We have been to Cuba a few times to enjoy the great beaches but a few years back we visited Cuba’s capital city during one of our visits. We flew in on a small plane from Santa Clara to a small airport on the outskirts of Havana.
Before going to the old town we had to see the Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square). This is a huge open square where political rallies of up to a million people have taken place. As we walked around the square the faces of Fidel Castro and Che Guevera loomed over us.
We then went downtown to see the old part of Havana. The old town is not small but is generally walkable. The closer we got to the old town, the busier and livelier the streets became.
Central Park in Havana was particularly lively, with lots of people enjoying the open spaces. The majority of the action came from old men arguing about baseball!
Completed in 1777, Havana Cathedral once held the remains of Christopher Columbus. He was interred there until 1898 when his remains were returned to Spain after Cuba’s war of independence.
Eventually we made our way north towards the harbour, where the streets opened up and the Gulf of Mexico was in sight.
Called La Cabaña, the main fortifications of Havana were built in the 18th century and are the third largest in North America. It was captured by the British in 1762 but was returned to Spain in the deal that gave Florida to the British. Castro seized it during the revolution and used it both as his headquarters and as a prison for several months.
Both the downtown area of Havana and the adjacent fortifications are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with both showing an old-world charm that is often hard to find in the region.
Wherever we go, there’s always an opportunity to see some four-legged friends, and this was no exception. The kitten in the tree was at the fort next to the cannons. The dogs were all in the old town.
One thing you couldn’t miss in Havana was all the old American-made cars. It was like going to a city hosting a classic car show. There was so much polished chrome and bright colours on display everywhere. Considering the lack of parts, the work people did keeping them running was impressive. We never got tired of seeing them.
Next to the Museum of the Revolution was the Granma Memorial. It was dedicated to the yacht Castro used to transport his soldiers from Mexico to Cuba during the start of the Cuban revolution. Unfortunately the yacht itself is difficult to view and photograph because of a thick class covering designed to keep out the humidity. There were some other military pieces around it.
Moving on, we passed the Bacardi building, a grand art-deco tower that was the original headquarters of the Bacardi Rum Company. They had to leave in a hurry in 1960 during the revolution but the building remains. Cuba is no longer friendly to the Bacardi brand (Havana Club is their national brand) and the building is now used for offices.
You can see the same bat that is on the roof of the Bacardi Building on each bottle of Bacardi Rum. The original distiller of Bacardi had fruit bats living in the distillery and used the image of a bat for good luck.
On the theme of drink, we also passed Floridita, Ernest Hemingway’s haunt back in the 1950’s. He famously said “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.”
Being a mojito drinker myself, we passed on the Floridita.
Located in the exact centre of Havana, El Capitolio (the National Capitol Building) was completed in 1929 as seen in this Youtube clip. Although it is very similar in design to the U.S. Capitol, locals do not consider to be a replica.
It’s easy to see the rough edges of Havana, especially in the apartment blocks and neighbourhoods further outside the centre of the city as well as the limited selection in many shops. But there is a lot of energy there, and people are busy getting on with their lives. The city has a lot of charm and vibrancy in spite of the difficult living situation for the average Cuban citizen, and we enjoyed the visit.