HavanaCopyright: Florian Wehde/unsplash
HavanaFrom a fusion of Chinese-Cuban cultures at Barrio Chino to visual arts of Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes to an awe-inspiring view at The Melia Cohiba high-rise and incredibly romantic cruise docking Sierra Maestra Terminal, Havana is topping charts just like its musical namesake (oh na-na). As you enjoy a paladar meal or two and rest against some cool, artsy wall, perhaps blue or yellow or pink, you’ll be sure to have left your heart in Havana by the time you head back to East Atlanta (na-na-na).
The CityEffort is underway to preserve the wonderfully eclectic buildings of the Cuban capital, whose old town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site but as of today, crumbling facades continue to define the urban landscape of the town center — the decadent charm of city streets to outsiders being of little consolation to locals who deal with the very real consequences of this rather sad state of affairs. Beyond Habana Vieja (the Old Havana) lie some fascinating attractions and emerging suburbs worth exploring on foot or by bike: from plush Miramar to the nightlife hub of La Rampa, residential Vedado sprinkled generously with eateries and bars, African heritage-defined Cayo Hueso and the beach community of Guanabo. With economic restrictions slightly loosening, Havana sees individual entrepreneurs make timid first steps in running private businesses, breathing fresh air into Havana's dining, art and design scenes.
Do & See
There is plenty to do and see in fast-evolving Havana, with modern hot-spots for art, culture and culinary effort emerging at an ever-increasing rate. Beyond the staples of Habana Vieja and the Malecón lie Havana's attractive newer districts, and unmissable attractions like the eccentric "Fusterlandia" or the original former home of celebrated novelist Ernest Hemingway.
Gone are the days when one would struggle to find a place to eat. Today, Havana has no shortage of paladares (privately owned restaurants), many serving up the New Cuban cuisine pioneered by internationally trained chefs bringing expertise back to Cuba, and engaging with traditional flavours by introducing an exciting modern twist to old familiar favourites. Some local staples worth having are the ropa vieja (literally "old clothes"), a shredded beef dish, plantain, and malanga chips or fritters, the ubiquitous side of black beans and rice, and the coveted Cuban speciality — the much sought-after lobster.
Havana's leisurely pace is best embraced from an outdoor terrace of the city's many cafes. Old classics mingle with hip new openings, leaving up to one's taste to pick a favourite. A good place to start is the Plaza del Cristo, where some of the trendier establishments are now concentrated — many double as bars featuring live music come sundown.
Bars & Nightlife
Rum flows freely into the glasses of nighttime revellers, who tend to head straight for one of Havana's three major hot spots: the Malecón, La Rampa (or Avenida 23), and the Avenida De Los Presidentes. There are numerous establishments to suit all tastes, from outdoor salsa dance parties (Jardines de la Tropical are as de rigueur as ever) to live music concerts (anything from Afro-Cuban to jazz) and fiery cabaret shows.
As strict government control over economic activity eases, the Cuban capital sees a timid rise of private businesses producing and selling their own goods. Although such outlets are still few and far between (and many prefer to stay hidden, only made known by word of mouth), there are several reliable locations across Havana stocking high-quality, locally made souvenirs. The main Cuban exports are cigars and rum, both available in unlimited supply, which still isn't the case for daily use items foreign visitors are often accustomed to. Remember to pack all your essentials and bring them along from home, leaving only souvenir shopping to be done here, in Havana.