One of the most stunning architectural attractions in Old San Juan is the historic fortress of Castillo San Felipe del Morro located at the mouth of San Juan Bay. More commonly known as El Morro, this World Heritage Site offers visitors a glimpse into time along with some amazing ocean views.
Dating back to the 1550’s, El Morro is only one of three National Historic Sites within the San Juan National Park Service; the others include neighboring Fortin San Juan de la Cruz (or El Canuelo) located across the bay and Castillo San Cristobal which is about 20 minutes walking time away.
Visitors to El Morro follow a seemingly endless esplanade that’s flanked on either side by flat green grass slopes where locals spend time picnicking and flying kites in the Caribbean breeze. Visitors will also catch a glimpse of the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis cemetery which is set below on the edge of the ocean and dates back to 1863.
Once at the entrance, guests must pay a National Park Service admission fee of $3 per adult (children 15 and under are free). After obtaining the complimentary fortress map, you can choose to wander at your leisure and explore all that El Morro has to offer – six levels with walls ranging from 18 to 25 feet thick, cannons and artillery, a chapel, lighthouse, dungeon, barracks, video presentation, and those stunning views of the ocean below from the sentry towers. At one time, over 450 cannons were mounted in El Morro which housed almost 6,000 soldiers during a British attack in 1797.
During the week, be sure to join one of the daily orientation talks which give a twenty minute overview of El Morro; these visitor orientation presentations take place seven days a week, every hour on the hour at both El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal. Or join one of the Ranger Programs for an interpretive talk about the history of El Morro National Park which are held throughout the day.
If you’re visiting on the weekend, you can take advantage of guided tours of the tunnels or the lighthouse as offered by the park rangers. These tours are limited in size so it’s best to plan ahead if you want to attend.
El Morro is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily except during the holidays of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Flickr.com Photo Credit: El Morro by BluColt