One of the most iconic harbours in the Caribbean â€“ Port Royal on the south coast of Jamaica near Kingston â€“ is a historic site that includes a sunken city dating back to 1692.
In 2018, Port Royal is to be made accessible to cruise ships for the first time with the installation of floating pier system called SeaWalk. This will allow cruise vessels to berth in the 300-year-old harbour without impacting its fragile environment, and offer visitors to chance explore Port Royal and its environs. The first ships are expected to call in early 2019.
Under the direction of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, a sunken pirate ship has been identified and thousands of artefacts recovered, with plans for a new museum to showcase them. Unesco designation is pending for the Underwater City of Port Royal. Outside of Port Royal itself, there is plenty of scope for cruise passengers, with Kingston just the other side of the huge natural harbour. A short ride by bus or water taxi will take them to the Jamaican capital with its many visitor attractions including the National Gallery of Jamaica, the Bob Marley Museum and tours of the Blue Mountain Coffee plantation.
And, thanks to Jamaicaâ€™s newly completed north-south highway, passengers arriving at Port Royal will be able to reach north coast attractions like Dunnâ€™s River Falls in just an hour and a half â€“ less time than it takes to drive between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.
Rich in pirate lore, Port Royal was once called â€˜the wickedest city on earthâ€™. An earthquake in 1692 swallowed two-thirds of the town, forming an underwater city that is now being actively investigated and preserved by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.
The spit of sand that later became Port Royal was first used by the Taino people as a fishing camp. When the British invaded Jamaica in 1655, they realised its strategic importance and began to put in fortifications. During the 17th century it was the de facto capital of Jamaica as well as a convenient spot for buccaneers and pirates to discharge looted treasure.
By 1692 Port Royal was a key trading port, but in the summer of that year it was destroyed by an earthquake. The houses and fortifications of Port Royal were rebuilt, before a fire destroyed the whole town in 1703. Hurricanes in 1712, 1722 and 1726 followed, causing major devastation. In the course of the same century, Port Royal acquired new status as a naval base, however after the Napoleonic wars, it declined in importance, and suffered an earthquake in 1907 and Hurricane Charlie in 1951.
Today, with its sunken city and Naval remnants, it is considered one of the most important historical sites in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, it is the only sunken city in the entire Western Hemisphere, making it a truly unique and iconic Caribbean harbour.