During our visit to Havana, one of my favorite things to do was to just walk through the streets of Habana Vieja, admiring the contrasts of both people and structure. It's an opportunity to see freshly painted colonial-era historical buildings right next to run down apartment complexes, a sense of real life in Cuba mixed in with the tourist attractions. In the early morning the streets are filled with "business as usual", but at night they're alive with music and activity, and I felt totally safe walking after dark.
Take the time to wander the streets through beautiful old buildings and churches, and enjoy an evening stroll through the plazas to watch some great live music. I would recommend staying in Habana Vieja; you're close to so much, and you really get to see the vibrant atmosphere and sense of community Havana has to offer.
Old Havana has been around for close to 500 years. Many of the buildings date back to the 1700's. It is a mixture of narrow cobblestone streets, elegant beautifully restored buildings and ancient crumbling ruins. Hurricane Wilma hit hard here in 2005 and the country is still struggling to rebuild.
There are 5 main areas to Old Havana: Plaza Vieja, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco and Parque Central. All of the plazas have been beautifully restored and maintained. We had the most delicious coffee I have ever tasted at the coffee shop in Plaza Vieja - coffee, ice cream, and booze - yummo! Make a point of stopping there if you need a break.
There are many markets and shopping areas in Old Havana. You can easily lose yourself for hours wandering through the narrow crowded streets. Keep a close eye on your wallet in crowded areas.
I mean this literally, take a Horse carriage tour around Old Havana.A lot of the drivers(directors) have a good knowledge of English with a good knowledge of Havana.We hired a director (they're numbered by the government ) that showed us around for 2 1/2 hours thru Old Havana .
Giving us a knowledge of the insights of Cuba.It cost us with tip 33 CCP for the tour. It's a better way to see Havana especially if you're with somebody that has difficulties getting around as the Havana streets are ridden with potholes. The sidewalks are broken up to pieces in which one could easily trip or fall flat on their face if not careful.The carriages can't go down the Malecon.
We had a Mojito along with a Pina Colada during the tour .You can drink on the carriage as they take the number of the carriage before you take off with their glasses.
I am the editor of WonderfulHavana.com, the new independent insider's guide to Havana. Just to let you know that you can find useful and practical advice on a wide variety of things to do in Havana on our new website.
This is the oldest square in Old Havana, it is surrounded by beautiful buildings on all sides. In the centre of the square is Parque Cespedes, it is a delightful place to sit & relax in the shade of its trees. In the centre of the park is a white marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, he was a Cuban patriot & initiator of the Ten Years War against Spanish colonial rule in 1868.
On certain days there is a second hand book market in the square.
Old Havana has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. The best way to explore it is to get a map & start walking. You'll get to see beautiful streets, squares & hidden courtyards. When you are tired of walking there are museums, galleries & cafes to visit.
As you walk around you will see plenty of buildings in need of repair, but equally many streets & buildings that have been restored. Last but not least you'll get to meet some of the friendly locals.
In the centre of this picturesque square giving it an Andalusian feel is the Fuente de los Leones. The fountain is modelled on the one in the Alhambra in Granada.
The main building in the square is the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis. It was built in the 16th century as the home of the Franciscan community. Attached to it is a 42 m high bell tower.
This square gives plenty of photo opportunities, but beware if you stand still for long, you may get accosted by the women in traditional clothes & asked if you want a photo taken with them, for a price of course.
Havana is a different city. It has a special, soothing sense. Havana people are modest and calm. We stayed there for 4 nights in mid February. We felt it was a safe place, but it is always good to be awake as any other big city.
People are trying to earn their lives, so it is customary that they come and ask you if you but cigars, want to go to Salsa club, taxi rides etc. But they do not insist if you expres that you do not want.
Well, we loved Havana. Too many things to see. Best part was live music in La Lluvia del oro, the group was Son Tradicional.
One point was use of credit cards. Using credit cards means using US dollars and they charge you 11%. You can not pay with Euor through credit card. So, if you use Euros, keep that in mind.
Old Havana has some great architectural treasures, one of which is Fuente de los Leones (Fountain of the Lions). This fountain was built in 1836 by the Italian sculptor Gallini. It provides great picture taking opportunities in the middle of one of Havana Vieja's squares.
I originally thought that this was the Cathedral when I went back through my photographs of Havana. It's easy to get confused - after all, why wouldn't the Cathedral have the tallest bell-tower in the entire city of Havana? Iglesia y Convento San Francisco de Asís was built in the 17th Century and has a beautifully maintained exterior, although the interior has fallen into a bit of disrepair. The truth is that the big draw is not really the Church or the Convent at all. For $1 you can climb to the top of the belltower with the guide (who NEVER shuts up) and get the most spectacular view of the entire centre of Havana. There really is no better photo-taking opportunity for tourists to Havana.
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