Caribbean Snap Shots: Castillo San Felipe del Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico

A must for every visitor to Old San Juan, this Spanish fort controlled a gateway to the New World for over 400 years


The massive stone walls and iconic turrets of this fortress have become one of the most famous landmarks in Puerto Rico. Known to most simply as ‘El Morro’ this sprawling fortification occupies a seaside promontory overlooking San Juan Bay. Soon after the original Spanish colony of San Juan was founded on the shores of the bay, work began on a fort that would guard the entrance to what would become one of the most strategic and active ports of call in the Caribbean.

For the next 200 years, work continued as fortress walls grew higher, thicker, and longer. The cannons repelled English and Dutch warships, but were no match for the US fleet that shelled and then captured the fort during the Spanish American War. When control of the island shifted from Spain to the United States, El Morro became a US military base, and remained active until 1961, when it was turned over to the National Park Service. Now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the grounds are restored to their 18th century appearance.

Today, no visit to Old San Juan would be complete without a walking tour of El Morro, though seeing the entire complex will require some legwork as you hike over hillsides and climb winding flights of stone stairs to reach lookout posts where sentries once stood guard against the approaching enemies. Following the labyrinth of tunnels, dungeons, ramparts, towers and barracks can take most of the day.

Weekends bring out locals who come to the grassy hillside to picnic, relax and fly kites. The strong breezes that come in off the Atlantic and the spacious park-like area make “El Campo” ideal for flying homemade or store brought craft. Food vendors sell drinks and snacks, and the sky is filled with a rainbow of darting and soaring colors.