A Visit To Fort San Cristóbal in Old San Juan


Yesterday was a muggy day.  The weather lady had forecasted rain in the afternoon so my wife and I decided to stay close to home instead of exploring some remote part of the Island.


Old San Juan is just 12 miles away from our home so we decided to go there.  Old San Juan is the oldest city in Puerto Rico and the second oldest in the New World.  It has also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.  And even after living in Puerto Rico for close to 50 years I always discover something interesting and beautiful when I go there.

Fort San Cristóbal

Fort San Cristóbal

Yesterday our plan was to visit the Spanish forts in the earlier part of the day, hang out at Paseo de la Princesa during the later part of the afternoon, maybe catch a sunset by “La Rogativa” and then visit a friend of mine that makes fine cigars on the corner of Fortaleza and O’Donnell.

Well, we accomplished half of our plan.  At 2:30pm we left Old San Juan under a heavy drizzle and an overcast sky that was no fun for making photographs or shooting video.

Fort San Cristobal tunnel system

Fort San Cristobal tunnel system

Even so I was able to shoot a short video of Fort San Cristóbal and several good photographs.

For many tourists visiting Puerto Rico on cruise ships Fort San Cristóbal and Fort San Felipe del Morro is all they’re going to see.  If they’re lucky they’ll have enough time to see a couple of shops in the old city or visit the rum distillery across the bay.  So, in case you’re one of those, I thought I’d give you a sneak preview.

Fort San Cristóbal was finished in 1783 and at one point it covered 27 acres of land.  Its purpose was to defend the city of San Juan from attacks by land.  It extended from the northern Atlantic coast of San Juan Islet to the southern coast with San Juan Bay.  Today’s fort is a little over half of the original, and it is still the largest military fortification built by the Spaniards in the New World.

Fort San Felipe Del Morro

Fort San Felipe Del Morro

After leaving Fort San Cristóbal we went to Fort San Felipe del Morro, a second military structure, that is not as large, but it’s a lot more imposing; especially if you look at it from the water, aboard a small ship like the ones used in the 18th century.  During our brief visit to Fort San Felipe del Morro we shot part of a second video that we’ll be showing you next time, but the constant drizzle discouraged us after a while.

Fort San Felipe Del Morro

Fort San Felipe Del Morro

Fort San Felipe del Morro is a six level military structure, named after King Phillip II, that resembles the shape of a bull’s head when viewed from above.  Construction started in 1539 under the reign of King Charles V of Spain and most of the fort was finished during the 16th century.  However, the structure was constantly improved until the eventual occupation of the Island by the United States in 1898.

At its highest point Fort San Felipe del Morro rises 145 feet above sea level.  However, for the visitor it doesn’t seem as tall because the entrance is through a small concrete bridge that crosses a dry moat at ground level.  In Spanish colonial times there would be a drawbridge at the entrance and soldiers with crossbows guarding the walls.

Fort San Felipe Del Morro

Fort San Felipe Del Morro

About halfway through our visit to El Morro it started to rain.  First it was a heavy rain and then it was a constant drizzle that had no plans of stopping.  So about 2:30pm we packed our things and took the trolley toward the underground parking.

In Old San Juan there are two trolley systems.  One belongs to the city and the other to the U.S. National Park Service.  You’ll recognize them easily because the ones belonging to the city are green and the ones belonging to the U.S. National Park Service are white.  They’re both quite good.  However, the main difference is their route.

Fort San Cristobal, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Fort San Cristobal

City trolleys crisscross the city through narrow streets, while the U.S. trolleys skirt the north side of the city on Norzagaray Street.  This makes the ride on city trolleys a little more time consuming.  However, city trolleys are of the closed variety, which means that you won’t get wet on a rainy day like yesterday.

Furthermore, the main objective of the U.S. National Park Service trolleys is to bring tourists from the docks and Covadonga Bus Terminal to Fort San Cristóbal and Fort San Felipe del Morro.  The fact that they add to the city’s transportation system is purely coincidental.

In any case, we were both wet, the day was getting ugly and —since I can always go back whenever I want— we called it quits for the day.


Even so, I was able to take a few nice shots and make a short video for your enjoyment.  I hope you like it.

Enjoy Puerto Rico,

©2013,Orlando Mergal, MA

Bilingual Content Creator, Blogger, Podcaster,
Author, Photographer and New Media Expert
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