Centuries after legends of pirate lore, the culture here is dominated by outdoor life
Some places are simply idyllic in that blissfully uneventful way that implies nothing could ever happen there beyond day after glorious day of paradise play time. Such appearances, as we know, can be deceiving, and perhaps nowhere more so than Port Royal, Jamaica. Step ashore today and you’ll find a quaint fishing village with warm, friendly locals and artisans selling wares, the town surrounded by impossibly vibrant waters that are home to an even more colorful universe. But this town has tales upon tales to tell, many of them earning it the former moniker of the “wickedest” city in the New World.
Long before your arrival, the British held this port as a pivotal naval post in the 17th century; it was one of the most important British cities in the world. But military might was not Port Royal’s claim to fame. It was far better known as an epicenter of wanton debauchery, a place where the most ruthless pirates and unabashed ladies of the night were right at home and booze flowed more freely than water. So engrained was this seedy culture into the city that Captain Henry Morgan – yes, arguably the most infamous pirate in the region and later of rum label fame – was named Lieutenant Governor. All of this was put on hold when a 1692 earthquake swallowed most of the town into the sea, only adding to the ominous lore of the place.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the buccaneers have gone and Port Royal has reinvented itself as quiet Caribbean fishing town and breathtaking beauty to draw travelers to Jamaica’s spectacular shores. In Port Royal, there are explorations of the colorful past both on land and under water. Some historical structures still stand testament to the events here, while shallow reefs and shipwrecks provide fascinating scuba sites. As most of the original city now lies at the bottom of the sea, Port Royal captivates archaeologists and curious travelers alike.
Insider tip: Don’t miss the local flavors here. Seafood specialties with a kick and famous jerk chicken are always on the menus, while dark, molasses-like rum fills cocktail glasses for beach sunsets.
Nearby Ocho Rios, or “Ochi” as it’s affectionately known, may not boast the dramatic reputation of Port Royal, but what it lacks in notoriety it makes up for stunning landscapes. Literally named “eight rivers,” the town is highlighted by spectacular waterfalls and lush jungles to tempt tropical nature lovers. The cascading Dunn’s River Falls can be observed from hanging bridges or even ziplines through the treetops, while the turquoise Island Gully Falls offers inviting pools for jumping in and the Turtle River Falls & Gardens are home to 14 waterfalls, hundreds of exotic birds and a Japanese koi pond.
For the iconic beach lifestyle of Jamaica, Ochi is the place. For laidback, worry-free days in the silky sand, head to Turtle Beach, where the sandbar reaches far into the crystalline water, allowing you to walk well past the shoreline before the surf reaches past your knees. The water here is ideal for snorkeling, but so clear that beachgoers can even spot schools of fish from the shore. For a more local feel, James Bond Beach about 20 minutes outside of town is the place. One of the most famous locals, Ian Flemming, was said to have written many of his “007” novels during his time here. An on-site bar and restaurant and relaxed vibe make this beach a perfect hideaway.
The two towns complement each other with varied histories and a shared passion for chilling out in the warm sunshine. Crystal’s voyages to Jamaica highlight the character of each while sailing the Caribbean in 2022 and 2023.
Crystal invites travelers to plan a Caribbean voyage with added flexibility as we look ahead to sailing together again.