The Spanish left behind some superb colonial architecture and many of the great buildings and grand plazas have been restored to their former glory, but much of Havana’s charm can be found among the narrow, cobbled alleys packed with crumbling buildings and fascinating people.
Every open door and overhanging balcony offers whiffs of cigar smoke and the strains of salsa music. On the streets Chinese-made bicycles and ciclo-taxis weave amongst the melee of 1950s Chevy’s and Russian Ladas.
The modern city centre boasts high-rise buildings and large hotels and the trendy suburb of Velado draws locals and visitors alike with its theatres, art galleries, restaurants, cafes, and cabaret shows. The busiest street here is La Rampa, known for its underfoot art executed on granite tiles by renowned Cuban artists like Wifredo Lam. Havana’s nightlife will exhaust even the most seasoned partygoer.
After dark nightclubs and bars come alive and the famous rum cocktails flow freely. The city has plenty of cultural entertainment too, and its fair share of monuments, museums and statues. For those travellers needing rest from all this activity, the best beaches are only twenty minutes east of the city.
Havanna is towards the west end of Cuba’s long north coast. (it is 87 mls W of the main resort of Varadero. 14 mls NE of Jose Marti international airport). It is set around a large natural harbour, the Bay of Havana, with a narrow channel out into the Florida Straits, effectively at the point where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico.
Now that Cuba is no longer subsidised by the former USSR, and since it is boycotted by the USA, the country is effectively bankrupt. There are shortages of nearly everything, including petrol, soap and toiletries; all food is locally produced. Look out for genuine Havana cigars (buy only from approved shops or factories and do not buy at reduced prices on the street as these are likely to be illegal fakes and will be confiscated by customs), rum, embroidery and any local souvenir that may appeal. The latter are sold from colourful stalls in the square in front of the cathedral. Calle Obispo, a pedestrianised boulevard connecting Parque Central with Plaza de Armas, has mainly tourist shops and a couple of interesting antique pharmacies.
During the daytime spend it sightseeing in the Old City, including many well-preserved Spanish colonial buildings such as the former Palace of the Captains General (with museum) and others around Plaza de Armas; Castillo de la Real Fuerza (1577), the second oldest fortress in the New World; Central Park and surrounding turn-of-last-century buildings, especially the Capitol (now a museum)
The nightlife offers a varied evening. Most hotels and restaurants provide musical entertainment (rumba, salsa and other Latin American music/dance). There is the famous Tropicana nightclub (still with the same dance show as it had in the 50s); a few other nightclubs with cabaret; discos, some at the bigger hotels; ballet, theatre, dance and music.
Although those with knowledgeable, well-connected or well-off guides may find good food, in general it is of a pretty poor standard and limited choice. Quite a lot of restaurants in the Old City and the Vedado area, as well as in the hotels, with a la carte restaurants in the 5-star hotels probably the best available, but not cheap. Expect every imaginable variation of pork, chicken (some of the toughest ever encountered), rice, black beans and potatoes. Lobster and seafood can be a (relative) bargain, but fish is not common.
Posted on July 27, 2012, in Travel Destinations and tagged Calle Obispo, Central Park, Cuba, Eastern Beaches, Florida Straits, Havana, Havana cigars, Havana Cuba, Havana Cuba Cigars, La Habana, La Rampa, Old City, Parque Central, Plaza de Armas, Varadero, Velado, Wifredo Lam. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.