La Habana – Sightseeing in a dilapidated city!

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Havana, Cuba; movie set at Paseo del Prado

Of course, the city’s not only dilapidated. It airs a romantic flair. The people are friendly and simple – your robe is from A or B? Nobody cares – they don’t know it anyway. And if they would, they would still not be interested. An oculist earns roughly 50 CUC per month and a TuKola is 1 CUC. They just have different problems.

Malecón, Havana, Cuba

Havana’s authentic. Despite the tourist areas. They would love to renovate everything and destroy the charm. But they don’t even have enough money for bad changes.

Preservation of the city

The city tries to preserve the sights at least. Most of the money comes from licenses for restaurants and tourist shops, some of it from foreign donations. For some areas it might be too late already.

Havana, Cuba

Many travelers who know Europe or the US are going to be shocked by Cuba and especially Havana. But just because it is different, you should see it.

History

The city was founded in 1519 at the Havana Bay as part of the Spanish colonial empire. In 1982 it became part of UNESCO world heritage. Furthermore, Havana is Hemingway’s city. The writer lived here for over 20 years and wrote many of his masterpieces in the city.

Havana, Cuba; Capitolio

The city is large, but easy to discover by bus and taxi. You should go sightseeing systematically and discover the different quarters on their own. The main sights are in Habana Vieja, Vedado and Centro Habana. Three whole days are the least to discover Havana, four days would be better!

El Malecón

Malecón, Havana, Cuba

The seafront. You can relax, watch the locals, the fishermen and the sea. And inhale the exhaust fumes of the vintage cars. Enjoy! It stretches for 7 km from Habana Vieja in the east to Vedado in the west.

Malecón, Havana, Cuba

Malecón, Havana, Cuba

We didn’t visit the Castillo de los Tres Reyes de Morro. But it might be worth a visit.

Malecón, Havana, Cuba

La Habana Vieja

Where to begin? Most sights are to find in the old town. We tried to visit it in a structured way.

Calle Obispo, Havana, Cuba

Calle Obispo: A beautifully refurbished alley with shops and bars, restaurants, etc. Looking right and left you see huge differences.

La Floridita, Havana, Cuba

In the western part of the street there’s La Floridita, Hemingway’s favourite bar. He got wasted here regularly. Today he wouldn’t like it. It’s expensive and full of tourists from America and Canada.

Plaza de Armas, Havana, Cuba

Plaza de Armas, Havana, Cuba

Plaza de Armas, Havana, Cuba

Plaza del Armas is on the eastern end of Calle Obispo. The weapon’s square is famous for its books today. It’s the oldest square in the Old Town and you find the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the generals’ residence from the 18th century. Looks beautiful from the outside.

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana, Cuba

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana, Cuba

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana, Cuba

Somehow we found Plaza de la Catedral. The name says it, here’s the cathedral. Its really long name: La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Immaculada de la Habana (I think I mentioned it before: Some Spanish skills are useful in Cuba). With or without the revolution – they are still deeply religious.

Bodeguite del Medio, Havana, Cuba

Left of the church is La Bodeguita del Medio. Another place where Hemingway got drunk to find creativity. It’s better to drink here than in the Floridita. Prices are reasonable and it’s more original. But also crowded.

Hemingway was supposed to say (every guidebook will tell you that – although nobody knows personally): “Mi Mojito en La Bodeguita, mi Daiquiri en la Floridita!” – A genius alcoholic!

El Museo del Ron Havana Club, Havana, Cuba

El Museo del Ron Havana Club, Havana, Cuba

Whatelse should you do? El Museo del Ron Havana Club. Only to access with a guided tour. Normally we don’t like those tours, but we did it, and: our guide was great! She was motivated and didn’t tell too much!

El Museo del Ron Havana Club, Havana, Cuba

El Museo del Ron Havana Club, Havana, Cuba

El Museo del Ron Havana Club, Havana, Cuba

El Museo del Ron Havana Club, Havana, Cuba

In the end you are allowed to taste one of the older rums and of course, you can buy everything you dream of. Of course we did it!!! Available for all budgets!

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

You see the former President’s palace used to be a palace. It was first used in 1920. The ball room imitates that in Versailles. The last one to live here and have fantastic parties was Batista. Today it’s the Revolutionary Museum.

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Plaza Vieja is one of the beautiful squares in Habana Vieja. Once upon a time, people were celebrating fiestas or processions here, but also executions. The gentry and the rich were watching from their balconies.

Plaza Vieja, Havana, Cuba

Near Plaza Vieja you`ll find a heaven on earth: The Museo del Chocolate. The best place to go when it’s rainy outside. We didn’t want to stay here for so long, but the weather forced us to. At least, it could have been worse for us!

Museo del Chocolate, Havana, Cuba

Museo del Chocolate, Havana, Cuba

Museo del Chocolate, Havana, Cuba

Museo del Chocolate, Havana, Cuba

Museo del Chocolate, Havana, Cuba

Museo del Chocolate, Havana, Cuba

There is a never ending list of Plazas in Havana. Next: Plaza de San Francisco. Here you can see the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asís built in the 16th century – also very pretty!

Basilica on Plaza de San Francisco, Havana, Cuba

Centro

Havana, Cuba

 

Centro is mainly a residential area. Sometimes you can’t be sure, if the sights belong to Centro or to the Old Town, because borders are not clear.

Paseo del Prado stretches from Malecón to Parque Central. The streets left and right of it are very busy.

Paseo del Prado, Havana, Cuba

Paseo del Prado, Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba; Capitolio

Havana, Cuba; Gran Teatro

Near Parque Central you find Capitolio and Gran Teatre. The Capitolio looks like the one in Washington, D.C., but it was built after Paris’ Pantheon. It’s the former parliament and is open for public today and a congress centre. Very picturesque!

Havana, Cuba; Barrio Chino

Interesting but disappointing at the same time: Barrio Chino. It was interesting because we didn’t know there is a Chinatown in Cuba. And it disappointed us because it was one of the least authentic quarters in Havana. Everything was made for tourists!

Once, the largest Chinese community in Latin America lived here. From 1847 they arrived from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to replace the African slaves. You should definitely eat in one of the many restaurants. It was delicious!

Vedado

Vedado, Havana, Cuba

Vedado’s great years were between 1920 and 1950. It was and is the economic and financial centre of Havana. Passing the skyscrapers you find beautiful villas and gardens. Many embassies and the spectacular university (ours wasn’t that beautiful) are also in this part of the city.

Vedado, Havana, Cuba

Vedado, Havana, Cuba

Universidad de la Habana, Havana, Cuba

Everything looks American. Who wants to discover how Cuba looked before the revolution, should come here.

Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

 

The quarter’s main sight is Plaza de la Revolución. It’s the largest square in Cuba (72,000 m2) and actually not very beautiful.

It appears mighty due to its monuments and the sheer size and is one of the most famous places in Cuba. Furthermore it’s the country’s political centre.

The 142m high Memorial José Martí is in the middle of the square. The poet’s statue in front of the memorial is 17m high and the country’s largest.

Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

On the opposite there’s the Cuban interior ministry with a huge Che Guevara Head and the slogan “Hasta la Victoria siempre”. Next to it is the Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba, the party headquarters.

Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

On the wall Camilo Cienfuegos praises Castro’s politics “Vas bíen, Fidel!”. It’s just too much pathos on one place – so we had to go in the building next to it to have a Mojito.

Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, Havana, Cuba

In Cienfuegos, we thought that was the most beautiful graveyard in the world. But then we discovered Cementerio Cristóbal Colón. It’s one of the largest in the world, built in 1870. 800,000 graves and mausoleums are here on an area of 56 hectares.

Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, Havana, Cuba

Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, Havana, Cuba

Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, Havana, Cuba

Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, Havana, Cuba

 

It’s like a city inside the city. Rich gentry families all wanted to have the most beautiful graves.

Many people in the world don’t live as luxurious as the dead do here. But three out of four were poor and have their graves in the outer parts.

Some of the celebrities buried here are Máximo Gómez, Fernando Ortiz or Ibrahim Ferrer. The Revolution’s fighters are in a separate Hall of Honors

Havana, Cuba

Vedado, Havana, Cuba

 

 

On our bus ride (the cheapest way to discover Havana), we saw the mighty Hotel Nacíonal de Cuba.

And could make fun of the Hiltons’ expropriation. The then and now ugly building is a symbol for American capitalism and their presence in Cuba. Today it’s called Hotel Habana Libre.

The word Libre is used inflationary in Cuba. We think, everyone interprets it differently.

We also passed Coppelia Ice Cream Parlour, known from the movie ‘Fresa y Chocolate’. The queue is endless and there are only three different types of ice cream. It’s not worth it.

 

Coppelia, Vedado, Havana, Cuba

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