Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro

Top choice Fort

in Santiago de Cuba
Image by Jane Sweeney / Getty Images
Image by Jane Sweeney / Getty Images

A Unesco World Heritage site since 1997, the San Pedro fort sits impregnably atop a 60m-high promontory at the entrance to Santiago harbor, 10km southwest of the city. The stupendous views from the upper terrace take in the wild western ribbon of Santiago's coastline backed by the velvety Sierra Maestra.

Multilingual guides provide invaluable historical background and color; be sure to tip.

The fort was designed in 1587 by famous Italian military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli (who also designed La Punta and El Morro forts in Havana) to protect Santiago from pillaging pirates who had successfully sacked the city in 1554. Because of financial constraints, the building work didn't start until 1633 (17 years after Antonelli's death), and it carried on sporadically for the next 60 years. In the interim, British privateer Henry Morgan sacked and partially destroyed it.

Finally finished in the early 1700s, El Morro's massive batteries, bastions, magazines and walls got little opportunity to serve their true purpose. With the era of piracy in decline, the fort was converted into a prison in the 1800s, and it stayed that way (bar a brief interlude during the 1898 Spanish–Cuban–American War) until Cuban architect Francisco Prat Puig mustered up a restoration plan in the late 1960s.

Today, the fort hosts the swashbuckling Museo de Piratería, with another room given over to the US-Spanish naval battle that took place in the bay in 1898.

The fort, like Havana, has a cañonazo ceremony (firing of the cannon) each day at sunset when actors dress up in Mambís regalia.

To get to El Morro from the city center, take bus 212 to Ciudamar and walk the final 20 minutes. Alternatively, a round-trip taxi ride from Parque Céspedes with wait should cost no more than CUC$25.