There are two forts protecting San Juan, one from an ocean attack, the other from land invasion. The largest, straight ahead, guarding the harbor, is El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, usually referred to as EL Morro. A half mile to the east is Fort San Cristobal.
Continue on to the fort on El Campo del Morro. Walk westward across the field where they once used to drill and train the troops. Today it is a picnic area and a great place to fly kites. Enter through the neoclassical gateway of a fortress believed impregnable for centuries.
The National Park Service supplies you with a map when you pay your entrance fee of $3 ($5 if you want to see both forts). You can use that map, and the descriptions of the different parts of the fort, to do a self-guided tour of sorts. Or, you can sit in air-conditioned comfort and watch a short movie about the battles and construction of the forts. It runs continuously all day and is shown in English on the hour and ½ hour, and Spanish on the ¼ and ¾ hour. If you don’t want to watch the movie or listen to a park ranger, use your map and go off and explore the fort on your own. The fort is open to the public 7 days a week in June to November from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. It’s open in December to May from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm. Closed New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
You will be walking around a large concrete and rock structure and using various stairs, ramps and tunnels. It will be HOT. Wear sunscreen and drink lots of water (there are water fountains near the restrooms and they sell bottled water in the gift shop). Allow a minimum of 1 hour, although you’ll probably spend more time if you start looking at the exhibits.
Some history about El Morro Fort, or officially Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, located at the end of Calle Norzagaray which is a massive structure. The Fort wasn’t initially built as the huge structure that you see today. It has gone through many enlargements and modifications, from the time it was first constructed by Spain through the time that it was occupied by the US Army. The whole thing, including the huge city walls, San Cristobal Fort for land attacks, and the El Morro enlargement, took about 150 years to complete. El Morro now has six levels of defense and rises 145 feet above sea level.
Garitas - The garitas, or sentry boxes, are located all around the outer walls of the fort. There are a number of them that you can go into. These garitas have become a cultural symbol of Puerto Rico - you will see their images on many things, from license plates to shot glasses to tee shirts. These make wonderful pictures
Lighthouse - At the highest level of El Morro is the lighthouse. It was rebuilt by the US in 1908 after it was damaged in the 1898 Spanish-American war.
Cannon Water Battery - This area was used to protect the entrance to the San Juan harbor with cannon power. Some of the remaining cannons are on display near this area. It’s now a lovely observation area, providing great views of the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. At one time over 450 cannons were mounted in the forts of Old San Juan.
Torre Antigua - The Torre
Antigua, or Old Tower, is the oldest part of El Morro. If you go down the
tunnel, you can see a shell fragment from the 1898 US bombardment that is
still stuck in the wall.
Kitchen & Forge - In this area, you can see the kitchen where meals where prepared and the forge where they did some of their metalwork. The walls are still stained with soot from the hot fires they had in these areas.
Staircases - Be sure to check out the spiral and triangular staircases that go from level to level.
Restrooms - Besides the obvious, there are fantastic views from the window in each of the restrooms.
For more information on the forts: WEBSITE: http://www.nps.gov/saju
Old San Juan Cemetery
Between the two castles lies
the beautiful San Juan Cemetery and its stark, neoclassical chapel. The
cemetery, often called one of the most beautiful in the world, is situated
between the fort wall and the ocean cliffs. If you are passing by during the
day, peek in the gates to see some of the most beautiful religious marble
statues and sculptures.
ALERT! The National Park Service does not recommend that visitors go down into either the Cemetery which is outside the walls at El Morro, or the famous seaside barrio, La Perla, below the city walls between the two forts. Crime in general in Old San Juan is lower than in other communities in the metropolitan area but these areas are not safe (drugs, murders, children with guns, etc.) It isn't recommended to walk between the two forts at night, either. The locals will even warn you of this..
San Cristobal Fort
Considered a strategic masterpiece, it features five independent units, each connected by moat and tunnel and fully self-sufficient should any of the others fall. San Cristobal is located on the northeastern side of Old San Juan opposite El Morro. Visitors here will be delighted with the views San Cristobal offers of the city, ocean and El Morro. A favorite part of this tour for visitors is the dungeon where one can see drawings on the wall done by captives. San Cristobal protected San Juan against attackers coming by land as a partner to El Morro, to which it is linked by a half-mile (1km) of monumental walls and bastions filled with cannon-firing positions. A complex system of tunnels and dry moats connects the center of San Cristobal to its "outworks," defensive elements arranged layer after layer over a 27-acre site. You'll get the idea if you look at the scale model on display. Like El Morro, the fort is administered and maintained by the National Park Service. Be sure to see the Garita del Diablo (the Devil's Sentry Box), one of the oldest parts of San Cristóbal's defenses, and famous in Puerto Rican legend. The devil himself, it is said, would snatch away sentinels at this lonely post at the edge of the sea. In 1898 the first shots of the Spanish-American War in Puerto Rico were fired by cannons on top of San Cristóbal during an artillery duel with a U.S. Navy fleet. As if its size and height weren't sufficient to intimidate enemies, its intricate modular design was sure to foil them. It costs $3 USD to enter the fort. If you visited El Morro and paid $5 for a ticket, this allows you to visit both forts.
There is a lot of walking and climbing through dark tunnels, steep stairs and ramps, but the view is worth it from the top. (Photo on right) Looking down the ramp to the central courtyard of San Cristobal Fort with its many cisterns.
Climbing up the steep ramp to the tippy-top of the fort ..for a gorgeous view of Old San Juan (dot on top is me!)
Walk around the top of the fort for views of the entire city. This view is towards El Morro, the cemetery and the infamous seaside barrio, La Perla, below the city walls between the two forts
The fort has an intricate massive design that spreads itself around 27 acres--with a view in every direction. In the monumental walls are many openings created for cannon-firing positions...and great for taking photos.
In the interior square there is gift shop... in the tunnels there are dungeons!