San Cristobal Fort
Castillo San Cristóbal, commonly known as San Cristobal Fort, was the second major fort in the line of defense of San Juan after El Morro Fort. It is located along the north coast about a mile east from El Morro. Covering 27 acres of land, San Cristobal is the largest fort built by the Spanish in the Americas.
Spain realized they needed to strengthen their defenses after the last two attacks and invasions by land from the Englishmen and the Dutch, and decided to build San Cristobal Fort to defend San Juan from land attacks. Construction began in 1634 and slowly progressed to become a massive fort bigger than what we see today. San Cristobal Fort was originally built from the north coast (the section still standing today) to the south to San Juan Bay. This last section that extended to the south (where the docks are) is where one of the gates to the city was. Nevertheless, that section of the fort and the gate were demolished in 1897 to allow for the city to grow to the east.
The oldest section of San Cristobal Fort is what used to be known as Fortín del Espigón. This is the area where the famous Garita del Diablo (Devil’s Guerite) is located.
The name devil’s guerite or devil’s sentry box comes from a legend that says that soldiers disappeared when they were on guard in that sentry box because they were taken by the devil. The devil’s guerite is isolated from other sentry boxes because it is in the lower level of the fort in close proximity to the ocean. The sound of waves hitting the rocks would create noises that soldiers heard as voices. The soldiers were superstitious and believed the voices were from demons. Therefore, they hated having to stay on guard at the devil’s guerite. One night, a soldier that was on guard there stopped responding to the alert shouts of the other soldiers. They immediately feared the worst, but waited until the sun rose to go look for his friend. The soldier was nowhere to be found, but his uniform, rifle and cartridge belt were inside the sentry box. This led them to think he had been taken away by the devil, and this is when they named the sentry box Devil’s Guerite and how the legend started…. However… local stories say that the missing soldier was found years later living in Luquillo, another municipality in Puerto Rico, and that he disappeared because he escaped and ran away with his girlfriend.
The design of San Cristobal Fort was such that the units of the fort were interconnected by tunnels and moats but independent from each other, so that if one of them was breached, it would not compromise or affect the defense capabilities of the other units. San Cristobal Fort was put to the test in 1797 with the invasion of the British troops. This fort defended the city along with other smaller forts to the east in the Puerta de Tierra area. In 1898, San Cristobal Fort fired the first shot of the Spanish-American War. But the defenses of the city could not withstand and defeat the superior weapons of the United States Navy. Puerto Rico became a possession of the United States following this battle.
Some of the interesting features of San Cristobal Fort are the different sections of the fort that are separated between grassed areas, the moats, the sentry boxes, the main plaza, the different levels it has, and the tunnels. There is even a so called dungeon with ships drawn on the wall. But my favorite of all the things that can be seen in this fort are the views of the city from the caballero level at the very top.
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 San Cristobal and El Morro 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 tunnels and of the outworks, the outer defenses of the fort, are available in both English and Spanish. Check the National Park Service website for times and schedules.
In addition to tours, the fort hosts a special event of cultural music and dance every Tuesday at 6:00 PM. The cost for this show is included in the admission fee for the fort. So if you want to relax watching the show and enjoying the music after walking and touring the fort, you may want to consider visiting San Cristobal on a Tuesday and sticking around until the show starts.
The fort is open every day from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, except on Tuesdays, which is from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Return from San Cristobal Fort to San Juan Forts