City Profile: Havana. Important Information About the City of Havana
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La Habana, the Cuban capital, evokes nostalgia for the grandeur of its bygone days. The city is home to sultry Latin dances like the mambo and salsa, stimulating Cuban cigars, savory rums, and a unique fusion of world music. In pop culture, Havana is known for mural paintings and graffiti on street walls, and the iconic image of revolutionary Che Guevara whose face has recently been popularized in various fashion items. To get to know Havana more intimately is to experience its vibrant and sensual culture.
Havana has a population of roughly 2.1 million and is culturally diverse. Whites make up more than half of the population followed by mulattos, Afro-Cubans, and Asians. Spanish or Cuban Spanish more specifically, is the primary language spoken in Havana and the rest of Cuba. Haitian Creole and English are other languages spoken in the city. Locals generally know a bit of English, and while you’re in the city, you’re likely to find someone who’s fluent in English.
Havana puts emphasis on the preservation of its vintage architecture. Its profusion of old structures with various architectural styles like classical, baroque, neoclassical and Art Deco reflect the use of columns, hence its nickname of the “City of Columns.” Theaters and cultural venues in the city continue to showcase Cuba’s talents in visual and performing arts to the world. The city and the whole country are heavily dependent on the tourism industry. Tourists are always welcome in Havana.
The city of Havana is located at the northern coast of Cuba, and south of the Straits Florida, near the point where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean. The city covers the area extending southward and westward from the bay which connects through a narrow inlet divided into three harbors: Atarés, Guanabacoa, and Marimelena. The Almendares River passes through the city in a southward to northward direction and connects to the Straits of Florida to the west of the bay. The city itself rests on low hills rising from the waters of the bay. The highest point in Havana is a limestone ridge with a height of 60 meters or 200 feet, which slopes from the east and ends in El Morro and La Cabaña, the site of two colonial-era fortresses. Another high point is the hill to the west, which is the site of the Prince’s Castle and the University of Havana.
Havana is also one of the country’s fourteen provinces. The city is divided into 15 municipalities: La Habana Vieja, La Habana del Este, Centro Habana, Plaza de la Revolución, Marianao, Playa, Arroyo Naranjo, Boyeros, Cerro, Diez de Octubre, El Cotorro, Guanabacoa, La Lisa, Regla, and San Miguel del Padrón. Havana locals classify the city into three sections. Havana Vieja or Old Havana, is where settlement in the city first began. It is a residential area as well as Havana’s commercial, industrial, and entertainment center. Vedado is considered the business and financial district. And lastly, there are the clusters of newer suburban areas. Two of the more affluent residential districts are Marianao and Miramar; the latter remains exclusive to foreign dignitaries and other wealthy foreign residents. Havana is the largest and richest city in Cuba, and the third largest in the Caribbean. It is also the country’s cultural and industrial center.
Havana is blessed with a pleasant tropical climate year-round along with the rest of Cuba. The climate is peacefully balanced by warm offshore currents and trade winds. The average temperature in the city is 22°C or 72°F during the cool months of January and February. The average temperature rises to 28°C or about 82°F by August. The months of June to September are the hottest months and temperatures could rise up to 32°, which is about 89.6°F. The temperature rarely drops below 10°C or 50°F, and the average low temperature is 18°C or 64.4°F.
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Havana is deemed safe for tourists. There is a strong police presence within the city, especially in places frequented by tourists. Unlawful conduct is also relatively low. However, this doesn’t mean that tourists should let their guard down. It is advised that tourists avoid carrying lots of money and wearing expensive and flashy jewelry especially at night. Tourists should also avoid strolling through poorly-lit streets and alleys especially at Centro Habana. Beware of hustlers offering to show you something of interest or help you get around the city. American dollars are not accepted in Havana. You have to exchange your money to the Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC, which is the acceptable legal tender when paying for your hotel bills, taxi fares, shopping and dining.
While walking around is the best way to explore the city, you would get to see so much more of the city when you take a taxi. Be sure to take only taxis officially sanctioned by the government particularly if you are going to or from the airport. Within the city, it is fine to take the illegal taxis but be sure you know how to bargain. If you are adventurous, you might one to sample having a ride aboard a Coco taxi for short distances.
Specifically, ordinary Americans find it impossible to visit Cuba because of the travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. government since the Cuban economic embargo and the beginning of Fidel Castro’s regime in the 1960s. The only Americans who are allowed to visit Cuba legally are students, journalists and Cuban-Americans.
Like most Latin American cities, Havana’s history is rife with periods of invasion, colonization, revolution, and new beginnings. Havana was founded on August 25, 1514 (or 1515) by Spanish Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. Velázquez originally established a settlement by the banks of the Mayabeque River, located south of Mayabeque Province at the southern coast of the island. The village was later moved to its current location in the northern coast in 1519. Due to Havana’s natural bay environment and strategic location south of the Straits of Florida, the Spaniards developed it into a trading port and a base for Conquistadores looking to claim other lands in the New World. Havana became the sixth town to be founded by the Conquistadores in Cuba. Pánfilo de Narváez, a Conquistador, originally named it as Cristóbal de la Habana after San Cristóbal, the city’s patron saint. The name also shares its origins with Habaguanex, a Native American chief who once ruled over the area.
Havana’s open location made it vulnerable to attacks from pirates, corsairs (French raiders) and buccaneers. Jacques de Sores led the first corsair attack and burned down the city in 1555. That significant attack convinced the King of Spain to provide funds for building fortresses in all the main cities under the Spanish Empire. As a result, destructive attacks and raids were prevented, and trade with the rest of the West Indies was more controlled. Ships that came from all over the Americas brought their cargo to Havana first, before being taken by the royal fleet to Spain. This way, excessive contraband or black market was also limited. Since Havana became an important trading port, agriculture and manufacturing industries also flourished because the port had to provide necessities like food, fresh water and other supplies to traders and men aboard the ships. Finally, King Philip II of Spain proclaimed Havana a city on December 20, 1592. It became the capital of Cuba in 1607. Later, it was proclaimed by the same king as “Key to the New World and Rampart of the West Indies.”
During the 17th century, Havana went through massive expansion. Many new buildings with Iberian architectural styles were put up using sturdy materials that were abundant in the island. Unfortunately in 1649, a deadly epidemic from Cartagena, Colombia reduced a third of the city population. By the 18th century, the city’s population rose to more than 70,000, making it one of the largest populated cities in the Americas.
On June 6, 1762, Havana was conquered by the British fleet during a period known as the Seven Years’ War. Immediately after establishing their foothold in the city, the British opened it up to commerce with their colonies in the Caribbean and North America. This forced the Cuban society to adjust to their new colonizers albeit briefly because months later, the Peace of Paris was signed which ended the ongoing war. The treaty stipulated that the British return Havana to the Spaniards and claim Florida instead. The Spaniards lost no time in developing Havana into the most heavily fortified city in the New World. This was around the same time the biggest Spanish fortress in the Americas was built – the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña.
During the 19th century, trade between the Caribbean and North America flourished, transforming Havana into a very affluent and fashionable city. During this period, a burgeoning and prosperous middle class emerged, mansions with classical architecture were erected, the metropolis underwent expansion, theaters were the best venue for entertainment, actors were lauded, sugar mills and plantations thrived, and the very first railroad in Cuba was constructed. Havana was dubbed the “Paris of the Antilles.” By the end of the 19th century, revolution was sweeping all over Latin America, and Cuba finally claimed independence from Spain.
The Republican Period which lasted from 1902 to 1959 was a time of wealth and affluence in Cuba. During that time, Cuba recovered from the devastating effects of war and became a rich country with the largest middle class population in Latin America. Tycoons ruled Havana and they owned casinos, luxury hotels, mansions, and nightclubs. Development was rapid and Havana became an exotic haven for tourists. Corruption, gambling and organized crime were rampant. Movie stars and gangsters mingled in social circles like something out of a classic Hollywood noir film. All that changed after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
Under the communist regime of Fidel Castro, all privately owned businesses were nationalized, which put an end to prosperity and material wealth not only in the capital, but also in the whole country. These days, Havana depends heavily on the revived tourism industry. But despite a steady growth of tourists, development and private enterprise is still limited. Havana’s locals have been recently given a glimpse of 21st century capitalism, most of which they aren’t allowed to have like new cars and multiple properties. For years, Cuban socialism has disillusioned them; made them restless and silently yearning for economic and social change. There’s a feeling of expectancy as the world holds its breath for what lies ahead for Havana and the rest of Cuba in the future.
Based on a 2009 census, 19.1% of the country’s population resides in Havana. The population in the capital was pegged at 2,135,498 according to the 2010 official census data. In Havana, average life expectancy is 76.81 years. More than 60% of the population is White with Canarian (from the Canary Islands) or Galician ancestry, followed by mulattos (mixed race) at more or less 20%, then by Afro-Cubans whose ancestors were brought into the island and put to work as slaves, and lastly, Asians at 1%. There are fewer mestizos in Cuba than in other Latin American countries because the Native Indian population was almost wiped out during the colonial era. The minor foreign population includes the Chinese whose ancestors were mostly Cantonese immigrants with labor contracts brought into Cuba by Spaniards via the Philippines; and Russians – mostly women married to Cubans who studied in the Soviet Union. Recently, population in the capital is growing at a slow rate due to many reasons: a low birth rate (an average of one child per household), high emigration rate, and controlled domestic migration. Havana and Cuba in general has a low birth rate and high life expectancy. As a result, they share almost the same age structure as those in developed countries. In Havana alone, the population of the elderly is greater than the younger population.
Roman Catholicism, which was brought to the island by the Spanish colonizers, used to be the predominant religion and accounted for more than 80% of the population. However, after the 1959 revolution, religious practice was restricted. These days, majority of Cubans practice Catholicism with a mixture of some African beliefs. Protestantism comes second, followed by minor communities of Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists.
The main language spoken in Havana is Cuban Spanish, a form of Caribbean Spanish. Other languages spoken in the city are Haitian Creole and English. Havana locals generally know some basic English or a few English words, but not everyone could maintain a full conversation in English. You’ll find some university students and graduates proficient in English, and others keen on practicing their English with visitors.
Since the revolution broke out, illegal emigration has been a constant problem in Cuba. Cubans have attempted to leave the island in various illicit ways to get into the U.S. mainland or Spain.
Havana’s economy first developed from its natural role as a successful and important trading center of the New World. Traditional sugar plantations supported by a then legal slave trade also contributed to Havana’s gradual rise to wealth and prosperity. Today, the sugar industry is based mostly outside Havana. Many industries also followed suit including agriculture, communications, construction, fishing, manufacturing, shipbuilding, and transportation. Recently, revived industries like biotechnology and tourism continue to hold up the economy. To this day, Havana remains as the industrial hub and principal port facility of Cuba. Half of Cuban exports and imports pass through Havana first. The city is also home to chemical and pharmaceutical plants, food-processing industries, light manufacturing facilities, meat-packing factories, vehicle manufacturing, and manufacturing of consumer products like alcoholic beverages, textiles, and tobacco products. Cuban cigars and rum are Havana’s top products.
During the Republican Period, Havana was a vacation hotspot especially for American tourists since it didn’t have strict prohibitions on alcohol and gambling. Many casinos, commercial establishments, theaters, luxury hotels, and restaurants were built and owned by tycoons. It was a time when Havana’s revenue even rivaled that of Las Vegas’s. Apartments were built to accommodate the growing middle class. The rich built classical mansions. Havana became a wealthy and affluent city. However, all that ended under the communist government, when the nation’s capitalist free-enterprise system was replaced with a socialized economic system. In Havana, where most businesses are concentrated, all privately owned businesses, enterprises, and institutions were nationalized whether American or Cuban-owned. Even banks were taken under state control. Some small privately owned businesses like local bars or shoe repair shops are allowed in Old Havana and Vedado.
Today, Vedado is recognized as the financial district of Havana. It is home to airline companies, business headquarters, high-rise apartments and hotels, major banks, office buildings, shops, and the University of Havana. As of 2000, almost 89% of the recorded legal workforce in the city works for government-run institutions or enterprises.
Since Cuba reopened its doors to tourism in the early 1990s, it has become Havana’s number one industry. In fact, Havana and the whole island are dependent on the tourism industry. Every year, the city welcomes over a million tourists. Unfortunately, ordinary American tourists find it impossible to visit Cuba legally due to restrictions and regulations put in place by the U.S. government since 1960. One restriction is for Americans to spend their U.S. dollars in Cuba. They could only do so once they have obtained a U.S. Treasury license. Americans cannot buy Cuban-made products like Cuban cigars because of the Cuban economic embargo. As of 2011, U.S. President Barrack Obama allowed the granting of “people-to-people” licenses which cover money remittance, travel and visas. There are also plans to eventually expand the type of American students, church groups and cultural groups to visit Cuba legally. These plans still do not include ordinary American tourists; hence the instances when some U.S. tourists get to Cuba illegally via Canada, Mexico, or other Caribbean countries close by.
For two decades, Havana has become a popular health tourism destination. Foreign patients travel all the way to Havana to acquire various medical procedures like eye surgery or treatment for night blindness and neurological disorders. Patients are mostly from Latin America, North America and Europe.
Although Havana is not a thoroughly modern city, it is still by far the richest city in Cuba. Cubans from different provinces migrate to the city searching for jobs and better living conditions. In reality, housing and the Cuban economy has rapidly deteriorated since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Subsidies and financial support from the Communist regions stopped entirely. Basically, the common definition of “poverty” is indefinable in Cuba since the people of Havana and the rest of the country have the same access to education, healthcare, housing, social security and work opportunities.
Cuba uses a dual currency system: the Cuban Peso (CUP) for locals, and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which tourists use for all their expenses and financial transactions like hotel and restaurant bills, taxi fares and other activities that require tourists to pay in the local currency.
Havana is not a naturally picturesque city with its seedy streets and old buildings with an air of neglect. The charm of this city lies in its earthy authenticity and nostalgic remnants of its glamorous past – its grand architecture, weathered fortresses, colonial mansions, and even in the locals’ vintage American cars.
To take a casual glimpse of ordinary life in Havana, take a walk through the Malecón or the sea wall. The Malecón is a long avenue that runs through the length of the city, starting from Old Havana, going downtown, passing along the coast and ending at the Hotel Nacional. Sunsets and views of the bay are breathtakingly beautiful from the vantage point that the avenue provides. Plaza de Armas is an elegant and spacious historic city square that was once the center of administrative, military, and religious activities in Havana. Up until the mid-18th century, it was used as a venue for military exercises and parades. It was remodeled and used as a meeting place for the wealthy people of the city until the late 1830s. Now it is known as Céspedes Park, after the founder of Cuba, whose monument also stands at the center of the park. Prado is a quaint street in Havana buzzing with life, although the area is not lit at night. Both locals and tourists go to Prado to unwind in the cafés and bars that line the street.
The Plaza de la Revolución is a municipality and square located in Vedado. It is the official venue for political rallies and the place where government officials and other politicians address the Cuban public especially on national holidays like May 1st and the 26th of July. On the northern side of the plaza is the José Martí Memorial – a memorial dedicated to the national hero of Cuba, José Martí. It consists of a tall tower in the shape of a five-pointed star, Martí’s statue with six columns surrounding it and gardens.
The John Lennon Park in Vedado is also quite interesting, made popular for its statue of John Lennon. The bronze statue of the John Lennon is seated on the right hand side of a park bench. Near his feet is an inscription, carrying part of the lyrics from the Beatles’ song Imagine. José Villa Soberón, a Cuban artist, created the sculpture. It is currently missing the signature glasses with round lenses of the former Beatles. Habana Vieja (Old Havana) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the core of the first settlement in the city. The walled city was founded in 1519 by the Spanish colonizers. Plaza Vieja in Old Havana was once the site of bullfights, executions, fiestas, and processions.
Old Havana is surrounded by fortresses built during colonial times to safeguard the city from invasions and raids. Castillo de la Real Fuerza is the oldest fortress in the New World. It now serves as the premier maritime museum in Cuba. The museum houses collections and exhibits dating back to Cuba’s pre-colonial and colonial past. It also showcases models of historic ships, outdated navigational instruments, and underwater archeological artifacts. Fortaleza Carlos de la Cabaña is the largest fortress in the New World, guarding over the eastern harbor entrance. It was completed during the 18th century. San Salvador de la Punta is a smaller fortress built during the 16th century. Its purpose was to defend the western entrance to the Havana harbor. El Morro was built to defend the entrance to Havana bay and to protect the city from frequent pirate attacks. Habana Vieja is also where you would find the Malecón Avenue, Catedral de San Cristóbal, National Capitol, Gran Teatro de la Habana, San Francisco de la Habana Basilica, Plaza de Armas and the Museum of the Revolution. The Gran Teatro de la Habana is the home of the National Ballet of Cuba, which was founded by Alicia Alonso, Cuba’s famous choreographer and prima ballerina assoluta. Inside the theater is Cuba’s biggest concert hall, Garcia Lorca.
If Rio de Janeiro has the colossal Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue overlooking the city, Havana has the Cristo de la Habana, a 66- foot or 20-meter statue of Christ made of Carrara marble, all of which were imported from Italy. Pope Pius XII blessed all of the marble blocks before these were sent to Havana. The sculpture, standing atop a hill at an elevation of 167 feet or 51 meters was sculpted by Cuban sculptor Jima Madera and completed in 1958. It stands guard over the eastern hillside of Havana Bay and could be seen from several points within Havana.
Havana is also a city of museums. One thing for sure is that you won’t find it hard to look for one. Museo de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution) located in Old Havana, was formerly the Presidential Palace up until the time of Cuban president Fulgencio Batista. Its eclectic design combines French, German, and Spanish architectural elements. After the Cuban Revolution, it was converted into a museum highlighting the history of Cuba from its beginnings until the post-revolution years. Museo Napoleonico (Napoleon Museum) in Vedado is a mansion housing the largest Napoleonic memorabilia. Museo del Ministerio del Interior in Miramar contains historical exhibits about the Cold War.
The National Museum of Fine Arts or Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is the premier visual art museum in Cuba, exhibiting both international and Cuban collections. It has the largest collection of sculpture and paintings in the Caribbean, which include artworks by Goya, Rubens, and Velasquez. The Museo de Artes Decorativas (Museum of Decorative Arts) on the other hand is a French Renaissance style mansion that once belonged to the Countess of Revilla de Camargo. It is known also as the small “French palace of Havana.” The mansion is now a museum housing thousands of artworks and furniture from the time of Louis XV and XVI and Napoleon III, including some Oriental pieces and other prized treasures.
The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales was once the residence of Spanish governors in the city. It is now a museum exhibiting colonial-era artwork, furniture, glass, pottery, and silverware. The Ernest Hemingway Museum used to be the writer’s house in Havana converted into a museum dedicated to his memory and life in the Cuban capital. Casa de Africa, Casa de Árabes, and Casa de Asia showcase collections from their respective regions of origin – Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
The Automobile Museum or the Museo del Automobil houses prized collections of vintage vehicles, including a 1905 Cadillac, a Rolls Royce once owned by Cuban dictator Batista, and a 1960 Chevrolet driven by Che Guevara. Other notable museums in Havana are: the Cigar Museum, Museo del Aire (Aircraft Museum), Museum of Anthropology, Museum of Archeology and the Museum of Dance and Rum. There are also the Museum of Gold-and-Silverwork, Museum of Natural Sciences, Museum of Numismatics, Museum of Perfume, Museum of Sports, Museum of Weapons, and National Museum of Music.
El Capitolio Nacional is a massive white domed building which looks like the twin of the Capitol Building in Washington. That’s because the building was commissioned by the U.S. in the 1920s to serve as the office of the Cuban Senate and House of Representatives. Now it serves as headquarters of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natura (National Museum of Natural History) and the Cuban Academy of Sciences. It also houses La Estatua de la República. It was created in three bronze casts in Rome and assembled in Havana by Angelo Zanelli. The statue weights 49 tons and is covered by 22-carat gold leaf. It stands at a height of 15 meters and is the third tallest indoor statue in the world, after the Great Buddha of Nara in Japan and the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in the United States.
Catedral de San Cristóbal located in Old Havana, is a cathedral with Baroque architecture, constructed in 1748 and finished in 1777. Its unique feature is its assymetrical tower, where one is obviously wider than the other. It was not a design flaw but rather intended to allow the water that gathered on the plaza to flow freely through the streets.
Havana Club Rum Factory is where the world-famous Havana Club rum comes from. The factory is open to visitors and features exhibits with English subtitles. Partagas Cigar Factory is the place where you could get top quality Cuban cigars which are more expensive than the ones offered in the street with questionable quality.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a grand hotel built in the Art Deco style. It has seen its heyday in the 1950s when it was known for being an entertainment and gambling complex.
Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón is a famous cemetery in Havana and in Latin America noted for its beauty and grandeur. It was built in 1876 and contains almost a million tombs. Some gravestones are adorned with sculptures by Ramos Blancos.
If you’re looking for a bit of beach fun, Playas del Este or the Eastern Beaches is the place. Located in the eastern coast, it takes about thirty minutes to get there by bus from the city center. The place is a 15-mile stretch with a chain of eight beaches. Do bring your essentials, including refreshments as tourist facilities are still scarce.
Havana is the cultural center of Cuba. Cuban culture in general has African and Spanish influences.
As the “City of Columns,” Havana plans to live up to its name by restoring old and neglected buildings. Most old buildings with classical architecture are concentrated in the Old Havana area, the core of the original settlement of the city. Havana still has a long way to go in terms of restoring the whole city to its former glory and grandeur, but they’re doing what they can by starting with Old Havana.
Havana is keen on promoting culture and the arts. There are several museums in the city dedicated to exhibiting visual arts. There are also venues dedicated to the performing arts. The Gran Teatro is Cuba’s most prestigious opera house and theater, and the oldest one in the New World. It hosts performances by the National Opera and Teatro Lirico Nacional. It is also home to the International Havana Ballet Festival and the National Ballet of Cuba. It has the biggest concert hall and theater in Cuba, the García Lorca Auditorium. The theater is adorned with sculptures by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti. Gran Tetro has graciously received famous names like Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, and Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. The National Theater of Cuba in Plaza de la Revolución is a modern building adorned with artworks by Cuban artists, while the Karl Marx Theater hosts the annual Havana International Film Festival, concerts, and other public events.
There is also an active youth culture in Havana. Young Cubans enjoy music and dancing in discotheques in the evening. And since Havana is the home of salsa, you could experience salsa music and salsa dancing at Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana. It’s busy most nights so you need to check the program first before buying tickets. Casa de la Cultura Plaza located in downtown Havana is the best venue for music and jam sessions. It has hosted the first Havana International Jazz Festival. In the 1990s, Havana was the place where rap began. It was also the same time that reggaetón started to gain popularity. In Havana, music and dance is a common outlet for self-expression.
Sports is also a huge part of life in Havana and Cuba in general. The most popular sport is baseball, and many Cuban professional players have gone on to play for the MLB. Other sports played are basketball, cricket, and volleyball. Recently, Cuban amateur boxers have earned a name for themselves in the international arena.
Cuban food is a fusion of Caribbean and Spanish cuisine. Recommended local restaurants serving Cuban food are El Aljibe in Miramar, La Casa in Nuevo Vedado, and Paradar La Tasquita near San Lazaro. Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor located across Hotel Habana Libre, is famous in the city, with many people waiting for an hour just to get a seat. For a taste of the best daiquiri in town, go to El Floridita. For the best mojito, go to La Bodeguita del Medio. Both popular bars were former hangouts of American writer Ernest Hemingway.
One popular local festival in Havana is the Habanos Cuban Cigar Festival. It lasts for five days during the month of February. The festival includes a trade fair, cigar tastings, tours of tobacco plantations and cigar factories, and demo classes on rolling Habanos.
Havana has a Chinatown, which was once the largest in Latin America. Today, the Chinatown in Cuchillo de Zanja (Sanja Canal) is run by the few remaining descendants of the initial 206 Chinese immigrants brought into the city by Spanish settlers from parts of China, Hong Kong, Macau, and the Philippines. They aim to preserve and revive their Chinese culture.
Havana has had centuries of history and abounds in interesting discoveries for the ordinary traveler or anyone with an interest in this once prominent Caribbean city.
• Aside from being the capital of Cuba, Havana is also the largest and richest city in Cuba. It is the third largest city in the Caribbean in terms of land area and population. It is also the cultural and industrial capital of Cuba.
• Visiting Cuba and obtaining Cuban products is more difficult for ordinary Americans due to travel restrictions in place since the 1960s, when Cuba turned communist.
• According to local stories, Habana got its name from the Taíno chief named Habaguanex, who once had control over the area.
• Havana has earned the nickname “Ciudad de las Columnas” or City of Columns because of its several buildings displaying a mixture of elements in the classical style including Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic elements. There are also buildings done in Baroque, Art Deco, and Neo-classical styles. These styles incorporate the use of columns.
• About one-third of all the old buildings in Havana are found in the Old Havana area. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
• Havana is famous for their rum and Habanos cigars. Bacardi Rum and Havana Club are two popular Cuban rum brands. Cuban cigars are a luxury commodity and are appreciated for their exquisite taste. Some Cuban cigar aficionados claim that authentic Cuban cigars have a hint of coffee and honey, with almost no smoky taste. Cuban cigars are of top quality due to Cuba’s ideal climate for growing tobacco, and Cuban tobacco makers’ unparalleled skill. They’re also illegal in the United States because of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba since February 1962.
• The popular board game of financial domination, Monopoly, is banned in the capital and all over Cuba.
• Cubans are only allowed to own a maximum of two houses – one in the capital and the other either a country or beach property.
• Cuban Revolution leader Fidel Castro had a statue of John Lennon built in a park in John Lennon Park. He was a huge Beatles’ fan and called John Lennon a “true revolutionary.” The statue is notorious because John Lennon’s glasses have been stolen and replaced numerous times already.
• Renowned American writer Ernest Hemingway lived for several years in Havana. He was a regular customer in some of the local bars. In fact, he loved having Cuban rum cocktails. When he wanted a daiquiri, he’d go to El Floridita, and when he wanted a mojito, he’d go to Bodeguita del Medio. These days, both bars are tourist attractions in Havana.
• It was in 1848 when Havana became the third city in the world to use gas lighting.
• There is a particular cobbled street in Havana that’s lined with wood. According to a local story, the wife of a Capitan worried that the sound of horses passing on the stone cobbles just outside her bedroom window would prevent her from sleeping peacefully. She ordered that the street be paved with wood.
• Christopher Columbus’s remains were transported to Havana from Santo Domingo, Cuba on January 15, 1796. There they remained until after Spain lost Cuba, before being transported to the Cathedral in Seville.
• Hernán Cortés, the Spanish Conquistador notorious for causing the fall of the Aztec Empire, organized and planned his expedition to Mexico while in Havana, Cuba.
• In the coat of arms of the municipality of Melena del Sur in the Mayabeque Province, there’s a Latin inscription that says “Hic Est Condit Havana Primo,” or “Here is where Havana was first founded.” Havana was the sixth town in Cuba founded by the Spanish Conquistadores.