It was a beautifully hot afternoon, as I walked up the steep, curved ramp that leads to the historic entrance of Castillo San Cristóbal, one of the fascinating structures of the 500-year-old San Juan National Historic Site. Behind me, there is a picturesque scene of people playing on the grand green lawn, throwing frisbees with their dogs, and flying kites. Around me is the clearest blue sky that meets the clearest blue ocean, and I am immediately in awe of everything happening around me. Even after 500 years, there is so much life still happening within these ancient forts.
The San Juan National Historic site tells the story of great ambition and aspirations that the world has had for Puerto Rico. Countries fought hard for control of this tiny yet strategic island for centuries, that was until 1898 when following the Spanish–American War, the United States acquired Puerto Rico under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Generations of soldiers have lived and worked within the forts. Visitors today are as inspired by these stories as they are by the beauty of the architecture and the ingenuity of design and engineering of this World Heritage Site.
Forts El Morro and San Cristóbal along with 2.5 miles of city wall complete a fortification system that protected Puerto Rico, San Juan harbour, and much of Spain’s interests in the “New World” from pirates and foreign invasion. Spain spent over 250 years building and fortifying this system considered “state of the art” for its time. Builders used the best engineering and architectural technology available at the time.
So what are the best ways to visit these forts? As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, San Juan is VERY HOT in the afternoon. This can sometimes be an issue since both forts have large, open fields with minimal shade. Even the best of sun worshippers should wear hats, sunscreen, and bring water. You may find that the most available times to visit the forts are between 1pm-4pm.
It’s important to remember that the forts are about a mile apart and also span a lot of ground themselves, so budget enough time for everything, take it slow, and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t see every inch. My favorite part was peaking out of the stone famous sentry boxes scattered about the winding stone walls. It was cute to see all of the graffiti inside them too! Lot’s of lovers have carved their names onto the walls, making their connection to one of the oldest standing structures in the world.
There are reasonably-priced parking lots near the entrances to both forts. You can also take public transportation or a cab. There is an abundance to see in the area, beyond forts, that if you want to avoid paying the small $7 adult entrance fee (kids are free).
By the time my tour was finished, the sun was beginning to set upon the Old City. The high sea breezes, which kept the afternoon kites in flight, where now beginning to cool me down. I walked past a fearless cat, which was perched upon one of the high stone ledges, hundreds of feet above the sea.
Everything about the forts will leave you feeling inspired and touched by the culture of Puerto Rico. These historic forts in Old San Juan have kept this city safe and are truly special to see. Kudos to the National Park Service for making the park so welcoming to everyone!
We can’t wait for you to come down and experience the beauty here and keep coming back year after year. We will see you soon.
Safe & fun travels!