Fort Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine – what to see, how to get there (Florida, USA)
Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest stone fort in the continental United States. It was built by the Spanish in the late 17th century. Many historians proudly say that America began here, not in Boston. Since 1933 and until now the fort has been turned into a tourist attraction protected by the state, which means it is a national monument – Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
Good to know: Castillo de San Marcos refers to historic national parks and monuments such as Mesa Verde Park, which tells the story of Indian life among the Colorado Rockies, or Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, where among the majestic nature stand the farms and churches of the people of those places.
The Fortress of San Marcos is a typical star fort with four diamond-shaped bastions and turrets. It is believed that this shape allowed for cross-fire when defending the fort. And thus the fort defended the city from both land and sea.
The fort is not so big if you compare it to other similar forms, such as the familiar Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg or Fort San Felipe in Cartagena, Colombia, also built by the Spaniards.
Interesting fact: The Fortress of Castillo de San Marcos stands on the bank of the Matanzas River and is surrounded by an artificial moat on all sides.
The fortress was built of Coquina stones (“Coquina” is Spanish for “little shells”), which consist of deposits of ancient shell rock, a sedimentary rock that has become very strong over time, similar to limestone. The stones for the construction of the fort were quarried 4 km to the east, on the island of Anastasia, and were transported to Castillo de San Marcos by river. The fort was laid on October 2, 1672, and was not completed until 23 years later, in 1695.
Like many structures in Florida, the material used to build the fort was shell rock
Today, the Castillo de San Marcos contains a large number of cannons brought here from all over the area to demonstrate the fort’s former military strength. From time to time, demonstrative firing exercises are held in the fort where people dressed in appropriate uniforms load the newly cast cannon in the shape of the cannons on display in the museum and fire the shots.
Important to know: The fort is open to visitors every day except major holidays. Opening hours are from 8:45 to 17:00. However, during hurricane seasons in Florida (September through November) the fort may be closed all day for safety reasons.
At this booth, before entering, raiders sell tickets to Fort Castillo de San Marcos or check for season tickets
Cost of admission
- Adult ticket costs – $15, children under 15 enter free.
- An all-year pass costs $45.
- Pass for the entire year to all U.S. national parks and monuments (also called Annual pass) costs $80.
- Also note that parking near the Castillo de San Marcos is not free, and costs $2.50 per hour. Pay by card or cash through a machine that gives no change.
We, of course, had an annual pass to U.S. National Parks (Annual Pass – America the Beautiful), and we both went on it. We spent about two hours at the fort looking at its structures and the views around it.
As I wrote above, there is a regular demonstration of colonial arms at the fort. It usually takes place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, when visitors with children are most numerous. The time is every hour from 9:30 to 3:30 p.m. (except 12:30 p.m.).
For up-to-date information on events in Castillo de Saint Marcos, it’s best to check the official website.
How to get to Castillo de Saint Marcos
The Fortress of San Marcos is very easy to find. To do this, you must come to St. Augustine by car. We looked for a rental car for a trip across the United States here.
- If driving from Miami, as we did, you must first take I-95 to the town of St. Augustine in northeast Florida on the Atlantic Ocean. And then take exit 16 at the St. Augustine Historic Sites and Downtown sign. If you drive along the coast on the A1A, however, it will just lead directly to the fort.
- From Orlando, take Route 4 north, then take I-95 and then take Route 16 to St. Augustine.
- From New York or Savannah, also take I-95 south and turn onto Route 16.
The fort is located in the heart of downtown St. Augustine, directly across from the city gate at 11 South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32084.
There is a fairly large parking lot in front of the Castillo de San Marcos, convenient for those passing through town and not staying here overnight. The cost is two and a half dollars. As I said above, it is worth bearing in mind that the machine does not give change. The conscience of tourists is watched by a special ranger who checks to see what receipts are hanging under the window and if you overstayed your parking spot.
Where to Stay
St. Augustine is a very touristy city, and there are all kinds of hotels, from exclusive hotels to chain hotels. You can choose and compare rooms and prices on Bookings
I advise you to look closely at the hotels with the best reviews and ratings:
- Historic hotel right across from the fort – St George Inn
- New hotel with large rooms – TRYP by Wyndham
- Typical and inexpensive, close to the fort – Anastasia Inn
- Hotel on the highway for commuters – Quality Inn Elkton
A Brief History
I will tell you very briefly about the history of Castillo de San Marcos to make it clear what makes this fortress different and what to see there.
- Fort San Marcos was built by the Spaniards in the late 17th century.
- However, in the 18th century, the British conquered Florida and made it the capital of San Agustin, renaming it St. Augustine. And the fort was named Fort St. Mark.
- After 20 years, the fort once again went to the Spaniards.
- And in the early XIX century, the Americans bought the fort along with the rest of Florida and turned it into a prison – there languished Oceola, chief of the Seminoles. Americans also changed the name of the fort: it is now called Fort Marion, in honor of the hero of the American Revolution.
- And in the twentieth century, as usual, the fortress became a national monument under its original name, Castillo de San Marcos. But to remember all the masters, you can see the English flag over the fort, and pay the money to visit in the American budget.
Our review of Castillo de San Marcos
We arrived in Castillo de San Marcos from the town of Delray Beach in the afternoon during our Florida sightseeing trip. By this time, we had already seen south Florida’s national parks, the Everglades and Biscayne, and were even a little tired of Miami’s beaches.
At the entrance, a ranger called us to a small kiosk where we had to pay for admission. But we had an annual pass to all U.S. National Parks and Monuments (which we had purchased at Sequoia Park on our last trip), so they let us in for free.
The entrance to the fort is called Port Sully. It’s the only way to get inside via two bridges that have been spanned. The center of the fort is an open square, and all the rooms, including the prison cells, housing rooms, ammunition storage rooms, warehouses and refectories, and even prayer rooms, are located inside the fort walls.
By the way, the national monument office is now located there, as well as a souvenir store where we bought a postcard, and a small movie theater where you can watch a movie about the history of the fort, a quite modern toilet and a drinking water fountain, which is especially relevant in Florida!
Is Fort San Marcos worth the trip? Yes, if you love history and castles and fortresses. Or if you’re into old colonial towns, like in Europe. And I also suggest visiting St. Augustine for those who are driving after a Florida vacation from Miami or Orlando north to Washington, DC. It’s a great place to take a break for a couple of hours and check out the fort, or to stop for a half day and an overnight stay and do some sightseeing in the city.
We, however, extremely satisfied, went on our route, to Savannah, an amazing city of the American South, which later became one of my favorites and earned a place of honor among my favorite small towns in the world.
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