Fortresses with Penthouse Views

The Castillo San Felipe del Moro juts out on the tip of San Juan, facing out towards the open sea and across from another smaller fort which worked as a team with the Castillo to catch enemies in crossfire. Today, the Castillo’s multiple floors serve as a museum with some artifacts such as cannons, guns, and maps on display. Mostly, the tour of the Castillo is self explanatory; tourists simply walk all over the huge fort. The circular guard towers often serve as a symbol of Puerto Rico. The towers are actually featured on one of the island’s license plate designs.

a look out point, popular on license plates
a look out point, popular on license plates

Here, I had my first encounter with one of the island’s gigantic iguanas! Oh my! They are big! Their throats are rather creepy when they expand with air. The iguanas had imposing sharp spines and tough as leather skin. I did not get too close, instead I used the zoom on my camera to get some good close ups.

icky iguana
icky iguana

Although the fort is worth seeing if one has the time, I really wouldn’t consider it a required must see. Probably my favorite thing about both San Juan national historic sites were the beautiful views of the coastline of San Juan. The hugeness of the forts and the fairly boring military history might be of interest to those interested in war, fighting, and militia, but I would much rather spend time seeing pretty or thought provoking things than dreary and depressing old centers of violence. Just a personal preference.

imposing ramparts of the old fortress
imposing ramparts of the old fortress

there's me, exploring the fort
there’s me, exploring the fort

So after visiting the Castillo, I spent some time walking through the cemetery directly beside it where many beautiful sculptures and extravagant tombstones adorn the graves. Old graves from the 1800’s were next to newer graves with fresh cut flowers arranged in memorial of lost loved ones. The cemetery is very pretty and worth a visit if stopping to see the historic fort.


My next stop was at a cafe called Poet’s Passage in the center of town for a quick energy boost. I enjoyed some green tea with a small green salad to fuel me up to visit the Castillo San Cristobal, the other large fortress which is now a part of the San Juan National historic site. Although San Cristobal also overlooks the sea, it was strategically positioned to the east of town in order to prevent attacks by land as well. Again, the views in all directions were certainly the highlight of this fortress – just take a look at these photos!



Interestingly, San Cristobal was also in use during World War II and received a few new updated look out points during that time. The contrast between these newer viewpoints and the older ones was interesting to see. By this time in the day, Shirin was done with her school meeting and ready to meet up for lunch! I snacked on some frozen yogurt to try to cool down while waiting to meet up with her. It was time to have my own local tour guide show me the sights!


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