When you think of Cuba, you think of a country trapped in a bygone era. With classic cars, shabby facades and an absolutely enthralling culture, Cuba has a fascinating history that seems to define it, but it in no way limits it from being an incredible place to visit. Havana, as the capital city, is a diverse city where three different places seem to converge. Old Havana, Vedado and the newer districts all collide to create a mish-mash of different architecture and a sundry of citizens.
The past and the present are closely interlinked in Havana, with architectural styles mirroring its social and political history. Ranging from colonial and baroque to Brutal communist blocks, the city has had a turbulent past.
Havana was once a key transhipment point between the old world and the new, which meant that it needed to be heavily guarded. You can see examples of military fortifications in La Fortaleza de San Carlos de le Cabana and Castillo del Morro, which sit at the entrance of Havana Bay.
For an excellent example of Cuban Baroque, take a look at the cathedral on the Plaza de la Caterdral.
In the 1940s and 50s, Havana began marketing itself as a gambling destination, much like Las Vegas. It became a haven for criminals, gangsters and the mob, who were able to invest the building of tourist hotels through government loopholes and encouragement. During this time, Modernist Architecture dramatically altered the skyline. Sitting alongside the architecture of the past now were big high rise apartment blocks, like the Havana Libre.
To appreciate the diversity of architecture in Havana, head for a good view somewhere up high. There are lots of tall buildings that give you excellent vistas of the city, including Camara Obscura, Edicio Focsa or the Torre Del Oro Roof Garden at the Hotel Sevilla.
Do: Tropicana Club and Cabaret
Since it first opened in 1939, the world famous Tropicana has become an institution. Having survived the Revolution, the club is little changed from its 1950s heyday. Scantily clad showgirls will entertain you just like they did Edith Piaf and Ernest Hemingway. Tickets are pricey, but it’s well worth the boasting rights.
Experience: Museo de la Revolucion
This museum is housed in the former Presidential Palace. The Room of Mirrors was decorated by Tiffany’s of New York, designed to resemble the room of the same name at the Palace of Versailles. If you’re interested in the history of the revolution then this is the place to go, especially if you’re interested in the particularly morbid penchant of the Cubans of displaying blood stained military uniforms. It descends chronologically from the top floor, starting with pre-Columbian culture and extending to present day.
Stay: Los Frailes
If you’re going to stay anywhere in Havana, make it an interesting one. Los Frailes is certainly that. A converted colonial mansion, this quirky hotel has a monasterial theme. The staff all wear habits, and the hotel itself features antique furnishings, vaulted ceilings and outstanding works of art.