San Juan National Historic Site

City of San Juan

No.  American history did not begin in 1776.  Actually it didn't begin with Columbus or the Vikings either, but that's where the story of San Juan took a turn toward a National Historic Site that's just a whole lot of fun to visit.  Spanish exploration of the New World began in 1492 with the first Columbus voyage.  By 1533, the forts and bastions that you will see were being built.  So if you want to visit something in the New World that traces back about as far as you can, at least as far as a European influence, you'll be hard pressed to find much that dates back further.  

So what's there now.  Fort Castillo San Cristobal, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and El Canuelo.  Designated a World Heritage site in 1983, the area of the forts is smaller than you'd think, only 75 acres including some private land.  But the history it contains and the awesome views from those ramparts are just spectacular.  Image above: Campeche view of attack on San Cristobal, drawing from 1904.  Image above right: San Cristobal fort.  (Photos courtesy NPS)

San Juan Forts Timeline
1493 - Spanish first arrive on the islands of Puerto Rico.
1521 - City of San Juan founded by Spanish colonists.  It is the oldest city in the United States and second only to Santo Domingo in the Americas.
1533 - Construction on La Forteleza is begun by the Spanish.
1539 - El Morro construction is started.
1595 - Sir Francis Drake fires on the forts.
1625 - Forts are attacked by the Dutch.
1634 - Castillo San Cristobal fort construction begins.
1798 - During the Spanish American War, El Morro is attacked by the U.S. Fleet.
1983 - Forts are designated a World Heritage Site.

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Start out with a ranger orientation talk.  These 20 minute gabs will get you off to the right start with the history you're about to wander through.  Perfect way to get going at San Juan NHS.  After this start, you might want to explore on your own, watch a film, or go deeper into the history with a longer ranger walk.  There's a Tunnel Tour, Lighthouse Talk, and Outer Defenses tour.  Check the day's schedule to see what's on tap for the day you want to visit.

2. Take a break at San Cristobal to fly a kite and eat a picnic lunch.  The views from the area are great and you'll just love the moment of relaxation among so much history.

3.  Take a walk on the Paseo del Morro (picture below, NPS).  What used to be a maintenance road till 1998 is now a trail that lets you walk along the water outside the fort walls and the old San Juan wall, too.  They're planning future expansion of this trail to connect both forts.

View of the Paseo del Morro

What is There Now

The Forts

El Morro- This fort sits at the entrance to San Juan Bay. Built from 1539 to 1787, it saw action during the Spanish-American war.  There are exhibits, a film, ranger guided or self-guided walks, too.

Castillo San Cristobal
- Located near the location of the eastern walls of Old San Juan, it was built to protect San Juan from forces by land.  The first shots of the Spanish-American War were shot here.

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Lodging and Camping

Lodging - There is no lodging or camping within the park itself, but plenty nearby.  See your favorite online site such as Expedia or the local tourism websites for the type that might meet your needs.

Camping - There's no camping in the park either.  Check the Puerto Rico Tourism office for information on the possibilities on the island.

San Juan Links

San Juan National Historic Site
Caribbean National Forest
San Juan Tourism Center

Nearby Attractions

Puerto Rico Tourism
Puerto Rico Convention Bureau

San Juan Then and Now

El Morro fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

San Juan Then

Imagine Sir Francis Drake firing into the fort of El Morro in  1595, and the Dutch again in 1625.  Wait a century and you even had the United States packing punch into those walls in 1898.  Imagine the New World from both sets of eyes, the Europeans who settled the area beginning in 1508 and the islanders who met the, okay, let's get this about right, the invasion of new folks.  (Photo above of San Cristobal Fortress, 1908.  Photo Courtesy LOC)

San Juan Now

Views of the sea from the San Juan fort El Morro promenade

Inside the Forts
- Take a walk, view a film, listen to a ranger describe the history of each fort as if you were back in the days of Spanish gallions and shots fired from sea or land.   (Photo above of the 4th Level at El Morro, NPS)

Outside the Forts - There's so much to see and do in the city of San Juan, including recreation, the history of Old San Juan itself, plus all those vacation shopping escursions, too.  And not too far away is an actual rain forest at the Caribbean National Forest.

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Visitor Statistics

San Juan National Historic Site
1,328,802 visitors

#52 Most Visited National Park Unit

Park Size

San Juan National Historic Site

53 acres (Federal)
75 acres (Total)

Source: NPS, 2013 Visitor Statistics; Visitor Rank among 369 units.

San Juan National Historic Site Fees

One Fort, 1 Day - $3.00 (Adults 16 and over)
Both Forts, 1 Week - $5.00 (Adults)
15 and under - Free

There is a parking fee after the first hour.

Fees subject to change without notice.

San Juan Weather

It's the Caribbean. Expect warm, but pleasant.  Think 80s in the winter and 90s in the summer.

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