Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Castillo San Cristobal and El Morro

I love San Juan. There's nothing like going on a cruise and visiting a place that is at least somewhat similar to your homeland. I mean, sure, not everyone speaks English all the time, but the sheer knowledge that one is in a United States territory is slightly comforting.

Probably my favorite places to visit while in San Juan are situated along the water--massive structures that are easily visible as ships enter the pier.

Castillo San Cristobal Y Puerto Rico Capital
Castillo San Cristobal

El Castillo San Felipe del Morro
El Morro

Forts have always been an interesting thing to visit in general for me, but these two are without a doubt my favorites--and they're situated practically a stone's throw from one another!

San Cristobal and El Morro have both been around for a long time--El Morro since the 1500s, and San Cristobal a century later. Both were constructed during the Spanish reign over the isle of Puerto Rico, and each served a distinct purpose: El Morro was designed to protect against attacks from sea, while San Cristobal was to guard attacks from land.

Both are, of course, still standing today and are operated by the U.S. National Park Service. They are both easily reachable from the cruise ship pier, and a drive from, say, the airport, will only take ten minutes barring any traffic.

View Larger Map
Both forts can be seen here: El Morro in the left corner, and San Cristobal on the right, at about mid-picture.

There is a price for entry. Adults 16 and older must pay $3 per fort, or can pay $5 for both forts. Children 15 and younger are absolutely free!

Much of both forts are open to the public. San Cristobal makes great use of its tunnels and has some fantastic views from atop the fort, especially of the pier--this makes for a fantastic photo opportunity. El Morro also makes amazing use of tunnels and inside areas, and has some brilliant views in its own right.

71 Looking down on the Port from the Walls of Fort San Cristobal Old San Juan 11-25-08
View of cruise ship pier from San Cristobal

America put a hole here with a battleship in 1898
One of the inside areas of El Morro... apparently, good ol' America put plenty of holes in this area with cannon fire and what not

For more information, visit ... it's a very good site to learn more about the area.

Whenever you're in San Juan, I have to say... do NOT miss these places. Try, at least, to visit one of them (I recommend San Cristobal)... Old San Juan has some amazing places to see, but these very well may take the cake. A can't-miss for anyone even vaguely interested in forts!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Labadee, Haiti

It is no secret that some cruise lines actually own islands in the Caribbean. Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic has been visited by ships from the Celebrity and Costa lines, and Royal Caribbean has owned Coco Cay in the Berry Islands section of the Bahamas for years now.

Probably the most notable of these private resorts is the peninsula of Labadee, located in the nation of Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola.

Labadee has been under Royal Caribbean ownership for over twenty years now, and this should not change anytime soon. Labadee has actually contributed the most tourist revenue to the Haitian government since its inception as a Caribbean resort. It employs hundreds of locals, while hundreds more are allowed onto the property as vendors for their own goods.

The wall of for-sale art near the market
(taken from

Many of Royal Caribbean's ships will visit this port, especially the larger ships. This is, for now, the only way to visit the resort. It is treated like most other ports of call in that the ship will arrive in the morning and will leave late in the afternoon or early in the evening.

At the time of writing, cruisers must tender in to the resort by boat. However, it has been reported that a brand new pier, complete with a dock, will be completed in late 2009. The dock will be large enough to service Royal Caribbean's new Oasis of the Seas ship, meaning that it will be plenty long.

Once in the resort, there really are a plethora of activities to take part in. An 'authentic' Haitian flea market, which will undoubtedly be one of the most frightening experiences of your life if you are are not physically and mentally prepared for it, is one of the main draws, with locals selling many handcrafted goods--the prices of which may change from one second to the next, depending on your bartering spirit.

A zip line--billed as the longest zip line over water in the world--is one of the main draws. If you've ever actually wanted to set foot in a non-private part of Haiti, know that the path to this attraction (you'll be in a truck/van/jeep/some sort of transportation) actually extends outside the boundaries of Labadee. As such, many large guns will be witnessed; every guard has them. The zip line must be booked through Royal Caribbean, and note that it is weather permitting--strong winds are a no-no.

zip line tower in labadee
See that big old structure atop the hill? You'll be starting from up there. Trust me,
it's really not that bad... I don't think anyone's actually died yet. Just don't mess
with the guards and their large guns.

For the less-daring vacationer, Labadee has multiple beaches for one to lie upon, as well as some prime snorkeling areas. Another popular point of interest is Dragon's Breath Point, at the end of the zip line. The formation of rocks not only happens to have a formation similar to the head of a dragon, but this as well:

Get it? It's like the dragon is breathing! Ohohoho. Actually, this is pretty cool.

A buffet lunch is provided free of charge for all visitors, which is of course one of the best parts of the day. Granted, the food may not be strikingly different from what one would receive for lunch on the ship (with a few exceptions), but it's the thought that counts.

The peninsula is gorgeous; there is a multitude of photo opportunities. Ruins of buildings from the last inhabitants (it is assumed, unless Royal Caribbean just planted them there) are also visible along some decent walking trails (one of which you WILL need some type of shoe for. You've been warned.).

As mentioned earlier, the only way to visit this pleasant escape is by Royal Caribbean. But all and all, it is a very nice place; a great way to unwind and to get off the ship without having to worry about taxis and island tours.

Labadee 3