A city built on a fabulous natural harbour, the capital of Cuba, Havana (La Habana) is a charming and lively city situated on the northwestern portion of the island. There is nowhere on earth quite like Havana where the spectacular Spanish colonial architecture is in so abundance. It is one of the most colourful and vibrant cities in the entire Caribbean and home of cultural and international activities so make time for leisurely strolling.
Havana is the pearl of the capitals of the new world. Queen of Cuba, the city retained its authentic and deep character, with its fortresses and walls, evidence of a rich and unique history. The historic center Old Havana "La Habana Vieja" is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, due to its architecture contrasting sumptuous palaces and popular habitats. You will discover a mysterious city in its each corner, which meets the Baroque and Art Nouveau, the decay is consistent with the tropical villas and palaces dedicated to the glory of the settlers ... history and tropics will take on a whole new dimension your eyes!
Capital of Cuba and populated by more than 2 million inhabitants, Havana is the economic, cultural and historic center of the country. You will love this city on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, its houses with pastel shades, fortresses recalling the Spanish conquest and the warmth of its people.
The city is divided into 15 municipalities. Old Havana, classified as a heritage of UNESCO, is west of the port. Once surrounded by walls, demolished in 1863, the district has expanded gradually to reach the current downtown.
At the west end is the Vedado district which includes almost all the hotels and restaurants and other entertainment. Nearby, in the Plaza de la Revolución, stands the administrative district set up in 50s.
Farther west, towards Miramar, Playa de Marianao is with the aristocratic clubs of the old bourgeoisie.
East of Havana is linked to the old city through a tunnel 733 m completed in 1958. There are mainly flats and two small fishing villages: Cojimar and Alamar.
The majority of the population lives in the south of Havana near the industrial zones. A little further on, is the international airport, golf and a zoo.
Focus your visit around the old city, Vedado and the city center. You will appreciate the richness of the city but also its contrasts.
A true outdoor museum, the Old Havana concentrates the most beautiful monuments and museums across the country.
You cannot miss del Morro Castle overlooking the bay or the Catedral de San Cristobal de La Habana (Cathedral of Saint Christopher of Havana) in the Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square), one of the most animated place. If you have little time to browse through the old town, visit the Museum of the City Havana, to find out more about the history of Cuba and the National Museum of Fine Arts, gathering foreign and local works.
More contemporary and interesting in terms of history and culture of Cuba, stop at the Museum of the Revolution, then to the National Museum of Music next door.
Finally, the museum of the automobile will allow you to understand better the origin of these old cars as you cross over.
Do not be surprised by the strong police presence in Havana. They are mainly to keep jineteros (touts).
In the outskirts of Havana, while leaving towards the east of the country, take the highway that leads to Pinar del Rio. The site of Las Terrazas will surely surprise you: you can see the remains of old coffee plantations.
Nearby, the Vinales Valley is famous for its Mogotes, big limestone boulders where you can practice climbing. Both sites are classified as heritage of UNESCO.
Finally, if you like wild corners, take the boat towards the island of Juventud. This little paradise, in addition to its lush vegetation, home to one of the most beautiful beaches of Cuba, Cayo Largo and has the best dive sites.
History of Havana
San Cristobal de La Habana was founded in 1514 on the south coast of Cuba by Diego Velázquez, Spanish conquistador. Five years later, the city has relocated to the north and called Havana. Its strategic position at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, makes this the place of the Spanish vessels. Gold and silver passing through between Cuba and Spain have led to numerous attacks by pirates.
In 1555, the French pirate Jacques de Sores attacked and seized Havana. The city is on fire and the Castle of the Royal Force was destroyed. It was rebuilt in 1558. Jacques de Sores fled after looting the entire city.
King Philip II had reinforced the main ports in colonial defensive purposes. That is why the majestic Castle del Morro will emerge in the Bay of Havana. In 1556, the headquarters of the Spanish general port authority, located at the origin in Santiago de Cuba, returned to Havana. The marketing of tobacco and sugar promotes the economic boom of the city.
For 200 years, the port of Havana was the most important of the Caribbean; it was transformed into a town then became the capital in 1607.
The attacks continue: pirates Gilberto Giron or Francis Drake stalk the vessels along the coast of Cuba, plundering resources and wealth of the island. The weakness of the Spaniards will benefit other civilizations in search of new territories (France, Netherlands, England). The Dutch sit in Havana for a month and a terrible epidemic spreading in the city. The slaves revolt as well as the farmers forcing the governor to return to Spain. The capital is at its lowest.
In 1762, the British army, commanded by the Earl of Albemarle, attacks Havana and then the center of the island. That's seven years of war between the French and English forcing the Spanish to surrender. English, victorious, occupied the capital for almost a year bringing nearly 10 000 slaves on the island. A year later, the Spanish in Cuba recovered exchanging against another colony, Florida.
Trade is flourishing thanks to the large free labor... and the authorization given by the English to Havana to export their products to ports worldwide.
The coffee culture began in 1768. Starting from 1818, it is the rum, sugar and tobacco which are exported abroad.
The nineteenth century was a period of successful technological innovations made: rail, telegraph, urban transport, electricity, etc...
Despite the two wars of independence (in 1868 and 1895), the capital will be saved as well as on the level of the victims and the property damages.