It was late afternoon when we finally were able to visit Castillo San Cristóbal or Fort San Cristóbal which is part of the San Juan National Historic Site. Some people are unaware that this historic site also encompasses various additional fortifications including Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal itself, most of the city walls, the San Juan Gate and Fort San Juan de la Cruz.
Without looking at a map of Old San Juan, you would not readily see that the fortified city walls not only encapsulate nearly all of Old San Juan extend westward around San Felipe Castillo del Morro but also northeast around Castillo San Cristóbal.
After an unsuccessful attack by the Dutch in 1625, San Juan's defensive weaknesses were exposed and the need for additional safeguards was realized. Choosing a high piece of ground for its location, construction of the fort began in 1634 though was not completed until 1771. The fort's strategic purpose was for the defense from invasion by land or sea. Like El Morro one of the most memorable features of the fort are the Spanish-styled "Garitas" or sentry lookout towers or turrets which are located at prominent corners in the fort walls.
At one time, the walls completely surrounded the city. This changed when the city's expansion was hindered by the walls, and to allow growth a major part of the city wall was destroyed about the turn of the century in 1897. Castillo San Cristóbal now stands where the eastern gate to the city once existed.
We entered the fort from the Muñoz Rivera Avenue side, where there was a very non-discript lobby with a reception desk and a poorly-lit room off to the left side with historical artifact displays, and also a gift shop nearby. From that end we made our way through a tunnel-like corridor and incline which led out to an open area bound on one side with an arched portico colonnade. Many to most areas of the fort are accessed through a series of tunnels leading to self-contained sections, and it seems so much smaller than the 27 acres which it is said to cover. Some areas we never managed to visit which was a shame since they afforded great views and photos. One of the most interesting sites would be the dungeon where prisoner scribblings on the walls have been preserved. The fort was used during WWII as an active military base when some additions were made and was still in use until 1961.
It has been a part of the San Juan National Historic site since 1949, and in 1983 would be listed as a World Heritage Site.
Admission fee to the San Juan National Historic site is US $5, and is open daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day, from 9AM to 6PM. Tours are generally self guided, which is what we did, but Daily Orientation Talks are given every hour lasting about 20 - 30 minutes. However, here is a link to a calendar of events and tours given which you might find of use: http://www.nps.gov/saju/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm
I have to say that the park ranger at the reception desk when we visited was not pleasant and rather seemed to resent being asked for a brochure of the fort. However, if you get the right park ranger, the information they give you is said to be very interesting. We missed seeing the "living quarters," and the Santa Barbara Chapel since we did not have a map in hand at the time. If we are back in San Juan at some point, I would explore it more thorough and would love to see it in morning light.
Of course, one of the other major sites in Old San Juan is also part of the San Juan National Historic site: Castillo San Felipe Del Morro.
Along with El Morro, San Cristóbal Fort ('Castillo de San Cristóbal') was the city's defense.
The largest defenses ever built in the Americas, it rose 150 feet covering 27 acres of land. The size and height along with its design was no match for the enemies of the island.
Considered a strategic masterpiece, it features five independent units, each connected by moat and tunnel and fully self-sufficient should any of the others fall.
It's a World Heritage and National Historic Site.
Castillo San Cristobal, with El Morro, makes up the San Juan National Historic Site. I recommend that you see both forts if you are in Old San Juan, especially since they are just a lovely 15-minute ocean-side walk apart from each other, but I think it may be a good idea to start at this one. At least when we were there, it was less-crowded than El Morro and we were able to take our time exploring the fort. This is also where they show the short video, in both English and Spanish. I really liked the video, since it hearkened back to the time of pirates and was a nice air-conditioned break from being in the sun. San Cristobal is quite a bit larger than El Morro, so plan your time accordingly. There are great views of the ocean from both, but Castillo San Cristobal also has some really great views of the San Juan too. This is definitely an interesting, inexpensive, and fun thing to do while in Puerto Rico. Don't miss the San Juan National Historic Site!
We had visited El Morro, the other fort in old San Juan, on our last visit so this time we headed to San Cristobal which was free for the day in honor of Martin Luther King Day. We just missed a ranger guided tour of the tunnels but caught the tail end of it, try to plan your visit for one of these because he seemed like a really good guide.
If you don't hit one of the guided tours, you are free to wander around the fort where you will find plenty of signs telling you what the various areas of the fort were used for and why San Juan even needed a fort at all.
There is another fort included in the ticket we bought from El Morro (adult $3 for El Morro plus $2 for Cristobal = total of $5)--- the other famous fort is called the San Cristobal and is a one-mile walk from El Morro --- but due to our hyperactivity combined with the humidity, we decided to just ride the free trolley.
San Cristobal is located at the intersection of Munoz Rivera and Norzagaray Streets, across from the Plaza Colon…But unfortunately, we missed it because the trolley driver does not remind people that “This is the fort stop” – no voice…and so we ended up coming back to the fort later after lunch in the old city.
This fort of San Cristobal has a different feel from El Morro – very much different because there is a curvy paved incline that you go up to – much like a castle. And it is part of the World Heritage UNESCO Site List (1983, as San Juan National Historic Site)
And then there is a nice open square in the middle of the fort with pictures of how guards used to parade or stand in platoons there. There is also a bigger gift shop here and then DUNGEONS! A real tunnel/cave which I had fun scaring the twins with, hehehe…But my kids are not easy to scare and they just though I was funny, see my video…
This was built on San Cristobal Hill and is the largest Spanish fortification in the New World, built starting in 1539.
UPDATE! UPDATE! UPDATE!
I made a video of our short trip to Puerto Rico!
Hope you like this:
JUMPING FAMILY IN SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO!
I wanted to see both El Moro (because it is a lighthouse) and Fort San Cristóbal which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a U.S. National Park Service site. But since the fort is open only until 1700 in the winter, I was pretty sure we couldn't do both forts and the rain forest if the ship didn't dock until noon. Thanks to Hurricane Wilma, we came in early and were able to get to the El Yunque and back before the fort closed.
Fort Cristobal was built (began in 1634 and completed in 1771) to protect the city from the land side. Built on San Cristobal Hill (hence the name), the fort is the considered one of the largest Spanish fortifications in the New World. We went up in an elevator and the walked up a long tunnel. We saw the guns, and the cisterns in the central courtyard and Marian showed us the scale model of the fort, and the reconstructed area where the soldiers lived.
We didn't go down into the dungeons, and I didn't climb up on top of the fort walls and neither did Bob. We did see the chapel to Santa Barbara where the soldiers prayed before they went into battle. It started to rain really hard. Up to now, we had dodged the rain - it rained early before we got off the ship, and it didn't rain until after we left the rain forest, but there was a brief hard shower now.
This huge fortress, begun in 1634 and reengineered in the 1770s, is one of the largest ever built in the Americas by Spain. Its walls rise more than 150 feet above the sea--a marvel of military engineering. San Cristóbal protected San Juan against attackers coming by land as a partner to El Morro, to which it is linked by a half-mile (1km) of monumental walls and bastions filled with cannon-firing positions. A complex system of tunnels and dry moats connects the center of San Cristóbal to its "outworks," defensive elements arranged layer after layer over a 27-acre site. You'll get the idea if you look at the scale model on display. Like El Morro, the fort is administered and maintained by the National Park Service. Be sure to see the Garita del Diablo (the Devil's Sentry Box), one of the oldest parts of San Cristóbal's defenses, and famous in Puerto Rican legend. The devil himself, it is said, would snatch away sentinels at this lonely post at the edge of the sea. In 1898 the first shots of the Spanish-American War in Puerto Rico were fired by cannons on top of San Cristóbal during an artillery duel with a U.S. Navy fleet. Sometimes park rangers lead hour-long tours for free, and you can also visit on your own.
Fort San Cristobal is about 100 years younger than its "big brother", El Morro. Its construction began in 1634 and when it was completed about 150 years later, it became the largest fortification built by Spanish settlers in the Americas. Its design is somewhat similar to that of El Morro, with the addition of an extensive network of tunnels that made it easier for soldiers to get around the fort. Towards the end of the 19th century, a rather large portion of the fort was destroyed to allow the city of San Juan to expand, but all of the main attractions remain (the main plaza, or "Plaza de Armas", the sentry boxes, the chapel, the tunnels and the soldiers' quarters, just to name a few) and can still be visited.
Like El Morro, El Castillo de San Cristobal is part of the San Juan National Historic Site. It is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, and tickets cost $3 (it costs $5 to visit both forts and the ticket is valid for 7 days). Orientation talks are offered every hour on the hour, as well as some special guided tours (check the website for schedule). If you're wondering if it's worth visiting both forts, my answer would be a resounding yes! Both are very interesting to visit and I thought the views offered at Fort San Cristobal were even nicer than the ones at El Morro since Old San Juan has grown all around it. It's also where you'll find the "garita del diablo", a sentry box surrounded by many legends since it is believed that some soldiers mysteriously disappeared as they were watching the sea...
If you are interested in history, enjoy a walk on the ramparts where soldiers a half a millenium ago held their watch. Here you will have a panoramic view of the coast from Old San Juan to Condado and beyond. This is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World.
Inside the old buildings there is a good portrayal of the history about the events that occured here with the first shots of the Spanish American War.
Construction on San Cristobal started in 1634 and was completed in 1790. The Fort was constructed as a guardian of approaches by land.
If you have a Seniors Golden Pass for U.S. National Parks, you can use it here!
We really enjoyed strolling through the old fort. The views from the inside looking out over the water is amazing. I got some really beautiful pictures from here.
San Cristóbal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site under the U.S. National Park Service. The fort is open to the public daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from June to November and 9:00 am to 6:00 pm December to May.
Although I'm glad I visited this fort, I found El Morro much more picturesque. There are many rooms to visit deep within the fort and displays regarding the history and how the soldiers lived within the fort. We spent about 45 minutes here. Enough time to see everything within the fort.
Not nearly as popular with tourists as Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristobal is worth a visit in its own right. Built on San Cristobal Hill, the fort is the largest Spanish fortification in the New World. San Cristobal has the same basic structure as El Morro, including cannon openings and historical displays but it also has some unique tunnel walks, scores of iguanas, and more panoramic city views. 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 San Cristobal and del Morro).