El Morro Fort
Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro Fort) is the second oldest fortification built in San Juan, after La Fortaleza (The Fortress). It is located on the northwestern tip of the San Juan islet at the harbor entrance. This makes it the first building that can be seen from a cruise ship entering San Juan Bay.
Construction of El Morro Fort began in 1539, but it wasn’t until approximately 250 years later that it became what we see today. It started with the construction of the first two levels at the bottom of the slope and slowly reached its current six levels rising 150 feet above the ocean.
El Morro was a crucial fortification in protecting San Juan from attacks by sea. This was proven on its first battle against the fleet of Englishman Sir Francis Drake. However, it was besieged and taken over by Englishman Sir George Clifford, the Earl of Cumberland, in its second battle because they entered and attacked the city by land. Not long after that, an epidemic of dysentery forced the Earl of Cumberland to withdraw and leave. El Morro was attacked again by land by the Dutch years later, but was able to withstand the attack and drive the Dutch away. After these attacks, more improvements were made to strengthen El Morro Fort and more fortifications, including San Cristobal Fort, were built and added to the line of defense of San Juan to protect the city from land attacks in addition to sea attacks.
The last battle that El Morro Fort suffered was the Spanish American War in 1898, in which United States invaded Puerto Rico and bombarded the fort. The war ended by the signing of the Treaty of Paris, in which Spain ceded ownership of Puerto Rico to the United States.
El Morro is an interesting fortification to visit because there are many features that make it unique, starting with its location, the lighthouse, the cannon water battery, the main plaza, and the tunnels and spiral staircases. Other iconic features that are common in San Cristobal Fort and the city wall are the garitas or sentry boxes. These have become iconic of San Juan itself.
The National Park Service charges an admission fee of $3.00 per adults; there is no charge for children 15 and under. The admission fee to visit both El Morro and San Cristobal is $5.00. This combination ticket is valid for seven days whereas the single ticket is valid for only 24 hours.
If you are visiting both forts, make sure you purchase the combination ticket when you go to the first of the two forts. If you purchase the regular $3.00 ticket in the first fort and then decide to visit the other one, they won’t sell you a $2.00 ticket. You will have to pay for another $3.00 ticket.
Guided tours of the lighthouse and of the fort itself are available at El Morro in both English and Spanish. Check the National Park Service website for times and schedules.
The fort is open every day from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, but it is closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
El Morro is distant from the road, so you will have to walk to get there. There is a free trolley service (the trolley that is open) that can take you right to the entrance of the fort, but you will have to wait for it and waiting times could vary.
Return from El Morro Fort to San Juan Forts