HAVANA – THE CAPITAL
Havana was one of the vacation hot-spots of the Caribbean for historical and cultural reasons, and since Cuba reopened to tourism in the 1990s, it has become a popular destination once again. The population of the city is over 2.2 million people with various ethnicities such as white, black, mulatto and Asian.
The city of Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982 and is considered to be one of the most important cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Havana’s architecture displays an impressive blend of Spanish colonial and North American modernism.
The historic center is part of a vibrant program of preservation and restoration, directed by the celebrated City Historian, Eusebio Leal. Take the time to see examples of some of the finest and most interesting buildings in Havana (including Old Havana, Vedado, West Havana and Miramar), as well as gain an insight into the city’s complex history, from the 17th to the 20th century.
Here are some highlights of the city:
Museum of the Revolution and the Capitol Building.
Tropicana Show — A cabaret show, Las Vegas style, has been running for over 60 years. It’s a must-see show while you’re in Havana.
Visit the Partagas cigar factory just behind the Capitol Building. This is where you’ll find good-quality cigars – more expensive than “street offers” – but the quality of “street offers” is definitely questionable.
Havana Club Rum Factory. Go on a guided tour of Havana Club, one of Cuba’s most famous rums. Most of the exhibits are subtitled in English and are fairly self-explanatory.
Walk along the Prado street in the evening. Great public space – unfortunately not lighted at night. The Prado hums with street life, cafés and charm.
Walk along El Malecón . A favorite stroll for tourists and locals, a walk along the Malecon runs along the main streets of Havana and provides stunning views of the Bay. On weekends this is where the locals come to party, so bring a bottle and join in.
Enjoy the glory of La Habana Vieja (The Old Town), some of it faded and crumbling – but there are many beautifully restored buildings as a result of the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
Plaza de la Revolución. Huge square dominated by a statue and monument of Jose Marti and the iconic image of Che Guevara adorning the Ministry of the Interior. Arrive either early or late, as it is often swamped by tourists and it gets very hot during the day.
John Lennon Park in Vedado. Features the only statue of a western musician in Havana. Notable for the regularly stolen (and replaced) eyeglasses.
Hotel Habana Libre in Vedado. The hotel housed Castro’s soldiers for several days after they took Havana. It has an excellent selection of photos in the lobby along with one of the only 24-hour fast food restaurants in the city.
The Catedral de San Cristobal in old Havana. Said to be the only example of a baroque construction that possesses asymmetrical features – one of the towers is wider than the other.
Plaza de Armas. Spacious and elegant, the square is surrounded by baroque constructions that give it an authentic colonial milieu. It was laid out during the 1600s, replacing an old plaza which acted as the center of religious, administrative and military activity. Until the mid-18th century, it was used for military exercises and parades. Today, it’s also known as Céspedes Park, in honor of the country´s Founding Father, whose monument stands at its center. Attractions of remarkable historical value lay around the square such as the capok tree (Ceiba) under which the first mass for the city´s founding was officiated in 1519.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza / Plaza des Armas. Castillo de La Real Fuerza is the oldest bastioned fortress in the New World and has now reopened as Cuba’s premier maritime museum. The museum contains excellent exhibits of Cuba’s maritime past, from pre-Columbian days through to the 18th Century with the Royal Shipyard of Havana. The museum features a huge four-meter model of the Santisima Trinidad.
Take a tour in an old car — For around 20-30CUC an hour for up to four people, be driven around Havana in style. Choose a car you like near the Hotel Inglaterra or outside the Museum of the Revolution.