Prepare to walk the plank, Captain Jack Sparrow– there’s a real pirate in the Caribbean, and he’s not your Hollywood character. During Spain’s reign over Puerto Rico, pirates, privateers (corsarios in Spanish) and their ships were a common sight, but none gained more notoriety than the legendary Pirata Roberto Cofresí—our own real-life Jack Sparrow!
Born in the coastal town of Cabo Rojo, Roberto Cofresí grew up listening to stories from swashbuckling sailors, and he became interested in sailing at a very young age. As he grew older, so did his desire to live a life at sea- so much so that he decided to buy a small boat, which he named El Mosquito.
In 1818, Puerto Rico was going through tough economic times, so Cofresí decided to take matters into his own hands and become a pirate. He started targeting US ships, specifically those that carried gold, and luckily for him, the Spanish looked the other way, just as long as he didn’t attack the Spanish ships. For 7 years, el Pirata Cofresí successfully hijacked and looted ships from different countries. It is said that he would often share some of the booty with the needy, making him a sort of Pirate Robin Hood.
Soon, Cofresí started attacking Spanish ships along with English and American vessels, which did not sit well with the Spanish Crown. The Spanish government began receiving complaints from the nations whose ships were being attacked, so the authorities had no other choice but to have him captured and brought to justice.
In 1825, aboard the U.S. Grampus, Captain John D. Sloat battled and captured Cofresí and his men. They were imprisoned in the San Felipe del Morro Fort until March 29 of that same year, when he was executed by a firing squad on the citadel’s grounds.
The man, the myth
After his death, a series of myths and folk tales have painted a more ominous picture of the ‘Robin Hood’ of pirates. Some myths go as far as to say that he sold his soul to the devil in order to be loved by women and defeat anyone who would challenge him. Other accounts say he had the power to make his ship disappear out of thin air in the middle of battle. Some even say that they’ve seen his spirit wandering through Cabo Rojo. Another interesting myth states that the curse Cofresí placed on his capturer and his boat was responsible for their disappearance in 1848. But the most popular myth is one regarding his treasures. It is believed he hid what was left of his loot, after sharing with the needy, in a cave in his native town of Cabo Rojo. As of today, nobody has ever found this long lost hidden treasure, but don’t let that stop you from looking!
So now that you have your sea legs, here’s a few places you can bring all yer’ mateys to and get your pirate on!
San Felipe del Morro Fort
Visit the grounds where many pirate attacks occurred, (or “where many pirates were attacked,”) and where Cofresí and his men spent their last days. It’s open everyday of the week from 9:00am to 6:00pm. Tickets are $3 for adults, and kids 15 and under get in free. There is also a Lighthouse Talk where participants learn why lighthouses became one of the major improvements in 19th century navigation. There are two sessions, one at 10:30am and another at 2:30pm.
San Cristóbal Fort
If you’re lucky, you can experience special guided tours like:
Tunnel Tour: This 45-minute tour will take you through the legendary tunnels while you learn about their role as a hidden defense system. Tour starts at 10:30am on Sundays (maximum of 15 participants, so get there early).
Outworks walk: This 45-minute tour takes you through the outer defenses of the San Cristóbal Fort, an area only accessible to authorized personnel. Tour starts at 2:30 on Saturdays (maximum of 30 participants).
Although nothing “pirate related” happened at this landmark rum refinery, pirates were known to enjoy a few swigs of rum. Head on down to the Bacardí Distillery for the motherload and tour its grounds. The distillery is open 7 days a week from 8:30am to 5:30pm and the tour is free. Visit their site for more information.