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San Juan National Historic Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and was declared a world heritage site 17 years later. The site is home to Castillo San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro”), Castillo San Cristóbal, most of the old city walls, la Puerta de San Juan and the Fort San Juan de la Cruz. Visitors here will learn about the early days of the Spanish in Puerto Rico and the ensuing struggles for control of the island, stories central to Puerto Rico’s last 500 years.

The signature landmark of the San Juan National Historic Site is the 16th century Castillo San Felipe del Morro, commonly known as El Morro. Located on the northwestern tip of Old San Juan, it took some 200 years to build this imposing fortress, which successfully defended the island from several attacks. El Morro was a critical defensive point during World War II, when the USA used it to keep watch on German submarines in the Caribbean. The six-level structure, which offers breathtaking city and ocean views, is a maze of ramparts with dungeons, barracks, cannons and sentry boxes. Embark on a self-guided tour or opt for one led by a park ranger, offered in English and Spanish. The fort’s grounds are also a prime spot for picnicking and kite flying.

Paying the entrance fee to tour El Morro also grants access to Castillo San Cristóbal, an 11-hectare fortification that was completed in 1790 after 150 years of work. Located on the opposite side of the city from El Morro, this fortress helped protect San Juan from land-based attacks. Designed by Irish engineer Thomas O’Daly, it features three levels, including a main plaza, a firing battery and an observation level at the top. While exploring the passageways and barracks, be sure to peer at the sentry box known as Garita del Diablo. Legend has it that the remote sentry, which juts into the ocean, is haunted by the disappearance of a Spanish soldier long ago.