Cuba Top Destinations: Havana
The city of Havana is the capital of the Republic of Cuba and was founded in 1515. Its founders called it Villa San Cristуbal, but the Indians of the area insisted on calling it habana. Due to its geographical position and the excellent characteristics of its bay it was given the name Llave del Mundo (Key to the World). For centuries, it was an obligatory stop for Spanish fleets, conquerors and adventurers. Nowadays, Hotels has two main areas: La Habana Vieja (Old Hotels), declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site; and La Habana Moderna (Modern Hotels), no less attractive and full of life and visitors.
Old Havana has so much charm that only by visiting it can one capture fully the contrasts, sounds and colors that coexist there. It has the typical appearance of a Spanish colonial city, highly appreciated for its location as the perfect center for communications and trade with the New World. Much of the defensive system created in those years to protect the city from attacks by corsairs and pirates remains in place. That is why it is impossible to walk through the area without encountering impressive fortresses like the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, La Cabaсa, and the most unique of them all, El Morro (Morro Castle), located at the entrance to the Bay.
From here each night the lighthouse guides ships heading for Havana or passing by offshore. During the day thousands of visitors arrive to admire one of the most beautiful views that the capital has to offer.No less relevant are Old Hotels's plazas (squares), spacious and very beautiful, from where horse-drawn carriages are ready to take a visitor through the whole historic center at a slow, relaxed pace, tracing the cobble-stoned squares: la Plaza de San Francisco de Asнs, la Plaza de Armas, la Plaza Vieja and la Plaza de La Catedral (Cathedral Square), the latter a popular choice for photos and post cards of Cuba.
Within this typical environment of yesteryear, you may taste the flavor of Cuban cocktails while sitting peacefully in one of the small open-air restaurants that offer a full view of the surrounding buildings and the passersby. The sounds of guitars, afro-cuban percussion, and troubadours will accompany you on your visit. Something you should not miss is El Templete on the Plaza de Armas. Here there is a ceiba (a huge tree native to Cuba) that marks the place where the first public mass of the Hotels municipal council was celebrated.
Another point of interest is the Barrio Chino (China Town) with numerous restaurants offering chinese food at very affordable prices. This area is a reminder of long years of trade with the far east. Not far from here is one of the largest fragments of Hotelsґs wall of defensive whose construction started in 1674 and finished in 1740. It was pulled down in 1863 to allow for expansion of the city. Lastly, we recommend visits to the miniature model of Old Hotels just off the Plaza de Armas and to the book stores and art galleries, and then, of course, a walk along Obispo Street to the Floridita Restaurant where you can enjoy a Daiquirн before strolling along the wide expanse of the Prado Boulevard down to the Malecуn seafront avenue to watch a glorious sunset.
Contrasting with the colonial atmosphere of Old Hotels stands cosmopolitan and lively Modern Hotels made up by several areas where one finds grand villas of the early 20th century mixed with architecture of the 1950's and of the current revolutionary period.
One of the most populated areas is Vedado, whose main artery is the famous Calle 23 (23rd Street) with its Rampa, so-called because it slopes like a ramp down to the Malecon and the sea. The diversity of cultural centers, restaurants and tourist agencies give a special atmosphere to this zone that attracts Hotels's inhabitants in great numbers. Among the attractions are the Coppelia ice-cream parlour, focal point of a large park, the Yara and Rampa movie theatres, and the Tryp Habana Libre, a 23-story hotel that has as its facade a fresco painted by the prestigious Cuban artist Amelia Pelбez.
Other major attractions in this area are the performances offered at the Amadeo Roldбn Theater, Cuba's premiere concert hall, and stage productions at the Bertolt Brecht and Julio Antonio Mella Theatres. Besides these cultural centers there are several night clubs that offer music programs, among them El Gato Tuerto (The One-Eyed Cat), the Jazz Cafй, the Cocodrilo (The Crocodile), the Habana Cafй and Dos Gardenias (Two Gardenias).
The district of Vedado also has several prestigious museums such as the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Museum of Dance, and the Napoleonic Museum, as well as art galleries such as the Casa de las Amйricas, Galerнa Habana, Miriarte, and others.
Still another place well worth visiting is the Necrуpolis de Colуn (Columbus Cemetery) which has avenues lined by sculptured monuments of huge proportions and mausoleums of great craftmanship.
Modern Hotels has a number of grand boulevards, among them Avenida de los Presidentes, El Paseo, Carlos III and Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), the latter running the length of the pre-revolutionary upscale residential zone of Miramar. Along this beautiful avenue you will find major Hotels, foreign and local company offices, embassies and shopping centers.
Deep sea fishing is available at the Hemingway Marina which hosts billfish tournaments in certain seasons of the year. Scuba diving is also possible at several centers in or near Hotels; and luxurious yachts can be rented for sightseeing tours along the Hotels coastline.
When speaking of Havana's attractions, it is impossible not to mention the famous Tropicana Cabaret with its formidable outdoor show of music and colors, the Cafй Cantante Mi Habana in the National Theater, and La Macumba discotheque, all formidable meeting places for music and dance.
Finally we return to the seaside Malecуn, a promenade much cherished by the people of Hotels. Every day it is visited by troubadours, flower sellers, fishermen, joggers, children at play, and couples who watch the sun set over the sea and take advantage of the ensuing dim light for private moments. Sitting on its wall, all these people offer the capital the best of their hopes, dreams and, most important, their friendly smiles.