Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Last month, President Obama announced that America would be re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba – meaning change is sure to follow, so head to Cuba sooner rather than later to enjoy its unique old-school charms. With the government slowly allowing the development of non-state-owned tourism, there’s been a growth in private enterprise recently – particularly seen in Old Havana, a thriving cultural hub, with new bars like O’Reilly 304, and recently opened stylish B&B Casa Alta (£19-25 a night) adding to the buzz.

To mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the southern city of Santiago de Cuba on 25 July, a week of partying and a carnival has been planned.

World Expeditions has a new 12-day cycling tour, exploring the country’s lesser-known spots, from £1,567pp. And Che Guevara’s son, Ernesto junior, has just launched six- and nine-day motorbike tours of the island – and leads some tours himself (from £1,999)

Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Where is the Havana, Cuba?

Havana (Spanish: La Habana) is the capital city, largest city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 728.26 km2 (281.18 sq mi) – making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the third largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region.

The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.

The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and due to its strategic location it served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the continent becoming a stopping point for the treasure-laden Spanish galleons on the crossing between the New World and the Old World. King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592. Walls as well as forts were built to protect the old city. The sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana’s harbor in 1898 was the immediate cause of the Spanish–American War.

Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado and the newer suburban districts. The city is the center of the Cuban government, and home to various ministries, headquarters of businesses and over 90 diplomatic offices. The current mayor is Marta Hernández from the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). In 2009, the city/province had the 3rd highest income in the country.

The city attracts over a million tourists annually, the Official Census for Havana reports that in 2010 the city was visited by 1,176,627 international tourists, a 20.0% increase from 2005. The historic centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city is also noted for its history, culture, architecture and monuments. As typical of Cuba, Havana also features a tropical climate.

In May 2015, Havana was officially recognized as one of the New7Wonders Cities together with Vigan, Doha, La Paz, Durban, Beirut, and Kuala Lumpur.

Things to do in Havana, Cuba

Things to do in Havana, Cuba

Taking a trip to the Cuban capital? Discover the essential places to eat, drink and let your Latin spirit run wild.

Sexual, sensual and addictive, Havana seduces the visitor with her good looks, her steamy weather, chrome-festooned American cars, zesty cocktails, pretty buildings, heart-stopping Afro-Cuban beats and hip-swivelling, story-telling, garrulous locals. With her bedrock layered with Spanish empire treasure, slave-fuelled sugar wealth and a heavy top coating of communism, Havana is simply one of the world’s most exciting, confusing and compelling capitals.

As a global show-stopper, there are plenty of things to do in Havana, from taking in the highlights of the Spanish colonial old town, with its castles and museums – including challenging art and sculpture at the Museo de Bellas Artes – to the contemporary art, music and film scene at the new Fábrica de Arte Cubano and cruising the snaking, sea-sprayed Malecón ocean road in a gleaming classic American car.

Other Havana highlights include eating and drinking in the capital’s new wave of private restaurants and bars such as stylish Le Chansonnier and the alfresco patio bar of Espacios, followed by partying in dens of musical entertainment such as basement Teatro Bertolt Brecht and jazz bar La Zorra y el Cuervo or salsaing under the stars at 1830.

Things to do in Havana, Cuba

Havana Museums and Attractions

Havana is packed full of museums from the conventional to the quirky: the Museum of the Revolution, which showcases Fidel Castro’s rise from rebel commander to victor of his 1959 revolution; the opulent Napoleonic Museum, home to the largest collection of Napoleonic memorabilia outside Europe; Ernest Hemingway’s books, pet graves and hunting trophies at his home-turned-museum; the museum of classic cars; and the Casa de Africa, which reveals the history and religion of the West Africans brought to Cuba during the height of the slave trade.

But it’s the alternatives, both iconic and esoteric things to do in Havana, that will make your visit memorable. Swing by the lush art deco headquarters of the Bacardi rum empire, tour the illustrious marble tombs at the Christopher Columbus Cemetery, ride with the locals in an almendrón (classic car taxi), sneak a peak in the ladies’ cloakroom of the art deco Teatro América, sit, swoon and gossip with habaneros at dusk on the Malecón sea wall, dance salsa under the stars at 1830, catch a baseball game, or queue with the locals for ice cream at the space-age Coppelia.

At night, dine at one of the new pop-up restaurants in Old Havana – arty Vedado, or smart Miramar – then mingle with monied locals at the new-wave of industrial chic, boho and speakeasy-style bars.

Time your visit for Havana’s popular festivals: the October biennial ballet festival, the film festival and jazz festival, both staged in December, the cigar jamboree in February and the art bienal – held in 2015 from May 22 to June 22.