Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, experiencing it from the lens of a tourist didn’t particularly occur to me. I mean, who gets excited about taking a vacation in their own city? But having taken the time to explore other countries and landmarks, I realized there are gems I’ve overlooked that are buried right in my backyard. So the question became, “Why not have a staycation in my own town?” It’s a win-win: it benefits me as a much more affordable option and it benefits my country’s economy! After all, there doesn’t seem to be much wisdom in supporting the growth of other countries while overlooking my own. So off we go! I did a little soul searching, “What is something unique about Kingston that I’ve haven’t experienced to the fullest?” Bingo! It came! Everyone loves the Pirates of the Caribbean (there’s even a restaurant in Berlin with the name), but where did they really live? In my hometown (or near to it)! Port Royal, Kingston! This destination is like buried treasure, the potency of which hasn’t been maximized. We often hear about Atlantis, but Port Royal is the real-life story of the only city in the Western Hemisphere that has sunken underground! And why go for fiction, when you can explore the real thing! The port which was once the “richest and wickedest city in the world” and the home of the world-famous pirates (called the Buccaneers) remains a place of mystery, history and houses stories of epic proportions. Walk the narrow streets, savour the quaint architecture, explore the ruins, indulge in seafood- see, taste, smell and hear first-hand what the Pirates of the Caribbean did! Here are some of the best ways to experiences this small district that’s overflowing with motion-picture worthy tales!
- Enjoy the Scenery: Spot the Abandoned Ship off the Coast of the Palisadoes– One of the most beautiful parts of Kingston is found along the Palisadoes Strip (on the way to the Norman Manley International Airport), from this point you are introduced to what Kingston is all about: commerce and culture with occasional splashes of relaxation. This contrast is beautifully illustrated on the highway: one side offers a captivating cityscape of downtown Kingston lying beyond the Kingston Harbour (the 7th largest in the world), highlighting the city’s commercial nature. On the opposite side of the highway, hidden behind boulders of rocks, you’ll see glimpses of (and hear) the most beautiful, bold waves rushing in, reminding you that you are indeed on Jamrock, the island full of music, beaches, culture and spirit!
The Palisadoes Strip has recently become a fitness paradise as a jogging trail overlooking the harbour invites even those aversed to exercise to take a stroll. The rugged terrain of the beachside, is an idyllic place for lovers or friends to savour natural beauty, all at no cost! Driving along further, shortly after turning at the roundabout, in the direction of Port Royal, is a hidden spectacle that clues you in to where you are heading: a place of history, intrigue, and adventure…the home of pirates! Don’t miss the abandoned ship that sits along the shore, it takes a lot of trial and error, but it’s like true pirate’s gold that’s worth the search!
- Revel in the Ruins – As you make your journey toward Port Royal, on the left is another bit of history that’s captured in a not so well known fort. If your bucket list includes seeing the ancient ruins of Rome and Greece, here’s a good place to start — your equivalent in Kingston, not quite as old, but every bit quite as charming (bonus: it overlooks the beautiful Caribbean Sea)! A welcomed difference from the typical hustle and bustle of Kingston.
- Visit Fort Charles- if there’s a single reason to go the Port Royal this is it! This was one of the major, and best-preserved forts used by the Buccanneers (the Pirates of the Caribbean). The red brick architecture embedding rugged cannon guns is absolutely gram-worthy! I’ve seen forts in the Bahamas, and believe me, this one is first class!
With an entry of just JA$600/US$15, you will enjoy a detailed guided tour, where you’ll learn about the various pirates, their way of life, why Port Royal was called the “Wickedest & (Richest) City on Earth”, the earthquake that sunk most of the district and much more! Inside the fort is a small museum with remains from the past as well as the famed Giddy House one of the few buildings that have survived Port Royal’s deadly earthquakes! Take the challenge and see if you can walk the line without losing your balance! Also on site is the world’s largest cannon, which was actually never used.
You can opt for Town Tour for JA$1,500/US$20. Fun Fact: Fort Charles is actually shaped like a ship, this was a strategy used to conceal it as a defense base, catching attackers off guard. The pirates would also throw dead bodies overboard ahead of the fort, labeling it as a dangerous pirate ship, scaring away would-be attackers.
- Take a Boat Ride to Lime Cay– There aren’t many swimmable, Instagram-worthy beaches in Kingston, mainly because the city is to Jamaica what New York is to the USA. But Lime Cay gives you a convenient taste of Jamaica’s North Coast without having to travel very far. On this tiny island found off the coast of Port Royal, you’ll experience white sand, refreshing blue waters, and intriguing rock formations. There is no cost to visit the cay itself, but you will have to pay for the 12-15 minute boat ride. I would recommend catching a boat from the Grand Port Royal Marina Hotel, as these are the most comfortable and are perhaps the safest option. If you want to really live like a local, there are cheaper alternatives at a nearby bar, but these are a bit more “shady” and definitely feel less safe. Tip: There aren’t much food vendors on Lime Cay, so be sure to travel with enough food & water (like most Jamaicans, a bucket of KFC solves the problem!)
- Eat “Pirate Food” at Gloria’s– when you’re done with all that swimming and sun-bathing you’ll be sure to work up an appetite! The next stop on this pirate ship is the well-known Gloria’s, for their raved about seafood. Enjoy Jamaica’s famous “fish and festival” (a sweet-savory fried dough), choose from: steamed, escoveitch or fried fish. Definitely go for escoveitch, and add some fried bammys for the best experience! If you are feeling more adventurous, dive right into a plate of curried conch. Gloria’s has also opened up another location in the close-by downtown Kingston (I much prefer this one), which offers a cleaner, more appealing and modern ambiance. Whichever location you choose, be prepared to wait a while for your dish! Meals range from JA$1,000 and up.
- UWI Port Marine Biology Lab– What would the Pirates of the Caribbean keep as pets? This option is perfect for nature and animal lovers! Directed toward group tours, this facility allows you to experience local marine life in an exciting and interactive way. Port Royal possess a unique ecosystem and this lab helps you explore it! Participate in boat tours, explore mangroves, view sea creatures that are seldom spotted in Jamaica (sharks, seahorses and octopus) or visit the touch tank which introduces you to less intimidating creatures such as starfish and urchins. Reservations are required and rates start at JA$600 for adult.
- Go Kart Racing– For the brave of heart and very fitting to the adventurous feel of Port Royal! Nearby the Norman Manley International (a left upon exiting) you can find the Palisadoes Go Kart Track. On Sundays from 1:00pm-5:30pm for about JA$800 per race, you can rent and drive a professional Go Kart, as well as be inspired by watching professionals burn some rubber! Get a group of friends, feed your inner adventure lover and satisfy your need for speed! I’m sure this is how modern-day Pirates of the Caribbean would spend their days off!
There you have it! 7 treasures lying in or around Port Royal- which is the best find in your opinion?