PORT ROYAL captures the early colonial spirit better than any other place in Jamaica. Originally a tiny island, this little fishing village is now joined to the mainland by the Palisadoes, a series of small cays that silted together over hundreds of years and, with a bit of human assistance, now form a narrow, ten-mile long roadway and a natural breakwater for Kingston's harbour, and which affords fantastic views of the city.
Port Royal has a long naval history and still serves as home for the country's navy and coastguard. Most visitors come for a wander around its colonial sights, its tranquil atmosphere and some of the tastiest fresh fish served up anywhere in Jamaica.
Port Royal is easily navigable on foot. Five minutes' walk from the ferry terminal, behind the old garrison wall, are the decaying red bricks of the Old Naval Hospital, the oldest prefabricated structure in the New World. The ramshackle structure now holds the offices of the National Heritage Trust.
Ten minutes' walk south and on the main Church Street, St Peter's Church (irregular opening hours) was built in 1726 and, apart from the roof, has survived largely intact. It's unremarkable apart from an intricately carved mahogany and cedar organ. More interesting are the ancient tombs in the small and rambling graveyard. A left turn out of the church leads down the main road to fascinating Fort Charles (daily 9am–5pm; J$200), the first of the five forts to be built here, though none saw any action. In the courtyard, a museum provides a lucid history of Port Royal and its maritime history and displays items dredged up from the underwater city.
The raised platform on the other side of the small parade ground is known as Nelson's Quarterdeck; the great commander (still under 21 when he was stationed here) used to pace up and down here spoiling for a fight with the French.
There are a couple of beaches around Port Royal, but both sea and sand are pretty dirty; if you want to swim, you're better off taking a boat out to Lime Cay, fifteen minutes by boat from Port Royal. The tiny undeveloped island with fine white sand, clear and clean turquoise waters and easily accessible snorkelling is perfect for a day on the beach; boats run regularly from Port Royal for around J$400 per person return at the weekends (J$500 at during the week).