Old San Juan offers recreation options

SAN JUAN, P.R.— A vacation in Puerto Rico most likely conjures up images of lounging in a hammock, tropical drink in hand, and listening to rolling waves crash against the shore.

While this is perfectly acceptable behavior of anyone spending leisure time on a tropical island, the lack of movement can grow old. Luckily, the San Juan National Historic Site offers the perfect antidote to all that lying around.

A woman walks her baby on the expansive grounds of El Morro (Photo by Veronica Sepe).

No trip to Puerto Rico is complete without a visit to its National Historic Sites, particularly those in San Juan, San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal. Both sites are forts that were built by the Spanish starting in 1539 with Castillo San Felipe del Morro and later Castillo de San Cristóbal in 1634.

While the forts are both stunning examples of colonial engineering and offer rich historical backgrounds, they are also a good way to get some physical activity while on vacation in San Juan.

Castillo de San Cristóbal has enough steep staircases and winding tunnels to get anyone’s blood flowing, but for a more organized approach to exploring the fort on foot, the national historic site offers walking tours to guide visitors through the site.

Both tours are ranger-led and offer visitors different takes on San Cristóbal.

The Tunnel Tour goes through the tunnels of San Cristóbal where soldiers once marched and used for defense against incoming attacks. This tour is not too physically demanding, but includes the wealth of knowledge that the rangers have on the forts. It is the perfect activity for any history buff who doesn’t want to sweat too much on vacation.

The Walking Tour takes visitors throughout the fort all the way to its outer-most fortresses, areas that can only be accessed by the rangers. This tour is slightly more labor-intensive and walking shoes are a must, not only for the uneven terrain, but also the fire ants that populate the grassy areas.

Donna Milcamp, a cruise ship passenger, found the tour while exploring the fort.

“I’ve been on a ship for quite a few hours now. It’s nice to walk around on solid ground and stretch out a little bit. Plus I get to learn something new.”

El Paseo del Morro, the walking path that runs along the walls of El Morro (Photo by Veronica Sepe).

Both tours are offered in English and Spanish. Days of the week and time vary throughout the year.

The second fort, San Felipe del Morro, is a short 20-minute walk from San Cristóbal. Once there, the Fort offers less in terms of guided tours, but its sprawling grounds are perfect for all sorts of recreational activity.

According to the Walter Chavez, superintendent for the San Juan National Historic Site, 300,000 to 400,000 people use the grounds of El Morro yearly for picnics, sports, and other activities.”

One of the most popular activities is kite flying. El Morro’s coastal location provides strong Atlantic winds that make this pastime a local favorite. Vendors around the area sell a wide range of kites, some with up to 17 different varieties.

“I used to come to El Morro with my grandfather and fly kites every Sunday morning,” said Carlos Cruz, a 20-year-old San Juan native. “I don’t fly kites here very much anymore, but I still come to hang out with my friends on nice days.”

In addition to the usual weekend activity, the park holds an annual Kite Festival that features a number of activities including a competition and educational exhibits. This festival will be held next spring on March 4, 2008, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For those looking for more intense physical activity, the cool early morning hours offer the perfect climate for avid runners and the Paseo de Princesa offers the perfect view.

The grassy area surrounding El Morro and home to numerous recreational activities (Photo by Veronica Sepe).

Paseo de la Princesa is the pathway that runs against the outer walls of the city against the southern coastline of Old San Juan.

This walkway is a favorite of local runners as the San Juan Bay offers both cool breezes and beautiful views.

“I come running or walk my dogs here three or four times a week,” said resident Marilyn Gomez, 42. “It’s nicest in the morning, before eight.

Another waterfront pathway is el Paseo del Morro, which is shorter and not as wide as Paseo de la Princesa. However, it offers a much different exercise experience. The former maintenance road runs a half-mile right against the Atlantic Ocean between El Morro and San Cristóbal.

While it lacks the vendors and palm trees common on Paseo de la Princesa, the more rustic path offers the closest view of the ocean available without being on the beach.

While vacation is a tempting time to remain as sedentary as possible, the forts and surrounding areas of Old San Juan offer the perfect excuse to set down that mojito and get moving.


If You Go

  • FORT SAN CRISTOBAL: This 27 acre structure doesn’t have a specific address, but it in located along the northern coastline of Old San Juan on Calle Norzagaray. Walking tours provide a moderate amount of activity.
  • EL MORRO: A 20-minute walk from San Cristobal, it too is located along Calle Norzagaray on the most northwestern area of the coastline. The massive expanse of grass that El Morro sits on make it perfect for a range of mild to heavy outdoor activity.
  • PASEO DEL MORRO: Accessible through the San Juan Gate, it runs along the city’s massive sandstone walls. Its half-mile path makes for mild and scenic exercise.
  • El PASEO DE PRINCESSA: Located on the southernmost coast of Old San Juan, this path is a favorite of runners, walkers, and joggers, and is most popular for physical activity in the early morning.

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