Puerto Rico is considered a small island, but it sure is full of so many beautiful and diverse places to visit. From breathtaking beaches, to amazing mountains and forests, to historical buildings and locations. This is the ninth article I write, so much there is to see and explore in this beautiful Island. This time, I want to tell you about Puerto Rico’s historic lighthouses.
A lighthouse is a structure built near the shore or the coast to help with maritime coastal navigation. It should have at least one tower and some form of light that flashes out in the distance. There are different type of lights, considering the distance wanted to be reached, and the signals they make. Its purpose is to guide sailors to land, by establishing their positions and to be used as guides to get to their destination. Even in modern days, with all technology and digital media available, many sailors still prefer to use lighthouses as a guide. For more information about lighthouses and how they work, check this article by Ian Clingan for Encyclopædia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/technology/lighthouse.
In Puerto Rico, lighthouses were built around the end of the nineteenth century by the Spaniard government. As Spain took possession of the Island, after arriving in 1493, they started building forts to protect themselves from attacks by other countries and by pirates. The lighthouses were built in strategic places, to protect all coasts of enemies. They were also used to guide their own ships safe to port.
At that time, Puerto Rico was considered to be in a strategic position in the Caribbean. It still is. That was the reason the newly formed United States of America (U.S.) wanted to take possession of the Island. Puerto Rico is the smallest of the Greater Antilles, after Cuba and Hispaniola, but the biggest of the Lesser Antilles. It’s also located at the entrance of the Gulf of México.
After 1898, when Puerto Rico became a possession of the United States of America, the lighthouse system became a responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has been responsible for installing automatic lighting systems. In 1981, the lighthouses of Puerto Rico were listed as historic monuments, as they’ve been included in the National Register of Historic Places in Washington D.C. In 2000, they were included in the National Register of Historic Properties of Puerto Rico. For more information about the history of the lighthouses in the island, check this article published by The Puerto Rico Endowment for the Humanities https://enciclopediapr.org/en/encyclopedia/about-the-lighthouses-of-puerto-rico/.
There are 15 lighthouses around the Island. All were built with a plan to coordinate their positions. There are only a few still functioning, some of them have been deteriorating over time. But local and federal government, and local volunteers, have been working on restoring and keeping them open to public. Some of them have small museums onsite, so visitors can get to know their history. Some are closed, but still visible for visitors.
Starting in the north, there’s the Castillo San Felipe del Morro lighthouse, located in San Juan. It was the first one built in 1846. This was the main defense post, being in the San Juan bay, to protect the Island. San Juan was considered one of the most important ports in all of the Spanish empire in America. In 1898, after the attack by the United States of America, the lighthouse was destroyed. Its rebuilt was completed in 1908.
This lighthouse is located within El Morro fort facilities, which is administered by the United States National Park Service. There’s an entrance fee per visitor, but the fee covers the visit to the whole building. This is a must-do visit, if you are in the San Juan area, and you want to know more about Puerto Rico history.
Continuing through the north, moving to the west, the next lighthouse is Punta Morrillos, located in Arecibo. It was built around 1897-98 and it was the last one built under the Spanish government. In 1994, a restoration project was completed and a museum area plus a recreational park were added. It combines history with fun, having children play around a pirate’s ship and a cave. There’s an entrance fee per visitor, and a parking fee per car.
In the northwest corner of the Island, in Aguadilla, there’s Punta Borinquen lighthouse. The original lighthouse was built in 1889, but in 1918 it was destroyed by an earthquake. Parts of the ruins of the original lighthouse still remain in the area. The U.S. Coast Guard built a new one in 1922, using the same decorative details as the original. Unfortunately, this lighthouse is closed to visitors. Access is only permitted to employees. But visitors are still allowed to visit the surrounding premises.
Continuing south, in the west, there’s Punta Higüera lighthouse in Rincón. It was originally built in 1892, and was also destroyed by the 1918 earthquake. The U.S. Coast Guard also built a new one here in 1921. It’s in a nice area, you can walk around, and there’s no cost to access the parking.
Still in the west, there’s the Mona Island lighthouse. Mona is an uninhabitated island to the west of Puerto Rico. It’s a nature reserve managed by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resource. Well, there’s usually at least one person living temporarily in the island: the employee assigned to the reserve’s office. Also many biologists come here to do research.
This lighthouse’s construction started in 1888 and was completed around 1898. It’s the biggest, and the only one built of iron and steel. Unfortunately, the lighthouse has been deteriorating and it’s not in service. There’s a provisional light signal that was added behind the structure.
In the southwest corner of the Island, in Cabo Rojo, there’s Los Morrillos lighthouse. This one was built in 1882. It was restored in 2000 and is still functioning. It helps ships entering and navigating through the Mona Passage, area between Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, along with the Mona Island lighthouse. This one is open to visitors, and there’s an entrance fee. Most of the information provided to visitors is in Spanish.
Continuing in the south, now moving east, there’s the Guánica Bay lighthouse. In this area, there’s La Parguera Nature Reserve, and the Guánica Dry Forest. It was built in 1892. Its light has been deactivated since 1950. Unfortunately, this one is deteriorated and has suffered from vandalism.
Still in the south, moving east, in Ponce, there’s the Cardona Key lighthouse. It was built in 1889. Cardona Key is a small, uninhabited island located about 1 mile south of Ponce. It guides ships to the Port of Ponce. An automatic illumination system was added in 1962. There’s no access for visitors, but this one is still functioning.
Caja de Muerto (Coffin Island) lighthouse is also in the south, near Ponce. It’s another uninhabited island off the coast of Ponce. There’s a ferry from Ponce that takes visitors to the island, as there are many beaches open for visitors. The lighthouse was built in 1887. In 1945, an automatic illumination system was added. This lighthouse continues in service.
Still in the south, next lighthouse is Punta de las Figuras in Arroyo. It was built in 1893, and then it was abandoned in 1938. Over the years, it deteriorated and was vandalized many times. Between 2002-2003, the government of Puerto Rico restored it. In 2017, it suffered damages when Hurricane María hit the Island. They are working on restoring those damages.
In the southeast corner of the Island, in Maunabo, there’s the Punta Tuna lighthouse. It was built in 1893. It’s situated on top of a hill, overlooking the Punta Tuna Nature Reserve and beach. In 1989, it got an automatic illumination system. This one is still in service.
In the northeast corner of the Island, in Fajardo, there’s Las Cabezas de San Juan lighthouse. This one is in the Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve. Its construction started in 1877, and was finally completed in 1882. It’s the second oldest after the El Morro lighthouse. Its structure has suffered some damage from hurricanes through the years. It got an automatic illumination system in 1975. A restoration was completed in 1991, and the lighthouse is still in service.
The island of Vieques, to the east of Puerto Rico, has two lighthouses in its area. One is the Punta Mulas lighthouse. It’s located in the north of the island, near the Port of Isabel II. It was built in 1895, to help guide ships through the Vieques Passage, zone between the islands of Vieques and Culebra, and Puerto Rico. In 1992, it was restored and opened as a museum. Over the years, it has suffered damage and it remains closed to public.
The second one in the island of Vieques is the Punta Ferro lighthouse, located in the south on Verdiales Key. It was built in 1896. Its purpose was also to help guide ships through the Vieques Passage. It was in use until 1926, when it was abandoned. Over the years, it has suffered from deterioration.
There’s one more lighthouse in the east of Puerto Rico. The Culebrita Island lighthouse is located in the southeast of the island, one of the small islands of Culebra. This one was built in 1886. It was active until 1975, when the U.S. Coast Guard finally closed it. In 1964, a guiding light was installed nearby, with a solar powered light beacon that’s still functioning. The lighthouse installations are closed because they’re in poor condition, due to damage suffered as many hurricanes have affected the area since the lighthouse was built.
I enjoy doing this writings, as I enjoy discovering many different places to visit in Puerto Rico. I confess, I’ve only visited a few of these lighthouses. But their beauty and architectural details have always attracted me. It’d make for a fun and interesting traveling day, planning to visit as many as possible. Or even enjoy visiting different areas, where you can combine a visit to a forest, a reserve, a beach and a lighthouse around the Island. I hope you get to visit all these places. I sure plan to do so. I’m proud of my Enchanted Island. For all of you outside of Puerto Rico, I invite you to go visit soon. Time for my tacita de café. Salud!
Para versión en español, vea https://fullofcoffee.blog/2019/08/25/mi-hermoso-puerto-rico:-faros-historicos/