Fort Charles: All You Need to Know About Jamaica’s Best Pirate Attraction

Fort Charles: All You Need to Know About Jamaica’s Best Pirate Attraction

Fort Charles: All You Need to Know About Jamaica’s Best Pirate Attraction

1500 1000 Toni-Ann | The Swiss Freis

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?

They’re Pirates!

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!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link.

Recommended Travel Resource: Lonely Planet Jamaica (Travel Guide)

Fort Charles Jamaica is the best Pirates of the Caribbean attraction

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

Canons at Fort Charles

Some of the remaining cannons at Fort Charles

Girl Sitting on Canon at Fort Charles

This is what cannons are used for today- photo ops!

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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).

Man Sitting at Entrance of Fort Charles

Entry to Fort Charles

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.

Fort Charles Architecture

The Museum buildings inside the Fort

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:

  1. Private Vehicle (the most convenient option)
  2. JUTC Public Bus (the #98 bus is the one you should look for if you’re traversing from Kingston)
  3. 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).

Girl Playing on the Fort Charles Giddy House

The Giddy House is partially sunken because of the destructive earthquake

Girl Sitting at the Giddy House

Contemplating the history of Fort Charles?

Girl at Fort Charles

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. 

Girl walking on Lime Cay Beach

Lime Cay Beach is only a 10 minute boat ride away from Fort Charles

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!

Lime Cay Beach | Kingston, Jamaica

Jakes Resort | Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth

Great Huts Resort | Boston Bay, Portland 



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6 comments
  • Rochelle | Adventuresfromelle April 5, 2018 at 2:57 am

    You’re so right about the obligatory primary/prep school trip haha. I visited twice in prep school and haven’t been to Port Royal since, save for having fish at Gloria’s Seafood Restaurant. I’ve been meaning to change that this year and experience the attraction through adult eyes. I haven’t gotten around to it yet but this is an awesome reminder! 🙂

    • Toni-Ann | The Swiss Freis
      Toni-Ann | The Swiss Freis April 5, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      Trust me you’ll take away much more from your adult visit 🙂 Your vocabulary is much bigger so you’ll understand even more, plus the giddy house is always fun 😀 Glad to have inspired you my fellow adventurous Jamaican! 😀

  • Your photos are beautiful. I love visiting forts. I’ve been to a few, and this one is going to the top of my list! I love learning about the history of a place.

  • Jhunelle J ♦ www.simplylocal.life April 7, 2018 at 3:52 am

    Took this tour almost unexpectedly last year, concise yet substantial! Thought I conquered the Giddy House walk in my first leg, but then I turned around to walk back lol. Great tour, would like a do-over of it as well as the walking siteseeing tour of the historic city.

  • Beautiful photos. And I loved reading the history of the place.

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