Havana is undoubtedly a historical town, and from your very first footstep within it, you’ll feel the spirit of its glorious past come alive. Founded in 1519 by the Spanish, the city was used as a meeting point for the rich and powerful, and as a base for Spanish galleons bringing treasures from the new world to the old. Wander its streets and take in the sights – the old, original fortifications, the baroque architecture of its churches, monasteries and squares – and you can’t help but get a sense of its colonial past. A lot of these buildings have been reconstructed following the decay during the Cuban revolution – which serves as another stark reminder of Cuba’s fascinating history – and, in fact, the old city was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1982.
Havana is also the perfect eye-opener for just how different Cuba is from the rest of the world. The crumbling buildings and pot-holed roads, the locals dancing and drinking in the street – you’re instantly as far removed from western culture as you could possibly be. The main street, Calle Obispo, which you’ll inevitably find yourself walking along sooner or later, is one of the most popular shopping streets in the city. It is essentially a long and narrow bridge connecting the old and modern parts of the city. Here you’ll find many interesting shops, cafes, live music venues, restaurants and, of course, Hemmingway’s favourite hotel – Hotel Ambos Mundos – where you can stop to enjoy a Mojito with your battered copy of ‘Old Man and the Sea’. The street is also home to the Hotel Florida, with its impressive lobby, as well as the national bank of Cuba, and crosses the old city from the central park to the Plaza de Armas.
If you’d like to get a feel for the classier side of Havana, Miramar is one of the more upmarket neighborhoods. Located in the district of Playa, this quiet, residential area is where the upper classes have been living since the days of Cuba’s past, and it is lined with villas and mansions from the 20th century.
“Havana is what its supposed to be, its old” – Anthony Bourdain.