Prison and Fortress of San Juan de Ulua

Prison and Fortress of San Juan de Ulua

San Juan de Ulua is a majestic place that served as a port, fortress, and prison. This site has incredible history and legends, and it is a mysterious place that you cannot miss if you visit Veracruz, Mexico.

The history of Mexico began in this place, and that’s why it is such an important site for the country. You will be very impressed by the past of this important and touristic site.

The Mexican Prison and Fortress in San Juan de Ulua.
The Fort and the Port nowadays.

The first time I visited this place I was one year old, so I was not very impressed. But the last visit was totally different, knowing the importance of this place in the history of Mexico as well as the different stages that this impressive site suffered, changed my perspective completely.

The History of the prison and Fortress
Inside the Fort.

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Where is San Juan de Ulua located

The site is located in front of Veracruz City, Mexico.

An excellent way to visit this historic site is on a City Tour that includes a visit to the prison or you can simply buy your tickets at the entrance. 

The tickets are inexpensive and also it is free to visit on Sundays for Mexican and foreigners.

The Port of Veracruz, Mexico.
View of Veracruz City.


Tuesday – Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Within your visit do not miss the Museum, Local Fuerte de San Juan de Ulua.

San Juan de Ulua Museum

In the museum, you will find pre-Hispanic pieces, weapons, and an impressive ship mooring ring. Of course, through the museum, you will understand the different transformations of the place during its history.

Fort built with coral, turtle eggs and sand.
Marvelous historic building.

History of San Juan de Ulua

Before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, the islet was only a shrine for the god Tezcatlipoca, a very important deity for the Aztecs.

The construction as we know it now took more than 250 years to be completed and finally, have an area of 32,000 square meters.

The building was constructed with White Coral, sand, seawater and turtle eggs, which gives it a very special touch, but at the same time, it suffers a great deterioration.

The old port at the Colonial era in Mexico, San Juan de Ulua.
Despite the deterioration, it remains in very good condition.


The History of Mexico begins here

On June 24, 1518, Juan de Grijalva arrives at this site and begins the 300 years of Spanish rule.

The reason why the Spanish decided to build this fortress was to protect the merchandise entering and leaving New Spain.

San Juan de Ulua became the first Port of Mexico, and also the first lighthouse of Mexico was located here.

History of the prison and fortress at San Juan de Ulua, Mexico.
The most important Port in Mexico for many years.

The Prison Fortress San Juan Ulua

The Fort

Because of the lack of materials, construction was not easy and it was done very slowly. The Wall of the Rings was the first construction that was built in the place because the most important thing at that moment was to protect the fragile wooden boats of the Spaniards since Veracruz has always been characterized by strong winds, which easily made ships collide and destroyed.

Battles and legends in Veracruz, Mexico.
Where the battles took place.

The wealth and the variety of products that entered and left this port attracted pirates and that made the Spanish had to improve the fortress and make plans to build it. Everything entered and left through the port of Veracruz at the Colonial era, and this site was the Entrance Door.

John Hawkins, an English pirate arrived at Veracruz in 1568.

For this reason, the construction of the bulwarks begins and the fort now can defend the port, the city and the wealth.

The Fort where the battles took place in Mexico
Emblematic site of military architecture.

The Prison

At first, it was not the idea that the place would work as a prison, but to save on the payment of labor in the construction of the fortress, it was decided to take prisoners there and make them pay their sentences with forced labor.

The prisoners were mainly political and military, the conditions of the dungeons were inhuman and unhealthy. For that reason, many of the prisoners died there.

The emblematic Mexican jail in Veracruz.
You can visit some of the dark dungeons.

The Bridge of Sighs

It is known that in this jail, the prisoners were treated with cruelty and torture, in fact, there are many legends about the torture and punishments that occurred in this prison.

For that reason, this bridge was called Bridge of Sighs because the prisoners who crossed it hardly got out of there alive.

Bridge of Sighs in Veracruz, Mexico.
The Bridge of Sighs.

The Independence War and The Castle in Veracruz

After the Independence War the sovereignty of the Mexican Nation is achieved, but Veracruz and the Castle of San Juan de Ulua, as it is also known, were still under Spanish rule.

The place continued to function as a prison, despite the departure of the Spaniards and many Mexican politicians were imprisoned there.

In 1915 the president of Mexico at that time, Venustiano Carranza changes the use of the prison building to a presidential residence.

The Governor’s House is now the site’s museum.

The Governor's House at San Juan de Ulua
The Governor’s House and now the Museum.

One of the things that most attract attention is its legends, the dungeons, and cells that can be visited, but beyond that, the site is an important monument in the History of Mexico.

If you visit Veracruz City you have to explore this site, I am sure it will be a place you will enjoy since it is very interesting and unique.

Tour at San Juan de Ulua, Mexique.

Remember that this is just one of the wonderful activities in the state. Do you want to read about a marvelous Archaeological Site in Veracruz?

Have you ever visited a prison?

Please share with people who love to Travel

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wendy white
1 year ago

I visited Alcatraz when in SF and also the old prison in Perth. Love the stories behind them.

1 year ago

I’ve actually never really visited a prison before. But they always look so fascinating, and also spooky at the same time haha