The one thing you MUST see if you find yourself in San Juan is Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, which is a part of the San Juan National Historic Site. This massive fort, along with San Cristobol and the walls of the old city of San Juan comprise the largest fortification ever built by the Spanish in the new world. It is also one of the oldest European structures in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to the 1500s, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The place is as beautiful as it is fascinating.
If possible, give yourself a couple of hours to explore here, and a real history buff could easily spend much more time and not take it all in.
El Morro fort is a six-level fort located 140 feet above the San Juan Bay. It took about 200 years to complete the entire complex. 'Morro'. means 'promontory', to keep seaborne enemies out of San Juan.
You can walk throughout the tunnels, barracks and dungeons of the fort. From the top level there is a great view of the ocean. You may explore the fort on your own or take a guided tour.
El morro is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from June to November and 9:00 am to 6:00 pm December.
Starting with the construction of a single tower in 1539, Castillo San Felipe del Morro eventually became a massive fortress covering more than 70 acres and taking more than 250 years to build and fortify. Most of the walls standing today were added in a period of tremendous construction between the 1760s and 1780s. Referred to by locals simply as "El Morro" ("promontory" in English), the fort was designed to guard the entrance to San Juan bay and defend the city from seaborne invaders. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fort attracts more than two million visitors a year to its windswept ramparts and passageways, making it one of Puerto Rico's most popular tourist attractions. Opening hours vary depending on the season with entrance to the fort costing $3 per adult (for $5 you can purchase a ticket allowing entry into del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal).
Even if you're not too interested in old forts and think that when you've seen one, you've seen them all, this one is exceptional. It was built in stages, from 1539 until 1786, and even as late as WW II!. It is most impressive from the ocean looking towards land because there are 6 levels, whereas it appears to have only one storey when you approach it from land. There are lots of chambers and lookouts to explore. And don't leave without going down the circular stairway (actually the stairs are in a series of triangles- very interesting!)
In 1539, King Carlos V of Spain ordered the construction of this fort to guard the sea approach to San Juan. Since then, the basic plan of the old fort hasn't changed. Sir Francis Drake attacked unsuccessfully in 1595. Later, the Duke of Cumberland attacked and took the fort, only to see his army decimated by dysentery. A Dutch attack was also repelled in 1625, but the Dutch did manage to sack the city.
The Spanish-American War of 1898 resulted in an American bombardment, followed by the loss of Puerto Rico and all other Spanish possessions in the Caribbean. The US Navy erected the lighthouse in 1908. During World War II, the fort was an observation post, but saw no action.
The National Park Service acquired this property in 1949, and restored most of its original appearance. It's been designated a UN World Heritage Site.
The fort has a nice museum, a small theater, a vintage Spanish cannon, and its original "garitas". These are fortified sentry posts, which soldiers manned around the clock. They have come to be symbols of Old San Juan.
Visiting El Morro is fantastic way to transport yourself into another time and place. Just by walking around the fort can give one an idea of how it would of been to be a soldier stationed at El Morro. From the winding corridors and the arched door ways, to the actual cannons still point out to sea, it doesn't take much imagination to put yourself in their place. And when your looking out to the ocean from the high walls of the fort there is no evidence of present day vs the 1600's. The ocean never changes and the walls have held their own over the years! Also plan on taking a walk between the two forts down the coastal road that overlooks the ocean on one side and has bright, colorful houses on the other!
El Morro Fortress has been guarding the San Juan harbour for centuries. This is a really neat experience if you like history. If you're on a cruise and really, really want to see El Morro, make sure you book one that will be in port early. Most cruises that visit San Juan on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary visit from 4pm or 5pm to 10 or 11. That won't work if you want to go over to El Morro. It closes to visitors at 5pm.
Built between 1540 and 1589. San Felipe del Morro was named in honor of King Phillip II. Most of the walls in the fort today were added later. The fort is a maze of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, outposts and ramps. El Morro is studded with small, circular sentry boxes called "garitas" that have become a national symbol. The views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular. The area was designated a National Historic Site in 1949 and it's the largest fortification in the Caribbean.
Built in 1539, this fort was in use as late as the Spanish American War. Evidence from this war can still be seen in the form of shell fragments still visible in the walls. The garitas(sentry boxes) is what give this fort it's character. The fort is surrounded by water on two sides of it's triangular shape providing great views from the sea. The views of the Santa Maria Cemetary are spectacular. If you only had time to visit one spot in San Juan, this would be it in my opinion.
Taking a stroll through El Morro is like being transported to a different time and place. From the old world architecture to the cannons still pointed out to sea, El Morro has a unique flavor and personality of its own. Looking out into the sea from one of the watchtowers is a scene that has changed in hundreds of years, one can almost imagine how boring it must have been for the watch guard, and also imagine how frightening it would have been to see battleships appear from the horizon. It takes about a hour to explore the fort and the cost of admission is well worth the views and experience!
Be sure to take the time to enjoy the serene views of the El Morro memorial. From its stunning location by the ocean to it unique setup and its beautiful headstones visiting this location is a must do when visiting the fort. One could spend hours on end wandering through the memorial site but even spending one hour would suffice. Enjoy!
El Morro is Puerto Rico's best known fortress. Spanish troops fortified this 'morro'. which means 'promontory', to keep seaborne enemies out of San Juan. Today this dramatic castle welcomes multitudes of arriving cruise ships and aircraft to the bussiest port in the Caribbean. Over two million visitors a year explore theme windswept ramparts and pageways, where the history of 400 years of Spain in Puerto Rico comes alive.
December to May 9:00am to 6:00pm
June to November 9:00am to 5:00pm
Adult Per Fort $3.00 - Day Both Forts $5.00 - 7 Days
Children 12 and under Free!
Senior Citizen (62 +) / per Fort $2.00 - Day
Young Adults (13 - 17) Per Fort $1.00 - Day
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El Morro, the word itself sounds powerful
and this six-level fortress certainly is.
Begun in 1540 and completed in 1589.
San Felipe del Morro was named in honor
of King Phillip II.
Most of the walls in the fort today were
added later, in a period of tremendous
construction from the 1760's-1780's.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Rising 140 feet above the sea, its 18-foot-thick wall proved a
formidable defense. It fell only once, in 1598, to a land assault
by the Earl of Cumberland's forces. The fort is a maze of tunnels,
dungeons, barracks, outposts and ramps. El Morro is studded
with small, circular sentry boxes called "garitas" that have become
a national symbol.
The views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular. The
area was designated a National Historic Site in February, 1949
with 74 total acres. It has the distinction of being the largest
fortification in the Caribbean.
In 1992, the fortress was restored to its historical form in honor
of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Puerto Rico by
El Morro Fortress is a National Historic Site administered by the
National Park Service.
The fort is open to the public daily from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.
El Morro is the largest surviving fort in San Juan. It is a magnificent structure, that has survived invasions, earthquakes and centuries remarkabley well.