The capital of the Caribbean’s largest island is controversial and intriguing at the same time. 1950s time warps confuse visitors at first, but that is what makes Havana so unique. The antique cars, cigars, Hemingway images, and revolutions only add to the picture. Old Havana has the UNESCO sticker of approval, as it remains one of the Americas’ best-preserved colonial centers.
Havana may make visitors feel like they have gone back in time. For those that don’t mind time travel, Plaza de Armas boasts of being the exact spot where the city was founded in 1519. Aside from hosting Havana’s birth, the Plaza is one of the city’s most intriguing and inviting for many. Plaza de Armas holds the El Templete, a small chapel. Built in 1828, the chapel commemorates just where the city was founded. The Plaza also provides an overview of the Havana’s history at the Museo de la Ciudad. More local color presents at a nearby market for arts and crafts while the history lessons continue at the Castillo de le Real Fuerza, a 16th century colonial fortress.
Part of seeing Havana comes through following in the footsteps of one of the city’s most famous residents, Ernest Hemingway. Throughout much of the 1930s, Hemingway stayed at Hotel Ambos Mundos. Travelers can visit his relatively untouched room where he began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. Words may start to roll off of the tongue after a visit to Hemingway’s favorite spot for a mojito, La Bodequita del Medio.
Much of the country’s history is left behind in Havana’s many museums. The Museo de la Revolución y Memorial Gramna exhibits the struggle of Cuban people to gain sovereignty over their own island. The boat for which Fidel Castro returned from exile is also on display, Gramna. Another of the city’s must see museums rests in Plaza de la Catedral. Museo de Arte Colonial represents an architectural masterpiece. Constructed around a plant riddled courtyard, the museum contains colonial furniture from Havana’s palaces and mansions.
While in Plaza de la Catedral, visitors can take in Havana’s best preserved square. Situated within is the city’s cathedral and buildings all in keeping with their original splendor. Cafes and restaurants set up along Plaza de la Catedral so that visitors can linger over a cool cocktail. While sipping on a daiquiri, eyes may transfix on Catedral de San Cristobal de La Habana, known for its 18th century baroque style.
Getting away from the cityscape, Parque Almendares hides away along the bank of Rio Almendares. The oasis of greenery is often referred to as the lungs of the city. It contains a unique Bosque de Habana as well.
For 500 years, Havana has put on quite the show. A history more like a roller coaster ride might be flawed to outsiders, but nonetheless seductive. The crumbling buildings and traffic-infected streets may hint otherwise, but get beyond first impressions and find one of Latin America’s most electric and culturally unique cities.