Havana is a Wonder City of the Modern World according to a global vote organized by the Swissbased New7Wonders Foundation. Riddled with symbols and surprises, this city is and always will be be astonishing.
Havana is both charming and unbelievable, a city where antiquity and modernity meet and mingle on streets lined with cars from the fifties and five-hundred-year-old buildings. It has idyllic beaches, fascinating museums, riveting art galleries and theatres, elegant hotels and all sorts of adventures.
The capital of the Republic of Cuba and a gateway to the New World since its founding, Havana is unrivalled as a city. It preserves the mythical and everlasting appeal of a city that was once the Spanish empire’s most important on this side of the world.
Declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, Havana’s old town is like a slice of history frozen in time. Landmark architecture from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries preserves original features. The paved streets, balustrades and round arches set off colonial interiors in warm tropical colours.
The people of Havana with their myriad traditions rooted in emotive myths inspire trust and transmit joy. With dreams as their guide, habaneros make the most insignificant happening into an unforgettable event.
There is nothing like an evening spent sitting by the sea on the legendary Malecón Habanero with your buddies or beloved, watching the sunset and breathing the seashore tranquility, an intrinsic part of this passionate city’s soul.
As night falls, Havana is transformed. People and lights merge in an amalgam of colour and sound. Theatres, cinemas, discos and nightclubs form part of the spectacle as Havana reveals its other self: musical, exuberant, a hub of art and fun.
Besides entertainment Havana has bars, cafés and restaurants aplenty to savour, catering to every taste. An array of contemporary and international choices complement traditional drinks and Creole food in this cosmopolitan Cuban city.
For water sports fans Havana abounds with nautical diversions: deep-sea fishing, beach clubs, waterskiing, jet skis, sailing and boat excursions. Its two marinas Residencial Tarará and Marina Hemingway offer the boating community a place to dock, rest, refuel and restock as well as waterside enjoyment for everyone: bars, restaurants and accommodation, shops and water sports are on offer. Visitors can stay in shape and improve their quality of life in Havana, where specialised health tourism centres offer medical, cosmetic and specialised geriatric quality of life programs.
The Cuban capital also offers well-equipped facilities for events and conferences of all sizes, both in urban hubs as well as closer to nature outside the city.
From prestigious venues such as the classic Hotel Nacional de Cuba to modern spaces like the Palacio de Convenciones events centre, Havana’s venues ensure a technically and professionally successful event. The old town is the heart of modern Havana and its forefather.
Its walls have shielded for centuries what is today a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, an accolade it was accorded by UNESCO in 1982 as one of the best-preserved architectural sites in the Americas.
Built around a set of squares and plazas, the old town and its system of fortifications still preserve the gallantry of the colonial metropolis coveted by many in the sixteenth century.
Its cobblestone streets recall the horse-drawn carriages, the way dresses brushed the streets, the echoes of the hawkers who loudly invited the habaneros to savour the city’s sweetest flavours. On balconies nearly half a century old, millennial faces smile with the same joy of their predecessors.
Havana was definitively founded on November 16th 1519. Prior to that date there had been three different settlements in the vicinity. Pánfilo de Narváez had established a village in April 1514, probably at a point on the south coast near Batabanó.
Later these villagers moved to the north coast where others had already found the harbour with its magnificent natural conditions. They settled first on the banks of the Almendares River and later moved to the western side of the natural harbour, to where the Templete and the Plaza de Armas are located today. It was called the port of Carenas then. Today it is Havana.
The original name of the village was San Cristóbal de La Habana. Its fortresses rank among the oldest in the Americas and include the fort of La Real Fuerza (1577), San Salvador de La Punta (1600) and Los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro (1630). These forts were built to ward off threats from corsairs and pirates, along with a perimeter wall parts of which still stand around the old town. It took six decades to build and was only in use for a hundred and twenty-three years. The city outside the walls expanded and urbanized at such a dizzying rate that it surpassed the buildings built inside, so in 1863, the city wall began to be demolished.
The historic town centre is home to around a hundred and forty buildings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, mainly military and religious edifices. A further two hundred or so date back to the eighteenth century. These are predominantly civilc properties with some military buildings. There are also over four hundred and sixty are nineteenth century buildings, from the era of urbanization.
Many of the original plazas remain. The Plaza de Armas is Cuba’s oldest, dating to 1582, and the so-called Plaza Vieja (Old Square), the Plaza San Francisco de Asis, and the Plaza de la Catedral all date back to the 16th century.
Beyond Old Havana… Modern Havana expanded westwards. Follow the Malecon to the suburb of Vedado and the city opens out into wide, bustling streets. With its lively shops, bars, restaurants, theatres and night clubs Vedado is alive twenty-four hours a day. Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) belongs to the 20th century.
One of the country’s most striking avenues, it connects Vedado to Miramar, a modern residential and business quarter—an attractive, leafy, well-designed suburb.
The east of Havana serves up more treats for those looking to live it up in this seaside city. The Via Blanca highway leads east out of the city through a tunnel that crosses the bay. Emerging from the other side the coastline lapped by azure waves stretches out ahead towards the city of Matanzas.
The first coastal settlement outside Havana is the town of Cojímar, formerly an idyllic fishing village frequented by Ernest Hemingway who chose it as the setting for his novel The Old Man and the Sea.
Its surroundings and its people inspired the great American novelist, who grasped a piece of Havana that, literarily speaking, went beyond the island boundaries.
East of Cojímar lie the white sandy beaches of Playas del Este from Bacuranao to Guanabo, enjoyed by locals in the summer months and by tourists all year round. Warm crystalline waters, dunes, palm trees and fine Caribbean sand only half an hour’s drive from the city, with great shops, restaurants, bars and lodgings nearby, the eastern beaches make a perfect destination for day trips or longer, more relaxing stays. Havana is a city you have to live, drink it up, try everything. In return you are guaranteed everlasting memories.