Havana, Cuba – One

With a population of over two million, Havana’s core is La Habana Vieja. Old Town reflects five hundred years of history, starting with the Spanish in 1515 through multiple revolutions for independence. The streets are filled with stories, surprises and vintage cars.

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1 First Photos at Sunrise of Havana, Cuba

In 1958, the United States began to impose increasingly restricted embargos on Cuba through 1999. These prevented U.S. citizens from traveling to the island despite it being only 106 miles from Key West, Florida. Now, when a cruise ship enters the Havana Harbor before sunrise, the decks are crowded with people eager to catch their first glimpse of this previously forbidden country.

Havana Port, Havana, Cuba

2 Bay of Havana History in Havana, Cuba

In 1515, the Spanish established Villa de San Cristóbel de la Habana as their first town in Cuba because of the large, natural bay. Five years later, they created the Port of Havana to harbor their Fleet of the Indies during their trade routes between Spain and the New World. It was not long before ships laden with treasures attracted the attention of pirates. To defend against the attacks, the Spaniards built four fortresses from 1590 through 1774. In the background is one of them: Castle of the Morro. As navigational trade flourished, so did the city. The port was extensively expanded between 1790 and 1850. In 1898, the battleship USS Maine exploded and sunk in the harbor. This aggression sparked the Spanish-American War leading to the end of Spanish control. The American’s invested in the port’s infrastructure for a few years until 1902 when the Republic of Cuba was formed. Further enhancements during the 20th century have been limited.

Canal de Entrada, Havana, Cuba

3 Cityscape of Old Havana, Cuba

If you cruise to Havana, this will be your view of the city when your ships docks. The disembarkation process takes a while – nothing happens quickly in Cuba. Savor the cityscape while getting acclimated to the major landmarks you want to visit. On the left is the bell tower of Basilica de San Francisco. The red roof is Terminal Sierra Maestra San Francisco. The yellow dome crowns Lonja del Comercio, a former commodities market. The three tallest buildings in the background are (left to right), the ETECSA Building (telephone company), the spire of the Church of the Sacred Heart and the dome of National Capitol Building.

Oficios & Ave. del Puerto, La Habana, Cuba

4 Cruise Ship Terminal in Havana, Cuba

Your cruise ship will dock at the Terminal Sierra Maestra San Francisco, built as a custom’s house in 1914. When you disembark, you will enter Plaza de San Francisco. This square is at the heart of La Habana Vieja or the old district of Havana. The terminal is named after the Sierra Maestra mountain in southeast Cuba. The peak of the 19 mile range is Pico Turquino at an elevation of 6,476 feet.

Oficios & Ave. del Puerto, La Habana, Cuba

5 Basilica de San Francisco in Havana, Cuba

In 1591, the Franciscans built their first church in Havana. After it was destroyed by three storms in the late 17th century, the current Basilica de San Francisco was finished in 1716. About 15 years later, the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asís was established. The British used this as a place of Protestant worship during their occupation of Cuba in 1762. After their exile, the building was never used as a church again. Today, the property is a concert hall and the adjoining monastery is a museum of religious art. The three-tier, 140 foot bell tower overlooks the south end of Plaza de San Francisco. In the foreground is a white, Carrara marble fountain. Fuente de los Leones (Fountain of the Lions) was sculpted by Giuseppe Gaggini and installed in the square in 1836.

154 Oficios, La Habana, Cuba

6 Mansion at Plaza de San Francisco in Havana, Cuba

In the foreground are the cobblestones of Plaza de San Francisco. Prior to 1575, this area was a swamp. Then it was converted into land to help service Spanish ships at the Havana Harbor while the galleons engaged in trade across the Indies. The space was formalized as a square in 1628. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Saint Francis of Assisi Square became a popular location among the social elite and aristocrats for constructing palatial mansions. An example is this house at Oficios 71. It was built by the officers of the Cupet company.

Oficios 71, La Habana, Cuba

7 Hotel Palacio del Marques de San Felipe in Havana, Cuba

The original resident of this 18th century palace on Plaza de San Francisco was Don Sebastian de Peñalver. In the following century, the mansion was occupied by Juan Clemente Núñez del Castillo and Molina, the Fourth Marquis of San Felipe and Santiago. This was a title of nobility granted by King Felipe V in 1713 for establishing part of Cuba for the Spanish crown. In 2010, after an extensive renovation of the Baroque building, a luxury hotel opened. It retained the historic name of Palacio del Marqués de San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal.

Calle Oficios 72, La Habana, Cuba

8 Mercury Statue on Dome of Lonja del Comercio in Havana, Cuba

This bronze figure wearing winged shoes and hat is Mercury, the Roman god of trade and commerce. The mythological deity was the perfect symbol to stand above the yellow dome of the Lonja del Comercio Building. The Neoclassical structure housed the commodities and stock market when it opened at Plaza de San Francisco in 1909. Since 1996, after an extensive renovation, this building near the harbor houses international trade companies plus a restaurant named El Mecurio.

Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, La Habana 10100, Cuba

9 Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Monument in Havana, Cuba

In 1868, a sugar mill owner named Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves as part of a declaration for all the people of Cuba to be liberated from Spain. His actions sparked the Ten Years’ War (1868 – 1878) during which he was killed by a Spanish army. Related skirmishes led to the Spanish-American War twenty years later when United States defeated Spain. The 1898 Treaty of Paris resulted in Spain relinquishing sovereignty over Cuba. This monument to Céspedes – known as the Father of the Homeland – has stood in Plaza de Armas since 1955. The sculptor of the white marble tribute was Sergio López Mesa. The square dates back to 1519 when it was called Plaza de la Iglesia.

Monumento a Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, O'Reilly, La Habana, Cuba

10 Palacio del Segundo Cabo in Havana, Cuba

The Spanish constructed this limestone building with blue shutters facing Plaza de Armas in 1772 as a royal post office. During its history, it has served many purposes including an army headquarters, vice-captain general’s office, Senate of the Republic, Supreme Court, National Academy of Arts and Letters and most recently the Institute of Cuban Literature (Instituto Cubano del Libro).

Cuba Tacón and O’Reilly Streets, La Habana, Cuba

11 Castillo de la Real Fuerza in Havana, Cuba

On this spot near the harbor was the oldest bastion fortress in the Americas. In 1558, engineer Bartolomé Sánchez was commissioned to replace it. Then called Fuerza Nueva (New Force), the limestone, star-shaped fortress was finished in 1577 and surrounded by a moat. The castle was the residence of governors, captain generals and their army. During the 20th century, Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force) was repurposed several times. Real Fuerza has housed the National Archive, National Library, Museum of Arms and National Museum of Cuban Ceramics. Since 2010, this historic landmark has been a fascinating maritime museum named Museo de Navegación. Inside are displays and artifacts telling stories of Cuba’s relationship with the sea going back before Columbus.

Castillo de la Real Fuerza, O'Reilly, La Habana, Cuba

12 Vitruvian Man Sculpture in Havana, Cuba

This sculpture on the grounds of Castillo de la Real Fuerza resembles the 1490 drawing by Leonardo de Vinci called Vitruvian Man. The illustration is also known as the Canon of Proportions because it portrays the ideal physical proportions of a male. In the background is the fort’s watchtower. This sentry outlook was added to the defense in 1634. Notice the small figure of a woman on top. La Giraldilla is a replica of the weathervane on the La Giralda tower in Seville, Spain. On the left is the corner tower of Palacio del Segundo Cabo.

Castillo de la Real Fuerza, O'Reilly, La Habana, Cuba

13 Sculptures Along Canal de Entrada in Havana, Cuba

Two sculptures grace the banks of Canal de Entrada. Along the Avenue del Puerto in Old Havana is Fuente de Neptuno. This image of the Roman god of the sea holding his powerful trident was imported from Genoa, Italy in 1836 by Miguel Tacón while Cuba’s Captain General, the equivalent of a governor for the Spanish Crown. The Fountain of Neptune supplied water for harbored ships until 1871. Across the channel is the Havana Jesus Christ statue. The 66 foot height of Cristo de La Habana was sculpted from marble by Jilma Madera in 1958.

Malecón Near Parque Luz Caballero, La Habana, Cuba

14 Vintage Cars in Havana, Cuba

Fans of classic cars from the 1940s and 1950s love visiting Havana. They are everywhere, especially on the streets in La Habana Vieja. Some are rusted and aged while others appear in factory condition like this pink, 1954 Plymouth Belvedere. Yet under the hood may be black-market parts from Russia, China and U.S. or built with Cuban ingenuity. Why the time warp? In 1961, importing foreign cars were banned. Although the embargo has been recently lifted, new cars sell for eight times their market value – unaffordable at Cuban salaries.

Malecón Near Parque Luz Caballero, La Habana, Cuba

15 Wooden Fishing Boats in Havana, Cuba

While walking along the Malecón, you will notice men fishing from shore. Others cast off in the morning from Canal de Entrada in their small wooden boats. It is common to see these anglers carrying their fresh catch toward home. What you won’t find is them selling their fish. It is illegal … surprising on an island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Tourists can charter deep sea excursions. They frequently catch large tuna, sailfish and marlins. Fly fishing and trolling the saltwater flats is also available. The coastal waters encircling Cuba are pristine with plenty of trophy fish.

Av Del Puerto and Chacón Streets, La Habana, Cuba

Vintage Cars are Taxis in Havana, Cuba

This parked 1953 Cadillac Series 62 is immaculate, worthy of any collector’s garage or an auto museum. More than likely it is a taxi. The best maintained vintage cars cater to tourists for sightseeing trips around the city. They can be hired on a whim near Plaza de San Francisco in front of the cruise terminal or between Parque Luz Caballero and Fuente de Neptuno. You can also hail one driving along Malecón. Your best bet is to pre-arrange a driver and guide to visit designated sites in style. Fer Tours is an excellent choice.

16 Felix Varela Center in Havana, Cuba

Centro Félix Varela is a non-profit organization founded in 1993. The mission of CVF is to promote the values of ethics while helping to achieve economic and social development. These goals are achieved through training and publications. The organization’s principles and name stem from Félix Varela. Born in Cuba in 1788, he was ordained a Catholic Priest at Havana Cathedral and then became a staunch advocate for freedom for slaves and from Spanish control. Cuba has created the Orden Félix Varela honoring those who have contributed to the country’s culture.

San Ignacio and Chacón, La Habana, Cuba

17 Cathedral of St. Christopher in Havana, Cuba

Havana’s famous church is the Cathedral of St. Christopher. Others refer to this Roman Catholic church as the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception while most simply call it Havana Cathedral. The Baroque building was started by the Jesuits in 1748. They were expelled from Cuba ten years before construction was completed. From 1796 until 1898, the remains of Christopher Columbus were interred here and then sent to the Seville Cathedral in Spain. The asymmetrical, twin bell towers of Catedral de La Habana visually dominate Plaza de la Catedral.

156 Empedrado, La Habana, Cuba

18 Palacio del Marqués de Aguas Claras in Havana, Cuba

In 1751, Sebastián Peñalver – a lawyer and Havana major – commissioned this extravagant residence while the adjacent Havana Cathedral was only two years into construction. The Spanish Colonial design features a portico behind an arcade of Doric columns. In later years, the mansion was owned by Antonio Ponce de León, the 1st Marqués of Aguas Claras. This title was bestowed on him in 1752 by Ferdinand VII, the King of Spain. Today, this Andalusian-style palacio is the El Patio Restaurant located on the west side of Plaza de la Catedral.

Plaza de la Catedral, La Habana, Cuba

19 Palacio del Conde Lombillo in Havana, Cuba

Defining the northeastern edge of Plaza de la Catedral is Palacio del Conde Lombillo. The mansion was built in 1741 by Alfonso Herández de Ayones for the Pedroso family. In 1872, ownership transferred to José Lombillo and his wife, a Pedroso daughter. Two years later, Lombillo made it into offices for his sugar factory called San Gabriel. After his death in 1903, the building had several occupants during the first half of the 20th century, including a post office, lawyer, Municipal School of Music and the National Defense Secretariat. In 1947, it became the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana for a few years. Then, in 2000, that function returned. Their mission is to protect the cultural and historical heritage of Cuba.

Plaza de la Catedral, La Habana, Cuba

20 Museum of Colonial Art in Havana, Cuba

Directly across from the Havana Cathedral in Plaza de la Catedral is the Museum of Colonial Art. Among its exhibits are displays of furniture, porcelain, ceramics and architectural elements from the 17th through 19th centuries. There are also a few fully furnish room settings from colonial homes like a bedroom. Museo de Árte Colonial is inside this 1720 house called Palacio de los Condes de Bayonne. It was the residence of Don Luis Chacón. He was the Military Governor of Cuba three times. Entrance to this modest but interesting museum is free.

Plaza de la Catedral, La Habana, Cuba

21 La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba

In 1942, Angel Martínez opened the Casa Martínez grocery/restaurant on Empedrado. Soon he began serving a new concoction consisting of rum, sugar, lime juice plus mint. The mojito attracted bohemians, famous personalities and writers (including Hemingway), many of who left their signatures on the walls. La Bodeguita del Medio is now a popular bar among tourists. Outside on the day of my visit was Orlando La Guardia, the self-professed “Poet of Cuba.” Born in 1932, he still favors a typewriter.

Empedrado and Cuba Streets, La Habana, Cuba

22 San José Bakery and Confectionery in Havana, Cuba

If you can read Spanish and have a sweet tooth, then the words panaderia and dulcería should make your mouth water. They mean bakery and confectionary. This one on Calle Obispo is named San José. Judging from the crowds inside, their pastries and fresh bread are worth the long wait.

Calle Obipso 159, La Habana, Cuba

23 Street Performers in Havana, Cuba

Street musicians in Old Havana are plentiful, talented and licensed by the state to perform in public. They range from a single guitarist to ensembles including drums and a rickety keyboard. These two old men – who have played the same Cuban songs for decades- were entertaining on Calle Obispo, a pedestrian-only street. Stop, listen and enjoy this intricate part of Cuba’s culture. You will be smiling while your toes are tapping. Then show your appreciation with a few coins in the hat.

Calle Obipso and Habana Street, La Habana, Cuba

24 Convento de San Agustín in Havana, Cuba

A small missionary group of Augustinians arrived in Cuba from Mexico in the late 16th century. In 1602, Bishop Juan de las Cabezas established the Convent of Saint Augustine. A modest church was built in 1608 and dedicated to Our Lady of the Candlemas. It was expanded during the late 18th century. Since 1842, the property has housed different orders of Saint Francis (Franciscans). These are related Catholic groups who follow the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Calle Amargura and Aguiar Streets, La Habana, Cuba

25 History of the Jewish Hotel Raquel in Havana, Cuba

In 1905, the Loriente Brothers Trading Company hired architect Naranjo Ferrer to build this beautiful Baroque structure as their headquarters, fabric warehouse and wholesaling business. From 1914 until 1990, the building housed an insurance company, the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, the National Institute of Fishing, a warehouse for tobacco and a public utility for the food industry. With each new occupant, the building further deteriorated. Then, Habaguanex Ltd. – Havana’s leading hotel chain – committed to a major restoration. In 2003, the Hotel Raquel opened, the Spanish name for Rachel from the Bible. Other rooms of this Jewish hotel also have Biblical names. The Art Nouveau interior features marble columns, chandeliers, Tiffany lamps, stained-glass windows and skylight, Hebrew artwork by Cuban painters plus a Jewish restaurant. The 25 room, four-star hotel is in Havana’s historic Jewish Quarter.

Amargura and San Ignacio Streets, La Habana, Cuba

Late-19th Century Cuban Freedom Heroes Mural in Havana, Cuba

This mural of late-19th century Cuban heroes is on the exterior wall of the Comite Municipal Habana Vieja, the building housing the Communist Party offices in Old Havana. Pictured left to right are: 1. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (1819 – 1874): The “Father of the Homeland” advocated abolition of slavery and freedom from Spain leading to the Ten Years’ War (1868 – 1878) during which he was killed by the Spanish in 1874. 2. Máximo Gómez (1836 – 1905): major general during the Ten Years’ War and military commander during the Cuban War of Independence (1895 – 1898). 3. Antonio Maceo (1845 – 1896): The “Bronze Titan” was lieutenant general and second in command during the Cuban War of Independence until he and Gómez’s son were surprised and shot by Spaniards in 1896. 4. José Martí (1853 – 1895): The “Apostle of Cuban Independence” wrote the Manifesto of Montecristi in 1895 – the foundation for the Revolutionary Party of Cuba – before dying in the Battle of Dos Rios.

Cuban Revolution Leaders Mural in Havana, Cuba

Another painting on the Comite Municipal Habana Vieja building portrays the men who led the Cuban Revolution until the overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959. Pictured left to right are: 1. Che Guevara (1928 – 1967): Third in command of Cuban rebels, he was executed in Bolivia in 1967. 2. Camilo Cienfuegos (1932 – 1959): The “Hero of Yaguajay” was a Comandante during the revolution and then Chief of Staff of the Cuban Army until killed in a plane crash in 1959. 3. Julio Antonio Mella (1903-1929): A founder of the Communist Party of Cuba who was assassinated in 1929. These three portraits also comprise the logo for the Young Communist League in Cuba. Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (UJC) was founded in 1962.

Curbside Bicycle Cart in Havana, Cuba

For most Cubans, owning a car in Havana is rare except among taxi drivers. Trucks are essentially non-existent. So most heavy loads are transported in barrows, pushcarts, an occasional bicycle cart or carried by hand.

26 Iglesia del Santo Ángel Custodio in Havana, Cuba

Bishop Diego Avelino de Compostela spearheaded the construction of Iglesia del Santo Ángel Custodio on Loma del Ángel (Angel Hill) in 1695. After it was devastated by a hurricane in 1846, it was rebuilt in a Gothic Revival style. Two famous Cuban leaders for freedom were baptized in this Roman Catholic church. The first was Félix Varela y Morales in 1788. When he later became a priest, he petitioned Spain for independence and the abolition of slavery. Although he was sentenced to death by King Ferdinand VII for his views, Varela escaped to the United States where he became the Vicar General of the Diocese of New York in 1837. He is currently being considered for canonization as a saint. José Martí’s christening was in 1853. He went on to instigate the Cuban War of Independence in 1895 and died as a martyr for his country’s cause.

Calle Compostela and Cuarteles Streets, La Habana, Cuba

27 Presidential Place Now Museum of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba

The former Presidential Palace houses the Museum of the Revolution. Most of the exhibits tell the history of the Cuban Revolution. “The Movement” was an organized resistance led by Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl aimed at overthrowing the dictator President Fulgencio Batista. In 1952, they began recruiting rebels and collecting arms. The clash on July 26, 1953, resulted in Castro’s arrest and a 15 year sentence. After his release a couple of years later, Castro led several guerrilla attacks – mostly with devastating results to the rebels – until the last major battles at the end of 1958. Batista fled the country on January 1, 1959. Visit this fascinating museum to learn more Cuban military and political history.

Refugio #1, La Habana, Cuba

28 Dome of Former Presidential Palace in Havana, Cuba

This exquisite dome and cupola crown the former Presidential Palace in Havana. Architects Carlos Maruri and Paul Belau created this Neoclassical design. Construction commenced in 1913 and ended in 1920. This aligned with the two terms of Mario Menocal. He was the third President of Cuba (1913 – 1921). The interior is as opulent as the exterior, decorated by Tiffany & Company. The last presidential occupant was Fulgencio Batista. He vacated the building on New Year’s Day in 1959. His escape marked victory for the Cuban Revolution.

Refugio #1, La Habana, Cuba

29 Castro’s SAU-100 Tank in Havana, Cuba

In front of the Museum of the Revolution is this SAU-100, a Soviet tank developed at the end of WWII. After the war, many were deployed to Soviet allies including Cuba. This military vehicle was driven by Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, a disastrous attempt by CIA backed Cuban exiles to overthrow the Cuban government. Apparently, this 100mm caliber cannon was partially responsible for destroying and beaching the USS Houston – an American supply vessel – on April 17, 1961, the first day of the failed assault.

Refugio #1, La Habana, Cuba

30 Old City Wall Remnant in Havana, Cuba

Jacques de Sores was the first pirate to savagely attack Havana in 1555. Other French and English privateers followed. This led to the proliferation of Spanish forts to protect the port. These defenses were enhanced from 1674 until 1740 by building a 3.1 mile wall encircling the city. Some of these fortifications were five feet thick and 33 feet tall. Most of the walls were torn down in 1863. A few remnants remain such as this one in front of the Museum of the Revolution.

Refugio #1, La Habana, Cuba

31 Former Palacio Velasco-Sarrá Now Spanish Embassy in Havana, Cuba

In 1853, José Sarrá, a pharmacist from Barcelona, arrived in Cuba. In 1886, he became a wholesaler. This humble family business grew into the world’s second largest pharmacy. In 1912, the grandson – Ernesto Sarrá – built this extravagant Art Nouveau mansion for his daughter and her new husband, Dioniso Velasco. After the Cuban Revolution, the Palacio Velasco-Sarrá was nationalized. In 1984, it became the Embassy of Spain. You can visit José Sarrá’s original pharmacy called Museo de la Farmacia Habanera.

Calle Cárcel 51, La Habana, Cuba

32 Máximo Gómez Monument in Havana, Cuba

Máximo Gómez (1836 – 1905) was a military leader in two of Cuba’s three wars against Spain during the late 19th century. He was Major General in the Ten Years’ War (1868 – 1878) and Military Commander during the Cuban War of Independence (1895 – 1898). After Cuba achieved independence, Gómez declined the overwhelming public support for him to become president. This equestrian monument by sculptor Aldo Gamba shows Cuba’s hero facing the sea. Beneath the marble platform supported by a dozen columns is a bas-relief fronted by the winged Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory in war. The tribute was erected along Malecó in 1935.

Parque Martires del 71, La Habana, Cuba

33 Bastion and Watchtower of La Punta Castle in Havana, Cuba

It was determined in 1587 that both flanks of the Havana Harbour needed to be fortified. This decision lead to constructing El Morro on the north bank and this fort – Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta – on the southern side. La Punta suffered from constant building delays and a hurricane in 1595. By 1602, plans for an elaborate stronghold were scrapped. The citadel was finished as a stone keep in 1630. La Punta was restored during the 1990s. In 2002, the San Salvador de la Punta Museum opened inside with the mission to chronicle the fort’s history.

Malecón and Paseo de Martí Streets, La Habana, Cuba

34 La Punta Castle’s Battery in Havana, Cuba

Notice how Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta is directly across the water from El Morro and its lighthouse. Beginning in 1630, an 820 foot boom chain was strung between the two forts to prevent enemy ships from entering the harbor. This proximity was also the demise of the La Punta. In 1762, during the Battle of Havana, the British first captured El Morro. Then they used this strategic position to unleash over 50 cannons at La Punta. The meager Cuban battery of 19 smoothbores was no match. Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta surrendered in a single day. Today, this short distance is your advantage. You can travel from here to El Morro Castle via an underwater tunnel called Tunel de La Habana.

Malecón and Paseo de Martí Streets, La Habana, Cuba

35 Musicians Socializing along Malecón in Havana, Cuba

Malecón is Havana’s cherished boulevard and promenade. This favorite seaside walkway of Habaneros attracts romantic couples, fishermen, roving musicians, socializing friends and curious tourists. The city’s living room stretches four miles from Castillo de la Real Fuerza near the cruise terminal, wraps around the northern coast through the Vedado neighborhood and ends at the white building on the far right. Since July of 2015, this is the United States Embassy. Other buildings on the horizon are the FOCSA Building (Cuba’s tallest at 397 feet) standing behind the Hotel Nacional de Cuba (a favorite among American celebrities and elite until the 1959 revolution). The red tower is the Someillan Building, a 30 story residential complex.

Malecón, La Habana, Cuba

36 Seawall and Skyline along Malecón in Havana, Cuba

Malecón in Spanish means pier. Perhaps Havana’s celebrated boulevard should have been called rompeolas (breakwater) because it was initially designed as a seawall. Yet ocean waves often crash over the top and block traffic. The first third of a mile of Malecón was built by the Americans in 1901. Construction continued through 1952. High-rises from the 1950s accent the Vedado skyline. This neighborhood, plotted into a logical grid system one hundred years earlier, is primarily residential. Recently, Vedado has begun to blossom with nightlife, entertainment and art. So, hail a taxi driver in a classic car or horse-drawn carriage to explore Malecón and Vedado … especially at nightfall.

Malecón, La Habana, Cuba

37 Decrepit Building on Malecón in Havana, Cuba

Buildings facing Malecón and the waterfront range in age from the 18th through the mid-20th century. Most are decrepit from decades of sea spray and neglect. They often are abandoned or make-shift housing. But like the wrinkled face of the elderly, there are features to admire. A closer look reveals architectural nuances such as columns, arches, porticos, dentil molding, balusters, balconies and bas-reliefs – all crafted from stone. These facades were beautiful prior to 1960. Hopefully, many of them will be restored and shine again.

Malecón, La Habana, Cuba

38 Suggestions for Shopping in Havana, Cuba

This is Boulevard San Rafael, a major shopping street in Havana. Foreigners who love to shop will be disappointed. The stores cater to the locals and pale in comparison to retail districts in many major cities. You won’t find branded items you recognize. Only the basics. Prior to the revolution, Boulevard San Rafael was the center for department stores. Another popular district is Obispo Street. Both are alive with scurrying pedestrians. Many tourists head to the shopping mall named Palacio de la Artesanía or visit the expensive stores in the few up-scale hotels (such as Hotel Tryp Habana Libre in Vedaro). You will also find a few boutiques inside renovated mansions. One word of advice: there are so many other things to do in Havana so skip any thoughts of shopping.

Boulevard San Rafael and Galiano Street, La Habana, Cuba

39 DeSoto Diplomat Driving Down Avenue de Italia in Havana, Cuba

Avenue de Italia (also called Galiano) is another alternative for shopping, especially at the La Epoca department store plus several flea markets. You will also enjoy seeing the arcaded facades in a spectrum of pastel colors. Perhaps the fresh paint is intended to mask the various levels of decay. And unlike most cities, watching out for traffic is fun as classic cars like this 1954 DeSoto Diplomat whiz along the street.

Ave. Galiano and Boulevard San Rafael, La Habana, Cuba