There’s a lot of mystery and fascination surrounding the sleepy fishing village of Port Royal. It’s a small town located at the very tip of Kingston, out in it’s own harbor, far away from the capital city’s flashing lights and busy thoroughfares.
The charismatic town hides a dark and enchanting past. Here, memories of pirates, forts, and cataclysmic natural disasters peek out through swinging saloon doors, idle canons, the tilted Giddy House, and roaring shores of the Caribbean Sea.
You see, there are some parts of Port Royal that are now buried on the seafloor, thanks to a devastating earthquake in 1692. The effects of the earthquake are still evident today and make for a fascinating journey back in time when you walk the cobbled streets of this historic town.
A Storied Past
It’s hard to believe that Port Royal, Jamaica was once the largest city in the Caribbean. It used to be a port city, thriving from trade and commerce from transiting vessels. It was a town bustling with the loud gaudiness of cliched sailors, rife with deeds lacking moral or honor.
Port Royal was a rich city where buccaneers routinely attacked the passing Spanish ships and spent their treasure wildly through the town. The city rose to become one of the wealthiest in the region on the back of pirateering, establishing itself as a merchant hub. The British Royal Navy also had interest in Port Royal and set up wharves and warehouses in the town along with a well-established fort to protect itself against warships.
In 1692, the earthquake and a subsequent tsunami hit, sinking entire portions of the town and killing close to half of the town’s population of approximately 6,500. Fever and disease would claim several thousand additional lives in the months following the tragedy. Efforts to rebuild the thriving town were thwarted by one disaster after the other with fires, hurricanes, and more earthquakes knocking the town finally off its wicked pedestal in the early 1900s.
Port Royal Tour
Today, Port Royal has been revitalized as a growing cruise call and tourist attraction. Relics of it’s villainous past stand firm and tours are offered throughout the town. A walking tour of Port Royal will take you to all the infamous spots of what was once known as the “wickedest city on earth.”
Among the highlights of Port Royal attractions is a visit to Fort Charles. Built in the 17th century, it’s the oldest fort in the town and the only one of six forts that survived the earthquakes. Now, there’s a small museum with artifacts from the period displayed at the fort and informative guides to regale you with tales of the famous Port Royal pirates.
In close proximity to Fort Charles is the Giddy House, a trippy experience for visitors as the former Royal Artillery Store was left heavily tilted in the sand. Challenge your balance and see if you can walk through the house in a straight line!
Among other points of interest is St. Peter’s Anglican Church, which has been standing since the early 1700s and has on display several interesting pieces from the past. You’ll also find the grave of one of Port Royal’s famous pirates with a fascinating story on his tombstone.
The jailhouse of the time is also still standing and is well maintained by the business that now occupies it. Visit it on the way to Gloria's, the famous al fresco seafood restaurant that sees regular patrons from the city making the trek over for the fresh air and catch of the day.
Gloria’s is the most popular of several excellent seafood eateries in the fishing village, some located right on the beach, providing a delightful meal and an enchanting atmosphere to end a charming tour through the playground of the Pirates of the Caribbean.