Havana is Cuba's main (and largest) cruise port located on the island's northern coast. Havana is also the country's capital city. Its total area of 728 km2 (281 ml2) ranks it as Caribbean's largest city. Its metro population of over 2,1 million ranks it as Caribbean's 4th largest metro area - after Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Port-au-Prince (Haiti) and San Juan (Puerto Rico). Other major Cuban port cities are Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas, Manzanillo.
Havana port's official name is Havana Harbor. It is also Cuba's main seaport, excluding only the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (an USA-leased territory). Havana Harbor is a natural bay accessed through a narrow inlet. The port's main harbors are named Ensenada de Atares (cruise terminal, shiprepairs), Ensenada de Guanabacoa (least developed), and Ensenada de Marimelena (ENA drydock, Galainela shipyard, Cuban Navy's shipyard, container terminal, oil refinery, flour-wheat mills, aviation fuel depots).
Havana is approx 370 km (230 ml) southwest of Miami (Florida USA), and approx 770 km (480 ml) southeast of Kingston (Jamaica). The town was founded in the 16th century by the Spanish. It served as stopping point for the Spanish galleons returning to Spain with the gold of the conquered Americas. In 1592, the town received city status granted by Philip II (1527-1598, Duke of Milan, King of Spain, Portugal, Naples and Sicily). All walls and forts were built for old city's protection.
The sinking of USS Maine in Havana Harbor during the Cuban revolt against Spain in 1898 became a major political issue and the immediate cause of Spanish-American War (April 21 - August 13, 1898). The war ended with the Treaty of Paris. Its terms were favorable to the USA, allowing temporary US control over Cuba. The war also resulted with the USA ceding ownership of the islands Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.
Current-day Havana City incorporates 3 cities- Old Havana, Vedado and the new districts. Havana is among the Caribbean's most attractive travel destinations, with over 1 million tourists visiting annually. In 1982, Old Havana was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Due to Cuba's proximity to the USA, in the period 1915-1930, Havana City was the Caribbean's most visited by tourists location. In 1961, the USA imposed a trade embargo on Cuba. Tourism immediately dropped. In the 1970s, the country's leader Fidel Castro (1926-2016) changed his policy of opposing the tourism industry. In 1982, the government allowed a number of foreign bussiness, including international tourism. Cuba established companies with foreign investments and began to attract capital for hotel development projects.
Havana is also a renowned health tourism destination. International patients travel to Havana for various medical treatments, including eye-surgery, neurological disorders (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, orthopaedics). The majority of patients are from Central America, followed by Europe and North America.
Cruises to Cuba from USA
Until 2016, according to the Cuban law, US citizens of Cuban origin (born in Cuba) were not allowed to visit the country (including on cruise ships). Regardless of their US citizenship status, Cuban-born Americans were denied booking on cruise itineraries visiting ports in Cuba.
The situation changed in April 2016, after Carnival Corporation negotiated with the Cuban government for allowing cruise ships with Cuban-born passengers, as such US citizens were allowed to visit the country on USA-Cuba charter flights. In 2016, Cuba was visited by over 88,000 cruise ship passengers. In 2017 were handled 328,000 passengers, in 2018 - ~0,5 million.
Cruise shore excursions are usually organized by the cruise company/ship operator in cooperation with Havanatur (state-owned Cuban tour agency). A smaller number of passenger privately hire local tour guides or taxi drivers (of restored classic American cars) for city touring.
The brand Carnival-Fathom cruise line started Miami to Cuba itineraries in May 2016. The first cruise ship to Cuba was Carnival Paradise leaving roundtrip from homeport Tampa (Florida). The 4- and 5-night itinerary program started on June 29, 2017, and included Havana overnight.
The first Royal Caribbean ship to Cuba was Empress of the Seas with roundtrips from Miami and Tampa. The itinerary program started on April 19, 2017 (5-night Miami to Costa Maya and Havana). The first NCL ship to Cuba was Norwegian Sky, with 4-night itineraries from Miami and Havana overnights (starting May 2017). The itinerary also visited NCL's private island Great Stirrup Cay (Bahamas). NCL Sky's 2018 Miami to Cuba program started on March 26. With Norwegian Sky, NCL's first ever ship call at Havana was on May 2, 2017 (overnight). NCL Sky's Cuban cruise prices started from USD 700 per person (inclusive of unlimited drinks).
The first MSC cruise ship in Cuba was MSC Opera. The 7-day round-trip itinerary was from Havana (with 2 overnights) and also out of Cozumel Mexico, visiting Jamaica (Montego Bay) and Grand Cayman Island. Starting on December 22, 2015, MSC became world's first major cruise company to homeport a big-sized vessel in Cuba.
SInce 2017, Alaska Airlines offers regular nonstop flights to Havana from Los Angeles (California USA). An 80-min JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) to Havana costs less than USD 100. Previously, air travel from USA to Cuba was through charter flights only.
On May 22, 2018, Global Ports Holding (Turkey) signed a 15-year deal (until 2033) with Aries SA (Cuba) for the management of cruise port Havana. By the agreement will be made significant investments in the port's infrastructure and facilities, including a capacity increase (expansion) from the current 2 berths (terminals) to 6 berths (by the year 2024). The Turkish company manages 13 cruise ports plus 2 cargo ports in 7 countries.
USA to Cuba cruise travel ban (2019)
On June 4, 2019, the US Government announced new regulations (economic sanctions) that ended group travel to Cuba, including via US-homeported cruise liners, effective immediately. The ban relates to "private and corporate aircraft, cruise ships, sailboats, fishing boats, and other similar aircraft and vessels". The US travel restrictions impacted hundreds of pre-scheduled cruise itineraries, which were adjusted to no longer stop in Cuban seaports.
According to official figures, ~900,000 cruisers visited Cuba in 2018, of whom ~40% Americans. In 2019, Cuba was slated to welcome a record number of US cruise tourists as in 2019-Q1 (January-May) were handled ~400,000 (100% increase over 2018-Q1). Tourism is Cuba's second-biggest source of earnings (after medical services), with annual revenues estimated at ~USD 2,5 billion.
Havana cruise terminal
Havana port's cruise terminal Siera Maestra Terminal (officially "Terminal de Cruceros Sierra Maestra") is located in the port's Ensenada de Atares harbor area, near Old Havana (Habana Vieja, off Plaza de San Francisco). Cruise ships enter Havana Harbor through a straight channel (length 1,5 km / 1 ml). The Atares harbor, beside the port's cruise terminals, also has facilities (operated by Asticar) for marine shipping and shiprepair services.
Havana cruise ship terminal's building was inaugurated in 1914. The terminal facility includes 3 docking berths with lengths 184 m (604 ft), 191 m (627 ft) and 171 m (561 ft). The terminal building is a former warehouse and spreads over 25,100 sq m (270,000 ft2) . The Siera Maestra Terminal is operated by Havana Dock Corporation.
The cruise port is at an easily walking distance from the city's main attractions and popular places, including Calle de Prado, La Calle Obispo, Malecon, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja.
Near the cruise ship terminal are available taxis, including the old American cars, the country's typical cocotaxis (rickshaw-type vehicles) and also horse-drawn carriages. CocoTaxis are with 3 wheels, colored in bright yellow, open-air and with max capacity 2 passengers. Horse-drawn carriages also offer tours of Old Havana City.
- On March 9, 2017, Oceania Marina ship (owned by NCLH, operated by Oceania Cruises) made its maiden call here. The visit was part of a 14-day itinerary to Mexico, Colombia, Belize, Grand Cayman.
- On March 31, 2017, the luxury cruise ship Azamara Quest (694 passengers) made its maiden call here. The other Royal Caribbean-owned ship visiting Havana with a regularlu scheduled cruises from the USA (since April 2017) is RCI's Empress of the Seas (2005 passengers.). Emress' maiden call at Havana port was on April 23, 2017 (port time 7 am - 5 pm).
Havana tours, shore excursions, hotels
City Tours and Shore Excursions
- Paseo de Martí (Paseo del Prado): located in Old Havana. The amazing boulevard goes uphill from Havana cruise port to Parque Central. It dates from 1852.
- Plaza de San Francisco de Asis: located on Calle Oficios in Old Havana. The square dates from 1628. it main purpose was water supply to the ships that came for trading.
- Plaza Vieja: the Old Square location is Calle Inquisidor e/ Muralla y Teniente Rey. It used to be old commercial square with market that was covered.
- University of Havana, Cuba: it was founded in 1728 by Dominican friars. Its location is Calle L y San Lázaro in Vedado.
- Bacardi Building: located on 261 Esq. San Jan De Dios. The famous rum Bacardi became popular at the end of 19 century. The creator of the rum, Don Emilio Bacardi, was a Spanish settler. The logo of the famous drink came from his talisman – a bat.
- Callejon de Hamel: located in Central Habana, between the hospital and Calle Aramburu. It dates from 1990, project of Salvador Gonzáles.
- Castillo de la Real Fuerza: located in Old Havana, at O’Reilly #2, the seaward side of the square. It is the oldest fort still existing in the Americas. It dates from 1577.
- Cathedral of Havana: located in Old Havana, at Empedrado 156. It dates from the 18th century.
Old Havana City Sightseeing tour
This is the most booked shore excursion in Havana offered as 4 hour sightseeing bus tour with 4 stops along the way. Prices are USD 99 (adults) and USD 79 (kids under 12). Each bus (air-conditioned motorcoach) has its own tour guide. The Old Havana City tour stops at Colon Cemetery, Morro Castle, Plaza de Revolucion (Revolutionary Square) and Cristo de la Habana (Christ of Havana statue).
Tour guides narrate the entire trip. At Colon Cemetery are buried Cuba's most famous people. At Revolutionary Square are parked numerous classic US cars that can be rented for touring or as taxis. Cristo de la Habana statue (commissioned in 1953) is of white marble (delivered from Carrara, Italy) and has height of 20 m (66 ft). Morro Castle is a Spanish colonial fortress located at the mouth of the harbour. Tour stops duration is from 30 min up to 1 hour. Tour buses return to the cruise port area,
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