A Guide to Running El Morro

May 2, 2018 

Route: El Morro Running
Distance: 2.10 miles
Terrain: Mixed road and trail

Time: Before 8:30am or after 5:30pm

The habit of sticking to what you know is a tough one to break, especially when it comes to running — a sport that rewards consistency. For local heroes and visitors, it’s easy to get lured into the long, straight roads that stretch between Old San Juan and Condado. They are fast, easy to map and have the all too familiar parts of a great running route.

We love this stretch of road, but it’s near El Morro where we think the old city really starts to let you in on its grit and charm.

Part I — San Jose Plaza

Our favorite time to run this route is around 7:30 am — before the heat of the day sets in, the school buses drop off loads of kids and visitors flock to catch the historical views. It’s a different kind of Old San Juan than the nightlife you hear so much about.

This route is a loop that starts and ends at Plaza de San Jose. The first part of this run takes you down the steps near the iconic Totem and gives you epic views of the ocean as you approach the grassy hills of El Morro.

You’ll see plenty of runners on their morning pilgrimage up the paved promenade in front of the fort. This path is definitely worth running for the breeze, but ours takes you down in the cool shadows of the fort walls along the soft, grassy hills of the fort’s interior.

Part II — Run Along the Wall

The trick to this route is hugging the fort’s walls. There are plenty of stairs for form drills, stretching and strides to get a nice warm up. Between the cracks of the wall you’ll have views of the ocean and San Juan’s iconic Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery. For the runner, a reminder that this too is impermanent.  

This part of the route is open air, grass and more grass. It’s relatively flat, with small hills in the middle and at the back where you can practice your attack. The grass is cut short along the wall, making a nice surface that is easy on the knees.

Once you reach the righthand flank of El Morro, you’ll run up then down a set of stairs and poke through a gated door that takes you outside the fort. And you feel very much that way, like you’ve just arrived somewhere outside the old city. In so many ways, a journey that leaves the most rigid parts of yourself behind.

Part III — Trail Views

The dirt trails here are lined with geckos and iguanas, so make sure to watch your step. You’ll run through a trail that hugs the cliffs where sea grapes and snake plants guide you along to a outlook with views of La Perla, a city very much outside the walls.

This is my favorite place to stop and give thanks for my legs, breathe salty air into my lungs and watch the earth wake up around me. Out here on the trail, I forget there is a tightly packed city just south of where I stand — a pile of half-finished work nagging at me in the background.

Part IV — Old San Juan Cat Sanctuary

Once you’ve had your fill of rocky trail, make your way down along a paved walkway through San Juan’s very own cat sanctuary. Most time, these cats won’t run from you which means you’ll have to pay attention to the path you decide to take.

This is a no music trail, if you ask me. The sound of the wind and ocean can carry you if you let them. And the cats, they’re all there like an audience waiting for the next show.

You’ll hug the massive wall that protects Old San Juan from the unpredictability of the ocean and its storms. Move your awareness to the plants here and you’ll find native monarchs getting nectar from the flowers in the cool sun of the morning.

Part V — Back to the Old City

After making your way through La Puerta, you’ll find yourself back in the old city. The streets all cobblestone and San Francisco-like hills stretching out in every direction. You’ll make your way up through a neighborhood with planters spilling over with spring hibiscus and through the deep, rich colors of the side streets until you make it back to where you started.

In a way, it’s a world within two miles — cobblestone streets, grassy hills, dirt trails and fast paved roads that will soon be filled with the day’s heat. A real local’s run that goes where some people don’t go and others only discover after their first visit.

It’s a run for the curious ones — for those who are happy to spend a morning forgetting about their mileage and soaking in the sights of an island rich in life and moving every day on a long road to recovery.

Austin Bay
I grew up running as a kid in Northern California in a small town near Lake Tahoe. My favorite type of running is on trail and I try to get out to the mountains as often as I can.