The island nation of Cuba lies at the confluence of the northern Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean close to the Yucatan Peninsula, Bahamas, Hispaniola, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. The biggest city and capital of Cuba is Havana, while other prominent cities are Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey.
Cuba has a rich and complex history. It was a Spanish colony from the 15th century and later came under the control of the U.S, finally gaining freedom in 1902. The country was stricken with political unrest and dictatorship, which caused instability and impacted its economy for several years. Today, it is a developing country but falls behind in human rights, food security and education.
Though the country has many natural resources, like sugar, fish, tobacco, fruits, beans, rice, coffee, potatoes, livestock, nickel and refined cobalt, which it exports, corruption and political upheaval have created widespread poverty, and most young Cubans are fleeing the nation in search of better opportunities.
Tourism contributes the most to the country’s GDP, including medical tourism. Cuba has many resorts and beaches, the most famous being Varadero or Playa Azul. This resort town in Matanzas province is one of the biggest resort areas in the Caribbean and is also rated as one of the top beaches. According to a recent study, mountaineering can be further developed in the country along with biking and diving.
Given Cuba’s 3570 miles of coastline, it has numerous ports and harbours, 31 of which handle cargo. Let’s look at the 5 major ports of Cuba and other smaller ports in this article.
1. Port of Havana
The principal port of Cuba, Havana, lies on its northern coast, and its well-sheltered harbour makes it the busiest port in the island nation that has operated at its optimum capacity for many years.
Havana Port dates back to the 16th century when it was a mooring site for vessels destined for Spain. In 1519, this naturally deep water port was known as Puerto Carenas and was seen as an attractive and economically viable site for settlement.
A royal decree recognised its importance in 1634 by bestowing on it the title ‘Key to the New World and Rampart of the West Indies’.
Situated at the Gulf of Mexico’s entrance, this port is a crucial transhipment point for cargo moving between North and South America and Europe and the Americas.
The port lies in a bay divided into three parts. There are 14 berths to accommodate all types of ships. The main export commodity is sugar, followed by molasses, liqueurs, minerals and citrus fruits. Imports include general cargo, machines, fertilisers, fuel oil, etc.
It also has 19 mooring buoys, including 4 for naval vessels, good repair and bunkering facilities. Approximately 270,000 TEU and over 400 vessels are handled annually here.
Port of Havana also receives cruise vessels in its Sierra Maestra terminal in Atares Cove, close to Old Havana. One can walk to the beautiful historic places in the town from this terminal, which has a 9.75 m alongside depth and three berthing facilities.
2. Port of Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is the second biggest city in the southeastern part of the island. It is also the most important city in Cuba after Havana, lying on a bay linked to the Caribbean Sea, making it a busy seaport.
It was once the 7th village established by a Spanish conquistador, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, in 1515. The settlement was destroyed by fire the next year but was rebuilt.
Lying on the southern coast of Cuba in the Oriente Province, 42 nm west of Guantanamo Bay, the port of Santiago de Cuba has extensive berths and storage facilities.
Imports handled here comprise general cargo, grain, machinery and fuel. Exports include minerals, sugar and molasses. Around 100 vessels arrive at the port annually.
3. Port of Matanzas
Matanzas Port lies at the mouth of the Yumuri and San Juan Rivers in Matanzas Bay, northern Cuba. It is created by an inlet which is 8 km long and 6 km broad.
The port ships sugar, molasses and liqueurs and receives fertilisers, oil and general cargo. It is visited by over 70 vessels annually.
The city of Matanzas is referred to as the Athens of Cuba due to the cultural institutions and the presence of many artists and scholars. It also has many scenic places, monuments, plazas and historic structures like San Severino Castle of the 17th century and San Carlos Cathedral.
It is also called the City of Bridges due to the 17 Bridges that lie along the 3 rivers that flow through the city, hence giving Matanzas the name ‘Venice of Cuba’. Additionally, Matanzas is also said to be the birthplace of Rumba.
4. The Port of Mariel
Mariel Port lies in the northwest of Cuba, 40 km west of Havana. It deals with cement, oil, bulk sugar and general cargo. Visited by around 100 vessels a year, it is also the closest port to the U.S.
Given its privileged location, Mariel Container Terminal is an important transhipment hub for maritime trade connecting the North-South and East-West routes in the region.
It can also trade with the Gulf ports and ports on the United States’ east coast. The container terminal is designed to accommodate Neo-Panamax ships at its 702 m long berth.
The terminal spans 54.9 hectares with a 27.7-hectare container yard area and reefer container stacking capacity of 2 blocks with 1140 plugs.
The terminal has 4 Super-Post Panamax quay cranes, 12 Rubber tired gantry cranes, 2 rail-mounted gantry cranes, etc.
The container yard is segregated into 3 areas for handling empty containers, dry containers and refrigerated containers.
Some land has been left to expand the container further to reach 2400 m of dock and an operational capacity of 3 million TEUs annually.
5. Port of Manzanillo
This port city is in eastern Cuba’s Granma province on the Gulf of Guacanayabo, close to the Cauto River delta.
Manzanillo is famous for the cultivation of coffee, fruits, rice, sugarcane, and tobacco and also for harvesting honey.
The local industry comprises fish canning, leather goods factories, cigars, sawmills and molasses plants. Zinc and copper deposits are also found here.
Manzanillo Port has an anchorage area and functions as a transhipment centre for timber, sugar and tobacco. There is also a CBM that deals with petroleum products.
The coral reefs of Cayo Perla make navigation difficult and limit access by sea.
Other Smaller Ports In Cuba
Apart from the five major ports mentioned above, there are other smaller ports and harbours in Cuba that handle very few vessels and cargo but are important for the local communities of the island nation. Some of them are mentioned below.
Santa Lucia is situated 150 km from Mariel and specialises in the export of sulphuric acid and copper ore. The anchorage can accommodate ships with a maximum LOA of 140 m and a 4.7 m draught.
Antilla lies on Cuba’s northern coast on the shore of Nipe Bay. It is the main port in the region and a major sugar exporting facility accommodating ships with a maximum LOA of 190 m and a 6.7 m draught.
Bahia Honda: A small general cargo port, it also has a ship-breaking yard at Buenavista.
Banes lie on the northern shores of Cuba. Comprising a general cargo jetty, this port faces strong tidal currents.
Baracoa lies on the eastern end of Cuba and mainly handles coastal traffic, and vessels anchor here for lightering operations.
Cabanas is a small general cargo port, 12 nautical miles west of Puerto del Mariel. Vessels entering this port should call at Mariel Port for pilot and quarantine clearance.
Cardenas lies on the northwestern coast of Cuba and has only one pier, which spans 750 m and has 4 berths. It mainly exports sugar products.
Casilda lies on the southern part of the island and functions as a loading port for the town of Trinidad, which is 5 km inland. It has a pier and 2 berths, and vessels can load or discharge goods at anchor.
Cienfuegos lies on the southern coast of Cuba. It has 5 piers and 3 buoy moorings for tankers. Around 100 vessels visit the port every year.
Felton lies near River Mayari on Cagimaya Island, Nipe Bay in Holguin Province. The main cargo handled at the port is manganese ore and fertilisers.
Guantanamo lies on the southeastern coast of Cuba in Guantanamo Bay. The port has been segregated into an inner harbour and an outer harbour. The latter contains the US Naval Base in the area leased by the U.S, while the inner harbour has several berths for accommodating commercial vessels.
Guayabal lies on the southern shores of Cuba. This sugar exporting facility has a single pier, which is 156 m long.
Isabela De Sagua lies east of Havana and serves the city of Sagua la Grande. It exports crude and refined sugar and imports fertilisers, fibre and general cargo.
Puerto Padre lies on the northern coast of the island in Puerto Padre Bay. It is well-protected and spacious, with facilities for loading sugar and molasses and unloading fuel oil.
You might also like to read-
- Top 10 Fjords in Norway
- 7 Major Ports Of Croatia
- 10 Biggest Straits Of The World
- 10 Largest Estuaries In The World
- 15 Biggest Wooden Ships Ever Built
Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used in the article, have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.
The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight.
Latest Maritime Knowledge You Would Like:
Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.
Get the Latest Maritime News Delivered to Your Inbox!
Our free, fast, and fun newsletter on the global maritime industry, delivered everyday.