Exploring a port of call's history can be just as interesting and fun as spalshing at the beach or enjoying local cuisine. In Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, history comes in spades and among the most popular historical spots tourists can see are the two old Spanish forts that guard the city, Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) and San Cristóbal.
These two forts are among the most popular historical sites to see in Old San Juan, and they offer an intriguing look back at the island's rich history as well as provide amazing views of the surrounding area.
The two Spanish forts are located on the north side of Old San Juan, and are within walking distance of each other.
El Morro is the more famous of the two forts, as it guards the entrance to the harbor, while San Cristóbal was built to defend the city itself.
The city of San Juan provides a free shuttle from the cruise area up to the forts, although the distance is walkable by most people and there is a lot to see and do along the way.
Starting with El Morro, the fort is set opposite a rather large grassy area, where you will often spot locals and tourists flying kits, taking dogs for walks and otherwise enjoying the wide open space.
Like San Cristóbal, once inside the fort, guests are able to tour the fort on their own and explore every aspect of it. The park staff do offer guided tours at certain times that narrate the experience. Nonetheless, you should feel free to explore the fort on your own, as there is plenty of signs to help tell the fort's story.
There are many areas of the fort to explore, as El Morro is rather large and offers views of the entrance to the harbor, the ocean and the surrounding areas.
Admission to El Morro gets you admission to San Cristóbal as well (and vice versa).
After a walk to San Cristóbal, you will find a fort similar in nature to El Morro, but this fort offers better views of the city and harbor.
San Cristóbal was built to defend the city against land based attacks and is larger than El Morro. In fact, it is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World.
Like El Morro, San Cristóbal provides a self-guided tour of the facility and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
If your Royal Caribbean ship happens to be in port during the evening, El Morro is lit up quite nicely and provides even more beautiful photo opportunities.
The two Old San Juan forts are among the most famous historical sites in Old San Juan and they are to Old San Juan what the Statue of Liberty might be to New York City.
There are two good tips we can offer for seeing the forts: try to go there early in the day before the temperatures rise and take the complimentary trolley from the cruise ship terminal.
Since Puerto Rico is in the tropics, it tends to get quite hot and humid in the afternoon, especially between the months of March through November. Given that the fort is almost entirely outdoors, ideally you will visit it in the morning before it gets too hot outside.
If you are wondering about which fort to see if you only have time or energy for one, El Morro tends to be the better choice for its photo opportunities and slightly smaller footprint. Keep in mind that admission to one fort gets you into both (for up to 7 days), so there is no financial reason not to see both.
Be sure to bring your cameras to either fort, because the views offered are really quite impressive.
Both fortifications can be explored everyday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm either on your own or on one of the ranger led programs held throughout the week.
Cost: $7 per adult. Children 15 and under are free.