La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico


Inscribed: 1983

Visited: November 2013


What UNESCO Says: “Between the 15th and 19th centuries, a series of defensive structures was built at this strategic point in the Caribbean Sea to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. They represent a fine display of European military architecture adapted to harbour sites on the American continent.”

What I Say: It seemed appropriate enough to start in my home country (technically). While the site appears to encompass the entire defensive wall, I noticed a difference between those portions contained within the two main fortress structures and those running in-between them; the former being well-maintained by the National Park Service, the latter forming the southern boundary of the much rougher Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis cemetery and La Perla slum area. One sentry box smelled overwhelmingly of drugs. This made for an interesting cultural contrast, which only enhanced the instrinsic interest of El Morro and San Cristóbal. Interior quarters where the soldiers lived, spiral stairways through which they moved between levels, the now-tranquil Atlantic coast over which they looked for centuries—all add up to a worthwhile travel experience and historic treasure rightfully recognized by UNESCO some 30 years ago.