The city of La Habana is the capital of the Republic of Cuba and was founded on November 6, 1515. Its founders called it villa San Cristóbal, in honor of Christopher Columbus, but the Indians of the area insisted in calling it Habana. Due to its geographical position and the excellent characteristics of its bay it was given the name of Llave del Mundo (Key of the World). For centuries, it was an obliged stop for the Spanish fleets, conquerors and adventurers.
Nowadays, La Habana comprises two areas: La Habana Antigua, commonly known as Habana Vieja (Old Havana), declared World Heritage; and La Habana Moderna (Modern Havana), not less attractive and full of life and visitors.
La Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) has so much charm that only visiting it, it is possible to capture fully the contrasts, sounds and colors that coexist there. It has the typical appearance of a colonial city, once a Spanish villa, highly appreciated for being the perfect route of communication and trade with the New World. A wide presence of the defensive system created in those years in order to protect the city from corsairs and pirates’ attacks remains in the city. That is why it is impossible to walk along the area without stumbling with impressive fortresses, such as, el Castillo de la Real Fuerza, el Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, La Cabaña, and the most unique of all of them, El Morro (The Morro Castle), located at the entrance of the bay. From this place, each night, the lights of the lighthouse guide the navigators. During the day, thousands of visitors climb there to admire the most beautiful view that the capital offers.
Not less relevant are its plazas (squares), spacious and extremely beautiful, from where two-wheeled calashes still ride, ready to guide you throughout the whole historic center at the slow pase of the horses. Mulatas dressed as in old times also walk with fruits and flowers, retracing the stone paved squares, la Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, la Plaza de Armas, la Plaza Vieja and la Plaza de La Catedral, fixed symbol of photos and post cards of Cuba. Inserted in this typical environment of that time, you may taste the flavor of the Cuban cocktails while sitting peacefully in open places that offer greater contact with the buildings and the people. The sound of guitars, keys and the voices of the troubadours will accompany you in your visit.
The museums enrich the old villa for their quality and historical value. Museums such as el Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (Palace of the Spanish Governors), de Ciencias Naturales (Science), el Gabinete Arqueológico (the Archaeological Bureau), the automobile museum, and the recently inaugurated Complejo Museológico de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum) are some of the most recommended ones. Nevertheless, the whole of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) constitutes in itself a vast historical stage, due to the presence of restored mansions which have become inns, for the restaurants located in colonial patios, and for the enormous quantity of pictures that delight with some nostalgia Cuban scenes. A little far away, crossing the bay, in La Cabaña, there is one of the largest arms collection of Cuba, and in El Morro (the Morro Castle) there is a permanent exhibition of the whole process of the construction of the fortress. Also located on that side of the bay you can see the statue of El Cristo (the Christ), where the nights are special and La Habana can be seen full of lights.
Something you should not miss is El Templete, located on La Plaza de Armas. In this place there is a ceiba (a huge Cuban tree), that after being substituted several times, points out the place where the first public mass of the municipal council was celebrated. Another place worth visiting is la Necrópolis de Colón (Colón Necropolis), the only cemetery in America named after the Admiral. There are sculptural monuments of huge proportions, with avenues and inner front doors made with great mastery.
Another point of interest is el Barrio Chino (China Town) with hundreds of restaurants that recall the eastern trade. Very near this area there is one of the largest fragments of the old defensive wall of La Habana, which construction started in 1674 and finished in 1740, and was pulled down twenty-three years after.
Lastly, the visit to the model of the city, the libraries and art galleries; the walks along Obispo boulevard, the sunsets at the Malecón and a Daiquirí at the Floridita Restaurant, complete our proposals of the tour along Old Havana.
La Habana Moderna (Modern Havana)
Contrasting with the colonial atmosphere of La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) stands La Habana Moderna (Modern Havana), cosmopolitan and lively made up by several areas that recall the architecture of the fifties, and also from the current revolutionary period in Cuba.
One of the most populated areas is el Vedado, which the main artery is the famous calle 23 (23 Street) with la Rampa Habanera, named like this because of its slope streets that flow into the sea. The diversity of cultural centers, restaurants and tourist agencies give a special connotation to this zone which attracts the population; among them, Coppelia ice-cream parlor, Yara and La Rampa cinemas and the Tryp Habana Libre, a hotel that has in its facade a fresco of the prestigious Cuban painter Amelia Peláez.
Full of life are the plays and concerts offered at the Amadeo Roldán, Bertolt Brecht and Mella Theatres. Besides these cultural centers, there are several nightclubs that offer musical performances, among them we may point out El Gato Tuerto, el Jazz Café, Cocodrilo, el Habana Café and Dos Gardenias.
In the present Habana there are also prestigious museums; such as, Artes Decorativas (Decorative Arts) and the museum del Ballet Nacional de Cuba (the Cuban National Ballet); art galleries, as la Casa de las Américas, Galería Habana, Miriarte, etc.
In relation with the urban weaving the avenues stand out, for example, we may mention: la Avenida de los Presidentes, El Paseo, Carlos III and Quinta Avenida, this last one located on the residential area of Miramar. Along this beautiful avenue, there are important hotels, business companies and shopping centers.
Fishing events take place at Hemingway Marina in different seasons of the year, as well as the possibility of practicing scuba diving and sightseeing the Havana littoral in luxurious yachts.
It is impossible not to mention the famous Tropicana Cabaret with its formidable show of music and colors, el café cantante Mi Habana and La Macumba discotheque, meeting place of music and dance.
Another charming place is el Malecón, a very dear spot for the Habaneros and Cubans in general. Every day it is visited by troubadours, flower sellers, children that play, and couples that watch the glare of the sunset in the sea. Sitting in its wall, all these people offer the capital the best of their smiles.