If you’ve never heard of Fort Charles in Jamaica, I’ll ask you a few questions.
Do the names Captain Henry Morgen or Calico Jack ring a bell?
What do these two men have in common?
Yes, my friend! These infamous pirates roamed the Caribbean seas, pillaging and plundering those unfortunate ships who came within their wrath. Where would they sail to after a hard day’s work of plunder? To the shores of Jamaica’s infamous pirate city, Port Royal.
Yes, Jamaica has had quite an intriguing past, much filled with history exciting enough to be glorified in the likes of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.
However, one of the most notable Port Royal attractions is one of the most significant forts in Jamaica, Fort Charles.
As a kid growing up in Jamaica a visit to Fort Charles was a mandatory school field trip but all for good reason. The history of Fort Charles is nothing short of amazing. It’ll certainly have you imagining days of Jamaica’s pirates!
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Recommended Travel Resource: Lonely Planet Jamaica (Travel Guide)
What’s the History of Fort Charles?
Now if you don’t know much about Jamaica’s history you’d be amazed to discover that the country wasn’t always a British colony. In fact, the island was first colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century. (Yes! I was this close to speaking Spanish ya’ll! 😛)
After engaging in a bloody battle with the Spanish, the British finally gained control of Jamaica in 1655. Their new settlement in the town of Port Royal grew in significance, eventually leading it to be the largest and richest harbour in the western hemisphere.
To protect their new territory who else would have been a better choice than pirates themselves?
Yes, pirates (privateers) were hired by the British to protect the wealth of the harbour and most naturally Fort Charles (first known as Fort Cromwell) played a significant role in the area’s defence.
Fort Charles, at the time, consisted of 36 guns but grew in numbers significantly eventually owning 104 guns and a 500-man stronghold. Unfortunately, after the destruction of the town by a devastating earthquake in 1692, the fort lost its significance. The British subsequently relocated to the now famous capital city of Kingston (my home city!).
Fun Fact: The fort was built in the shape of a ship
What the Fort Charles Experience is Like Today
Today the fort maintains much of its old appearance after surviving multiple earthquakes and hurricanes. Although it’s not being used for its built intention (thank heavens there aren’t any more pirates in Jamaica!) it’s still used as a heritage tour site by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT).
The tour (which lasts about 30 minutes) is led by a local from the town (Port Royal) so you’ll learn a lot of interesting information right from someone who has lived their entire lives with the history. The site even includes a small museum that displays some of the ancient relics and maps retrieved from underwater after the 17th century earthquake.
What Should You Know Before Your Visit?
How to Get to Fort Charles
To get to this historical gem you’ll have the choice of 3 modes of transportation in Jamaica:
- Private Vehicle (the most convenient option)
- JUTC Public Bus (the #98 bus is the one you should look for if you’re traversing from Kingston)
- Private Taxis
The most significant landmark to look out for en route to Fort Charles is Kingston’s main airport, The Norman Manley International Airport. From there you’ll have roughly a 15-minute drive until you arrive.
Fort Charles Opening Hours & Cost
The tours are available every day from 9-5 a.m. (except Good Friday and Christmas Day). The tours costs $15 USD per adult and $8 USD per child.
Fort Charles Contact Information
To get in touch with the management at the fort you can reach them by telephone, (876) 967-8438 or visit the Jamaica National Heritage Trust website.
Tips from a Local
Protect yourself from the sun!
The tour leads you through the entire property, which is mostly outdoor, so the sun can get a bit overbearing. I’d suggest carrying sunblock and a hat to protect yourself from the damaging rays (nobody likes being sunburned!).
Not an English Speaker? Carry a Dictionary
If you’re an English speaker then the tour will be perfect for you. However, if you’re not great at English I suggest carrying a dictionary (physical or on your mobile). Nonetheless, it is still great to experience the old fort as the relics and architecture are still fascinating to see. My own father in law (who speaks only Swiss German) still came away from the experience happy and satisfied.
Capture the Moment
Although the tour lasts 30 minutes you can stick around a bit longer to explore the property. Take extra time to snap some photos and read a bit more in the museum. My favourite spot for fun photos is the Giddy house (a building left lopsided because of the earthquake).
Bring the Kids!
Don’t worry, the tour is also great for kids as they can learn some more about exciting pirate history. What better way to have them relate to some of their favourite Disney movies? The kids will certainly appreciate feeling as if they’re a part of the Pirates of the Caribbean!
Explore the Town of Port Royal
The JNHT offers guided town tours if you’re even more interested in the history of this old pirate town. You can also enjoy a delicious meal (seafood is the main menu in this fishing town of course!) from one of the local restaurants.Gloria’s is a seafood restaurant in Port Royal which is a major hit for locals so of course my tip would be to have a delicious seafood meal here.
Local’s Tip: Enjoy a beach day at the nearby Lime Cay Beach after visiting Fort Charles. It’s the perfect way to cool down and relax after soaking in some Jamaican history.
A visit to Fort Charles in Jamaica will leave you impressed with its rich cultural history. I guarantee you that you’ll be left imagining a world of buccaneers and wealthy decadence. So, why not open your minds and imagination to a visit? It’s a must-see on your list of things to do in Kingston Jamaica!
Traveling to Jamaica? Read these articles from our A Local’s Guide to Jamaica Series!