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“Romantic Spanish colonial city of crumbling squalor”
Review of Old Havana

Ranked #1 of 235 things to do in Havana
Certificate of Excellence
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Owner description: Bohemian, rhythmically Latin, certainly picturesque and, above all, charming.
Bath, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
49 reviews
19 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 86 helpful votes
“Romantic Spanish colonial city of crumbling squalor”
Reviewed 1 October 2013

Havana Vieja is a crumbling wreck of a beautiful romantic Spanish colonial city. Looking beyond the squalid conditions evident nowadays, you can see what Havana was once like - a beautiful city of palaces, merchants houses, hotels, theatres, bars, architecturally attractive colonial homes and national buildings. Now, the old palaces are derelict but still lived in by dozens of families in squalid conditions with bad sanitation, compromised water supplies and diseases long since eradicated in 1st world countries.

The US embargo, lack of materials, and government unwillingness to repair and improve (let alone restore and preserve) the architecture and infrastructure has taken its toll on the once beautiful city, and the Habaneros themselves. The shops have few products and those that do are distinctly for tourists only - with the vast majority of Cubans holding only Cuban Pesos that cannot be spent in tourist shops that take the Cuban Convertible Peso.

The streets are crumbling with potholes that even cyclists have difficulty navigating. There are signs of change though in Havana Vieja with some buildings and roads being repaired and restored, and attractive bars, cafes and restaurants opening with the advent of the legalisation of private enterprise. More Cuban's now have access to the Cuban Convertible Peso and are able to improve their homes and lives. But a lot of Habaneros have nothing better to do than to try and persuade the tourist to visit a particular bar, shop or restaurant, and take a Peso or two commission for their troubles. Many of them are quite adept and talented at peddling, as it brings in a higher income than the national standard of around $13 per MONTH.

Besides this, the people are still so friendly, open, welcoming and naturally talented, from the music, singing and dancing, to their crafts, and the ingenuity of the people to make the most of what little they have - like the 1950's American cars that the economy is now dependent on as tourist taxis. Cuban music and dancing, and the superlative musicians and dancers can be seen and heard on many a street corner at different times of the day and night, as well as countless festivities through the streets with intoxicating dance rhythms.

Some of the best places in Havana Vieja are: Calle Obispo - Bohemian galleries, shops, cafes and the central pedestrian street. Calle O'Reilly, very Bohemian with Cuban bars, music and pizza, galleries and countless colonial homes including the house of Victor Hugo. Plaza Vieja and the micro-brewery - the beer is very good, and their seafood and meat skewers are tasty, Plaza Revolution, Cathedral Square, the Artisan Market behind Castillo de la Real Fuerza - good selection of arts and crafts. I recommend El Floridita at the end of Calle Obispo, crossing Monserrate - the old haunt of Ernest Hemingway, where he helped to perfect the Daiquiri - well someone had to be the taster!
Take a map of Havana Vieja with you, as it is easy to get lost among the crisscross streets and back alleys, but it is safe city, from a crime perspective - even off the beaten track, but not so safe traversing the potholes, dug up roads and collapsing buildings. Wear footwear suitable for walking in the old town - it's not a place for high heels and Italian leathers.

Take a couple of hours to walk along the Malecón (the sea breakwater), particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening, or at sunrise. You will be surprised at the vast number of Habaneros gathering, walking, talking, sitting on the wall, singing, making music and enjoying the cool breezes. The brute concrete edifice is colloquially known as the "Great Sofa" and Habaneros gather from dusk until dawn in their hundreds, and thousands, at the weekends. It is a wondrous site, and a peaceable, magical atmosphere, very friendly and welcoming to one and all. Stay up and enjoy the sunrise over the ocean.

Cuba Libre.

Visited September 2013
Helpful?
3 Thank BoABeauBear
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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English first
Portland, Maine
Level Contributor
41 reviews
24 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 10 helpful votes
“historical charm”
Reviewed 1 October 2013

Art galleries, museums. Interesting architecture; several restoration projects; train station is interesting, small family restaurants are best.

Visited September 2013
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Thank Kat J
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Melbourne, Australia
Level Contributor
7 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
“Fascinating”
Reviewed 1 October 2013

loved the cars - rusty, restored, big, noisy!
loved the cobblestoned streets and the buildings - some crumbling, some restored to their former glory. A step back in time!

Visited September 2013
Helpful?
Thank Susan M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Calgary, Canada
Level Contributor
16 reviews
10 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 29 helpful votes
“Private tour in an Old Car , off the bucket list”
Reviewed 29 September 2013

I hired a private tour with an old car to go to Havana . So awesome, got to see a lot and what "I" wanted to see. Could've had another trip , so much to see. good to see all the beautiful architecture getting a facelift . I hope to see it done next time I go back. My driver and guide were SUPER , they were so kind and took great care of me. Considered my feelings and wants in everything. Cost 130 CUC + tip for whole day trip.

Visited August 2013
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2 Thank Connie D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
San Diego, California
Level Contributor
55 reviews
19 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 21 helpful votes
“Very Interesting”
Reviewed 28 September 2013

It was an interesting area of the city is comparable to the older areas of many cities. The capitol building is there, and we probably saw more people and parked cars in this area than any other. Saw the Saratoga hotel where Beyonce and JayZ stayed when they were there. That is probably the only picture our grands will want to see. Insight Cuba was the group we chose for travel to Cuba.

Visited September 2013
Helpful?
Thank Osenior
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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