As an ex-pat living (well, staying, most of the time) in Havana, Cuba, I have to say that every now and then I gaze out over the Malecon in the direction of the promised land, and wonder if I might actually be able to see Key West from Cuba. Or, like a lot of other people wonder, can you see Cuba from Key West?
At least at night, with lots of light in the sky and atmospheric radiation and all that, you would think there might be some way, right?
Well, let’s check the facts once and for all, thoroughly, can you see Cuba from Key West?
Can You See Cuba From Key West, Or Not?
Well, unfortunately, you can’t. That’s a bummer, it is such a short distance, you know, it seems it should be possible!
The problem apparently, is mostly the curve of the planet. The so-called curvature of the Earth is pretty small mathematically, and for shorter distances (up to around 100 miles) a rule-of-thumb estimates it to be around 8 inches per mile.
This means, that for every mile an object is from you, the curve will take away 8 inches of the height of the thing you are looking at.
Using this easy rule, with a bit of math, we can establish that the 106 miles distance as the crow flies (170 kilometers) x 8 inches put Cuba 848 inches (or just over 21 meters) below the horizon when you find yourself at the southernmost point of Key West.
However, there are a lot of factors affecting this piece of math as the earth has LIGHT, and ATMOSPHERE, and things that are affecting how our eyes are able to see things far away on the planet (which is ridiculously huge, by the way).
Therefore the rule-of-thumb is not accurate when the distances are longer, and the numbers start to deviate when distances are closing in on 100 miles.
Now, I am not able to explain all this to you, but this guy on youtube is!
The short version is that, over distances over 100 miles (round number, just to make it graspable), the numbers deviate from the curvature rule-of-thumb because of a lot of things, and the number actually increases
The math looks like this:
You only need to know two values: your eyesight level (in other words, the distance between your eyes and mean sea level – assuming you are looking out to sea) and the radius of the Earth. Input these numbers into the following equation:
a = √[(r + h)² - r²]
a — Distance to the horizon;
h — Eyesight level above mean sea level; and
r — Earth’s radius, is equal to 3959 miles or 6371 km.
(So, if your viewpoint is around 1.6 centimeters above ground (your height), the horizon would be around 3 miles (5 kilometers) away, which means that you are mathematically aligned to see a point that is 3 miles away out in the horizon.
You need to put that into the equation as well, although a small number).
You can actually check it yourself, by using this Earth Curvature Calculator!
Now, according to Wikipedia, Solares Hill is the highest point of land on the Key West island, where the peak elevation of the hill is 18 feet (5.5 m) above sea level. So there you go, far below the needed height to be seen!
Wait, What If You Stand On Something?
Exactly, what about infrastructure? I discovered that La Concha Hotel is the tallest building in Key West, with seven floors.
A developer named Carl Aubuchon opened this super luxury hotel in 1926, the first of its kind in the keys, and it became THE hotel for dignitaries and celebrities!
In fact, author Tennessee Williams loved it so much that he made it his home for ten years, and Ernest Hemingway (who also had a house for decades in Havana) wrote one of his most depressive books there. The hotel is still there and is still luxurious, so feel free to have a look!
So, how tall are seven stories? I was not able to find out exactly, but let’s say every floor is around three meters (that is not a stretch I think), then you have 3×7 which should amount to 21 meters!
So, from the fitness room at La Concha (which is at the top and has views of the sea), theoretically, you should be able to see Havana according to the rule-of-thumb math. Right?
Well, the first problem is the complicated atmospheric stuff that kills the rule of thumb as soon as we are talking real distances.
Your Eyes Simply Cannot See Very Far!
The second problem is, you also cannot see Cuba from Key West because it is too far away for the naked eye to detect.
Back in 1941, a vision scientist, Selig Hecht, discovered that with a clear, unobstructed view, the human eye could see a candlelight flickering around 30 miles away.
He also found that it depends on the amount of pollution and particles in the air, which usually restricts normal vision to less than 12 miles, or 19 kilometers.
So again, there you go. Sorry, you can not see Cuba from Key West, but, you know – don’t let it stop you from trying!
FAQs About Cuba And Key West
A lot of people seem to have a lot of questions about Cuba, Key West, and the distance and travel between the two! So here are the answers to the questions a lot of you want to know, for one reason or another, as we head for 2023!
Can You See Cuba From Key West At Night?
Well, the jury is still out on that one. Now we have established that you cannot actually SEE Cuba from Key West, that’s impossible due to the curve of the planet (and your stupid eyes that are inadequate).
But what about at night, and the lights of Key West hovering in the atmosphere over the land?
Although I have never tried gazing out over the ocean at midnight from the southernmost point at Key West, multiple sources agree on a massive maybe for this question.
Dependent on the atmospheric stuff, like how the light from the earth behaves in the lower parts of the atmosphere, the weather in general (which must be super clear), it is possibly possible!
Perhaps with a strong set of serious star-gazing binoculars, maybe you’ll be able to spot a few whisking rays!
How Far Is Cuba From Key West?
The ridiculously short distance between Cuba and Key West is just around 106 miles, you know, or around 170 kilometers. So it is not far at all!
But, too far to see, and, with the current political temperature, it is also a world away. Too far to imagine. But that’s a whole other story.
Interestingly, Key West is actually closer to Cuba than to the mainland United States. The distance from Havana, Cuba to Key West is as we said around 106 miles, while the distance from Key West to Miami is around 168!
How Long Is A Boat Ride From Key West To Havana Cuba?
The distance from Key West to Havana is around 106 miles, that is 92 nautical miles, and a large 30 meters long yacht I checked out has a top speed of 20 knots (20 nautical miles per hour).
So let’s give her some slack, and say 17 knots across the sea, shall we? That would say 92 miles divided by 17 knots, so the travel time by (this type of) boat would be just over 5 hours.
In some places though, I have read that the travel time by boat is 4 hours, so it will depend, I guess.
What I can tell you, is that the record time of boating from Key West to Havana was set in 2017, and two guys on a speedboat made the crossing in a crazy 1 hour and 18 minutes!
Can you swim from Cuba to Key West?
Considering the distance of 106 miles, technically, it is possible to swim the actual distance between Key West and Havana, Cuba.
The longest distance a human has been able to swim (so it is the world record), was when Pablo Fernandez, a Spanish guy, swam 250 km (155.34 miles) in Miami in July 2011, longer than the Key West – Havana distance.
Pablo beat the previous record, which had been unsurpassed for 15 years, and he also nailed the record for “farthest distance swam in 24 hours – open water (male)” in the same swim (shorter than the total distance, which took more than 24 hours).
There are a few issues though, as the currents in the Florida Straits are super strong and possibly dangerous.
Throw into the mix the large ships that travel through the straits, the conclusion is that it is not recommended to attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West.
If you’re looking for a fun way to get from Cuba to Key West, take a charted boat ride instead!
Can You Travel From Key West To Cuba?
Yes, you can travel from Key West to Cuba. Currently, in 2022, there are no commercial flights between Key West and Cuba, but there are chartered ones! So if you want to fly out from Key West to Havana, you need to spend some bucks.
If that is not an option, you need to get yourself over to Miami, there are daily flights from Miami International Airport to Havana, so that is an easier (and cheaper) option!
Because of the deteriorating situation between Cuba and the United States of America (politically), right now it is not possible to get a ferry, a cruise ship, or anything across water commercially to get from Key West to Cuba.
One of the last things Trump did in his tenure, was to tighten the US sanctions on Cuba, and he also put Cuba on the list of “states that support terrorism“.
This is not a good list to be on as you can imagine, so the travel restrictions (and general relations) that had experienced somewhat of a sense of perestroika, got back towards freezing.
That is on a national level, of course, I meet a lot of Americans that have discovered how to visit Cuba from the US (it is actually not that hard), and come here anyway! On a personal level, the relationship is excellent.
But back to the subject, you can actually find a way, boat wise, and that is also to charter one!
You can charter a boat for a day trip to Havana from Key West, and you can also charter a sailboat to go for a Cuba holiday, but that obviously takes a bit more time. And I nicer time, I would argue.
Can I go from Cuba to Key West by boat?
Yes, you can go from Cuba to Key West by boat, again, technically. First and foremost, that would probably be the return trip of the one you already have taken from Key West to Havana in your chartered boat!
There is no similar service to take you from Cuba to Key West (and back) in 2022, but who knows, maybe that will change.
A lot of Cubans would be over the moon if that happened, I’ll tell you that. The last year, due to inflation that has shot through the roof, a decline in tourism, and issues with importing enough food to the island (partly sanctions, party Russia’s war with Ukraine), the situation in Cuba is dire, to put it formally.
So people are fleeing the island head over heels in the thousands these days, any way they can. And everyone says that they only want to leave because they need to leave.
No one really wants to leave, as they love dancing in the streets, hanging with family and friends over rum and salsa, and, love their country, basically. But yeah, I guess food and the future matter.
How far is Miami from Cuba?
The distance Miami – Cuba is around the sum of the distances Miami – Key West, and Key West – Havana, so that would make it around 274 miles.
I have not been able to find out exactly, as google maps keep telling me that distance is untravelable. I think they probably don’t know how right they are, at the moment! Apart from flying, of course, the pilots probably have their own GPS.
The flight time from Miami to Cuba the last time I made the journey, was around 50 minutes from take-off to landing, so hardly enough time to enjoy a Cuba Libre!
Just for fun, I also found the following description on the internet describing the driving time from Miami to Cuba:
“The driving time from Miami to Cuba is about 26 hours. This does not include stops for food, gas, or rest”.
Right! I guess the moral is that you still cannot trust everything you read on the internet.
Finally: Can Americans Travel To Cuba?
Yes, Americans can travel to Cuba. However, there are rules, and you need to know how to travel correctly to Cuba as a US citizen, in order not to violate any rules and regulations!
If you want to read a bit about the rules and regulations, you can check out the details on the Cuba Restricted List issued by the US government.
Also, if you want to read more about how Americans can travel to Cuba, may I suggest this article of mine, How To Travel To Cuba Hassle-Free From US 2022, where you find pretty much everything you need to know!
Wrap-Up Can You See Cuba From Key West?
Well, we have now scientifically proved, and explained, why you cannot see Cuba from Key West. Also, how to get yourself over here to Havana by boat, sailboat, or a private jet from Key West or a commercial airline from Miami.
The distance between Havana and Key West is so short it normally would be a couple of hours’ drive, if it was on land. Or like 4-5 hours on a boat, but as the climate between the US and Cuba is the opposite of global warming, that is currently not an option.
But who knows, maybe someday? Stranger things have happened you know, like the Berlin Wall, and people strolling on the moon a while back. We’ll just have to see!
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