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San Juan National Historic Site: Visitor Tips

El Morro fort
View from atop El Morro fort in Old San Juan. Credit: U.S. National Park Service

San Juan National Historic Site is a major park in Old San Juan that offers 500 years of history for visitors to explore.

The park mostly consists of the massive forts of Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro. They dominate the entire park and the surrounding Old San Juan as well. Both offer many photo opportunities of the forts and the surrounding Old San Juan.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, also known as El Morro, overlooks San Juan Bay from on top of a promontory. Spanish engineers began building the fort in 1539 and finished it nearly 250 years later in 1787.

It is one of the largest and most well-preserved in the Caribbean. Visitors will find its massive size a stunning monument to Spanish wealth and power during the early colonization years of the New World by European powers.

Castillo San Cristóbal, built between 1634 and 1790, protected the land entrance to Old San Juan. The 27-acre fort is the largest built in the Caribbean by the Spanish.

Few other European forts in the Caribbean come even close to the massive size of El Morro and San Cristobal.

Visitors with limited time can explore one or both forts on their own. A self-guided tour may take up to two hours because the large size of both parks requires a lot of walking.

Anyone with more time should consider going on a guided tour with park rangers to learn more about the history of both forts and the Spanish presence in the Caribbean. Check the park schedule at nps.gov for more details.

Rangers also offer brief informational talks at the top of the hour, every hour on every day in the main plaza of El Morro and San Cristobal.

Our cruise ship wasn’t leaving until the next day, so we also had time to walk around the outside walls of the forts. Paseo del Morro is a trail that skirts the historic wall of Old San Juan from the San Juan Gate to El Morro along the entrance to the San Juan Bay. It offers many photo opportunities.

Location, Prices, Times

San Juan National Historic Site Map

The park is about three miles or about five kilometers from the Pan American cruise terminal. Cruise visitors will require a taxi or less expensive public bus to get there.

It is about one mile or 1.7 kilometers away from the Calle Marina or Old San Juan cruise port.

Moderately fit people can easily walk there from Calle Marina in about 15 minutes, as we did, although there is plenty of more walking to do around the park and Old San Juan.

Walkers go through Old San Juan to get to the park, so they can combine other attractions in the historic city with their park visit.

Entrance to the park is $5 for anyone older than 16 years and free for children 15 and younger. Parking is $2 per hour.

The park is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily throughout the year except for Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving Day.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
December 03, 2021

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