I admit that I like decadent looking cities, I find them appealing.
They usually have a splendid history behind them, but as time goes by, their economic collapse makes them collapse while their inhabitants struggle to keep them standing, with that splendour they once had.
Havana is another decadent city, but one that makes you fall in love like no other.
The first city with a decadent look that I knew was Porto.
Its gray buildings, where before there were dozens of tiles decorating and giving color to the facades, only a few remained, memories of better times.
The next city was Naples, that place full of Royal Palaces, historical places like nearby Pompeii and Ercolano, also on the way to decadence.
The last one was Bucharest, they called it the Paris of the East.
When I visited it, they were in the process of recovering the historical centre, but it was still far from France.
And Old Havana is the soul of decadence.
When I talk about decadence I don’t do it in a pejorative way, for me it’s a pleasant feeling.
It is the memory of times past, a lot of history linked to the colonies, the ports, the pirates, the wealth, the slaves, the gold from the mines of Taxco, that potosi that the Spanish kingdom sent from Mexico to Cuba and from there to the old continent.
Gold and silver used to pay for wars.
Batista’s dictatorship and the subsequent Revolution.
It all takes place in Old Havana.
Where to start?
Old Havana is the oldest part of the city, surrounded by the sea and the Malecón.
Full of colorful buildings that seem to be able to collapse at any moment.
Buildings that were once home to rich people.
Neoclassical facades, palaces, a luxury that now resists the passage of time as much as it can.
Old Havana was where the port and shipyards were.
Where slaves arrived from Africa and where ships were built to be loaded with gold and silver.
To walk through its streets is to listen to music, salsa, habaneras.
To see the daily movement of both tourists and Cubans.
Getting lost and finding yourself in that place you had so many times seen or dreamt of.
If there’s one thing I liked about Old Havana, it’s strolling through its streets without a map or references of any kind, and you inevitably come across squares, museums, streets that are in the guidebooks.
But also places that don’t appear anywhere.
Leave the guide in the room of the house or the hotel where you are staying and go with the camera to enjoy this incredible city.
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It’s the border between Central Havana and Old Havana. That building that was intended in the 1920s to resemble Washington’s Capitol, St. Peter’s Square in Rome and the Pantheon in Paris.
It was finally built to house the Cuban Senate, although it is now the Ministry of Science and Culture as well as the Academy of Sciences.
It is still in a continuous restoration.
Old Havana is changing, and the most emblematic buildings are being restored, some are being converted into luxury hotels, capitalism is entering the heart of the Revolution.
Right in front of the Capitol are the cars of the 50’s, Americans, symbol of the city and the country.
They are the predominant cars, Americans from the time of Batista’s dictatorship.
Now many are completely rebuilt, with a brightness that gives light to the streets of Havana.
Obviously it is the tourists who enjoy the walks around the city, nothing cheap by the way.
Alicia Alonso National Ballet of Cuba
It is perhaps the most spectacular building in the city, in the neo-baroque style, full of stone statues.
More typical of the buildings you see on the other side of the pond.
It was opened in 1834, almost two hundred years later it dazzles the beginning of the Paseo del Prado.
The current name is due to the famous Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso, currently director of the National Ballet.
Despite her age, she continues to be recognized throughout the world.
We never get to go in to see a show, but I think it’s really worth it.
Together with the National Ballet of Cuba, it stands out for its cleanliness and architecture.
It stands out even more next to the rest of the buildings.
It’s probably one of the most expensive hotels in the city along with the Hotel Nacional or the Habana Libre in Vedado.
Paseo del Prado
Yes, it has the same name as the Paseo de Madrid, and to some extent it reminds you of it.
Its central promenade, full of vigilant lion sculptures, allows you to look to both sides and enjoy some incredible, impressive, yet decadent buildings.
If Havana maintained a state of conservation like European cities, for my taste, it would be the most beautiful city in the world, much more than St. Petersburg.
I love it as it is, but it’s a pity to see some real architectural gems in ruins.
Habaguanex has existed since 1994.
It is a project of Eusebio Leal Spengler that aims to reinvest the money raised by tourism in the rehabilitation of the historical center of Havana and in social projects for its inhabitants.
It is financed through the company’s restaurants, hotels and museums.
The good thing about it is that it does not intend to turn Old Havana into a tourist attraction park, but to revert it to the citizens who live there every day.
In this way, the recovered buildings are used as geriatrics, schools, care centers for the disabled, etc.
Museum of the Revolution
This is an essential visit to understand Cuba today, its past and perhaps the nearest future.
It can be divided into two parts.
First there is an exhibition about the history of the building.
Building of the Government in the time of Batista.
Then it talks about the Revolution.
There are models, photos, posters about the Revolution, how it began, the motives, what was there before, what was sought and what was achieved.
It seems obvious that to some extent there is propaganda.
But knowing how to draw straws, you’ll understand many things.
Why there is a trade blockade, who and what was the reason for the blockade.
On the outside, in the adjacent park is the ship Granma, with which Fidel arrived in Cuba from Mexico.
Obispo Street is the street that takes you from La Floridita to La Plaza de Armas, a street made for tourists, but which lets you get lost in its transversals.
Plaza de Armas
This is the oldest square in Havana.
It was built almost after the foundation of the city.
Right next to it is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza.
Because it was so close, military maneuvers were held there.
If we talk about colonialism and the 16th century and look at the Plaza de Armas, we will realize that we are in Cuba, that it was a colony and that in some way, Cuba’s past is very much linked to the Spanish past.
This square is now a quite interesting second-hand book market, as well as cheap.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
This was one of the places that surprised me the most.
It’s one of the oldest fortresses in the entire American continent.
It’s right next to the Malecon, and the views from above are beautiful.
It now houses the Museum of Navigation, and this was the part that surprised me the most and I liked it.
It tells the story of how important Havana was in trade with Europe, more so with the transportation of gold and silver.
The ships came from Mexico to Havana and from there they were escorted to Spain, usually Seville, to avoid attacks by English pirates and the English navy.
Havana was chosen as one of the most important shipyards of the Spanish empire, and the largest ship of its time, the Santísima Trinidad Galleon, was built there.
It was used to transport goods between Mexico and the Philippines.
This ship ended up in the hands of the English.
There is a model of an impressive size inside the museum.
You can see what the interiors of the ship looked like, and what each of its floors were used for.
A real gem.
It also contains the Spanish treasures of shipwrecks off the Cuban coast.
It is impressive to see the amount of silver and gold, the coins, jewels and ingots.
It is possible that this treasure represents a very small amount compared to what had to be there.
La Bodeguita del Medio
La Bodeguita del Medio has become so touristy that it has lost a certain charm.
We spent two different days in front of it.
The first one has just rained and it seems that nobody decided to go in there or stay outside.
We did and we enjoyed an empty place of tourists and we could talk to the waiters.
Full of pictures and walls written in pen remembering who has been there, it is the trace of the past and present.
Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Neruda or Nicolás Guillén passed by this little winery.
It is famous for its mojito, Hemingway has already written on the walls, “My mojito in the Bodeguita, my Daiquiri in La Floridita”.
La Floridita (at the beginning of Obispo Street) is credited with the invention of this cocktail, Daiquiri.
San Cristóbal Cathedral
In another typically colonial square, with a different tower from the other makes this cathedral somewhat different from the rest of colonial cathedrals.
In the surroundings there are old women dressed in white or bright colors smoking big cigars, very photogenic, for a dollar, they will let themselves be photographed with you.
This street is born in Obispo and dies in front of the Plaza Vieja.
It is another of the most well cared for and recently rehabilitated streets.
You will notice the difference when you walk around and get lost in old Havana.
It’s called Plaza Vieja and yet it seems to be the newest of all.
Its origins are also from the 16th century.
It was created shortly after the city was founded and has undergone changes, many changes.
Nowadays, buildings with Noucentista stained glass windows, which are said to be inspired by Gaudí, coexist with Baroque buildings.
It is full of terraces and restaurants, as well as strange sculptures and a very striking fountain.
On San Ignacio Street, which leads to the Plaza Vieja, is one of the most impressive baroque buildings in the city, and the best thing is to go up in its 100 year old elevator to the terrace, free of charge, and enjoy beautiful views of the city.
Calle de los Oficios
Calle de los Oficios was also born in Obispo Street, and died in the Havana Chamber of Commerce, opposite the convent of San Francisco de Asís, in the square of the same name.
This street is curious, because here is the only mosque in the city, recently built, 2012 I think I remember.
There is also the Arab house.
This street is even better preserved than Mercaderes Street.
The buildings have a strong colonial imprint.
San Francisco de Asís Square
This square and its convent make you imagine what colonial Havana was like in the 16th century.
It is to feel the light of the square, on the different buildings that compose it.
Watching the balconies, as if you were in a movie of that time.
The Malecón is present in Old Havana, Central Havana and El Vedado.
It’s part of the daily life of Cubans, their little sip of rum packaged in tetra brik (no kidding), their guitars.
Some fishermen in search of a good catch.
It’s a very pleasant walk.
The music and atmosphere starts at night, although it doesn’t stop being alive at any time of the day.
The Malecón is also the place for jineteros, characters who come to you trying to sell you something, be it rum, cigars, taking you to a bar, etc.
Avoid them, you will end up buying a rum that is not rum, cigars that are not cigars either, and if you go to a bar, you will pay a bill as if you were partying in Oslo.
Come to those who are singing, if you feel like it, and enjoy the Malecón.
I’d like to give some advice here.
Camera and bag robberies happen on the Malecón.
They usually happen when someone grabs the bag or the camera with force and runs away.
It gets lost in the alleys and goes from hand to hand, you’ll never see it again.
Maybe they show up on a motorbike and pull the bag, just like before, you’ll never see it again.
Cubans tell you to be careful, not to let your bag or your camera be seen.
In the buildings in front of the Malecón, they say, they usually keep an eye out for lonely or absent-minded tourists.
When they see an easy prey, they warn their buddies who are hanging around on the Malecón.
So, go to the Malecón and have fun, but better if you leave your camera and bag at home, especially if it’s nighttime.
Accommodation in Havana
We found our house in Havana through Airbnb.
The truth is that we were delighted with our hostess, Odalis, her husband, Chino, her son Jade and the beautiful Susi, a very loving Chihuahua.
They made us feel at home and we participated in all the daily activities of the house.
The location is perfect as it allows you to walk everywhere.
The Malecon is about an eight minute walk away.
The Vedado is just across the street.
It’s only a twenty minute walk to Old Havana.
Accommodation in Havana
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