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Port Royal, a fishing port across the bay from Kingston, hasn’t always had the sleepy reputation it does now. Once a former pirate haven, every fourth building was either a bar or a brothel and it served as inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Port Royal is now one of the most-historically important sites in Jamaica and should be on every visitor’s itinerary.
Established by the Spanish in 1518, Port Royal was captured by the English in 1655 and developed into one the most important cities in the colonies. Heavily fortified to protect against anticipated Spanish, and later French attack, Port Royal served as an important military and trading post. Pirates from across the world relocated there to enrich themselves on Spanish plunder.
The 1692 earthquake brought the golden age to an end, plunging much of the landmass into the sea and taking 2000 lives. The British Royal Navy eventually re-established Port Royal, and Admiral Lord Nelson was stationed there. Further earthquakes and hurricanes have done their damage to the city, which will always be vulnerable thanks to being built on a sand spit. Today, Port Royal is a quiet fishing town and site of historic interest.
Port Royal doesn’t receive as much attention from visitors to Jamaica as it should. The best place to start is Fort Charles. Built by the British in 1655, this is one of the few structures to survive the 1692 Earthquake. Fort Charles now functions as a heritage site with employees offering guided tours and a museum which tells the story of Port Royal.
The Grand Port Royal Hotel is a delightful, colonial-styled building. Unassuming from the roadside, it opens up at the waterfront’s rear and has great views across the bay. The venue was featured in the James Bond film, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery. It’s worth stopping by for a drink or something to eat at the waterside.
In the main square, visit St Peter’s church. Built in 1725, this church has original-tiled floors and an ornate organ loft. Marvel at the history of Port Royal as told through the church—legend has it that former pirate and governor Henry Morgan gave the church the communion silver as a gift.
Take a boat ride to Lime Cay. The small sand bar, visible from the quarterdeck of Fort Charles, sits just offshore and is a popular weekend spot with Kingstonians. A boat taxi departs from the marina to the side of The Grand Port Royal Hotel. Take everything you need as there is nothing other than sand and some trees for shade. The water is shallow and good for swimming.