The harbor channel and Bahía de la Habana (Havana Bay) separate Habana Vieja from the communities of Casablanca, Regla, and Guanabacoa. The communities can be reached through a tunnel under the harbor channel (access is eastbound off Avenida del Puerto and the Prado) or along Vía Blanca, skirting the harbor. Little ferries bob their way across the harbor, connecting Casablanca and Regla with each other and with Habana Vieja.
Looming over Habana Vieja, on the north side of the harbor channel, the rugged cliff face is dominated by two great fortresses that constitute Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña (Morro-La Cabaña Historical Military Park, Carretera de la Cabaña, Habana del Este, tel. 07/866-2808). Together, the castles comprise the largest and most powerful defensive complex built by the Spanish in the Americas.
Visitors arriving by car reach the complex via the harbor tunnel (no pedestrians or motorcycles without sidecars are allowed) that descends beneath the Monumento al General Máximo Gómez off Avenida de Céspedes. Buses from Parque de la Fraternidad pass through the tunnel and stop by the fortress access road.
Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro
The Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro (Castle of the Three Kings of the Headland, tel. 07/863-7941, daily 8am-7pm, entrance CUC6, children under 12 free, guide CUC1) is built into the rocky palisades of Punta Barlovento at the entrance to Havana’s narrow harbor channel. The fort—designed by Italian engineer Bautista Antonelli and initiated in 1589—forms an irregular polygon that follows the contours of the headland, with a sharp-angled bastion at the apex, stone walls 10 feet thick, and a series of batteries stepping down to the shore. Slaves toiled under the lash of whip and sun to cut the stone in situ, extracted from the void that forms the moats. El Morro took 40 years to complete and served its job well, repelling countless pirate attacks and withstanding for 44 days a siege by British cannons in 1762.
Today you enter via a drawbridge across the deep moat that leads through the Túnel Aspillerado (Tunnel of Loopholes) to vast wooden gates that open to the Camino de Rondas, a small parade ground (Plaza de Armas) containing a two-story building atop water cisterns that supplied the garrison of 1,000 men.
To the right of the plaza, a narrow entrance leads to the Baluarte de Austria (Austrian Bastion), with cannon embrasures for firing down on the moat. A cobbled ramp leads up to other baluartes.
To the left of the Plaza de Armas, the Sala de Historia del Faro y Castillo profiles the various lighthouses and castles in Cuba. Beyond is the Surtida de los Tinajones, where giant earthenware vases are inset in stone. They once contained rapeseed oil as lantern fuel for the 25-meter-tall Faro del Morro (daily 10am-noon and 2pm-7pm, CUC2 extra), a lighthouse constructed in 1844. Today an electric lantern still flashes twice every 15 seconds. You can climb to the top for a bird’s-eye view.
All maritime traffic in and out of Havana harbor is controlled from the Estación Semafórica, the semaphore station atop the castle, accessed via the Baluarte de Tejeda.
Below the castle, facing the city on the landward side and reached by a cobbled ramp, is the Batería de los Doce Apóstoles (Battery of the Twelve Apostles). It boasts massive cannons and El Polvorín (The Powderhouse) bar.