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18 June 2021

Go Fly a Kite at San Juan’s Imposing El Morro Fortress

Old San Juan is one of the crowning historical glories of the Caribbean, and the jewel in that crown is without a doubt the enormous fortress – in fact, the largest built by the Spanish in the Americas – that anchors San Juan’s colonial quarter, the Fortress of San Felipe del Morro, constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Probably Puerto Rico’s single most popular attraction (with more than two million visitors a year), six-level El Morro sprawls across some 28 hectares (70 acres), revolving around a large plaza that served as a parade ground. Climbing the fortifications, lined with doughty iron cannons, is also impressive, as is paying a visit to the lighthouse – rebuilt in Moorish-Revival style in 1908 – that rises 15.5 metres (51 feet) from them.

Apart from its size, El Morro is fairly standard-issue Spanish military architecture of its day, but another thing that sets it apart is its strategic, dramatic location on a 42.5m-high (140-ft.) promontory at the entrance to San Juan Bay. And the broad, grassy slope leading up to the fortress – pretty much the largest open stretch in all of San Juan – has for years been popular with locals as a breezy place to fly gaily-coloured chiringas (kites), especially on Sundays. If you want to join the fun, buy a chiringa at one of the nearby stands and have at it!

And by the way, alongside El Morro is Fort San Cristóbal, built mostly around the middle of the 18th century, and on the other side of the bay you can also visit the square, 17th-century Fortín de San Juan de la Cruz (also known as El Cañuelo), covering just under 1.5ha (3½ acres).

And of course don’t forget the rest of Old San Juan, an extremely atmospheric UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 1509. Highlights here include the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista; the Plaza de Armas parade ground; the seafront Paseo de la Princesa promenade lined with beautiful fountains and lamp posts; and of course, myriad cobblestone streets packed with restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, and guesthouses/hotels.

So now that travel is opening up again, give a thought to snagging a cheap Iberia flight to San Juan and marvel at El Morro as well as the rest of picturesque Viejo San Juan – and don’t forget to spend a handful of dollars on a chiringa and let ’er rip! 🪁

Photo: R9 estudios

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