From swashbuckling pirates to sugar barons and communist dictators to literary legends, Havana has seen and seduced them all. Founded in 1514 by the Spanish conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez, Havana was to become one of the richest, most important and certainly the most beautiful Spanish colonial city in the Americas.
• Explore the gorgeously atmospheric streets of Old Havana town
• Take a drive down the Malecon in a 1950’s Chevvy classic
• Drop in for a few drinks at one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bars
• Watch the cannon ceremony at the old Spanish San Carlos Cabana fort
• Learn some fancy dance moves with a private salsa lesson from a pro
By the late 16th Century, Cuba was playing a key role in defending the outer reaches of the Spanish Empire from attack by French, British and Dutch pirates. Consequently by 1600 Havana already had three large fortresses. The oldest surviving fortress in the Americas is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, which dominates the north side of the Plaza de Armas and overlooks the hugely important natural harbour where the Spanish treasure ships docked.
The old quarter of Havana (La Habana Viejo) became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982 on account of its rich architectural wealth. Home to ecclesiastical Baroque monuments such as The San Cristobal Cathedral, many delightful churches, the dramatic neo-rococo Grand Theatre and the Capitolio Nacional, which is a larger version of Capitol Hill in Washington, this beautiful city boasts a fabulous array of architectural gems.
There are many little plazas and narrow streets to explore on foot with a host of cafes and bars such as La Bodequita del Medio and El Floridita where visitors can sample a little of the life and the delicious mojitos that so captivated Ernest Hemingway.
Linking the commercial area of Vedado with Old Havana, the Malecon or seafront promenade curves gracefully for 5 miles past some of the city’s most prominent sights and landmarks. At night it comes alive with many people coming to fish, take a stroll, play cards and music or merely cruise along in an old Cadillac or Chevy.
Havana is also synonymous with the Buicks, Fords, Cadillacs and Chevrolets that were brought over from America in the 1950’s many of which are still in excellent working order. Set against the sumptuous yet crumbling facades of Old Havana, these iconic cars with their ever more exotic tailfins transport one into a classic 1950’s timewarp and are one of the city’s great highlights.