Cuba, Havana, Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana

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Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña

Top choice in Regla, Guanabacoa & the Forts

This 18th-century colossus was built between 1763 and 1774 on a long, exposed ridge on the east side of Havana harbor to fill a weakness in the city's defenses. In 1762 the British had taken Havana by gaining control of this strategically important ridge, and it was from here that they shelled the city mercilessly into submission. In order to prevent a repeat performance, Spanish king Carlos III ordered the construction of a massive fort that would repel future invaders.

Measuring 700m from end to end and covering a whopping 10 hectares, it is the largest Spanish colonial fortress in the Americas. The impregnability of the fort meant that no invader ever stormed it, though during the 19th century Cuban patriots faced firing squads here. Dictators Gerardo Machado and Fulgencio Batista used the fortress as a military prison, and immediately after the revolution Che Guevara set up his headquarters inside the ramparts to preside over another catalog of grisly executions (this time of Batista's officers).

These days the fort has been restored for visitors, and you can spend at least half a day checking out its wealth of attractions. As well as bars, restaurants, souvenir stalls and a cigar shop (containing the world's longest cigar), La Cabaña hosts the Museo de Fortificaciones y Armas and the engrossing Museo de Comandancia del Che. The nightly 9pm cañonazo ceremony is a popular evening excursion in which actors dressed in full 18th-century military regalia reenact the firing of a cannon over the harbor. You can visit the ceremony independently or as part of an excursion.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Regla, Guanabacoa & the Forts attractions

1. Museo de Comandancia del Che

0.08 MILES

Probably the most interesting of the several museums spread around Havana's two eastern forts is this diminutive but nonetheless riveting exposé of the…

2. Museo de Fortificaciones y Armas

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Inside the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, this armaments museum contains weapons from bows and arrows to giant catapults and cannons.

3. Batería de la Divina Pastora

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A military emplacement that once protected Havana harbor from its position at the foot of the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña.

4. Crisis de Octubre

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On a grassy knoll outside La Cabaña fort, this outdoor museum of anachronistic-looking rockets and missiles dates to the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis …

6. Parque Maestranza

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Overlooking the harbor is this small-scale Cuban-style playground (for children aged four to 12), with inflatable castles and other games.

7. Estatua de Cristo

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This impossible-to-miss statue on a rise on the harbor's eastern side was created by Jilma Madera in 1958. It was promised to President Batista by his…

8. Arte Corte

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The brainchild of Gilberto Valladares, aka 'Papito,' this novel hairdressing salon is also a school and a small museum to the barber's art. Even better,…