You are here

Is San Juan National Historic Site Haunted?


La Garita del Diablo (“the Devil’s Turret”) at Castillo de San Cristóbal. Many Puerto Ricans believe that soldiers manning this watchtower sometimes disappeared without a trace. Photo by Alessandro Cai via Wikipedia.

San Juan National Historic Site celebrates its 60th birthday today, February 14. This remarkable park, America's only national park in Puerto Rico, preserves some of the finest Spanish Colonial-era coastal forts left in the Caribbean. Originally built to guard the new Spanish colony of San Juan from attacks by the native Taino and Caribe, the forts have survived to this day as a United Nations World Heritage Site and a unique part of our park system.

Fort San Felipe del Morro, the oldest fortification in the park, has been standing watch at the entrance to San Juan harbor since construction began in 1539. The fort underwent nearly continuous improvement and renovation during the 400 years that varying world powers garrisoned troops there. With walls that are nearly 20 feet thick, a lighthouse, six levels, turrets (garitas), and a reported area of over 70 acres during its heyday, the structure was an imposing force in the West Indies. Thanks to its gargantuan proportions, the Spaniards did not have to build another fortification (or castillo) to protect San Juan for over a hundred years.

El Morro has flown several flags – Spanish, English, and American – but only once did invading forces successfully bring it to its knees. English forces under the command of Sir George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland, took the fort on July 1, 1598, but only after coming across the island and bypassing the fort and San Juan's harbor. Ironically, an outbreak of dysentery forced the British to abandon the fort and relinquish control of Puerto Rico to the Spanish.

After the ouster of the Earl of Cumberland's forces, the Spanish built a second fort on San Juan Bay. Completed in 1610, San Juan de la Cruz (or El Cañuelo) is situated directly across the harbor from El Morro and is the smallest of the three forts in the park. El Cañuelo played an especially important role during the 1625 Dutch invasion of Puerto Rico when El Cañuelo and El Morro wreaked havoc on the Dutch fleet by catching it in a crossfire at the San Juan harbor entrance.

After having been invaded several times by land and sea, the Spanish rulers finally turned their attention to land protection for their colonial capital in the late 1700s with the construction of Castillo de San Cristóbal. Completed in 1783, the fort practically encircled the entire city of San Juan, and the fort successfully protected the city throughout its lifetime. It was essential during the British invasion of 1797, when Sir Ralph Abercromby invaded Puerto Rico with nearly 13,000. San Cristóbal is also notable for being the site of the first shots in Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War when, in 1898, the USS Yale fired on the fort.

In its later years, Castilllo San Felipe del Morro served as an American military base, supporting operations during the Spanish-American War and both World Wars. In 1961, the U.S. Army turned control of what was then Fort Brooke over to the National Park Service, and the fort has been part of the San Juan National Historic Site ever since.

San Juan National Historic Site was established on February 14, 1949, listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966, and designated a World Heritage Site on December 6, 1983. The latter honor places San Juan in exclusive company. To date, only 12 of America’s national parks have been designated World Heritage Sites.

Today, visitors can experience the forts like never before. You can take self-guided tours, or if you prefer, ranger-guided ones. A highlight event is the Spanish dance and festival that is held each Tuesday. Most visitors take to the streets and explore the Old City on foot, treading on the narrow and winding cobblestone paths.

If you like mystery, you'll love Castillo de San Cristóbal. Many Puerto Ricans believe it is haunted. Home to La Garita del Diablo (The Devil's Turret or Devil’s Watchtower), San Cristóbal is said to be a place where soldiers vanished. During the night watch, Spanish soldiers would call out phrases, such as 'Alert!' down the wall to let each other know they were still awake. It’s said that when it became the turn of soldiers stationed in this particular garita, often times they would not answer or call out, and when men went to check on the soldiers, there was only an empty room. (Note: I used the website to translate this interesting story from the original Spanish.)


These forts are really something everyone should visit. We spent days wandering through learning about the history of the sites.

Here is my contribution for the readers who don't speak Spanish: a translation of the "interesting story" referred in this post. In fact it is an old Puerto Rican Legend that was reproduced by the website linked in this post. Hope you like it:

Puerto Rican Popular legends:
Legend of the “La Garita del Diablo” (The Sentry box of the Devil)

The inhabitants of the island of Puerto Rico were very prone to pirates’ attacks. Because of that all their lives they had to be on guard watching.

The capital city was surrounded (and still it is) by castles and walls. Around the walls they had, between trails and trails, sentry boxes or “torrecitas” (small towers) where the soldiers did their guard shifts day and night. By the nights you heard the rounds of shouts that the sentries shouted to not fall asleep.
-Alert sentry! - shouted one.
And nearest responded:
- Alert he is!

Among all the sentry boxes, there was one, the most distant and solitary one. It was on a deep cliff at the end of the bay.

In the silence of night, the noise of the sea produced a rumor as if the bad spirits were ‘cuchicheando’ (murmuring).

There was a soldier who they called “Flor de Azahar.” Azahar was a white flower and because soldier Sánchez had a very white skin like Azahar, they called to him thus.

That night was Sánchez turn to watch that sentry box.

As usual, the password shouts of the soldiers can be heard from trail to trail every so often. But, it was soldier Sánchez turn, and nobody answered. You only can listen the wind whistling and the sea with its rumor.

Fear seizes these men who spent the night shaking, only by thinking what had happened to their fellow soldier.

When the sun came out, they all ran towards the sentry box to see what had happened to the sentry soldier that had been speechless during all night. They found: the rifle, the cartridge belt and the uniform of the soldier. Sánchez had disappeared without a trace.

The soldiers, who were superstitious, began to say that a demon had surprised him and had taken him flying to the air.

From that day, the sentry box of the missing Sánchez, it is known as “La Garita del Diablo”.

That was what the soldiers believed and the rest of the Island.

But the truth ..... that I will tell it to you, want to know it? Then here it goes:

Sánchez (Flor de Azahar) was an Andalusian soldier and very handsome, who belonged to the Cavalry regiment and play a very beautiful guitar.

Diana, a very beautiful mestiza (mixed race), lived deeply enamored of Sánchez and Sánchez of her. They were satisfied of looking at each other and speaking with their eyes. To Sánchez his mission prohibited him to approach her, and to her, it was prohibited by her adopted mother, who was stricter than a sergeant.

Flor de Azahar (Sánchez) communicated with Diana through his guitar. At nights he played it and sang. In the song he communicated to her his messages.

One night he sent her a message, the one only she could understand, which said:

“Tomorrow at nigh fall, go and look for your love, because far from your arms, his heart dies.” The following night, Diana woke up very quiet and stealthily, and left the house to look for her love. When they met in the sentry box, they fused in kisses and love words and decided to flee far away and to live together for ever.

Diana had brought him civilian clothes. He left in the sentry box his rifle, the cartridge belt and his uniform and, without making any noise, they fled towards the mountain range and forests of (the town of) Luquillo.

There, hidden from the rest of the Island, they build their home and lived for the rest on their days.

They say that still, in the sentry box, at nights you can hear the strum of a guitar and a laugh dissolved in the wind. Meaning that Diana and Flor de Azahar are laughing at those who invented the legend of “la Garita del Diablo.”

The End.

The San Juan National Historic Site is a place a recommend to every traveler. You can visit 3 distinct forts: El Morro, San Cristóbal, and El Cañuelo (located on the opposite side of the San Juan bay).
I really appreciate you choose a photo of mine and please don't hesitate to contact me if you need more stuff for your posts.

Alessandro Cai

Don't forget San Geronimo, where you can see the dog of stone waiting for his master's return. Its at the end of Condado. Unfortunately it is small and in ruins.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide