Visting Havana is like stepping back in time. Visit now before it changes, says One Magazine’s Rachael D’Cruze-Sharpe
Havana is the beating heart of Cuba. Owed to the US embargo on Cuba, the city has been stuck in a bizarre and fascinating time warp since the 50s and nowhere is this more apparent than the capital. The Spanish colonial architecture is outstanding – some of it kept in excellent repair, but much of it crumbling and the contrast is fascinating. There is a UNESCO restoration project currently underway, which will transform La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), which is a World Heritage Site, into a living museum of colonial architecture.
Walking around Havana is a great way to explore the city. The sounds and rhythms of the upbeat daily life create an intoxicating buzz, made up of bars, café, patios, restaurants, rooftops, terraces, musicians and people make it a feast for the senses. Music pulsates through the streets as well as in the bars and clubs, you’ll find bands performing authentic Cuban rumba on the city’s busiest streets – many of whom are arguably as good as the famed Buena Vista Social Club.
Havana’s collection of 1950s classic cars is truly staggering – this is the only place in the world where the busy city traffic is awash with Pontiacs, Studebakers, Oldsmobiles, Chevrolets and Soviet imports and only a handful of modern vehicles. Hail a Cadillac or Chevrolet and asking your driver to take you on a tour of the old city – so much cooler than a bus tour.
It’s impossible to get bored in Havana, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a relaxing time in the city. Most of the cafés and restaurants have outside seating, where you can happy sit in the sunshine and watch the commotion of daily street life. The Plaza de Armas, the oldest square in Havana and the site of the city’s foundation, is well worth a visit and great for people watching.
A visit to Havana isn’t complete without a visit to Plaza de la Revolución. This huge public square, rising above the city is Cuba’s political heart. Many rallies take place here and it’s been the starting point of many revolutions. Marvel at the famous image of Che Guevara on the Ministry of the Interior
building, on Revolution Square.
Havana is the birthplace of the Mojito. The best place to enjoy one, other than mid rumba in one of the city’s atmospheric clubs, is Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Cuba’s most famous hotel is also a national monument and open to non-residents for a drink. It opened in 1930 hand has been a favourite of the powerful, rich and famous ever since. Make like Winston Churchill and Al Capone and buy a Habano cigar to enjoy. The view from the top of the hotel is one of the best in the city.
Cuba has taken steps away from its socialist policies and a new economic reform has started. Change is imminent – if you hate change, see Havana now.