Havana is a vibrant, modern and cosmopolitan city; where past and present mingle at the cultural, political, economic and social heart of Cuba. Old Havana has been declared part of the heritage of mankind by UNESCO, and the beauty of its paved streets, colonial balconies, Baroque and Gothic buildings makes this accolade well deserved. Smiling faces greet you at every turn. At night, this lovely Caribbean city becomes a magical carnival of shows, night-clubs and discotheques inviting you in to join the fun.
Old Havana is a treasure trove of Cuban history and culture.
Centro Havana, located in the northern central part of the city is home to many hotels, bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Another feature of Centro Havana is its
Walking up La Rampa from the Malecón, you will reach the Vedado, one of the most charming areas of the city, with its 19th-century houses and mansions, many of them now housing embassies, ministries and cultural organizations. On the corner of La Rampa and L Street is the ice cream parlor
One of the most exclusive areas of Havana, Miramar, is full of beautiful colonial houses, now home to embassies, cultural centers and foreign companies. The ponds of the Emiliano Zapata Park (Avenida 5- Malecón) are worth a visit. The little boats on the River Almendares are also a pretty sight. Palm trees line the avenues and there are a good number of cafés, bars and restaurants around the
Havana has always been famous for its hospitality. Because of its privileged geographical position it has attracted travelers from all over the world. The first-time visitor will find a wide range of accommodations, from the simplest hotel to the most luxurious tourist complex.
In Old Havana, along the Paseo del Prado, is the Hotel Islazul Caribbean, between Colón and Refugio Streets. This comfortable two-star hotel has 25 rooms with all the standard services and conveniences, ideal for individual travelers. Crossing the Parque Central and heading toward the sea along Obispo Street, you will come to the Hotel Ambos Mundos. This was Ernest Hemingway's favorite hotel and his first home in Cuba. Many believe it has the best location in the whole city, a stone's throw from the Plaza de Armas. A little to the north, near the Gran Teatro de La Habana, is the Hotel Plaza. Built in 1909, triangular in shape and neoclassic in style, it is considered to be one of the architectural jewels of Havana. The lovely, peaceful gardens are full of tropical birds. The Hotel Lincoln was built in 1926 and is known for its excellent service. It has three superb restaurants: El Colonial, El Criollo, specializing in Cuban cuisine, and La Montaña de Oro, which serves Chinese food in a pleasant Oriental atmosphere. A few minutes away, on the corner of the Malecón, is the more recent Hotel Deauville, looking out to sea and along the front.
At the heart of Centro Havana, very close to the Capitolio Nacional, and the Paseo del Prado, is the NH Parque Central, in Neptuno Street between Prado and Zulueta. This modern, luxury five-star hotel is a good starting point for tours of the historic quarter. It has 277 rooms with views of the park. A few steps away is the Hotel Inglaterra, at the end of the Paseo del Prado. Opened in 1875, it is the oldest traditional hotel in the city and a favorite for lovers of museums and historical sights. The Hotel El Viejo y El Mar, which translates to the title of a Hemingway novel The Old Man and the Sea, and offers guests tennis courts and a scuba center in the Hemingway Marina, within close proximity to many sites, restaurants and nightclubs.
Along the seafront, on the borderline between Centro Havana and the Vedado, you will come to the Hotel Nacional, standing proudly on a slight hill on the corner of 21 and O Streets. Built in 1930, its wide array of facilities and services make it ideal for business meetings. Visitors to the Nacional will appreciate the splendid rooms and first class service. Fifty meters up the street, is the Hotel Capri, combining all the services you would expect of a four star hotel with the privacy more typical of a small one. It has a post office, bureau de change and a car rental agency. Just up the hill, is the prestigious Tryp Habana Libre, built in the 1950s and formerly the Havana Hilton. Its location at the very center of the modern part of town makes it not only a tourist favorite but also a popular meeting place for locals. A few streets toward the sea from L Street is the Hotel St. John's, a friendly hotel with 87 rooms, famous for its top floor nightclub, the Pico Blanco. Opposite, is the Hotel Vedado, which has 203 comfortable, air-conditioned rooms. To the east along the Malecón you will come to one of the city's best known five-star hotels, the Habana Riviera, opened in 1950, has always been one of the best and most famous hotels on the island.
The beautiful area of Miramar, home to foreign embassies and companies, is one of the most exclusive areas in Havana. The Hotel Chateau Miramar is a beautiful hotel on top of a hill, with some of the best views in the city. Close to the beach and peaceful, the Chateau Miramar is an ideal choice for any kind of traveler. The four-star Occidental Miramar is an elegant and peaceful getaway, while still nearby to many of the restaurants, nightlife and shopping in Miramar. The Oasis Panorama provides guests with a distinctly Cuban feel while offering scenic views and modern amenities.
Whatever you are looking for in Havana, whether it is tropical sunshine, salsa, or a particular style and philosophy of life, you are sure to enjoy yourself here. Art lovers will discover a rich art scene, which has taken and developed ideas from all over the world and blended them with its own. If your idea of happiness is simply having a laugh in a bar or nightclub, you have come to the right place: Cubans are famous for their open and fun-loving character. If it's music and dancing you're after, you will be spoiled for choice.
Havana has long had a reputation for having world-class theater and theater venues. You can catch new and old shows from companies such as Buendía, with its excellent reputation for physical theatre, El Público, which regularly fills the city's biggest theatres and Hubert de Blanck, which in the last few years has staged major works by Lorca and Cuban playwright Abelardo Estorino. One of the most important venues for dance and drama is the Gran Teatro de la Habana in Old Havana, whether the main García Lorca auditorium or the Antonin Artaud and Alejo Carpentier studio theatres. In the Vedado there are a number of theaters: the National Theater (Nacional), which has two main auditoriums, the Avellaneda and Covarrubias, and a smaller one on the ninth floor; the Teatro Hubert de Blanck, home of the theater group of the same name; and El Sótano, home of the Rita Montaner Company. These last two also put on productions by other companies. In other districts you will find the cinema-theatre Los Angeles, the Karl Marx Theatre and the Raúl Gómez García Theater.
For musicals try the Gran Teatro de la Habana, which is also the official venue of the Cuban National Opera. For classical and choral concerts the best places are the Amadeo Roldán, home of the National Symphonic Orchestra, and the Basílica Menor de San Francisco de Asís. Traditional Cuban music, now back in fashion around the world, can be heard all over Havana at regular gigs such as Échale Salsita at the Ignacio Piñeiro Music Centre, Chan Chan at the Casa de la Amistad, Changüí Habana and Tiempo de Son at the Julián del Casal Arts Center, or Vocal 3 and their guests at the Museum of Colonial Art. Other venues for traditional music are La Tarde bar, the Bolero Room at Dos Gardenias, and the Casa de la Trova. For the best AfroCuban beats go to Callejón de Hamel in Cayo Hueso, every Sunday.
Cubans are great film buffs and, while Hollywood movies are only shown on TV, there is always something worth seeing. The best choice is to be found at the Charles Chaplin cinema, which, besides being one of the largest art film houses in Latin America, has the most modern equipment and facilities. Here you can see seasons of films dedicated to particular directors, countries, decades, or themes. The center's Charlot video room has its own separate program. Cine La Rampa also shows art films. At other cinemas, of which there are over fifty, you can see old and new Cuban films, as well as some from other Latin American countries, and contemporary cinema if you happen to be here during one of the festivals. These cinemas include the Yara, the main venue in the Vedado, the Riviera, Trianón and Acapulco, all in the Plaza area, Actualidades, and the Cinecito
Museums & Galleries
If you want to get to know a little more about the history of Cuba, there are many places you might find interesting. Try the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, where you will be able to see Colonial and early Republic art and history exhibitions. The Museo de la Revolución gives you the chance to learn all about Cuban history from 1868 onwards. If you are into archaeology and anthropology, the Regla is an interesting museum, with exhibitions of Afro-Cuban culture. Given that the Fine Arts Museum is going to be closed for some time due to refurbishment, the best venue for art exhibitions is the Centro Wilfredo Lam, with several temporary international contemporary art exhibitions. There are also many temporary exhibitions on at smaller galleries such as Habana, El Reino de este Mundo in the Biblioteca Nacional (the National Library) and Ima go.
If you don't want to spend all your time indoors, there are many places to go to in Havana where you can enjoy the open air. The Zoológico Nacional and the Zoológico de La Habana, the Botanical Gardens, ExpoCuba, the Acuario (Aquarium) and Lenin Park where there are all sorts of shows and activities for children. There are also places where you can go sailing, fishing or diving in Havana. The best places for this sort of activity are the Hemingway Marina, the Veneciana Marina, and the Playas del Este (beaches to the East of the city) such as Bocaciega, Santa María and Guanabo.
When night falls, Havana also has much to offer. Try one of the most famous restaurants such as La Bodeguita del Medio, Terazza La Mina, La Zaragozana, Castillo del Farnés and the Patio Restaurante, where you can savor traditional Cuban food, as well as food from all over the world, while listening to live music. If you'd rather go to a bar than a restaurant, try the most popular ones: Monserrate, Delirio Habanero, and Café Paris, all of which also have live music and a great atmosphere. For a bit of cabaret, try Tropicana, the most famous venue for Cabaret since the 50s. There are also many discotheques in Havana. Try Havana Club or Ipanema. If it's jazz you fancy, try La Zorra y El Cuervo. If you like rock,El Patio de María and El Gato Tuerto are worth trying.
After all this, you may have realized there is rather a lot to do in Havana, whatever your likes and preferences. At any rate, you will never find it lacking in good music, good theater, art exhibitions and a buzzing nightlife.
The port of Havana was originally known as Carenas, until 1519 when the Villa de San Cristóbal, founded to the south by Diego Velásquez in 1514, was moved to the present site of Havana and subsequently given its present name. This story is told on the walls of the Templete, a tiny temple on one side of the Plaza de las Armas. In the beginning, Havana served mainly as a base for the Spanish conquista of the New World as it was poor in the resources that the Spanish considered valuable such as gold, precious stones and silver, so a large number of the settlers and Conquistadors moved on to other places like Mexico.
Serving as a base for the conquista turned Havana into a trading port, with goods going from Spain to the New World and vice versa. However, this made Havana a target for Pirates and the first attack on Havana occurred in 1555, when French corsairs sacked and burned the city. This vulnerability led to the construction of Havana's first fortress. Another problem with pirates was their attacks on Spanish ships, so beginning in 1561, all ships bound for Spain were ordered to assemble in Havana Bay to travel together, which gave a large boost to the commerce in the city. Proof that Havana had grown into an important world port is the fact that in 1563 the Spanish Governor of Cuba moved his residence to Havana, making it the unofficial capital.
On December 20, 1592, King Phillip II made Havana an official city, which led to even more development. Three castles were constructed, the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, the Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro and the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, as well as two defensive towers, La Chorrera and San Lázaro.
The first half of the 17th Century brought about much more development and growth in Havana. However, it hid a bit of a speed bump in 1649 when a disease epidemic hit the city, and wiped out a third of the population. But Havana bounced back and construction on the city walls began in 1674, although not to be completed until 1740.
In 1762, the city was take by the British during the Seven Years' War. During British rule, the city was opened up completely to trade with their colonies in North America and the Caribbean and brought new industry and labor to Cuba. However, less than a year later, Britain traded Cuba for Florida in the Peace of Paris, and the Seven Years' War ended. Once Havana was returned to Spanish control, many fortifications were built, making it the most heavily fortified city in the Americas. In addition to the fortresses, at this same time the Cathedral was built, and was the resting place of Christopher Columbus' remains for 100 years.
As Havana moved into the 19th Century, it flourished and became quite fashionable, and in 1837, Cuba became only the fifth country in the world to build a railroad. As Havana continued to grow, they were forced to take down the city walls in 1863, and at the end of the century, the United States took control of the country after the battleship Maine was sunk in the harbor.
Under American control, many casinos, luxury hotels and nightclubs popped up and was a major tourist destination for Americans. It was also a favorite destination for the famous and Hollywood elite like Frank Sinatra and Gary Cooper, and writer Ernest Hemingway lived here for over 20 years. Havana prospered under American rule until 1959, when the Cuban revolution was led by such rebel guerillas as Che Guevara, Raúl Castro Ruiz, and Fidel Castro, who was to become the leader of Cuba for more than 50 years. Castro declared Cuba to be a communist state and by nature of this, an ally of the Soviet Union. The United States imposed an embargo on Cuba, providing quite a shock to the now nationalized economy.
Today, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba remains a communist nation, however despite the American Embargo, Cuba has begun to rely heavily on its tourist appeal, attracting visitors mainly from Canada and Europe. Havana is a city with an interesting story and saturated with history, which is evident just walking the streets of this Caribbean city.