castillo de san marcos st augustine florida

How To Visit The St. Augustine, Florida Fort Castillo de San Marcos

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I’ve been to St. Augustine twice now and both times I went to Castillo de San Marcos, which is actually kind of funny since I’m not a huge history buff.  The first time I went because you just have to if you’re there, the second was because my parents were visiting and we did our mini Florida road trip and I knew they would like it.

Both times were fairly quick visits with a self-guided walk around the fort.  My favorite part is the view on the top level.  Up there you have a great view of Matanzas Bay and some of downtown St. Augustine (the really cool historic area.)  While I know people that don’t like history much won’t be that interested in this, it is still cool to visit the oldest fort in the US which is in the oldest city in the US.

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Castillo de San Marcos is a national monument in the heart of St. Augustine and has had a wild history passing through multiple ownerships and rulings over the centuries.  So, why is Castillo de San Marcos so important?

Well, like I said, it’s the oldest fort in the continental United States with construction starting on it in 1672, 107 years after the city was founded.  The walls can be anywhere from 14-19 feet thick at the bottom and nine at the top.  How crazy is that!?  In 1668, the existing wooden fort was heavily damaged and Governor Fransisco de la Guerra y de la Vega ordered the construction of the current fort.

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The first coquina stones, made of small shells, were laid in 1672 and the core of the current fort was finished in 1695, though it has gone through plenty of changes since then.  In November 1702, 1,500 city residents were crammed into the fort for two months when the English laid seige to St. Augustine.

In 1738, the interior of the fort was redesigned and rebuilt before the 1740 siege by the British, again.  Like the last time, 1,300 residents were shoved into the fort for 27 days to stay safe.  Between then and the 1900’s, it passed back and forth between British, Spanish, and United States rule.

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While the United States was in control of the fort, it was used as a prison for Native American tribes starting with the Seminoles, including the famous war chief Osceola, during the Second Seminole War.  They also imprisoned members of western tribes including Geronimo’s Chiricahua Apache.  Ledger Art has it’s origins in the fort when members of the Plains tribes were imprisoned here, including Howling Wolf of thee Southern Cheyenne.

Then, in 1924 it was designated a national monument and passed to National park Service in 1933 from the War Department.  It has been a popular tourist destination since the tranfer to Park Service.  Finally, in 1942 it was named Castillo de San Marcos in honor of it’s Spanish heritage.

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Where is Castillo de San Marcos?

Right in the heart of St. Augustine on Matanzas Bay.  They are open daily from 8:45 AM to 5:00 PM.

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How much is Castillo de San Marcos?

$15 per person since it’s considered a “walk-in” park.  A national park pass will also get you into the park.  Passes can be bought there, at another park, or online.  Unfortunately, Castillo de San Marcos isn’t free.

What is there to do at Castillo de San Marcos?

Castillo de San Marcos isn’t brimming with things to do like a regular national park, but there are still a few things to do there.  It was designed more for self-guided viewing so people can enjoy at their own pace depending on their interests.

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Listen to a ranger talk

Programs are offered regularly but topic, time, and location depend on season, weather, and visitors.  Though there are rangers around that you can ask questions at any time.  There are also people dressed up in clothing from the time period that will pose for pictures, tell you about life during that time and answer questions.  Historic weapons demonstrations are also usually offered on weekends.

Do a self-guided tour

You can just walk around both levels of Castillo de San Marcos to see all the rooms they had and how they lived in the fort.  It doesn’t take too long, but it’s a nice way to see everything at your own pace.  In the winter it can get pretty cold but they did have a fire going in the middle area to warm up at.

Listen to ghost stories

Ok, os this isn’t technically in Castillo de San Marcos, but if you do a ghost tour in St. Augustine, the Castillo is one of the stops, so I’m counting it here.  I would highly recommend a ghost tour whether you care about the Castillo or not.

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Is Castillo de San Marcos worth it?

Yes!  I’m not a huge history buff, but I still enjoyed visiting.  You don’t need to spend tons of time here, an hour was plenty for us both times I went but I’m glad we went.  You get a nice view of the area (but not as good at the St. Augustine Lighthouse) and it’s cool to see something so old.

Have you been to Castillo de San Marcos?  Do you want to go?  What did you think of it?  What is your favorite historic site in the US?

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