Havana 101

Centro Habana is the grittier, more authentic third of the city compared to Habana Vieja or Vedado. It’s also, not coincidentally, the neighborhood where a large majority of the Cuban people live within Havana’s borders. For tourists, most of the neighborhood’s attractions lie right on the border between Centro Habana and Habana Vieja, along Paseo de Martí. While this area is certainly worth checking out, the more authentic version of Centro Habana lies within the crowded, noisy streets to the west.

While the center of the city may seem a bit seedy at first, it’s worth noting that there’s relatively little crime within Cuba, and given the severity of the punishments for crimes against tourists, the people here are probably more afraid of you than you are of them. Don’t give into the temptation to write off Centro Habana as a place to walk quickly through while tightly clutching your wallet, as the scenes depicted in these streets are some of the most uniquely Cuban.

Spend some time wandering through Havana’s Chinatown; Enjoy some delicious Swedish meatballs at Casa Miglis, Cuba’s (and probably Latin America’s) only Swedish restaurant; Enjoy a perfectly concocted daiquiri on the roof of La Guarida; Dance to the pounding rumba along Callejon de Hamel; or visit the Museo de la Revolucion. While its certainly not the most obvious area of Havana to visit, time spent in Centro Habana can often have the biggest payoff.

El Vedado is the cleaner, newer, and more affluent section of Havana to the west of the city center. Various embassies are interspersed among charming Spanish colonials, various elementary schools, and the ever-present smattering of buildings in various states of disrepair. El Vedado is definitely the quieter section of Havana — there are limited to no jineteros looking for your cold hard cash and you won’t get accosted by a taxi driver every two minutes. Furthermore, its relative wealth makes it a safer bet for housing especially when compared to the city center. The Hotel Nacional and the Melia Cohiba bookend the region on the east and west respectively while dozens if not hundreds of little casas particulares provide cheaper and more charming options between the two hotel giants.

While El Vedado succeeds in offering travelers safe and affordable housing, its a bit sleepy and lacks much of the intrigue of the old city. On the flipside, while it may lack in daytime attractions, El Vedado hosts some of the best paladares as well as the most trendy nightlife venues. Ultimately, this region of Havana is a quieter, less touristy sector of Havana with great food, great accommodations, and, if you know where to look, great nightlife. And while this isn’t a hard and fast rule, it might serve you best as a place to spend the night rather than a place to spend the day.

Habana Vieja (Old Havana) is the oldest neighborhood in Havana as well as arguably the most unique. Founded originally by the Spanish in 1519, this location was an obvious choice for the beginnings of a city thanks to its proximity to Havana Harbor. The area grew throughout the years, eventually becoming Havana’s second most densely populated district, and in 1982 this section of the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After being awarded this honor, an ambitious restoration process was undertaken with the help of the City Historian’s Office to repair the buildings and recreate the unique beauty of Havana’s oldest neighborhood.

Today, Habana Vieja is the most touristy section of the city, and not without reason. Historical buildings, museums, art galleries, and restaurants line every street, and thanks to the recent restoration funded in part by UNESCO, this neighborhood has become the cleanest, and most well-kept section of the city. In addition to some of the best restaurants and bars in the city, this district is sprinkled with public plazas, quiet parks, and numerous sights unique to Havana, making it a top destination within Cuba for just about any kind of traveller.

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Cuba Blogs

212, 2015
  • Santa Clara Che Statue

Today’s S(Che)due: Your Itinerary for Santa Clara, Cuba

By |December 2nd, 2015|Categories: Cuba, Culture, Outdoors, Tips|0 Comments

If you visit Santa Clara and don’t visit the obligatory Che sights, then we honestly have no idea what you’re visiting Santa Clara for, and we’d like to ask you for future research. If you are visiting the sights, at least do them in this neatly logical order. The best route is to start furthest west at the Estatua de Che y Niño. You may want to fork over 1 CUC for a horse drawn carriage ride to get here, as it’s a bit of a trek from the town center. After the statue, walk back towards [...]

112, 2015
  • Marabana Cuba

Couch to 21k: the Marabana

By |December 1st, 2015|Categories: Cuba, Outdoors|0 Comments

Havana, for all its charm and allure, is not a city for runners. That's not to say that you don't see them, pounding the uneven pavement of the Malecón seawall and huffing fumes through the tunnel that leads to the suburbs. But it's still a rare breed that chooses to train in this city, and for women even rarer - nothing breaks the peacefulness of a long run like being catcalled by old fishermen. Despite these difficulties, once a year on the third Sunday of November Havana shuts its streets for the Marabana: nearly 5000 participants who compete [...]

2611, 2015
  • Varadero Beach, Cuba

El Malecón: Paradise by the Sea

By |November 26th, 2015|Categories: Beach, Cuba, Drinks, Food, Outdoors, Tips|0 Comments

The Malecón is a five mile long seaside esplanade that stretches from Havana Harbor in the east to the western edge of Vedado. It’s cordoned off from the ocean by a crumbling, mildewed seawall that overlooks jagged, barnacled rocks swimming in the surf below. Interestingly enough— though not in the least surprisingly— the Malecón serves as a microcosm that represents Havana as a whole. In fact, pretty much anything you can see in Havana, you can also see along the Malecón. Modern art installations line the sidewalks, old men fish off the edge of the seawall, wedding [...]

111, 2015
  • Coppelia

The Coppelia Experience

By |November 1st, 2015|Categories: Cuba, Culture, Food|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Nothing captures the absurdity of daily life in Cuba quite like a visit to Coppelia, the ice cream parlor/alien-spaceship-hidden-in-plain-sight that takes up a full city block in Havana. Most tourists value their time too highly to wait in the endless lines, so they pay three dollars to sit in the foreigners' section, a poor likeness of the Coppelia experience. Since I have nothing but time as a millennium in a city without internet, I am not one of those people. At least once a week, I can be found waiting on Calle 23, wondering how I ended [...]

408, 2015
  • let's go blog

Two Minutes in Trinidad, Cuba

By |August 4th, 2015|Categories: Cuba|0 Comments

Only have two minutes to spend in Trinidad? Check out my vlog to find out how to have the most action-packed time there possible.

Havana was last modified: May 3rd, 2016 by Maria Jose Sada

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