Our tour begins in the old part of the city. Old Havana and its surrounding area was declared part of mankind's heritage by UNESCO. The area is a wonderful mix of colonial houses, late 19th century buildings and a large variety of restaurants, cafés and bars offering traditional Cuban and international food, as well as cocktails and other drinks. There are also many museums and places of historical interest. One of the places of most interest is the Plaza de la Catedral, where there is often an arts and crafts market. The Cathedral, an impressive example of baroque architecture built in 1777, is a good place to start a tour of the city. Opposite the Cathedral is the Museum of Colonial Art with an excellent exhibition of furniture and decorative objects dating back to the Colonial period. If you go along Calle San Ignacio, you will come to the Centro Wilfredo Lam, which houses an interesting collection of the work of contemporary Latin American artists, including Lam himself, the world-renowned Cuban painter and sculptor. Making your way down Calle Empedrado you will find the Alejo Carpentier Museum which is the former residence of the writer and the inspiration for his book El Siglo de las Luces. Today it is a library and research centre, as well as exhibiting a collection of this Cuban writer's manuscripts.
If you are interested in literature, you can buy second-hand and antique books in the Plaza de las Armas. Overlooking the bay is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, built during the Colonial period in order to defend the city. On top of one of its towers is La Giraldilla, the symbol of Havana. The Castillo del Morro is the largest fort built by the Spaniards during the colonial period. Every night, at nine o'clock, you can hear a cannon shot from the castle. In times past it announced that the city wall had closed; today this custom continues in Havana.
Going down Calle Oficios you will come across many interesting museums, such as the Museo de Autos Antiguos, La Casa del Arabe and the Numismatics Museum. Pass along Calle Obrapía, and you will arrive at La Casa de Benito Juárez, with exhibitions of Mexican arts and crafts. La Casa Guayasamín exhibits contemporary artworks as well as works by the Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín's and some of his per sonal belongings. Another interesting place is La Casa de Africa, with a fascinating collection of Afro-Cuban art, including paintings, sculptures and a large variety of objects. The
Basílica Menor de San Francisco de Asís houses an interesting exhibition of archaeological findings. When you leave, have a look at the square, with the Fuente de los Leones (Fountain of the Lions) in the centre, a beautiful early 20th century Italian sculpture.
Keep going along Calle Opispo toward the Parque Central, where you will come to the
Gran Teatro Nacional, with several statues representing Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. Nearby is the Capitolio Nacional, which you can also visit. Inside, you will find the largest indoor bronze statue in the world and you will have the chance to visit the parliament, and walk through the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos (The Room of the Lost Footsteps), so called due to the echo caused by the sound of visitors' footsteps. If you are lucky, you might also get the chance to see one of the many exhibitions which are regularly organized here, mainly the work of young Cuban artists.
Culture and Entertainment in Havana. A Tour
Havana offers culture and entertainment for everyone, whatever your tastes or preferences. In Old Havana you will find a great number of restaurants and bars where you can enjoy live bands playing traditional Cuban songs and melodies. Practically every corner of Old Havana is an explosion of music and colour, with tourists and locals alike gathering to enjoy what the city has to offer; La Bodeguita del Medio, La Peña del Tango, Café Paris and Monserrate are some of the names of the many places you will find on your visit to the area.
In the Vedado area, one of the most charming sectors of the city, with its beautiful colonial houses (now home to several embassies, cultural centres and ministries) you will find a wide range of restaurants and bars: Club Imágenes offers live music in an intimate and relaxed atmosphere; in the Hotel Habana Libre you will find the Salón de los Embajadores, where jazz festivals and salsa concerts are organized regularly; El Palacio de la Salsa, near the Malecón, has live salsa orchestras which play there regularly (if you enjoy Latin and Caribbean rhythms, this is the place for you). Another good choice is the Café Cantante, near the bus station, in the Teatro Nacional de Cuba, where every day, you can listen to live Cuban Orchestras playing the hottest tunes. On the top floor, every night the Delirio Habanero takes place, where all sorts of artists (singers, music bands, comedians and poets) get together and spend the night dancing, singing and laughing. From midnight onwards it's open to everyone, so why not join in?
Every Saturday night El Hurón Azul is celebrated at the UNEAC (Cuban writers and artists Unión). This is a night for bolero lovers and romantics in general. If you are more into jazz, go to La Zorra y el Cuervo, where traditional musicians and young Latin jazz talents get together to offer you a truly unforgettable night out.
In the Miramar area there is also an excellent choice when it comes to places to have fun. Dos Gardenias, with its Salón del Bolero is especially suited to those who like boleros, so popular in the '40s and '50s and undergoing something of a revival now. The Ipanema discotheque at the Hotel Copacabana is a definite must if you are into salsa.
When it comes to museums and art galleries, there are many options, in the old part of the city as well as in the Vedado area and the area surrounding the Plaza de la Revolución. Among some that are really worth the visit are: the Museum of Colonial Art and the Cathedral (on Calle Empedrado); the Alejo Carpentier Museum which is located nearby; the Guayasamín Museum (Calle Obrapía); La Casa del Arabe; the Museo de la Perfumería, the Museum of Numismatics and the Museo de Autos Antiguos (all of which are on Calle Oficios); the Templete on Plaza de Armas and the National Museum Castillo de la Real Fuerza; the City Museum, located in the Palacios de los Capitanes Generales on Calle Tacón; the birthplace and Museum of José Martí on Calle Ejido, and towards the Parque Central, past the Lorca Theatre, the Capitolio Nacional, location of the National Natural History Museum. The Mella Theatre shows important plays by Cuban and international playwrights, as well as dance shows and cabarets.
On Calle Trocadero, you will find the Museo Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts), which exhibits the largest collection of art in Cuba. The Museo de la Revolución on Calle Refugio, exhibits an important collection of documents and objects related to the Cuban Revolution. The National Music Museum, Museo de la Música, houses an interesting collection of traditional and modern musical instruments. Overlooking Havana Bay is the Castillo del Morro, the largest military construction of colonial Spain in the Americas. Also overlooking the bay is the 8San Carlos Fort, where you will have the chance to visit the Museo de la Comandancia del Ché, a monument of great historical interest dating back to the colonial period.
Hemingway in Havana
Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba from the early 1930s onwards, and consequently set foot in many of Havana's restaurants, hotels and bars. Your first stop ought to be La Bodeguita del Medio, where Hemingway used to go to drink a mojito or two quite often. Thousands of tourists come to visit this place every year and see its walls covered from top to bottom in signatures of the rich and famous who have been in the Bodeguita. At the back there is also a restaurant where you can savour the best of traditional Cuban cuisine.
Following Hemingway's footsteps, you should now make your way to El Floridita, where the daiquiri is supposed to have been invented, and where Hemingway used to go very often too. Here there is also a restaurant offering delicious traditional Cuban dishes.
Hostal Valencia, in Old Havana, is a small and charming hotel, with only 12 bedrooms and beautiful architecture, where Hemingway usually used to stay. If you decide to stay here, who knows? You may be lucky and get room number 21, Hemingway's favourite!
Twenty minutes from Havana is the Finca La Vigía, a building dating back to 1887, and Hemingway's permanent residence on the island. The house has been made into the Museo Ernest Hemingway and still has his furniture, library and personal belongings. Although it is not actually possible to go inside the house, one can see the rooms, books and belongings, given that the windows and doors are kept wide open to give the visitors the chance to admire the residence.
Outside, near the pool, is Hemingway's fishing boat, El Pilar, which he took on his many fishing trips, and which is famous for having inspired the novel for which he won the Nobel prize.
The small village of Cojímar is a definite must if you are interested in following Hemingway's footsteps, and walk through the same charming little streets as he did many a time, with typical fishermen's houses all along. It is well worth stopping for lunch at Las Terrazas, Hemingway's favourite restaurant, which is now part of a great tourist resort.
To end this tour, we recommend you visit the Hemingway Marina in Miramar, another important tourist and hotel resort where you will find all the facilities which will guarantee a truly unforgettable holiday. It is surrounded by a canal 15 km long where you can rent a boat and sail across the bay or simply relax, enjoying the food and drink at one of the many restaurants and bars in the area.