Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Tue May 03 2016

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | May 3, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    El Morro: San Juan’s Landmark Fort

    El Morro: San Juan’s Landmark Fort

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    Puerto Rico’s bustling and colorful capital of San Juan is noted as the cosmopolitan heart of the island, filled with art and culture. It’s easy to forget while dancing to live salsa and browsing the art galleries that line the cobblestone streets that San Juan is also loaded with history.  And there’s no better place to get a sense of that history than exploring the 16th century fort, Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

    I headed up to El Morro on a windy spring day to grab a glimpse of the historic landmark up close. The view of the fort overlooking the sea is spectacular and it gets grander the closer you get. You can take a tram up the hill to the entrance or you can take the scenic route and walk.

    READ MORE: A Day-Trip to San Juan: Puerto Rico's Old Town

    Tip: the fort’s hilltop position makes it perennially windy so secure hats (which you’ll need to block the intense sun rays) and avoid wearing skirts or dresses. I learned this the hard way and spent half the climb clutching my dress so I didn’t end up in a Marilyn Monroe pose with my dress flying up into my face.

    El Morro overlooks San Juan Bay, a key position that helped protect the island from invasions. The six-level fort is one of the largest erected by Spain in the Caribbean and its construction spanned 250 years, from the time it was built as a simple tower in 1539, until all of the levels were added on in 1787.

    El Morro has blocked invasions from the Dutch, the British, Sir Francis Drake and the U.S. during the Spanish American War. The centuries of battle seem to pour out of the walls and you can look at several cannons left over from the battles.

    You can start your self-guided tour with a short video about the history of El Morro that’s shown in the main plaza. The video runs in both Spanish and English a few times an hour. I found the video helpful because it gives a general understanding of all the fort’s history. There’s also a Park Ranger who offers an orientation talk every 30 minutes in English and Spanish.

    El Morro’s main plaza is encircled by yellow and white arches and houses a well, powder magazine storerooms, prison cells, living quarters and a chapel. Small exhibits illustrate what each room was used for. The plaza is also where the sun beams down the most, so it’s good to duck into the rooms for shade.

    The upper level was my favorite part of the structure, it’s where you can view stunning panoramas of the bay and squeeze into the sentry boxes for the perfect selfie. This is also where the lighthouse is located, which flies the three flags of the commonwealth: a Puerto Rican flag, a U.S. flag and the Cross of Burgundy, which was flown by the Spanish from 1516 to 1785.

    READ MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Vieques

    The lower levels contain a cannon battery and the old tower, which is the oldest section of El Morro. If you creep into the tunnel, you’ll discover shell fragments embedded in the wall from the 1898 U.S. bombardment. When you walk outside the fort in the open field, you’ll spot locals enjoying the views and having picnics. El Morro is an essential part of San Juan and a must see for every visitor.


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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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