El morro fort old san juan: San Juan National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)

A Visit to Old San Juan and El Morro from Rincón, Puerto Rico

One of the iconic garitas, or sentry boxes, of El Morro.

Mention Puerto Rico to someone who’s familiar with the island and they will probably ask if you’ve been to Old San Juan.

The city of Old San Juan is part of the San Juan National Historic site, flanked by two fortresses, El Morro to the west and San Cristóbal to the east, and is part of over 400 parks of the National Park Service. The historic site also includes the San Juan Gate, most of the city walls, and Fort San Juan de la Cruz – just across the entrance to the bay.

Spain first discovered the island in 1493 when Christopher Columbus landed and originally named it San Juan Bautista. But once the Spanish found gold in the river, it was changed to Puerto Rico which means “Rich Port.” For over 250 years Spain would build and continue to fortify their interest in Puerto Rico – which they saw as their gateway to the new world, and a path to the new riches in Mexico, and Central and South America.

Old San Juan is also known for striking and colorful architecture, lively music, dining, shopping, local artisans, beautiful parks, museums and impressive monuments, a major cruise ship destination, and spectacular views.

The best way to see Old San Juan is on foot, and you should allow for at least a full day, but you might even consider booking overnight lodging and break it up into two days to it get the most out of your visit. There’s just so much to see and do there.

On this particular day, I was fortunate to book a day trip through my friends over at Be Rincón, leaving early in the morning for the two and a half hour drive to San Juan. So if you’re staying in Rincón, and planning a trip to other destinations on the east side of the island, like the El Yunque rainforest or Fajardo, then you could plan a weekend getaway and double up on the sites. But I didn’t mind the drive, plus our driver was pleasant and very knowledgeable about our destination and provided the option to either do a walking tour with him or go out on my own. I opted to go it alone only because I like to take my time to explore photo opportunities without feeling rushed or like I’m holding others back. So it worked out well for everyone.

I should mention that if you have any concerns about personal safety in Old San Juan, you should know that it’s safe for tourists as long as you stay within the park and old city area and use common sense. I found the people to be extremely friendly and helpful when I had questions, and the overall atmosphere was pleasant and family-friendly. If you’re looking to explore the nightlife in Old San Juan, it might be different. So just do your homework before you go and use common sense.

Remember that you will be walking in a tropical climate, and the trek to El Morro is uphill and usually in the hot sun, so make sure you have comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and plenty of water – which is available from street vendors and in the park gift shops.

The Paseo de la Princesa, a European-style promenade built in 1853, starts from the Rotonda del Municipio de San Juan just across from where the cruise ships dock and runs down to the Raíces Fountain. Along the way you’ll pass the booths of local artisans, the Puerto Rico Tourism visitor center, restaurants, cafés and more.

The Raíces (Roots) Fountain was commissioned to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the discovery of America and also to celebrate Puerto Rican culture.

The Raíces (Roots) Fountain is a group of sculptures meant to symbolize the roots that gave birth to Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage.

Visitors enjoy a stroll along the old city walls where you can find a shady spot and take in the view of the Bay of San Juan.

The old city gate, once the main entrance to the walled city, circa 1635.

The grounds of Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, or just “El Morro”, from the south.

Looking back from El Morro towards the old city gate.

The fortress walls of El Morro looking out towards the North Atlantic.

The bridge leading to the entrance of the fortress that crosses over the old moat

The lighthouse at El Morro.

A view of the upper level of El Morro.

One of the many iconic garitas, or guard towers, located all around the outer walls of the fortress.

A favorite spot for pictures.

The lower level grounds where you can access the gift shop and other facilities.

The great lawn leading from El Morro to the old city is a great place for families and friends to enjoy the outdoor beauty of Puerto Rico.

We parked in the public parking lot Estacionamiento La Puntilla, close to the Plaza Infanta Luisa, where Calle La Puntilla meets Paseo De La Princesa Calle Shurmberg, and central to the old city. It is also very convenient to El Morro, and just across the street from the Tourist Information Center where you can get information in both English and Spanish.

From there, I walked past the Paseo De La Princesa – a European-style public promenade, circa 1853, and followed the road to the city gate, built in 1635, Puerta De San Juan – once the main entry into the walled city during the Spanish colonial era. From there you can follow Paseo Del Morro along the old city wall to the very tip of the outer fortress walls. If you remain inside the city gate and head northwest, you should end up on a path leading to the main entrance of El Morro.

I was fortunate to get there early on a Saturday, and the line at the entrance was only a handful of people but was much longer later in the afternoon. So be prepared to stand in line to get in. Admission is $5 per person ages 16 and above. Kids 15 and under get in for free, and your ticket is good for visiting both El Morro and San Cristóbal.

Allow yourself at least an hour to see everything there is to explore, but with so many great picture-taking opportunities, you could easily spend two or more.

After leaving El Morro, it was time to head down the hill and explore the city of Old San Juan. Along the way, I noticed the great lawn had begun to fill up with people. There were moms and dads with their children flying kites, a group of young teens playing soccer, and couples laying out in the sun and picnicking. An excellent way to spend the afternoon.

Walking along Calle Norzagaray past the Ballajá Barracks you come to the Plaza del Quinto Centenario. This modern multi-level plaza was constructed in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus and provides some great views of El Morro and the surrounding area.

Walking along Calle Norzagaray past the Ballajá Barracks.

The view from the old city back towards El Morro.

There are many open air cafés and restaurants in the area for dining or just people watching.

The steps leading up to the Plaza del Quinto Centenario – a favorite gathering spot.

The Plaza del Quinto Centenario – a favorite spot for families with children and people-watching.

Children enjoying the refreshing water fountain on a warm day.

Walking the colorful streets of the Old City.

Pigeon row in the old city.

Landmark 1540 cathedral, second oldest in the Americas, where the tomb of city founder Ponce de León resides.

A must-see when in the old city of San Juan, the Catedral de San Juan Bautista, or Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, is filled with great architectural elements, beautiful stained glass art, is the final resting place of city founder, Ponce de León, and can leave you with a sense of awe.

The Plaza de la Catedral, directly across the street from the Catedrál de San Juan Bautista, is the perfect place to rest and just take in the sights and sounds of the old city.

The streets of old San Juan are filled with charm and color.

Almost everywhere you turn in the old city is a great spot to just sit, rest, and take it all in.

Down along the side streets, tucked away behind simple doorways, you can find a great little spot to relax, listen to the local music, have a refreshing drink or try the local cuisine.

Disfrutar del momento, mi amigo!

The focal point of the plaza is a 40-foot granite totem pole created by local architect and ceramicist Jaime Suarez. El Tótem Telúrico (The Telúrico Totem) has ceramic replicas of archaeological artifacts embedded in it, in honor of the Taino native culture of Puerto Rico.

The plaza was full of people of all ages, but especially children who ran in and out of the water fountain that is the centerpiece of the lower level. It looked so refreshing, and they were having so much fun, that I was tempted to run in myself.

My next stop took me to the Catedrál de San Juan Bautista – built in 1540 and the second oldest in the Americas, it holds the tomb of city founder Ponce de León. Both the interior architecture and the stained glass art is something you shouldn’t miss.

Directly across the street from the cathedral is Plaza de la Catedral, a charming little park with shady trees and benches. The plaza and the streets leading west towards the ocean provide some excellent photo opportunities.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the streets of Old San Juan and stopping at various shops and restaurants. It reminded me a bit of when I lived in Europe, and I could appreciate the Spanish influence at almost every turn. Somewhere along a narrow side street, there’s an archway leading to a cobblestoned courtyard, with an old wine barrel used as a table. On the table is a bottle of wine and a long stemmed glass sitting alongside the glowing embers of a fine cigar, with the sound of flamenco music and the rhythmic tapping of the heels of a Spanish dancer floating through the air.

Disfrutar del momento, mi amigo!

A Visit to Old San Juan and El Morro

You will be overwhelmed with great photo opportunities, from people to places and things at every stop along your way. So take your time, and enjoy the moment, and have lots of fun!

Your ticket into either El Morro or San Cristóbal fortresses is good for both parks, so hang on to it if you plan on visiting both. The fortress is open to the public 7 days a week from 9:00 am till 6:00 pm. Closed New Years, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

Additional Resources: (From Wikipedia)

  • The history of Old San Juan.
  • Castillo San Felipe del Morro

  • 🔥San Felipe del Morro Castle | Morro Fort

    1898; El Morro fought its final battle when the United States Navy bombarded the fort during the Spanish. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, in which Spain ceded ownership of the island of Puerto Rico to the United States. After this battle Puerto Rico became a commonwealth.

    A lighthouse that was damaged and repaired by the U.S. in 1906-08 stands out in stark contrast to the rest of the structure. During World War II, the U.S. Army added another entirely incongruous fortification, installing a military bunker on the top level.

    1942; as part of the USA’s Second World War preparation, El Morro was fortified with a concrete artillery observation posts and an underground bunker.

    1961; the United States Army officially retired from El Morro. The “fort” became a part of the National Park Service to be preserved as museums.

    1983; the Castillo and the city walls were declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

    “The Morro Fort” at this time is one of the most important historical monuments of Old San Juan.
    You will find a lot of history, architecture, beautiful scenery and entertainment for children on the outside.

    The fort is made up of six staggered levels, incorporating dungeons, barracks, passageways, and storerooms. Walk along its ramparts, where cannons still face the ocean, and step inside one of the domed “garitas”, or sentry boxes, which are themselves an iconic symbol of Puerto Rico.

    Looking out across the bay, you’ll see another, smaller fortification. Called El Cañuelo, this was El Morro’s partner in the island’s defense: ships hoping to attack Puerto Rico would be cut down in a barrage of crisscrossing cannon fire.  Two modern structures were added to

    Now a Word Heritage site it is one of Puerto Rico’s most iconic structures. Facing the Atlantic Ocean and situated in what is now known as Old San Juan, the capital city’s historic district, El Morro bridges the past with the present.

    Once inside the fortress you will be given a brief video about the history of the fortress so that you can see and see the importance of the construction and how it was important in all the battles. The video is shown in English and Spanish. If you do not want to see the video then you can take a map and explore everything you have to show you this magnificent fortification.
    The Main Square of El Morro which was the area where troops gathered for parades and daily inspection, is at the entrance. The well in the center of the square is also a nice place and can take a year to fill with rainwater. The surrounding rooms look out to the sides and were used as houses, storage tanks, gunpowder deposits, for cells or to shoot positions.
    On the upper level, there find the air vents that provide fresh air to the rooms below. On the upper level you can also find the lighthouse that was rebuilt in 1908.

    Apart from its great history, visiting this fort is spectacular because of its impressive view, the familiar atmosphere, and the beautiful photos that you can take from there.

    Today this World Heritage Site is a MUST SEE for visitors, also it has accessibility for people with mobility problems.

    Keep in mind that you can visit Puerto Rico without spending a lot of money if you choose a budget hotel, and use public transportation.

    Dreams Hotel Miramar, offers you a good stay in a green and very clean hotel.

    Where: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

    When: 7 days/week from 9:00am – 6:00pm.

    Closed New Year Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Cost: Adults $5, $7 for combined forts El Morro and San Cristobal, Children under 15 Free

    Map It: You can find El Morro Fort on our interactive map here

    For reservations:

    Dreams Hotel Miramar +1-787-688-5818

    or www. dreamsmiramar.com

    San Juan Attractions

    San Juan Attractions

    this is a real window into the past, here you will see historical forts and Spanish colonial architecture, churches and old squares that still remember how the conquistadors of the Spanish crown walked on them. Old San Juan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the second oldest city in South America and the oldest city under the US protectorate.

    Old San Juan — Seven historic squares and over 400 beautifully restored 16th and 17th century colonial buildings now mostly occupied by antiques and souvenir shops catering to tourists from all over the world, as well as restaurants, museums and hotels . You can not take a guided tour, but just wander the streets, admiring the ancient architecture and enjoy the atmosphere of the old city.

    2. Fort San Cristóbal

    Fort San Cristobal rightfully competes with Fort El Morro as San Juan’s most atmospheric historical landmark. If the fort of El Morro protected the city from the sea, then the fortress of San Cristobal from the land. San Cristobal is larger than El Morro and is also the largest fort built by the Spanish crown in the New World. The fortress has five independent blocks connected by a moat and a tunnel, each of which is designed for a separate defense. The fort was built between 1634 and 1790 years to guard the eastern gate to the city.

    3. San Juan Cathedral

    Built in 1540, San Juan Cathedral is known as one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas and one of the most old buildings in the city. The interior of the cathedral, with its black and white checkered floor tiles and yellow decor, is surprisingly rich. The body of the great Spanish explorer and conquistador, founder of the first European settlement on the island and discoverer of Florida, Ponce de Leon, is buried in a marble tomb in the cathedral.

    4. La Fortaleza

    La Fortaleza was built in 1540 as a fortress against Indians and other invaders. She was captured twice, first by the Earl of Cumberland in 1598 and then by the Dutch led by Bowdin Hendrick in 1625. Over time, La Fortaleza lost its military importance and became the seat of the governors of Puerto Rico, a role it still retains today. La Fortaleza is the oldest governor’s residence still in use in the Western Hemisphere, with over 150 governors living or staying here. The building itself has undergone many changes over its long history.

    5. Museum of Contemporary Art of Puerto Rico (Museum of Contemporary Art)

    Established in 1984, this museum is a place where you can get acquainted with the best works of the most famous artists of Latin America in contemporary art. The museum’s surprisingly good collection, for such a small island, consists of paintings, sculptures, graphics and installations.

    6. San Jose Church

    The Church of San José was built by Dominican friars in 1532, making it one of the earliest examples of Spanish Gothic architecture in South America. Unlike the Cathedral of San Juan, this church is small, with a modest façade, but the vaulted interior gives it an airy feel. For almost 300 years, the Spanish conquistador Ponce de León was buried here until his body was transferred to the Cathedral of San Juan in 1913.

    7. San Juan Cemetery

    Situated along the coast on a high cliff adjacent to Fort El Morro, this is a beautiful cemetery in the city of San Juan. Note the beautiful tombstones in the Spanish colonial style, the red-domed neoclassical chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene and the magnificent view of the city and El Morro Fort. Inspired by rivals Holland and England, the chief engineer of Irish origin, Thomas O’Daley, designed this castle. Thomas O’Daley served Spain because Spain was the enemy of Ireland’s enemy, England.

    The enemy of my enemy is my dear friend.

    Being younger, Fort San Cristobal has a shorter history than El Morro. The first part was built in the first half of the 30s of the seventeenth century, after the end of the attack in 1625, which recognized the weak side in the defense of the Old San Juan. Then it was decided to build a new fortress on a high place in the north-eastern part of the city

    During the period from 1765 to 1783 the fort acquired the outlines as we see it now. Fort San Cristobal is a huge structure that rises 45 meters above sea level.

    With the defense of El Morro Fort San Cristobal with its massive walls near the entire city, San Juan became almost inaccessible to attack. But this attack was stopped before they reached San Cristobal.

    In 1855, the soldiers living in the fort made a mutiny in San Cristobal against the Spanish crown. The rebellion was extinguished in just 24 hours. As time went on, the dilapidated San Juan outgrew its own walls. The city needed to be enlarged.

    In the second half of the 90s of the 19th century, most of the huge municipal wall was destroyed — from Fort San Cristobal to the harbor — to ensure better traffic flow to / from the city. In the second half of the 90s of the 19th century, throughout the Spanish of the American War, Puerto Rico, under attack by US Navy ships, tried to resist, but the forts and old cannons could not withstand the offensive. Six months later, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States.

    The US used the fort as an active military base. In the first half of the 40s of the XX century, during the Second World War, an underground bunker with a control center and an observation post were added.

    In the first half of the 1980s, the fort was listed as a UN Global Heritage Site.

    Fort Historic Entrance

    // bagi.livejournal.com

    Current Main Entrance // bagi.livejournal.com

    Huge spacious lawns to the east of the fort. Here you can see the line of defense: ditches, walls and iguanas. // bagi.livejournal.com

    Hello // bagi.livejournal.com

    Plaza. The yellow annex is the chapel // bagi.livejournal.com

    Tunnel complex — they are long black and cool. One of them leads to the dungeon. // bagi.livejournal.com

    St. Barbara’s Chapel in the main square of San Cristobal. She is the patron of people during fires or explosions. The gunners prayed for her intercession before the shooting // bagi.

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