Hidden away in the Eastern Caribbean is small St Eustatius, known universally as Statia: a treasure island for the pirates who used to operate from it - and now for the visitors who want to explore its riches.
Statia is a mere eight square miles (20 sq km) with a population of only 2,100 but its long and lively history has been one of most turbulent in the Caribbean - and much of that history can found at the bottom of its clear blue waters in the more than 200 wrecks that lie sunken offshore.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the island was one of the Caribbean’s three wealthiest centers for trading, slaving and smuggling. Its warehouses brimmed with textiles, gold, silver, spices, sugar, rum and guns brought and carried away by thousands of galleons from Europe and America.
Many of their hulls now lie within a Marine Park created recently to protect sea life and historical artifacts. There are 33 virgin dive sites featuring coral reefs, dropoffs, canyons and wrecks old and new. The islanders are serious about conserving their underwater treasures - divers in the park must be accompanied by dive operators, and anchoring is not permitted.
For eco-tourists and walkers, there are 12 trails, one of which runs up to the rim of the island’s extinct volcano - the Quill - and down into its pit. There you’ll find a rainforest.
The island’s capital is Oranjestad, where you can see the remains of what was once known as the Emporium of the Eastern Caribbean - so rich that it was fought over 22 times, despite being protected by 15 coastal forts. There is still a fort, a museum, an early Dutch Reformed Church and the ruins of the second-oldest synagogue in the Americas.
Statia has strong American connections. In 1776 the island became the first nation in the world to recognise the infant republic of the United States of America when the Dutch governor welcomed and saluted the Andrew Doria, a merchant ship operated by American colonists flying the Stars and Stripes. In 1781 this brought the wrath of the British on the island. A Royal Navy fleet arrived and used the island’s Dutch flag to lure unsuspecting merchantmen to be plundered.
Today’s visitors will find a more accommodating and intimate welcome. There are just 100 beds on the island, in small hotels and guest houses; choose the right room and you can enjoy a fantastic view out to sea. You will find yourself sharing restaurants and drinks in bars with friendly locals, enjoying their good company and an attractively simple lifestyle - much more peaceful these days, as the island and its visitors bask in the calm that has succeeded a stormy past.