Puerto rico castillo san cristobal: Castillo San Cristóbal | Discover Puerto Rico

Castillo San Cristóbal in San Juan, Puerto Rico: A Can’t Miss Site

By Gina
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One of the powerful walls of Castillo San Cristóbal.

Castillo San Cristóbal Fort was the first place I visited in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It wasn’t supposed to be.

I was going to leave the forts for last, figuring I’ve seen enough forts in my travels that with one day in San Juan, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I missed them.

Well, thanks to my poor direction skills even with a map in front of me I went the wrong way to finding San Juan Cathedral and ended up in front of Castillo San Cristóbal Fort. Since I was right there I figured I might as well go in – and as soon as I did I realized that missing the forts of San Juan is skipping out on a huge chunk of history and the essence that San Juan was built upon.

On the way to the upper level entrance to the Castillo San Cristóbal fort.

Castillo San Cristóbal First Impressions

The first thing that struck me about Castillo San Cristóbal Fort (after the extremely affordable $3 entry fee) was how stunning its real estate is. The fort is right on the tip of the land, the ocean waves of the Caribbean beating up against the walls and grass making up the outside of the fort.

The waves of the Caribbean crashing up next to Castillo San Cristóbal.

Every room I went to in the fort I could hear the sound of waves. Some rooms it was distant and in others – including the rooms where the soldiers would sleep at night – it was thunderous. As a person who finds waves soothing, I thought maybe they did that on purpose. The waves blocked out all the other noises and let the soldiers get some rest.

The Incredible History of Castillo San Cristóbal

What especially gave me a “wow” moment at San Castillo Fort was when I learned that the fort had last been used in WWII. I’m used to visiting historic places that haven’t been actually used in centuries and here was a place that had been used 70 years ago – that our fathers or grandfathers or great-grandfathers could have slept in. That felt astounding to me. This wasn’t just an artifact or a piece of history – this had an actual military use in the lifetime of people still alive today.

Castillo San Cristóbal fort stretching out alongside the buildings of San Juan.

The history of Castillo San Cristóbal Fort goes back farther than that though. At one point, it, along with the original San Juan fort – San Felipe del Morro, was the city of San Juan. Puerto Rico was the first Caribbean island to have a decent harbor to sail into, plus it was in between Europe and America and was considered the gateway to “The New World”. Therefore, Spain did not want to give up this piece of paradise and kept it well guarded. Spain was hesitant to expand beyond the walls of the fort, wanting to keep everyone safe and in a fortified bubble. Eventually, in 1865, the allure of the Caribbean land won and the first settlement outside the fort walls was established. From there San Juan grew into the colorful city it is today.

A peek of the city outside the fort walls.

Castillo San Cristóbal: Built for Protection

Every aspect of the fort was built for protection – of the Spanish soldiers and the island. There were many components that went into the fort to succeed at this.

One was the series of six tunnels, referred to as galleries, meandering through the fort.

Into the scary Castillo San Cristóbal tunnel I go! (It ended up not being that scary as it now has lights and many tourists).

These tunnels crossed levels and made it easy for soldiers to quickly escape from gunfire and move to new positions unseen by the enemy.

The entrance to one of the tunnels. The doors are a recent added feature.A long tunnel soldiers used to use to quickly relocate their position.Off one of the tunnels was a galleon, where they kept prisoners. A former prisoner is said to have drawn ships on the wall of the galleon, such as this one.

The fort also had many lookout points for soldiers to watch for the enemy and to hide between while firing rounds of ammunition.

Castillo San Cristobal Lookout Point

In addition to the remnants of war and fortification, Castillo San Cristobal has some more serene moments when walking through it:

A small chapel in the middle of the fort.One of the Castillo San Cristóbal walls restored to its original lustre. This whitewashed look is how the fort would have looked when originally built.

Even if you’re not into history and warfare, a walk around Castillo San Cristóbal is worth it just for the stunning views.

A view of the San Juan coast from Castillo San Cristóbal looking onward to El Morro fort.

These views and the history is why I recommend Castillo San Cristóbal as a must-see site when visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Visiting San Juan during a cruise? You’ll also want to read my post: What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise

Exploring the Old San Juan Forts in Puerto Rico

Heading to Puerto Rico? Don’t go without adding the San Juan National Historic Site to your bucket list!

These Old San Juan Forts—which include Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal, the City Walls, the San Juan Gate, and Fortín San Juan de la Cruz—are considered a U. S. National Park and a World Heritage Site. They’re one of the best things to see in Puerto Rico, and this guide covers everything you need to know before you go!

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Whether you’re a history buff or simply a casual visitor, a visit to the San Juan National Historic Site is a must on any trip to Puerto Rico! 

This unique National Park tells the story of the Old San Juan Forts, which Spanish colonizers began building in 1539. The forts helped Spain protect Puerto Rico, whose strategic location in the eastern Caribbean also secured its colonies in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Despite the centuries of history contained there, the forts are well-preserved, and there’s no better place to learn about the island’s colonial history. You’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time as you explore the massive fortifications, squeeze into narrow sentry boxes, walk along the city’s thick walls, and pass through its imposing gate.

I’ve visited this fascinating Historic Site multiple times, and this guide covers everything you need to know before you go! You’ll learn about the history and find things to see at each location, plus there’s even a walking tour that covers all the sites. 

 

Ready to find out more? Keep scrolling to read everything, or use the links below to jump between sections:

History | About the National Park | Castillo San Felipe del Morro | Castillo San Cristóbal | Fortín San Juan de la Cruz | City Walls | San Juan Gate | La Fortaleza | Self-Guided Walking Tour | Map | FAQs | Tips for Planning Your Trip | Where to Stay | Other Things to Do in Puerto Rico

To ensure a stress free vacation, make sure to read Puerto Rico’s latest travel guidelines while planning your trip, and again, before leaving home.

An arched walkway off the main plaza at Castillo San Cristóbal.

A Very Brief History of Puerto Rico (and the Old San Juan Forts)

What is now Puerto Rico was first settled by indigenous Taíno people over 1000 years before Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1493, during his second voyage to the New World. The Caribbean island provided everything the Spanish colonizers needed (including fresh food, water, shelter, and other supplies) after their long journey across the ocean.

After Juan Ponce de León arrived on the island in 1508, he founded the first European settlement there. It was eventually named Puerto Rico, which means «rich port» in Spanish.

To protect the prized island (and the rest of its New World colonies), Spain spent over 250 years fortifying Puerto Rico and building the historic forts which helped shield the island from invasions by the Dutch, French, and English. The island remained under Spanish control for nearly 400 years until the U.S captured it in 1898 during the brief Spanish-American War.

Today, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, and Puerto Ricans are considered U.S. Citizens (although they do not have the same rights as other Americans, cannot vote for the president, and do not have equal representation in Congress).  

Read more about the history of Puerto Rico.

A view of the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzi Cemetery, La Perla, and Old San Juan from El Morro.

About the San Juan National Historic Site

The San Juan National Historic Site was established in 1949 to preserve the historic fortifications built by the Spaniards so many years ago. These Old San Juan forts are Puerto Rico’s only National Park. In 1983, UNESCO also recognized the Historic Site, along with La Fortaleza (the Spanish Governor’s palace), as a World Heritage Site.

This fascinating Historic Site includes numerous fortifications:

  • Castillo San Felipe del Morro
  • Castillo San Cristóbal
  • Fortín San Juan de la Cruz
  • City Wall
  • San Juan Gate

All of these fortifications are located in Old San Juan (the colonial part of the city), except for Fort San Juan de la Cruz, which is located on Isla de Cabras across the Bahía de San Juan (San Juan Bay) from El Morro.

No visit to San Juan is complete without a trip to its historic forts! Keep reading to learn more about each of the locations in this unique National Park, and to get lots of tips for planning your own visit.

The imposing historic entrance to Castillo San Cristóbal.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

The most well-known of the three forts in San Juan’s National Park is Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Often called El Morro (which means «promontory» or «headland») for short, this iconic fort faces the Atlantic Ocean and helped the Spanish avoid an attack by sea for hundreds of years.

Construction on El Morro (which is located at the entrance to the San Juan Bay) began 1539 and continued well into the 1700’s. It soars over 140 feet above sea level with walls between 18 to 25 feet thick.

El Morro has withstood numerous attacks through the years, including Sir Francis Drake in 1595, the Earl of Cumberland in 1598, the Dutch (who burned the city in 1625), and the English again in 1797. It finally fell to the U.S. during the Spanish-American War in 1898 due to its outdated defense systems (see a photo of the attack).

Despite its eventual capture by the U.S., when it was finally completed in 1790 El Morro was considered unconquerable. With its strategic location, it served as an Army base during both World Wars.

Did you know? Castillo translates to castle in English. When people mention castles in Puerto Rico, they are usually talking about El Morro Castle or one of the island’s other historic forts … not necessarily the opulent residences you may be picture when hearing the word castle.

Stairs leading between levels at El Morro.

Things to do at El Morro:

  • As you walk over the stone bridge leading into the fort, check out the dry moat on either side.
  • Explore all six levels of the fort, from the land defenses (the level you enter on) down to the water battery (the original promontory with canon).
  • View the three flags flying over El Morro: the U. S. and Puerto Rican flags, and the Cross of Burgundy, a Spanish military flag that was used from the 16th to 18th centuries.
  • Check out the reconstructed lighthouse on top of the fort. The original lighthouse was built here in 1846.
  • Look for ships crossing into the San Juan Bay. Imagine if the cruises of today were the war ships of yesteryear!
  • Walk outside the city walls along the Paseo del Morro trail.
  • Bring your kite! With its breezy, oceanfront location, the esplanade is a popular place for flying kites.

The main plaza at Castillo San Felipe del Morro, seen from the upper level of the fort.

Castillo San Cristóbal

After attacks by the English in 1598 and the Dutch in 1625, the Spaniards realized that they needed to strengthen the city’s defenses. They expanded the city walls and added a sentry box along the ocean (La Garita del Diablo), along with an artillery platform atop the San Cristóbal hill.

Over the next 150 years, this site was developed into the largest fortress built in the Americas. The primary purpose of this fort was to protect San Juan from a land attack from the east.

Castillo San Cristóbal is the larger of the two forts in Old San Juan. During your visit you can view the historic fortifications, as well as the sprawling grounds, which gave the Castillo another layer of defense.

Make sure to check out the additions the U.S. Army made to the fort during World War II while you’re there, too. These include two observation posts and a bunker, which is the current Visitors Center.

La Garita del Diablo, a sentry box located by the ocean at Castillo San Cristóbal.

Things to do at Castillo San Cristóbal:

  • Look out over the ocean through one of the distinctive sentry boxes.
  • Spot La Garita del Diablo (the Devil’s Sentry Box) at the base of the fort by the ocean. Because of the sentry’s remote and lonely location, guarding from here was an unpopular job. Can you imagine being out there on a stormy night?
  • Enjoy colorful bird’s-eye views of Old San Juan through the fortress windows.
  • Explore the main plaza. Soldiers trained here, you’ll be able to check out their living quarters and a small chapel which surround the plaza.
  • Step into the dungeon to view original late 18th century drawings made by an unknown prisoner.
  • Climb the spiral staircase to the top of the fort for amazing panoramic views of the city, as well as El Morro in the distance. You will see three flags flying over the fort: an American flag, the Puerto Rican flag, and the Cross of Burgundy.
  • Walk the vast grounds, which provided a strategic land defense for the city.

Drawings in the dungeon at Castillo San Cristóbal.

Fortín San Juan de la Cruz

The third fort included in the Historic Site is Fortín San Juan de la Cruz, or El Cañuelo (which means «small channel» in Spanish) for short.

El Cañuelo is located across the San Juan Bay from El Morro, and it was intended to be extra line of defense against enemy ships. It also protected the entrance to the Bayamón River, which was used for transporting good to the island’s interior.

When it was constructed the early 1600’s, this small fort was built from wood. However, after the Dutch burned it down in 1625, it was rebuilt with sturdier materials.

Because of its island location, life at Fortín San Juan de la Cruz was lonely for the few soldiers stationed there. And by the early 1800s as El Morro’s defenses strengthened, petite Fortín San Juan de la Cruz had become obsolete.

During World War II, the U.S. Corps of Engineers dredged the Bay to allow large ships. The excess material was used to create a road to the fort, making it much easier to visit today!

Fortín San Juan de la Cruz has a beautiful location on Isla de Cabras.

Tips for Visiting El Cañuelo

Because of its location, most visitors to the San Juan National Historic Site don’t make it to El Cañuelo, but if you have the time, it’s worth a trip! The inside of the Fortín isn’t accessible, but you can walk around the small exterior and enjoy views of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Old San Juan across the bay.

There’s also a pretty park here with a petite beach. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in one of the park’s covered structures or take a dip in the bay. You could also stop in Toa Baja (the town located just before fort) for a meal or an ice cold Medalla. We also spotted some interesting murals here. And Casa BACARDÍ is nearby if you’d like to take a rum tasting or cocktail making tour

Tip: There is a small fee for parking at the park here.

The view of El Morro across the Bay from El Cañuelo.

The City Wall (La Muralla)

About 50 years after construction began on El Morro, a few primitive walls were added above cliffs along the Bay. However, after the Dutch briefly held and then burned the city in 1625, the Spaniards realized that the island needed more protection.

They began building Castillo San Cristóbal and added walls along the south and east sides of Old San Juan. Eventually, the wall connected the two forts, and by 1793, these masonry walls, which featured numerous bastions and sentry boxes, completely surrounded the city.

After the City Wall (La Muralla in Spanish) successfully warded off another attack by the English in 1797, they were considered invincible. By 1897, the city had grown so much (and residents felt safe enough) that most of the east wall and part of the south wall were torn down.

Thick walls and a sentry box overlooking the Bay.

Viewing the Wall Today

These impressive walls (which range from 20 to 100 feet tall and from 50 feet wide at the base to 24 feet at the top) still surround about three-quarters of Old San Juan, along its north, east, and south sides. The best places to see the wall is between Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and outside the walls as you walk along the Paseo del Morro or the Paseo de la Princesa.

The city walls wrapping around the cemetery near El Morro Fort.

San Juan Gate

Those impregnable City Walls stretched for three miles and included four main gates (or puertas): two on the north side, one on the east, and one on the west.   The gates controlled access into and out of the city

Guards watched these entry points from sentry boxes, and the gates were closed each night. If you were outside the gates when they closed, then you weren’t getting back in until morning!

Today, the imposing San Juan Gate (also known as the Puerta de San Juan or the Puerta de Aguas) is the most well known. This colorful gate was built in 1635 and measures 16 feet tall and 20 feet thick. It was considered the city’s ceremonial gate and was used by important visitors.

The San Juan Gate with La Fortaleza above it.

What to You’ll See at the Gate

As you approach the San Juan Gate from inside the city, look down to see the blue cobblestones the city is known for. Then as you walk though the Puerta, check out those massive walls. Keep an eye out an inscription above the gate reading «Benedictus Oui Venit In Nomine Domini», meaning «Welcome those who come in the name of God».

After you’ve passed through the colorful gate, check out the sentry box. If you’d like to explore the outside of the walls, turn right to walk along Paseo del Morro, or turn left to wander Paseo de la Princesa. As you walk along the trails, imagine yourself transported back a couple hundred years and locked outside the walls at night. Kind of a scary thought, right? 

Blue cobblestones leading up to the Puerta de San Juan.

La Fortaleza

While not included in the National Park, La Fortaleza is part of the World Heritage Site.

La Fortaleza (which means «the fortress» in English) is the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the western hemisphere. It was built between 1533 and 1540, and it was the first fortification constructed on the San Juan harbor. It wasn’t very successful in protecting the island however, which led to the other forts being built.

Today, the beautiful building, which has two turreted towers and a distinctive blue paint job, contains the residence and office of Puerto Rico’s governor. It’s located near the San Juan Gate, above the City Wall, and free tours are available on weekdays.

La Fortaleza, the Puerto Rican governor’s mansion.

Self-Guided Walking Tour

Want to talk a self-guided tour of San Juan’s Forts? Follow the route below, using the map I’ve included in the next section for locations:

1. Start at Castillo San Cristóbal. Make sure to save your admission fee receipt, so you can use it at El Morro, too.

2. Walk along Norzagaray Street / Bulevar del Valle toward Castillo San Felipe del Morro. As you walk, you will pass the City Walls, the La Perla neighborhood, and the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery (all on your right). 

3. Enter Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  When you come to the small roundabout, walk up the path to enter El Morro. Hungry? After checking out the fort, look for a piragua cart selling shaved ice across the street or stop by the nearby Cinema Bar 1950 for a refreshing mojito and some delicious Puerto Rican food.

4. Walk through the San Juan Gate. After leaving El Morro, you have a few options to get to the Gate:

  • Paseo del Morro National Recreation Trail — This path is located outside the City Wall along the Bay. You can access it from the fort. Once you get to the Gate, the trail turns into Paseo de la Princesa. This route is very scenic, however there is very little shade … bring a hat and water.
  • Back Route — Walk down the path to the roundabout, then turn right. Walk past the Escuela de Artes Plásticas (a large yellow building with columned entrance), then continue following the road as it curves (to the left) around the building. Stay on this road until you get to Plazuela de la Rogativa (you can’t miss the large sculpture here), then make a right onto Calle Clara Lair. The Gate is just down the street. This is my favorite route. While there’s not a ton to see, it’s quiet and shady, and you’ll spot tons of the famous Old San Juan cats.
  • City Streets — At the roundabout, go straight and continue on Calle del Morro. Follow the curve to the left as the road turns into Calle Beneficencia. Continue on Calle Beneficencia until you get to Calle del Santo Cristo, then make a right. Follow Calle del Santo Cristo, until you get to Caleta de San Juan (across from the Catedral de San Juan Bautista). Turn right, then walk along Caleta de San Juan for two blocks to the Gate. This route takes you by my favorite square, Plazuela Las Monjas, which is right across from the Catedral.

5. Check out the City Walls. After walking through the Gate, you will be outside the City Walls. At this point, you can either turn right to explore the Paseo del Morro, turn left to stroll the popular Paseo de la Princesa, or stop your walk and head back onto the city streets. La Fortaleza is also nearby. 

6. Drive to Fort San Juan de la Cruz. If you would like to visit this fort, you’ll need to drive (it takes about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on traffic). Can’t make the drive? You can also see this fort if you look across the bay from El Morro.

Tip: You can take this walk in the other direction, as well. The best way to do that, would be to walk to the Gate from anywhere in Old San Juan, or to follow the Paseo de la Princesa around the City Wall to the Gate.

Grab a refreshing piragua on your walk!

Map with Fort Locations

I’ve created a Google map of the forts to help you explore the San Juan National Historic Site.

The maps has each fortification pinpointed, plus a few nearby sites of interest. There is so much more to see in this beautiful neighborhood though! Make sure to check out my guide with all the Best Things to Do in Old San Juan before your trip.

Open the map on your phone as you explore the city to help you find your way.

Note: I’ve only indicated one location of the City Wall on the map. However, you’ll spot it in numerous places, including between the two forts, at the San Juan Gate, and outside the Gate along the Paseo del Morro and the Paseo de La Princesa.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Curious to learn more? Check out these frequently asked questions:

What are the forts in Puerto Rico?

Beginning in 1539, Spain build a series of forts in Puerto Rico, including La Fortaleza, El Moro, Castillo San Cristóbal, El Cañuelo, and others, to protect their colonies.

Why were the forts in Puerto Rico built?

The forts in Puerto Rico were built by Spaniards to protect the island, as well as their other New World colonies, from invasions by other colonizers, including the Dutch, French, and English.

What are the two forts in San Juan?

The two most well-known forts in San Juan are Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal. However, there are other forts in the city, including La Fortaleza (now the Puerto Rican governor’s mansion), as well as Fortín San Jerónimo del Boquerón, Fortín del Escambrón, and the nearby Fortín San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo).

When were Puerto Rico’s Forts built?

Spain began building Puerto Rico’s forts 1539, starting with construction of the tower at El Morro and La Fortaleza. Construction continued into the late 1700’s.

Why is San Juan National Historic Site important?

The San Juan National Historic Site is important because it preserves Spanish colonial forts and interprets the centuries of history that took place there. It’s also Puerto Rico’s only National Park, and it’s one of the 24 World Heritage Sites located in the U.S. 

How much does it cost to visit the Old San Juan forts?

It costs $10.00 to visit both Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal (hold onto your receipt). The other sites in the Historic Site are free.

Which fort is better in San Juan?

Castillo San Felipe del Morro (or El Morro) is the most well-known fort in San Juan, and most visitors stop here. It’s the older of the two forts in Old San Juan and has an imposing location over the Bay. However, it’s not necessarily the «better» one … if you have time, you should visit the other forts and sites in the National Park, as well.

Does Puerto Rico have castles?

Puerto Rico does have castles (or castillos), however they are forts, not the fancy residences you may be picturing. The most famous one is El Morro.

The entrance to Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

Tips for Planning Your Visit

I hope you enjoyed learning about these unique forts! Here’s a little more info to help plan your trip:

Learn More


Visit the National Park Service website to learn more about park history, things to do, accessibility info, tours, and educational opportunities. Looking for more National Parks? Check out my U.S. National Parks List … it includes every park, in every state and comes with a free PDF Printable Checklist!

Hours

San Juan National Historic Site is open Monday through Sunday, from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Fees

A $10.00 fee covers your entrance to both Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal (hold onto your receipt to access both). The other sites are free, although there’s a charge to park at El Cañuelo. Make sure to bring your National Parks Passport (or purchase one in either fort’s gift shop) so you can get it stamped at both forts!

Parking

Driving in Old San Juan is slow and stressful, because the narrow streets are crowded with people and cars. We usually park at the Doña Fela Parking Garage, which is relatively stress free to get into and out of. Another option is the Ballaja Parking Garage, which is located close to El Morro. There’s also a small parking lot at Castillo San Cristóbal (although you can’t park there all day). If you don’t want to deal with driving, consider taking an Uber (or city bus) instead.

What to Wear

San Juan has a tropical climate, and it’s hot and humid year round (even more so during summer). You will be doing lots of walking, often over uneven surfaces, including up ramps, stairs, and hills. Dress in comfortable clothes and shoes … I’d recommend shorts and loose, breezy top, plus flat sandals or sneakers. A lightweight dress is also a great option, just keep in mind that it’s often quite windy. Wear sunblock and a hat to protect yourself from the sun. Make sure to drink plenty of water, too.

How Much Time to Allow

To see all of the fortifications in Old San Juan, plan on spending at least half a day. You could definitely fill a whole day, especially if you’re planning to explore the rest of this beautiful neighborhood, too. To visit just one of the forts, give yourself a couple hours.

If you want to visit Fort de la Cruz, allow about 20 to 30 minutes to drive there (depending on traffic). You can’t actually go into this fort, and it doesn’t take long to explore the exterior. However, there’s a nice park with covered picnic structures and a pleasant beach with excellent views of El Morro that’s worth checking out.

Tours

There is so much to see at each of these sites! If you have the opportunity, consider taking a tour … you’ll learn so much more about the history of the forts. You can find a number of guided activities through the National Park Service. If you’d like to see more of the city, check out this tour of Old San Juan, which includes a stop at Castillo San Cristóbal.

Standing in a garita (sentry box).

Where to Stay

To stay as close to the forts as possible, reserve a hotel in Old San Juan. You’ll find numerous options in this charming area, ranging from the glamorous, upscale Hotel El Convento to the boutique CasaBlanca and even a Sheraton. Check TripAdvisor for deals and helpful reviews!

Condado is another neighborhood that’s super convenient, and you’ll find options ranging from upscale (like the adults only Condado Ocean Club) to budget-friendly. I’ve stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Condado multiple times, and it’s a great affordable choice. The recently updated rooms are on the small side, but the lively location can’t be beat with tons of restaurants and shops within walking distance and a popular beach that’s located practically across the street.

If you plan to spend your vacation on the best beach, I’d recommend staying in Isla Verde, which has the longest and widest beach. While Isla Verde is technically in Carolina (just east of San Juan by the airport), it’s a quick 15 minute ride to Old San Juan. I’ve stayed at the lovely Royal Sonesta multiple times (it used to be an Intercontinental). It’s located right on the beach, has a resort feel, and excellent service.

For a homier experience, check out Airbnb. Look for apartments in the areas mentioned above, plus the more off-the-beaten track (but still convenient) Ocean Park and Santurce (on or around Calle Loiza) neighborhoods.

A small beach by Fortín del Escambrón, another fort in San Juan.

Other Things to Do in Puerto Rico

There is so much to see and do in Puerto Rico! These ideas will keep you busy for your whole trip:

  • Explore other forts in the area. There are a few other forts in San Juan that are not part of the National Park. Fortín San Jerónimo del Boquerón is located Puerta de Tierra, an area between Old San Juan and Condado that was the first neighborhood built outside the city wall. This small fort is open for visits from Monday to Saturday from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM (a donation is suggested). You’ll also find Fortín del Escambrón nearby. You won’t see much at this fort, but it’s fun to check out if you’re nearby (there are a couple popular beaches here, too). I’ve indicated both of these forts on the map.
  • Visit all the must see sites in San Juan. Make sure to read my guide to the 20 best Things to Do in San Juan before your trip so you don’t miss a thing.
  • See more of colorful, historic Old San Juan. Before you leave the colonial part of the city, there are lots of other sights to see in Old San Juan that you won’t want to miss!
  • Experience the artsy side of San Juan. Get off the beaten tourist path in one of my fave neighborhoods, Santurce! This guide covers the 10 awesome Things to Do in Santurce. Check out the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico while you’re there!
  • Hit the Beach. You can’t go to Puerto Rico without spending a day (or three) at the beach. Check out nearby Isla Verde Beach or head to Luquillo, Puerto Rico which has some of the best beaches on the island.
  • Visit El Yunque Rainforest. A visit to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U. S. National Forest System, is a must on any Puerto Rico bucket list!

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KASA ROOF TOP 6 1 Bed 1 Bath For 2 Guests Amazing Views Juan Juan

51 Cristo Street Apt# 6 San-hut apartments/apartment 9000 9000 8.8 9000 9000

6 reviews

0.1 mi. NE from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Roof Top Apt Unit 6 offers accommodation in San Juan, 2.9 km from Escambron Beach. 2 Guests AMAZING Old San Juan offers accommodation with a terrace, free WiFi and an ATM. This apartment is 300 meters from La Rogativa Statue and 400 meters from Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. The apartment…

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58 USD

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Old San Juan Rentals

205 Calle Cristo, Suite 2 Suite 2S HOUSE

8.4

86 Reviews

0.1 MI. SE from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Located in San Juan’s Old Town, Old San Juan Rentals is 1.2 km from Fort San Felipe del Morro. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property. All apartments have a seating area and some have a terrace and/or balcony. The kitchenette is equipped with a microwave, toaster and…

7

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Hotel El Convento

100 Cristo StreetSan Juan Hotels

8.2

Excellent

803 reviews SE from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Hotel El Convento is located in the center of the historic city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Guests receive discounted access to the Isla Verde Beach Club. Hotel El Convento is housed in a renovated 350-year-old building. It features a pool and hot tub overlooking San Santo Bay.0007

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174 USD

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Casa Saffra in Old San Juan 1

54 Calle de San FranciscoSan Juan Apartments

0.1 mi. SE from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Boasting a garden, Casa Saffra in Old San Juan 1 is situated in the center of San Juan, close to Fort San Felipe del Morro, La Fortaleza, Governor’s Residence and Cristo Chapel. All of the air-conditioned units feature a private bathroom, living room, flat-screen TV and fully-equipped kitchen…

7

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Palacio Provincial — Adults Only

103 San Francisco StreetSan Juan Hotels

8.9

Excellent

425 reviews

0.1 mi. SE from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Offering a fitness center and a bar, Palacio Provincial is located in San Juan, 2.7 km from Escambron Beach and less than 1 km from San Felipe del Morro Fort. It features a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk and free Wi-Fi. Room service is available. The hotel is located…

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143 USD

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3-BR Unit in the heart of the Historical City

155 Calle de San Sebastián APT 2BSan Juan Apartments

0. 2 mi. NE from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Set right in the center of San Juan, less than 1 km from Fort San Felipe del Morro and 6.7 km from Museum of Art of Puerto Rico, 3-BR Unit in the heart of the Historical City offers air-conditioned accommodation with a patio and free WiFi. The property is 300 meters from Museum of the Americas and…

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KASA The Lofts Old San Juan 202 Huge 2 Bed 2 Bath for 6 Interior Terrace

155 Calle de La Cruz #202 Sun-huan apartments/apartment 9000 9000 8.8 9000 9000 9000 6 reviews 9000 6 Reviews 9000 6 Reviews 9000 6. 0.2 mi. SE from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Lofts Old San Juan Unit 202 HUGE 2 features air conditioning and a balcony. Bed 2 bath for 6 Interior Terrace is located in San Juan. Escambron Beach is 2.6 km away. This apartment features free WiFi, a TV, a washing machine and a kitchen with…

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53 USD

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KASA The Lofts Old San Juan 201 Huan 2 Bed 2 Bath for 6 Washer Dryer

155 CALLE CRUZAN-HUB APARTS/Apartment 9000 9000 8. 1

9000 9000 9000

5 reviews

0.2 mi. SE from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Situated in San Juan’s Old Town in San Juan, The Lofts of Old San Juan Unit 201 Extening Roffers 2 bed 2 bath for 6 Extended Fillges features free WiFi, a washing machine and a bathroom with a washing machine. This apartment is 2.6 km from Escambron Beach.0007

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53 USD

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How much does it cost to stay in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico?

This is the average price per person per night for a hotel in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico: 72 USD

What is the average rating for hotels in the area near Old San Juan, Puerto Rico?

This is an average rating for hotels near Old San Juan, Puerto Rico: 8.1/10 (96,121 reviews)

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4 islands that can be visited without a passport US


Islands in the Caribbean that Americans can visit without a passport.


US citizens can enjoy a tropical holiday without a passport. There are amazingly beautiful resorts in the Caribbean islands, where US citizens can enter without a passport.

Puerto Rico. To travel, tourists do not even need to present a certificate of vaccination — anti-COVID restrictions have been lifted for American tourists. If you think that a Caribbean island promises nothing more than a seal beach holiday, then this is not at all the case. Puerto Rico is teeming with historical sites, such as the 16th-century Spanish colonial fortress of Castillo San Cristobal.

While on holiday in Puerto Rico, you should definitely take a trip to local bars and restaurants: El Batey dive bar and Mezzanine wine restaurant are must-sees.

There are many natural attractions on the tropical island. In El Yunque you will find a tropical forest, on the southwest coast — the thermal springs of Coamo, in Laguna Grande — amazing bioluminescent bays.

Fairmont El San Juan and Lazy Parrot are great places to stay.

St. John. To come to the resort, Americans must show either proof of full vaccination or a negative antigen or PCR test taken within five days of arrival. The same rules apply to visiting other Virgin Islands — St. Thomas and Santa Cruz.

Don’t be put off by the modest size of your vacation — even in such a small area there are plenty of sights and natural beauties. In addition to a beach holiday on St. John, tourists can go hiking in the Virgin Islands National Park.

There are several cozy authentic restaurants on the island. It would be a real crime to leave here without trying the clam chowder at the Lime Inn.

You can stay at The Westin St. John Resort Villas or Gallows Point, where tourists will find maximum comfort at affordable prices.

St. Thomas. On St. Thomas, tourists never have a question of what to do. Looking to get your breath taken away by spectacular local views? Then go up to the Drake’s Seat observation deck. Do you love thrills? Zipline awaits at Tree Limin’ Extreme Zipline Park. Can’t live without exercise? Climb the historic staircase from 99 steps (actually there are 103 of them). A leisurely break is guaranteed at Frenchtow, a local microbrewery.

Bolongo Bay Beach Resort and Emerald Beach Resort are recommended for accommodation.

Santa Cruz. A spacious coastline covered with warm white sand, salty waves of magical turquoise color, dazzling sun — it is difficult to imagine a picture more ideal for relaxation. It is this spectacle that opens up to tourists upon arrival in Santa Cruz.

If you get tired of basking in a sun lounger, go explore the island on a buggy. When you get bored with the surface world, take on the development of the underwater kingdom: Island Reef National Monument is a great place for diving. Be sure to visit the Salt River Bay National Historic Park and the local bioluminescent bay, which is worth exploring in a glass-bottom kayak.

Also suitable sightseeing spots are St. George’s Village Botanical Gardens, Fort Frederiksted, an 18th century Danish fort, and the Caribbean Art Center Museum.

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