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Visiting El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico

View of the 18 foot thick walls and a garita at El Morro.
View of the 18 foot thick walls and a garita at El Morro.
Robert Linder

When in San Juan, Puerto Rico, one of my favorite tourist destinations isCastillo San Felipe del Morro, commonly referred to as simply “El Morro.” El Morro is a military fort constructed in the 1500s, the early days of Spanish rule on the island. In those days, the island was a stopping point for ships carrying gold treasure from the Americas to Spain, and the army housed at El Morro helped protect the island from pirates and invaders from other countries. The fort was used by the U.S. for military purposes even during World War II, and became a National Park in 1961.

The 18-foot thick walls surrounding the fort, designed to withstand cannon fire, are impressive. You can stroll through El Morro, seeing the chapel where the soldiers once worshipped, the kitchen with its blackened walls and the barracks where they slept. Note the distinctive guard shacks called garitas, which have become a symbol for the island. The fort can be hot, but there’s an air conditioned movie room or visitors can stand in front of the windows in the former barracks, which get an incredible breeze off the ocean.

Although I had been to El Morro several times before, on our last trip my daughter headed down a ramp I’d never seen before, leading from the first of the barracks. At the end of it we found the original tower of San Felipe del Morro, older than the rest of the fort. A piece of shrapnel is still lodged in the wall, left over from a bombardment by U.S. forces during the Spanish-American war in 1898. It really brought history to life for me.

Make sure to head up to the top level before leaving and get a picture by the pyramid of cannon balls. When you’re done touring the fort, you can wander around Old San Juan, which is full of restaurants, shops and museums. If you like to fly kites, bring one along - you’ll love the strong winds outside the fort.

El Morro is one of Puerto Rico’s most interesting attractions and is a must see for anyone traveling to the island. It’s a great destination for history and military buffs, or anyone interested in learning more about Puerto Rico’s beginnings.