La Fortaleza

The Río San Juan & Islas Solentiname

Properly known as La Fortaleza de la Limpia Pura e Inmaculada Concepción, this photogenic fortress was constructed between 1673 and 1675, commissioned after Granada was sacked three times in five years. The Raudal El Diablo rapids were key – they slowed the pirates down just long enough to aim enormous cannons their way. Still, the fortress was attacked, rebuilt and fortified every other decade for 200 years.

The fort’s cinematic moment arrived when proto-feminist folk hero Rafaela Herrera was only 19 years old. Her father, the fortress commander, was critically wounded in a 1762 battle with an on-rushing British fleet. Herrera, still the region’s favorite heroine, stepped into command (evidently wearing just her nightgown) and successfully repelled the pirates. In some versions of the story she fired the cannon that sank the lead ship.

Then, in 1780, a 22-year-old Horatio Nelson conquered the fortress, but British control was short-lived as malarial mosquitoes ravaged the battle-depleted party and within a few months the Spanish were able to walk back into the abandoned fort. Today the fortress houses a terrific museum, with informative Spanish-language displays. Your entry fee includes a tour by the enthusiastic staff.

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