La Habana

"The City of the Columns"

The cuban capital is, without a doubt, the tourism destination of excellence of the largest of the West Indies. Within the city, its historic center (considered by UNESCO World Heritage in 1982) is an obliged reference destination for all visitors who come to this city. For centuries, this city has been considered the key to the Gulf of México.

The foundation of the city, in its final place next to the entrance channel of a well protected bay, dates far back to November of 1519. La Villa de San Cristóbal de la Habana, became with the course of time the meeting place for the Spanish fleets in charge of transporting to the Metropolis all the wealth extracted from their domains in the so called New World. It also became the center of trade and communications between the region and the Old Continent. Similar advantages, essentially derived from its strategic geographic position, also influenced directly the future development of this prosperous villa, which started to grow under the protection of a unique defensive system in the Hispanic América and surrounded by a wall whose construction (started from the second half of the XVII century and finished more than 100 years later) was considered ineffective and expensive from the very beginning.

El Templete, a small neoclassic building finished in 1828, is the place where the inhabitants of Havana celebrate, every November 16, the anniversary of the first mass and the first town council of San Cristobal de la Habana, and is also the start point of all tourism tours -in general- around the original center the Cuban Capital.

The Parade Square is located just a few steps away, around which we can see the important Castillo de la Real Fuerza (1577) -which exhibits today the most important artistic pottery collection in the island, holding on its tower La Giraldilla, an artistic wind vane that has become a symbol of the city- The General Capitans' Palace (Museum of the City) and El Segundo Cabo.

There are three other squares with surrounding structures that invariably call the attention of the visitors: the Cathedral Square, surrounded by opulent mansions; the recently restored Plaza Vieja (Old Square), from where you can see the outstanding house of the Counds of San Juan de Jaruco; and the Square of Saint Francis D' Assisi, located next to the identically named church and convent, where the Museum of Sacred Art is located in one of the Clusters.

Walking on the streets of Old Havana, many of them still cobbled, also represents the opportunity of getting acquainted with more than a dozen museums and studio-galleries of famous Cuban and Latin American fine artists; and visiting the houses of Benito Juárez, Asia, Africa, Puerto Rico, Arabs (with the only hall for Muslim prayers in Cuba), and Simón Bolívar.

It is also interesting to visit the scale model of this municipality; Alameda de Paula, a wonderful Promenade built during the second half of the XVIII century; or crossing the Bay onto the towns of Casablanca, where the Christ of the Bay was built; and Regla, where you can see the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de la Virgen de Regla, who is the protector of seamen and fishermen and patroness of the Bay of Havana.

The historic-military park Morro-Cabaña is comprises two redoubts of the size of El Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (The Castle of the Three Kings of El Morro) -1630- and the fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña -1774-, considered at the time the most important work of the fortified defensive system.

It is precisely from the second that a canon is fired every night, at nine o'clock, in a replica of an attractive ceremony that used to announce with two shots (early in the mourning and late at night) that the walls of the city were to be closed or opened, and to place or remove the enormous floating chain made of wood and bronze to regulate the access to the port of the villa.

Nevertheless, discovering so called Havana of outside the walls is as passionate as walking on the streets of the old town. Havana grew under the inflow of the most dissimilar construction trends of the world, experiencing in its fields the presence of Renaissance, Mudejar, Baroque and Cuban Baroque, Neoclassicism, Eclecticism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Pragmatism.

Likewise, on the other side of the useless wall, emblematic places were built, as it is the case of Prado Promenade, the Great Theater of Havana and the Capitol, one of the most splendid buildings of the capital in which the Statue of the Republic was placed, third highest of the world in indoor space; close to its feet a diamond was planted to mark the kilometer 0 of the Carretera Central (Central Road).

Other places were built, like the famous Malecon of Havana, about 12 kilometers long and considered the most characteristic image of the city, linking the traditional center to the populous neighborhood of Vedado, whose heart, La Rampa, allows easy access to other places of interest for visitors, like the bicentennial University of Havana, the Revolution Square and the José Martí Monument (highest lookout in the city, 138,5 meters over the sea level), the Cemetery of Colon, considered one the most important of the planer because of its divers artistic values.

There are places of great interest on both sides of the city too. To the west, Fifth Avenue leads to the residential area of Miramar, which is the orbit of the entrepreneurial and business world and where the impressive Scale Model of City is located. The Convention Center; Pabexto, where different fairs take place during the year; and the exclusive Club Habana can be seen on the way to the tourism community of Marina Hemingway, an adequate place for snorkeling, the practice of high seas fishing, going on seafari tours to the Coral Reefs, or sailing on comfortable yachts designed for life on board.

To the east of the city and after crossing the Tunnel of the Bay, you will arrive at the fishing town of Cojímar -particularly beautiful and colorful- which invites to remembering the lengthy stay in Cuba of Nobel Prize of Literature, Ernest Hemingway, who found right here many of the settings and characters of his works.

More than 15 kilometers of coasts, fine sands and blue waters stretch out between Bacuranao and Guanabo creating a nautical circuit, simply identified by the inhabitants of Havana as Playas del Este, and where natural attributes usually make Santa María del Mar outstanding place.

Also on the way to the east of the capital, only 15 kilometers away from downtown, you can find a town founded in 1733 out of the existence of mineral-medicinal waters that will invite you to get acquainted with its historical, architectural, cultural and natural values: Santa María del Rosario.

Like any other great city, Havana is the center of the intense political, scientific and cultural life of the nation. Tens of museums, theaters and concert halls, galleries of art and cultural institutions are known all over the city, and some like the National Ballet of Cuba, the House of the Américas, the Foundation of New Latin American Film, or the National Folkloric Dance Group have an enormous international reputation.

And, of course, it is also a city where good food and entertainment have reserved there own space in renown places like la Bodeguita del Medio, El Floridita, Cabaret Tropicana, and others that are less known, but with a high degree of preference among the thousands of tourists who visit the Cuban capital every year.