Jamaica is best known for its all-inclusive resorts, snow white beaches and I hear the make some pretty good rum. A Caribbean paradise for sure. But 300 years ago Jamaica was very different. It was a haven for pirates. Jamaica was strategically located between Central America with all it’s Aztec gold and deep water leeward island passages that lead back to Europe. The perfect place to set up shop and pounce on treasure ships.
Those days may be long gone but the stories and history remain. National Geographic has put together a collection of the best road trips in the world and the Pirate Route of Jamaica is sure to bring a treasure of memories as you drive the around the tropical country side.
The drive starts in Port Royal and leads you around the island and hits places like Kingston, Port Maria, Ocho Rios, Round Hill, Negril and back to Kingston. Here is a excerpt from the story by Alan Wellikoff adapted from National Geographic Traveler.
Set between the Blue Mountains and a sunlit turquoise sea, Port Royal appeared blessed, but in what seemed the act of a vengeful God, most of this “wickedest city in Christendom” was destroyed in a 1692 earthquake, leaving two-thirds of the city beneath the sea. “Jamaica was once all about the pirates,” says Rodney Campbell, a denizen of the Port Royal pier. “Look closely and you’ll see reminders of them everywhere.”
Port Royal is the starting point for this journey into history. What remains of Port Royal lies at the tip of a 9-mile (14-kilometer) breakwater road called the Palisadoes, which partially encircles Kingston harbor, with Norman Manley airport halfway down its length. Here you can pick up a rental car to set off on your 380-mile (612-kilometer) trip. Beginning in Port Royal, this excursion first goes east, past a beached freighter, into Kingston. From there, a roughly clockwise circumnavigation of the island will take you past green savannas, sugarcane fields, and mountains, with the azure Caribbean in the distance.
Start in Port Royal
On approach to Port Royal, a faded Red Stripe sign proclaims the old city, “Where the Buccaneers Drank their Beer.” This once swashbuckling enclave is now a quiet fishing town—one in which Red Stripe flows at the tumbledown Fisherman’s Cabin on a harborside pier. Captain Henry Morgan, the city’s foremost citizen, triumphantly returned to Port Royal in 1668 after famously looting the “impregnable” Spanish stronghold of Portobelo, Panama. Port Royal retains such buccaneer sites as St. Peter’s Church. Inside is the silver communion service said to have been donated by Captain Morgan. Beyond St. Peter’s, Fort Charles appears largely as it did at the time of the 1692 earthquake. Its Maritime Museum is rich in pipes, tools, dishes, and other archaeological artifacts rescued from the sunken part of the city. Across a green that was once a British army parade ground, original battlements overlook the site of the sunken pirate vessel Ranger. Down a side street is the Old Gaol, which withstood the earthquake and is now a pharmacy with a sign for Ting soda on its ancient facade.
Heading back to the Jamaica of dancehall music and Bob Marley T-shirts, a drive east along the Palisadoes leads into Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, founded when refugees fled Port Royal after the earthquake. Bob Marley’s former home on Hope Road has been turned into a museum featuring his music. From Kingston, journey west along highway A1 for about 18 miles (30 kilometers) to the former Jamaican capital of Spanish Town, where the town’s main square is suitably Georgian and includes the remains of the 19th-century Old Courthouse on Constitution Street. On the square’s west side, in a former couthouse that was demolished in the 1760s, John “Calico Jack” Rackham, a dandified pirate chief, and his female crew—Anne Bonny and Mary Read—were tried. Following their 1720 capture in Jamaican waters, the three were convicted of piracy—a crime for which Calico Jack was strung up on Rackham’s Cay east of Port Royal while the women were sent to the Spanish Town jail, the ruins of which stand behind the Old Courthouse.
Enjoy this drive any time of year. To contact the Jamaica Tourist Board in the United States, call 800 233 4582.
If youv’e taken a road trip completely around Jamaica I would love to hear your story.
(Map: Pirate Route, Jamaica)