Exploring forts and wandering along cobblestone streets are amongst the most popular ways to visit Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. But just outside the ancient city walls there’s a road where few tourists venture. It’s here on the Paseo del Morro Trail where the sea meets the stone, where the waves wash up on centuries of stories and where, for a scenic one-mile walk, you can take a stroll right through the city’s beguiling history.
The Paseo del Morro Trail skirts along the coastline of the fortified city, between the San Juan Bay and the imposing city walls, beginning at the San Juan Gate at the end of picturesque Paseo de la Princesa right up to the entrance of Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
The origins of the trail date back to the 1630s, when it served as a maintenance road for indentured masons who labored to raise the colossal city walls. It’s a spectacular place to see the historic walls up close and take in the enormity of their construction, which lasted well into the 1790s. From below the towering white slabs of limestone seem to ascend straight from the blues of the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1998 the walkway was opened for the enjoyment of the public and in 2001 it was declared a National Recreation Trail as part of the San Juan Historic Site. Now, a recent expansion and restoration provide a direct entrance to El Morro Fort, where a steep flight of stairs leads to the fort’s esplanade and beyond it to the colonial city.
Past the fort, another trail continues “off-road” amongst a tangle of palms and sea grape trees, toward the city’s oldest cemetery and to the northern tip of the islet, where the bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. From here, future plans for expansion anticipate a continuous pathway to the Castillo San Cristobal.
Paseo del Morro is open daily from 9:00am to 6:00am. There is no fee to access the public walkway and although there is little shade and no vendors on this walk (be sure to bring along adequate sun coverage and hydration) there are plenty of places to stop and admire the stunning views of the Garitas (sentry boxes) and of the bay’s many attractions, like Isla de Cabras or the ships entering or exiting its waters. It is also an ideal spot to watch the evening sun go down, as the walls light up with the setting sun’s rays.
The views and ocean breeze provide an experience unlike any other in Old San Juan, simultaneously a historic tour of the old city and a relaxing seaside walk along the walls that once protected this great city.