Give them a space and they will use it.
Wander down some of the less traveled streets and you never know what you might come across.
I found these dancers in a courtyard south of the Hotel Santa Isabel
Santa Isabel is one of the best hotels in Old Havana with a colonial style. I had a spacious, nicely decorated and clean room with balcony. The decoration of the room brings a touch of late colonial style. The bathroom, linens and towels were clean and the amenities were good.
The hotel staff was a bit distant but kind. They speak English good enough. The breakfast was a la carte and basic.
The hotel is located in Plaza de Armas. It is a good starting point for walking in Old Havana. The harbor and castles can also be seen from rooftop.
Santa Isabel is relatively more expensive than other Old Havana hotels. It’s a good stay if you can afford it.
Wander down some of the less traveled streets and you never know what you might come across.
I found these dancers in a courtyard south of the Hotel Santa Isabel
In the center of the Plaza de Armas, the first plaza in Havana, is a statue of Carlos Manuel. Surrounding the square there are buildings such as the church of El Templete, the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, the luxury hotel Santa Isabel, the Museo Nacional de Historia Nacional,and the Museo de la Ciudad which is the historical museum of the city of Havana. Here second-hand booksellers vie to outdo each other in terms of enthusiasm and originality.
The Plaza de Armas is dominated by the Museo de la Ciudad which occupies the magnificent old Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, once home of the highest colonial authority in Cuba and a former Presidential Palace. This popular museum gives an overview of the history of Havana from its founding until the present day. ($3; Tue to Sat 10:30am to 5pm, Sun 9am to 1pm; Calle Tacón, between Calle Obispo and Calle O'Reilly, 61-2876)
The oldest building in this square is actually just to the side the impressive Castillo de le Real Fuerza, a 16th century colonial fortress surrounded by a moat, today home to the Museo de la Ceramica Artistica.
For visitors wishing to deviate from a cultural tour, the nearby market is the best place in Havana for local arts and crafts.
Plaza De Armas
The most important plaza in Habana Vieja, and the oldest—originally laid out in 1519—is this handsome square at the seaward end of Calles Obispo and O'Reilly, opening onto Avenida del Puerto to the east. Plaza de Armas was the early focus of the settlement and later became its administrative center. It is still rimmed by four important buildings constructed in the late 18th century, when the capacious square was reconstructed with 'buildings appropriate to the grandeur of this city.' The square seems still to ring with the cacophany of the past, when military parades, extravagant fiestas, and musical concerts were held under the watchful eye of the governor and the gentry would take their formal evening promenade. The lovely tradition has been revived on Sunday, when by day the plaza hosts a secondhand book fair and, by night, musical concerts. The square is lent a romantic cast by its verdant park shaded by palms and tall trees festooned with lianas and epiphytes and lit at night by beautifully filigreed lamps. At its center is a statue of Manuel de Céspedes, hero of the Ten Years' War, with a tall palm at each corner.
East of the square, on Avenida Puerto at the foot of O'Reilly, is a monument to Cuban seamen killed during World War II by Nazi submarines (four Cuban vessels were sunk by German U-boats).
The following buildings are described in clockwise order around the plaza.
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
Commanding the square is this somber, stately palace fronted by a cool loggia shadowed by a façade of Ionic columns supporting nine great arches. The tall loggia boasts a life-size statue of Fernando VII with a scroll of parchment in one hand—jauntily cocked (pardon the pun) and the butt of ribald jokes—and plumed hat in the other.
Spain's stern rule was enforced from here: the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales was home to 65 governors of Cuba between 1791 and 1898 and, after that, the early seat of the Cuban government (and the US governor's residence during Uncle Sam's occupation). Between 1920 and 1967, it served as Havana's city hall. Originally the parish church—La Parroquial Mayor, built in 1555—stood here. Alas, the holy structure was destroyed by what insurance agencies like to call an 'act of God'—it was demolished when a warship, the ill-named Invincible, exploded alongside the wharf down the way, and the mast and spars came through the roof!
The palace is a magnificent three-story structure surrounding a courtyard (entered from the plaza) which contains a statue of Christopher Columbus competing for the light with tall palms and a veritable botanical garden of foliage. Don't be alarmed by any ghoulish shrieks—a peacock lives in the courtyard. Arched colonnades rise to all sides, festooned with vines and bougainvillea. Several afternoons each week an orchestra plays decorous 19th-century dance music, while pretty girls in crinolines flit up and down the majestic staircase, delighting in the ritual of the Quince, the traditional celebration of a girl's 15th birthday. On the southeast corner you can spot a hole containing the coffin of an unknown nobleman, one of several graves from the old Cementerio de Espada (a church that once stood here was razed to make way for the palace; note the plaque—the oldest in Havana—commemorating the death of Doña María de Cepero y Nieto, who was felled when a harquebus was accidentally fired while she was praying).
Today, the palace houses the Museum of the City of Havana, tel. 61-4463 or 62-0400. The entrance is to the side, on Calle Obispo. The great flight of marble stairs leads to high-ceilinged rooms as gracious and richly furnished as those in Versailles or Buckingham Palace. The throne room (made for the King of Spain but never used) is of particularly breathtaking splendor and is brimful of treasures. The countless curiosities include two enormous marble bathtubs in the shape of nautilus shells, Máximo Gómez's death mask, and a cannon made of leather. There is also a Hall of Flags, plus exquisite collections illustrating the story of the city's (and Cuba's) development and the 19th-century struggles for independence. Open daily 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Entrance costs US$3 tourists (US$2 extra for cameras). You can purchase a US$9 ticket good for all museums in Havana.
The museum (1 Calle Tacón) also has a model of an early 20th-century sugar plantation at 1:22.5 scale, complete with steam engine, milling machines, and plantation grounds with workers' dwellings, a church, and a hotel—all transporting you back in time on the world's smallest sugar plantation. A railroad runs through the plantation, with two steam locomotives pulling sugarcane carriers, water tanks, and passenger carriages. Trains depart Mon.-Fri. at 11 a.m., noon, and 2:30 p.m.
Palacio del Segundo Cabo
The quasi-Moorish, pseudo-baroque, part neoclassical Palace of the Second Lieutenant, on the north side of the square, dates from 1770. Its use metamorphosed several times until it became the home of the vice-governor general (Second Lieutenant) and, immediately after independence, the seat of the Senate. Today, it houses the Bien Fondo Cultura and Bella Habana bookstore.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
This pocket-size castle, tel. 80-0216, finished in 1582, is the oldest of the four forts that guarded the New World's most precious harbor. With walls six meters wide and 10 tall, it forms a square with enormous triangular bulwarks at the corners. The governors of Cuba lived here until 1762. I never cease to marvel at its solidity, simple sophistication, sharp angles (which slice the dark waters of the moat like the prows of galleons), and beauty especially at night, when it is haloed in ghostly light.
Visitors enter the fortress on the northeast corner of Plaza de Armas via a courtyard full of photogenic patinated cannons and mortars. Note the royal coat of arms (of Sevilla in Spain) carved in stone above the massive gateway as you cross the moat by a drawbridge to enter a vaulted interior containing two suits of armor in glass cases.
Stairs lead up to the storehouse and battlements, now housing an impressive ceramic art store and the El Meson restaurant, popular with locals. A door to the right immediately after entering the restaurant leads to a courtyard, where you can climb to the top of a cylindrical tower rising from the northwest corner. The tower contains an antique brass bell gone mossy green with age and weather. The bell was rung to signal the approach of ships, with differing notes for friends and foes. The tower is topped by a bronze weathervane called La Giraldilla de la Habana—a reference to the Giralda weathervane in Seville. It's a pathetic looking thing, but much is made of it (it's the symbol of Havana and also graces the label of Havana Club rum bottles). The vane is a copy—the archetype, which was toppled in a hurricane, resides in the city museum. The original was cast in 1631 in honor of Inéz de Bobadilla, the wife of Governor Hernando de Soto, the tireless explorer who fruitlessly searched for the Fountain of Youth in Florida. Every afternoon for four years she climbed the tower and scanned the horizon in vain for his return. In memory of his widow, the residents of Havana commissioned the weathervane and placed it atop the tower. The Giraldilla is a voluptuous albeit small figure with hair braided in thick ropes, bronze robes fluttering in the wind. In her right hand she holds a palm tree and in her left a cross.
A charming copy of a Doric temple sits on the square's northeast corner. It was built in the early 19th century on the site where the first mass and town council meeting were held in 1519, beside a massive ceiba tree. The original ceiba was felled by a hurricane in 1828 and replaced by a column fronted by a small bust of Christopher Columbus. The tree has since been replanted and today still shades the tiny temple, which wears a great cloak of bougainvillea.
Its interior, with black and white checkerboard marble floor, is dominated by triptych wall-to-ceiling paintings depicting the first Mass, the first town council meeting, and the inauguration of the Templete. In the center of the room is a bust of the artist, Jean Baptiste Ver May, whose ashes (along with those of his wife, who also died—along with 8,000 other citizens—in the cholera epidemic of 1833) are contained in a marble urn next to the bust.
The Southeast Corner
The grand building immediately south of El Templete is the former Palacio del Conde de Santovenia. The conde (count) in question was famous for hosting elaborate parties, most notoriously a three-day bash in 1833 to celebrate the accession to the throne of Isabel II and which climaxed with an ascent of a gaily decorated gas-filled balloon (he was less popular with his immediate neighbors, who detested the reek of oil and fish that wafted over the square from his first-floor warehouses). In the late 19th century, it was bought and sanitized by a colonel from New Orleans who reopened it as a resplendent hotel, Hotel Santa Isabel, a guise it resumes in 1997.
One block east of the hotel, on narrow Calle Baratillo, is the Casa del Café, serving all kinds of Cuban coffees, and, next door, the Taberna del Galeón, better known as the House of Rum. Inside, where it is as cool as a well, you can taste various rums at no cost, although it is hoped you will make a purchase from the wide selection. The decor is marvelous—shiny hardwoods throughout. The place is popular with tour groups, which ebb and flow like sardines.
Calle Obispo is Habana Vieja's bustling thoroughfare, linking Plaza de Armas with Parque Central. Every visitor to Havana ought to walk its length.
Leading from the southwest corner of Plaza de Armas is one of the most bohemian sections of Havana: a 50-meter-long cobbled section of Calle Obispo, which runs east-west from the plaza to Monserrate. Look closely at the two cannons outside the south side of the Palacio de Capitanes Generales and you'll note the monogram of King George III. They're relics of the brief English occupation of Cuba in 1762.
Facing the plaza is Restaurante Cubano, housed in a green and ocher 17th-century mansion that was originally the college of San Francisco de Sales for orphan girls. Its central patio is surrounded by galleries of stocky columns and wide arches enclosing slatted doors and mediopuntos. The ground floor is also occupied by the lively Café Mina, where you may sit beneath shady canopies on the sidewalk and sup and nibble while Cuban musicians entertain; and the Casa del Agua la Tinaja, next door, which sells mineral water (US25 cents a glass—the source was discovered in 1544, and early explorers made use of the water; in 1831, an aqueduct was built to carry it to the burgeoning town, thereby solving the water shortage).
Adjacent, at Obispo #113, massive metal-studded doorways open into what was once a stable. Today, it contains a bakery—Dulcería Doña Teresa—selling custards, ice creams, and other delights. Next door is the Museo de Plata, closed for restoration at press time, and then the Oficina del Historidades de la Ciudad (office of the city historian; Obispo #117-119), with a copper galleon hanging above its door and an old cannon standing upright outside. Appropriately, this is the oldest house in Havana, dating from around 1570. Inside you'll find books on Cuban history and culture for sale, and, behind a grilled gate, venerable artifacts including a quitrín, a two-wheeled conveyance with a moveable bonnet to protect passengers from the elements, made to be pulled by a single horse (usually ridden by a calesero, a black slave, who dressed in high boots, top hat, and a costume trimmed with colorful ribbons). With luck, the city historian, Eusebio Leal, may appear to regale visitors with fascinating tales of his restoration plans for the city.
At the end of the cobbled pedestrians-only block is an apothecary—Boutica Francesa de Santa Catalina—in a beautiful blue and cream mansion, the former Casa del Marques de Casa Torre (Obispo #121). Fascinating it is, too, with its colorful ceramic jars decorated with floral motifs full of herbs and potions. Next door, on Mercaderes, is the Casa de las Infusiones, still selling refreshing cups of tea today as it has since 1841. Opposite, on the corner of Calles Mercaderes and Obispo, is the Hotel Ambos Mundos (see below). Across the street, at the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes, is an antique bell held aloft by modern concrete pillars. It, too, has a plaque in Spanish commemorating the fact that this was the original site of the University of Havana, founded in January 1728. The bell once tolled to call the students to class.
Other sites of interest along Calle Obispo include the Banco Nacional de Cuba, in a splendid neoclassical building—that of the Comite Estatal de Finaza—fronted by fluted corinthian columns and portals decorated with four-leaf clovers. It's three blocks west of Plaza de Armas, at Calle Cuba. While here, check out the former Palacio de Joaquín Gómez, now the Hotel Florida, with a stunning lobby dating from 1838, catercorner to the bank. Also worth a peek is La Casa del Consomé La Luz, five blocks west of the plaza, at Calles Obispo and Havana, another moody apothecary with a white marble floor and old glass cabinets faded with age, filled with chemists tubes, mixing vases, and mortars and pestles and lined with bottles of oils, herbs, and powders.
Hotel Santa Isabel
Appartment building, next to Hotel Santa Isabel
Trying to plan my honeymoon for next year (approx. dates are 27th June 2005 - Middle of July 2005). Wanting to spend some time in Havana and then a Beach Holiday.
Because it is such a special occassion, I would like absolute unadulterated luxury. Can anyone suggest excellent 5* Hotels in Havana City Centre? How many days should I stay there?
Foe the Beach part of the Homeymoon, the same question applies - i.e. 5*+ all inclusive hotels. However, what resort is best? Varadero seems most popular. Is it that good? Would anyone recommend a different resort? I'd still like to be able to leave the resorts and eat/drink around whatever the local town has to offer? Thanks, Brian
Hotel Nacional in Habana, as the poster above says, is a beautiful hotel but the rooms are not that special.
A even better hotel is Hotel Santa Isabel, located at Plaza Armas.
You should stay at least 3 days in Habana.
Varadero has beautiful beaches. However dining outside may disappoint you. Best dinner in Varadero outside the hotel is indeed at Xanadu (Golf Club Varadero) or Restaurante Esquina Cuba at Calle 36 y 1ra Avenida.
Hotel in Varadero:
Best is Paradisus:
A hotel without children and also a good place to stay is Hotel Beaches Varadero ... for pics check out this link:
Neptuno, esquina Prado y Zulueta, Havana
Ave. Paseo entre 1 y 3, Vedado, Havana
Calle Prado 408, Havana
Calle 21 y O, Vedado, Havana
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Address: Calle Baratillo 9, Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba, Caribbean