I’ll start by saying Cuba is not among my favorite destinations. (Read this, if you want to know why I don’t like Cuba.) That said, Havana is a fascinating, historic, culturally, and architecturally rich city. Tourists love Havana and it is also great for photographers.
Contemporary Havana divides into three parts: Old Havana, Vedado (the central business district), and the newer suburban districts. About 2 million people live here. It’s situated on the northwestern coast of Cuba, about 105 miles south of Florida (USA).
I spent most of my time in Vedado and the UNESCO-recognized Old Havana. Both were worthwhile to me because they gave me different and valuable perspectives on the city.
Havana has some outstanding architecture, albeit much of which is crumbling. It’s a lovely city to walk around but some parts between Vedado and Old Havana should be avoided because of crime.
Here are some of my favorite photos of Havana:
From above, as well as on street level, the central business district of Vedado appears to have a nice quality of life. There are wide avenues, lots of parks, not too much traffic, and although temperatures are hot and humid there is usually a nice sea breeze blowing through.
Although least visually apparent here, the trade embargo is crippling the economy. The comparative wealthy residents of Vedado must have some alternative income sources like family members abroad. Elegant multistory homes here are old but better maintained than other parts of Havana. New highrise buildings offer gorgeous views over the city. I rented a room off an elderly woman on the 14th floor and got these photos from her apartment. Read more about Cuba’s casas particulares and how to keep your money in the local economy while traveling.
Although Vedado is a lovely place to walk around, you won’t see any markets or grocery stores, or very many shops for that matter. Even restaurants and cafes are few and far between. And Vedado has more of these than most parts of Cuba.
A wander through the streets of Old Havana reveals the grandeur of baroque and neoclassical buildings that are now crumbling. Some are in the process of being restored to support Havana’s growing tourism sector. This city was founded by the Spanish in 1519 on the natural harbor of the Bay of Havana and became an important stopping point for treasure-laden ships returning to Spain.
Old Havana offers museums, palaces, public squares, churches, fortresses, and the hotel Hemingway wrote from and the bars from where he drank. There are also cultural activities and festivals. But I went to take in the heavy atmosphere of a humid tropical capital and the mix of local life and other foreigners that are intrigued by this part of the world.
Central Havana is nestled right between Vedado and Old Havana and the magnificent Capitolio Nacional, Parque Central, and the Prado form the border between Centro Havana and Old Havana. West of here is a great place to see the typical urban life of locals.
Huge American classic cars are very common in Cuba. Some are impeccably kept up while others show their wear. The convertibles are often used to give foreigners tours around Havana. Others act as normal taxis. A combination of the trade embargo, fine Cuban auto mechanics, and favorable Cuban weather keep these old beauties on the road.
The Necropolis Cristobal Colon is a massive 56-hectare cemetery with more than 500 mausoleum, chapels, vaults, tombs along with countless flamboyantly adored gravestones. It’s not close to any other sights but worth a stop for an hour of wandering. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Plaza de la Revolucion is Havana’s largest square. It’s one of the most iconic spots in Cuba, with the National Library, the Ministry of Defence, the National Theater, the massive Memorial Jose Marti, and the “mural” of Che Guevara. This is a popular spot for tourists to hire a classic American convertable for a tour around Havana.
The Malecon runs along the windblown coast from Central Havana to Vedado. It’s the place to go for couples taking a stroll or those getting exercise. By the condition of the building facades facing the sea, it’s apparent that many years of sea mist and heavy winds and waves have battered these shores.