Tortuga (Île de la Tortue in French) is a Caribbean island that forms part of Haiti, off the northwest coast of Hispaniola. It constitutes the commune of Île de la Tortue in the Port-de-Paix arrondissement of the Nord-Ouest Department of Haiti. The island covers an area of 180 km² (69 mi²) and its population was 22,080 in 1982. Its name in both Spanish and French means "Turtle Island" or "Tortoise Island", and it is sometimes called that in English. In the 17th century, it was a major center of Caribbean piracy. Its tourist industry and reference in many works has made it one of the most recognized regions of Haiti.


Tortuga was discovered by Europeans in 1494, during the second voyage of Christopher Columbus into the New World. Columbus' sailors called it Tortuga ("Turtle") because its humped shape resembled a turtle.

Tortuga was originally settled by a few Spanish colonists. In 1625 French and English settlers arrived on the island of Tortuga after initially planning to settle on the island of Hispaniola. The French and English settlers were attacked in 1629 by the Spanish commanded by Don Fadrique de Toledo. The Spanish were successful and fortified the island, expelling the French and English men. As most of the Spanish army left for Hispaniola to root out French colonists there, the French returned to take the fort and expanded on the Spanish-built fortifications. In 1630, the French built Fort de Rocher in a natural harbour. From 1630 onward, the island of Tortuga was divided into French and English colonies allowing buccaneers, often erroneously called pirates, to use the island more frequently as their main base of operations. In 1633, the first slaves were imported from Africa to aid in the plantations. The new slave trend did not stick, and by 1635, the use of slaves had ended. The slaves were said to be out of control on the island, and at the same time there had been continual disagreements and fighting between French and English colonies. In the same year, the Spanish returned and quickly conquered the English and French colonies, only to leave again, due to the island being too small to be of major importance. This abandonment of Tortuga allowed the return of both French and English pirates. In 1638, the Spanish again returned to take the island and rid it of all French and newly settled Dutch. They occupied the island, but were soon expelled by the French and Dutch colonists.

By 1640, the buccaneers of Tortuga were calling themselves the Brethren of the Coast. The pirate population was mostly made up of French and Englishmen, along with a small number of Dutchmen. In 1645, in an attempt to bring harmony and control over the island, the acting French governor imported roughly 1,650 prostitutes, hoping to regularize the unruly pirates' lives. By the year 1670, as the buccaneer era was in decline, many of the pirates, seeking a new source of trade, turned to log cutting and trading wood from the island. At this time, however, a Welsh pirate named Henry Morgan started to promote himself and invite the pirates on the island of Tortuga to set sail under him. They were hired by the French as a striking force that allowed France to have a much stronger hold on the Caribbean region. Consequently, the pirates were never really controlled, and kept Tortuga as a neutral hideout for pirate booty. In 1680, new Acts of Parliament forbade sailing under foreign flags (in opposition to former practice). This was a major legal blow to Caribbean pirates. Settlements were finally made in the Treaty of Ratisbon of 1684, signed by the European powers, that put an end to piracy. Most of the pirates after this time were hired out into the Royal services to suppress their former buccaneer allies.


The island of Tortuga stands off the northern coast of Haiti. It is very mountainous and full of rocks; yet, it is hugely dense of lofty trees that grow upon the hardest of those rocks. The rocks are abundant on the northern part of the island. At the beginning of the 17th century the population lived on the southern coast of the island. This part contained a port that allowed several entries to ships.

The southern part of the island was divided into four; the first part was called Low Land or Low Country. This was the main part of the southern coast because it contained the island's port. The town was called Cayona, and there lived the richest planters of the island. The second was called the Middle Plantation. Its territory could only grow Tobacco. The third part was named Ringot. These places were situated towards the Western part of the island. The fourth was called the Mountain; it is there that the first cultivated plantation was established upon the island.

L'ile de la Tortue's best beach is Pointe Saline at the western tip of the small island. This area is very dry and offers little shade. At the Les Palmiste on the eastern coast visit a pre-Columbian rock carving of a goddess at La Grotte au Bassin and two big caves at Trou d'Enfer and La Grotte de la Galerie. Basse-Terre, on the southeastern coast, is home to the remains of Fort de la Roche, once the island's biggest fortress. Along with a 15m high lime kiln, three cannons and the foundations of a wall are all that is left of Fort Ogeron, built in the mid 1600s.