Arriving in Havana is always a big deal, both for those who visit it for the first time and for those who already know it or for the Cubans themselves, as its happy, kind and friendly atmosphere welcomes everyone who arrives.
The contagious bustle and joy, the friendliness of Havaneros and the beauty of its architecture are unique characteristics of this wonderful city that will mark its 500th anniversary by the end of the year, full of historical events and the scene of countless events that have marked the life of its inhabitants through the five centuries since its foundation.
Listing all the events of this city and its places of interest would be endless, but we will refer to only some of the essential sites that any traveler should visit when arriving in the Cuban capital.
Of course, Old Havana, Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as declared by Unesco in 1982, is a must-visit area because there are numerous museums and buildings from the colonial era that constitute great historical treasure. The Templete and its famous ceiba tree, in the Plaza de Armas, make for one of the essential places, as it was in that monument where the first mass and Cabildo (council) took place, on November 16, 1519, the date the city was founded.
With such important significance, the ceiba tree has become a symbol and tradition, perhaps even religious, because every November 16 at 12 pm thousands of people go there – Cubans and foreigners - to go three times around it anti-clockwise and make a wish that should, of course, be granted.
The Castle of the Royal Force, in whose tower “La Giraldilla” is found with its accompanying legend of love, is another of the must-see symbols of the Cuban capital, as well as the Cathedral, the Morro Castle and that of San Carlos de la Cabaña.
Other emblematic places are the Paseo del Prado, an important artery that begins at the Malecón, a fundamental Havana avenue, and ends at the wellknown India fountain, passing in front of the Capitol, the current headquarters of the National Assembly of Popular Power (Cuban Parliament). No less important is Obispo Street, a very busy pedestrian street, full of cafes, restaurants and shops.
But Havana is not just the old section, which was surrounded by a great wall for 123 years to preserve it from the attacks of privateers and pirates between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; the Cuban capital has many places of interest in all its municipalities. If Old Havana is important, so is the municipality of Plaza de la Revolution, which houses many buildings where the main Ministries including the one of Communications, Interior, as well as the State Council, are located.
In Plaza de la Revolución there is also the square of the same name with the great statue of the National Hero of Cuba, José Martí, and his great memorial, which has been the scene of multiple gatherings of people and acts of national significance.
In that area, whose heart is the neighborhood of Vedado, in addition to many theaters, restaurants, hotels and other recreational places, is the famous area of “La Rampa”, much visited for its beauty, modernity and cosmopolitan character. At its start one finds the popular Coppelia ice cream parlour, which has just been restored, and the Yara cinema, with the largest capacity in the country.
The Avenue of the Presidents is another of the arteries of this municipality, which owes its name to the statues of prominent Latin American heads of state located all along its length, between the avenue of Carlos III (also called Salvador Allende) and the Malecón. These images include: Simón Bolívar, Benito Juárez, Omar Torrijos, Eloy Alfaro and Salvador Allende.
The neighborhood of Miramar, in the municipality of Playa, has numerous sites of interest; as well as beautiful hotels there is the Maqueta de La Habana, which reflects the territorial development of the Cuban capital. In that area there are numerous residences, once owned by the wealthiest class, which currently serve as the headquarters of embassies and consulates of numerous countries with which Cuba maintains diplomatic and commercial ties.
There are many other places of interest in Havana, such as Hammel Alley (Centro Habana), a cultural project paying tribute to Afro-Cuban culture. Another important destination is the Finca Vigía museum house, in the town of San Francisco de Paula, where the famous American writer and Literature Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway spent much of his life and wrote works such as El viejo y el mar, El Jardín del Eden, Paris was a party and Islands in the Gulf, in addition to numerous press articles.
Havana has many more sites of great beauty and significance, this is why if you visit, you’ll surely want to return time and time again and I have no doubt that what can happen is what the famous song by Cuban singer/songwriter Gerardo Alfonso says: “….Havana, if my eyes abandon you... / if life banishes me to a corner of the earth / I swear that I will die of love and desire / to walk your streets, your neighborhoods and your places... / Full of traditions and emotions….”.