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Buried Treasure: A Family’s Caribbean Pirate Tale


This grandmom takes having fun with the grandkids to a whole new level on a Caribbean island hunting for buried treasure…what fun!

Haven’t you heard the story before? In a tropical Caribbean paradise, treasure from a sinking pirate ship laden with plundered gold, silver, and precious jewels, lies buried for centuries just waiting to be discovered. And then a sudden, unexpected find—an old bottle containing a faded and tattered map—transforms a quiet idyllic sunset on a secluded beach into a madcap mystery of unimaginable excitement and high adventure.

Planning a family vacation 

Pirate coves

We vacationed in the Virgin Islands with our children and grandchildren, ages 5 and 7. Like many families, we live a good distance apart. So, when we vacation together, it’s all about creating lasting memories.

We planned day sails, snorkeling adventures along the sugar-white beaches and wildlife missions in search of mongoose, iguanas, unusual fish, and other exotic creatures. But, we also planned the highlight of our vacation: our very own pirate adventure!

No tale of the Caribbean is complete without reference to those swarthy, nefarious, yet appealing characters that once plied these aquamarine waters. Pirates and the Caribbean go hand in hand, and kids have a natural fascination with these buccaneers. Stories of pirates on the high seas, looted treasures, superstitions, rivalries, and treacheries inflame their imaginations. What we needed was a honest-to-goodness pirate mystery, complete with a buried treasure.

Walking the beach

A little on pirate history 

The late 17th and early 18th centuries were considered the “golden age of pirates.” Pirates kept their activities as secret as possible, so there is little “official record” of their pillaging and plundering, but treasure was routinely buried in hidden coves on these islands by pirates who hid their booty for safekeeping.  Some of the treasure was never recovered, and, according to local legend, great fortunes in gold remain buried along these shores. Fact and legend can become blurry, but one fact cannot be disputed- there were “Pirates of the Caribbean” who left their mark.

Plotting the adventure 

Finding the treasure


All great adventures require creative, skillful planning and we needed to do it right if we were going to make a treasure hunt believable. Finding and assembling the booty proved easiest. Eclectic stores and antique shops provided dated jewelry, some perfectly tarnished by time.  Broaches, rings, and necklaces were collected along with crosses and saintly relics. “Precious” stones, fool’s gold, and replica Spanish pieces of eight added finishing touches. A pirate flag and badly weathered note, placed in a small, sturdy old jewelry chest, a.k.a. the “treasure chest,” made for one very authentic looking piece of pirate booty.

We found the treasure!

Next we added an intriguing story about a pirate burying a treasure, unbeknownst to his fellow buccaneers. The note, written in flowing script with archaic wording on a weathered, burnt-edged scroll added another touch of realism. Rolled in an antique, weather-beaten bottle, the note revealed the location of a highly detailed treasure map!

Making the treasure map itself was a little more challenging. We couldn’t create it until we were actually on location at the selected beach, and could see the lay of the land. We added imaginative names to the map, and measurements, described in paces. Once complete, the map was carefully placed in a second bottle and hidden in its designated location adjacent to the beach.

X marks the spot 

Buried treasureOn our designated “Treasure Hunt” day, a half-buried bottle containing the first note was strategically planted in the sand amid a rocky, surf-washed shoreline. The grandkids were so engaged in searching for shells, we had to point out the bottle. Their eyes widened with surprise as we pulled out the faded, weathered note revealing the secret location of the treasure map.  Giddy with excitement, they danced with delight at the prospect of finding buried treasure. It wasn’t easy to discover the map’s hiding place, but, with some assistance, find it they did—and the search was on!

With the entire family engaged in more detective work, we collectively “determined” the possible location of the beach with the buried treasure. Our grandchildren excitedly located the landmarks identified on the map. After a few erroneous conclusions, they began digging furiously in the sand. Heavy plastic shovels soon clanked against a wooden object. Frantic hands cleared loose sand away, revealing the battered, wooden top of the treasure chest. The delight on their astonished faces as they opened the chest and peered at its gleaming contents was unforgettable. They had struck gold!  The note inside warning of a pirate’s curse to “said finders of the treasure” did not deter them. They carted their treasure away for closer inspection and safekeeping.

The afterglow was grand 

For the remainder of our vacation, the grandkids reveled in their newly discovered “fortune.” Of particular interest was that the note inside hinted that other pirate booty was yet to be discovered.  Today, the pirate treasure remains securely hidden in the very back of a closet. Only a few of their closest friends and relatives (after taking a vow of silence) are privy to their secret.

Our grandson, however, worriedly revealed to us on a recent trip to Walt Disney World that his sister “accidentally” told Captain Jack Sparrow about their pirate treasure. He instinctively knew this was a bad idea! Luckily Captain Jack assured them their secret was forever safe with him. Our great family Pirate Adventure on our Caribbean getaway made treasured memories that will last a lifetime, and stories that will hopefully be passed on to future generations. After all, not all treasure is silver and gold.


Noreen Kompanik is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in San Diego. Traveling with her husband, children and grandchildren is her absolute favorite pastime.

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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