in a unique view of Signal Peak, which at 330 feet, is actually the highest peak on Pigeon Island. It was from Signal Peak that British Admiral George Rodney was able to observe the French naval base of Fort Royal in Martinique. Also, while much isn’t known about the daily operations at Pigeon Island during the 18th century, it is thought that a combination of flags and hand signals was used by the soldiers to communicate between Fort Rodney and Signal Peak. This was made possible as all the trees were cut down for a better vantage. Thankfully, Pigeon Island is once again lush and green with lots of trees.
With Signal Peak being the higher mountain, definitely hike for more spectacular views of Pigeon Island. With that, be sure to wear sneakers/trainers as the closer to the top, the path is narrower, steeper, and rocky. Hiking both peaks with stops for photos and taking in the scenery will take about two hours to return, so on a hot sunny day, be sure to bring along a large bottle of water and snacks.
As you hike and explore Pigeon Island National Landmark, be on the lookout for birds. There are thought to be about 40 different species of birds who frequent the national park, including the Red-billed Tropicbird, Little Blue Heron, American Kestrel, Laughing Gull, Sooty Tern, Mangrove Cuckoo, Purple-throated Carib, Tropical Mockingbird, and the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch. The best time to spot the birds at Pigeon Island National Landmark is early morning and early evening.
2. Explore 18th-Century Military Ruins
As you explore Pigeon Island in St Lucia, be sure to check out the 18th-century military ruins. Along with those on the top of Rodney Fort, many are on the path between Rodney Fort and Signal Peak; these include the US Signal Station, Gun Slide, Musket Redoubt, and Ridge Battery. There are also more 18th-century military ruins at the lower level of Pigeon Island National Landmark, including the Soldiers Barracks, Military Latrine, Hospital Foundation, and Powder Magazine. These I would explore on your way back down from the hike. That said, many of these military ruins were built around 1808 when the military installation on Pigeon Island was strengthened. The Soldier’s Barracks, which housed 60 men, was damaged in the hurricanes of 1817 and then rebuilt in 1824. Pigeon Island was abandoned as a military outpost around 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War.
3. Have lunch at Jambe De Bois Restaurant
After hiking and exploring the military ruins at Pigeon Island National Landmark, consider lunch at one of the two restaurants, including Jambe De Bois. Overlooking the sea and Rodney Bay, Jambe De Dois is a rustic Caribbean restaurant where the seats are made from the remains of the Black Pearl. Sadly, on the day I visited, it closed early as they were preparing for a major concert as part of the Jounen Kweyol, aka Creole Day celebrations in St Lucia, so I definitely can’t wait to go back and try the food.
4. Enjoy The Beach & Watersports with Sea Adventures
After lunch at Jambe De Bois, or if you decide to bring a picnic basket, head straight to one of the two beautiful white sand beaches to relax and soak up the beautiful surroundings. You can also go snorkeling by bringing your own gear or booking with Sea Adventures for a Sea Trek or SNUBA diving tour. Tours are offered daily at 9 am, 11 am, and 2:00 pm. So depending on preference, it might make sense to do Sea Trek or SNUBA tour in the morning and then hike and check out the military ruins around Pigeon Island National Landmark in the afternoon.
5. Attend A Major Event
Depending on the time of year that you visit, you can also attend a major event at Pigeon Island National Landmark. In fact, on the day that I visited last October, my time was cut short as they were preparing for a major concert as part of the Jounen Kweyol, aka Creole Day celebrations in St Lucia. That said, one of the more popular events held at Pigeon Island National Landmark is the Saint Lucia Roots & Soul Festival, held in August each year. The three-day music festival typically features a mix of reggae, R&B hip hop, and soul superstars. Another popular event in recent years is the Mercury Fest which is a two-day beach party held in July with many visitors from the neighboring islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
With its rich history and wide range of activities, visiting the Pigeon Island National Landmark is one of my top things to do in St Lucia. The picturesque views at Pigeon Island also make it a popular venue for couples getting married in Saint Lucia. So definitely add to your list whether you are visiting as part of a cruise or stay-over tourist. With that in mind, below are instructions on how to get to Pigeon Island National Landmark.
How To Get to Pigeon Island National Landmark in St Lucia
With the construction of a causeway, it’s quite easy to access Pigeon Island National Landmark as its a mere 5-minute taxi drive from Rodney Bay and a 25-minute taxi drive from Castries, the capital of St Lucia. Thus it is easy for cruise ship visitors to Saint Lucia to spend the day at Pigeon Island National Landmark, which is open daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm.
Visitors with more time than cruise passengers and who don’t want the expense of a taxi can also catch the 1A Bus along the Castries-Gros Islet route to Pigeon Island National Landmark. As Pigeon Island is not a regular stop, you will need to inform the driver so he can make this particular stop. Another option besides taxi and bus is a water tax from Reduit Beach in Rodney Bay.
Entrance fees to Pigeon Island National Landmark are US$12 for persons 12 years and older, US$2 for children (5 to 11 years), and free for children younger. Guided tours are available for an additional US$22 per group for up to 8 persons.
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