Caribbean Journey – Part 1: Philipsburg, St Maarten & Castries, St Lucia (2022)
After two days at sea we came to the island of . . .
This is a divided island, half French and half Dutch. Like most cruise ships, we docked in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch part. This is a major crossroads for cruise ships and there have always been at least 6 ships here when we have visited.
We walked into town from the ship, a fair way, and spent a few hours there since there was nothing else we hadn’t seen that we particularly wanted to visit on this island. You can read more about St Maarten and what we saw and did here ten years ago at this link:
After a leisurely breakfast in the Main Dining Room we left the ship, walked down the dock and made our way through the port complex, which was full of shops. Then we walked into town, passing many colorful flowers.
We walked over the little pink and white stone bridge into the town, then we walked around for a while. St Maarten has a particularly beautiful and lengthy beach with a nice view, although we have heard that the water is somewhat polluted.
There were two landmarks in town we sought out. One was the Guavaberry Emporium. It is a small low wooden building painted a distinctive red and white, which is built on the site of a synagogue that was here in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Guavaberry liqueur has been made in St Maarten for hundreds of years. It is made with rum, cane sugar and guavaberry fruit from bushes growing wild in the hills of the island. When we were here before this Emporium was a lively place, selling liqueur, hot sauce, art works, tee shirts and other merchandise. But now it is closed and the company is going out of business, with only a small shop in the port where they are selling off their inventory (some of which we purchased on our way back to the ship). The building will remain, however, because it is protected as a National Historic Monument.
The second landmark was the Philipsburg Courthouse. Originally built in 1793 as a home by the city’s founder John Philips, a captain in the Dutch navy, it was later used as a jail, a fire station and a post office before becoming a court house. The cupola is topped by a carved pineapple as a symbol of welcome. The current one was erected in 1996 after the original was blown away in a hurricane. Behind the window in the cupola is a set of bells and on the facade below is the coat of arms of St Maarten, which has this building in its center. The building was closed to the public on the day we visited so we were only able to see the outside.
It was pretty hot by now so after a couple of hours we headed back to the ship the way we came, passing all the same flowers as well as a cow that was tied to a sign outside a store, presumably so it wouldn’t walk away although it seemed very well behaved to us. We found the Guavaberry Emporium store in the port and then reboarded the ship. After lunch and a leisurely afternoon, we sailed away toward our next stop, St Lucia.
The morning of March 20 found us docked in Castries, St Lucia. Because it was Sunday almost everything was closed, so we decided to just walk into the town & see what we could see. We were not unfamiliar with Castries since we had been here before:
The walk into town was long and complicated, so it was fortunate we had a map. It was also a bit eerie because hardly anyone was on the streets. As we reached the center of town near the waterfront we encountered a distinctive sculpture of rowers that we had not seen before. It was erected here, near the entrance to the capital, in 2019 during the 40th anniversary of St Lucian independence.
In the center of town is Derek Walcott Square. We have been here before but it looked different this time because of extensive renovations in 2020. Originally called Place d’Armes, it was renamed Columbus Square in 1892 and renamed 101 years later for Derek Walcott, one of two Nobel laureates from this small island. Since our last visit the white concrete fence surrounding the square was removed, the busts of the two Nobel laureates were gilded and there were other improvements to make the park more usable. It looks very nice & there were a number of local people enjoying the park while we were there.
Across the street from the square on one side is the Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception, the largest church in the Caribbean. The outside is gray stone, but the inside, where we went last time we were here, is delightfully colorful with ironwork roof arches reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. It was Sunday and Mass was in progress so we didn’t enter, but we did take a look inside through the open door. Across the street on the other side is the Central Library. Originally erected here in 1924 with a grant from the Carnegie Trust, it was called the Carnegie Free Library. We were surprised to find a Carnegie library so far from the US the first time we visited but there were actually six of them built in the Caribbean. In 1948 a fire gutted the building and destroyed 20,000 books but it reopened again in 1958 after extensive renovation within the original walls. It is a beautiful library.
We walked back to the port, stopping in the Castries Market where a surprising number of vendors were open for business on a Sunday. The port area is large and nicely built. Our balcony view had the sea off to the left and a Ponant ship and Castries to the right.
Sailing out of the port we passed a lighthouse on top of a hill and were visited by several sea birds.
Sounds like that was the end, right? But wait, there’s more! We sailed down the coast to Soufriere to get a view of the Pitons, two pointed mountains situated right by the town. We had been to Soufriere on our last visit but this was to be a viewing from the sea as we passed. It makes for quite a sight, but this time was really special because of a spectacular rainbow appearing over the shoreline as we came within view of the Pitons.
We sailed around the outcrop for a full view of Soufriere and of the Pitons. The rainbow was back, shining over the town, providing a spectacular farewell from St Lucia.