When I travel to the Caribbean, my plans are pretty much set:
1) Go to the beach
2) Find good food
3) Find the highest peak on the island for breathtaking views and beautiful
4) Visit a fort/ruin
5) Meet a local who is excited to welcome us to their country
These are the top things I like to do when I visit an island in the Caribbean. When I was in Puerto Rico, it made sense to visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro (please refer to number 4 on my above list).
While visiting Castillo San Felipe del Morro, generally called El Morro, expect to do lots of walking. Bring water with you because the sun is hot. The views of the surrounding waters is beautiful. The fort is a lot to cover to the point where I became a bit overwhelmed. I’m the kind of person that hates large department stores like Macy’s and Saks. The crowds and the multi-levels drain me. I’m an introvert so doing too much around too many people gets the best of me. El Morro got the best of me. I do, however, think it’s a must visit when in Old San Juan. It is probably the top reason you should visit Old San Juan even though Old San Juan has so much life outside of El Morro.
While El Morro is pretty safe to visit, it is in the area that’s been labeled one of the most dangerous towns in Old San Juan. La Perla is a place people vehemently advise tourist to avoid. Before the music video for the song Despacito popularized this area and turned it into a big tourist attraction, this was the place we passed walking back into town after visiting El Morro. As we headed back to town, we looked at the rooftops of each of the homes in La Perla, it reminded me of a Brazilian Favela. People in this area live on a beautiful island in a prime real estate location by the water, near a major tourist attraction. They have what everyone wants and it’s sad that having a fort like El Morro that was once built to defend the port of San Juan by controlling the entry to its harbor cannot protect those who now call this place home. Native American, Tainos were murdered, raped, and enslaved when Spanish colonizers landed in Puerto Rico in the late 1400s. After two major hurricanes ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, locals are once again at risk of being colonized. It’s a heartbreaking tale that shouldn’t be overlooked. There is a worldwide gentrification taking place and if you are a person of color who is socially and economically disadvantaged, you are not going to benefit from any of it. Proof that history often repeats itself.
Puerto Rico is still in desperate need of support after the hurricanes. If you are an island lover like me, I suggest you put Puerto Rico at the top of your list of islands to visit in the Caribbean. It is a United States territory. You do not need a passport at this time to visit the island if you are a US Citizen, but check with your airline carrier to know exactly what travel documents are required for your trip before booking your flight.
Visit the El Morro to learn about the history of the fort. Also take some time to learn some of the history of the island of Puerto Rico. It will help you appreciate your travel experience on a deeper level. The food, the language, and music are all created with love. Despite everything they’ve gone through, the people of Puerto Rico are warm and welcoming like their Taino ancestors. Connect with the culture and embrace your adventure.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
501 Calle Norzagaray
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901