We arrived in Puerto Rico just in time to pick up my mom from the airport on May 12th. Her flight arrived in San Juan on the North Coast so we rented a car for the day and drove across the island from Salinas on the South Coast. Tails were wagging when Betsy and Gunner found out they got to come along too. Though a bit jet-lagged from her overnight flight, Mom was thrilled to see us all.
West of the airport is Old San Juan, and home of the San Juan National Historic Site. We couldn’t resist a quick visit to see the massive forts built over 500 years ago that once protected Spain’s access to the New World from attack by sea.
“San Juan Bay was the first good harbor for sailing ships en route to the New World after a one or two-month Atlantic voyage from Europe… The trade winds blew sailing ships here from Europe, helped by ocean currents.” – National Park Service
It was like a trip back in time as we visited Castillo San Cristobal, one of the two main attractions of the park. We felt a new-found connection with the people we had once learned about in history class that also arrived here by sailboat and explored the island.
“Castillo San Cristobal, with its sprawling outer defenses, was built over 150 years to protect El Morro and the city from land attack. Inspired by such attacks by rivals England (1598) and Holland (1625), it was designed by the Irish-born Chief Engineer Thomas O’Daly. O’Daly served Spain because Spain was an enemy of Ireland’s enemy England.
Castillo San Cristobal is the biggest European fortification in the Americas. It lost some outworks when part of the city wall was torn down in 1897 to expand the city of San Juan.” – National Park Service
“Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) evolved from a promontory with cannon to the massive, six level fortress that confronts you today.” – National Park Service
In our opinion, the forts in Old San Juan are definitely worth seeing. TripAdvisor agrees, ranking it #1 for attractions in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Walking around takes about 1-2 hours and the cost is $5 for adults, free for kids under 12. Admission covers both locations at San Cristobal and El Morro. There is a tram to get to El Morro, the fort that lies further West. It’s mostly outdoors, but still fun in the rain :)