In 1519, the town of San Cristobal de la Habana was relocated from the southern coast to the north coast to create a deeper port. By 1607, Havana emerged as the capital city in Colonial Cuba. As a deep water port, Havana quickly grew and became the third largest city in the Spanish empire, trailing only Mexico City and Lima, Peru.
In efforts to secure the city, Spain built several fortresses, whose remnants remain today, along Havana’s perimeter and harbor. Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaria, the Castillo de los Tres Reyes, Magos del Morro and the Castillo San Salvador de la Punta are fortresses that tourists still enjoy today.
In 1848, Cuba became the third city in the world to install gas street lights throughout, symbolizing the prosperity of the country and capital.
With the sinking of the USS Maine in 1909, the United States built a strong presence in Havana and US business interest continued to grow until the 1959 Revolution, after which relations became strained.
Modern day Havana consists of 15 distinctive municipalities, each with their own sense of identity and community. Cuba’s capital lies 90 miles south of Key West, Florida. Old Habana is a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site. Featuring winding, narrow streets, one connects with the history of the environs immediately. History flows from every pore of the historic quarter with wonderful churches, alluring bars and numerous cultural attractions. In Old Habana, tourists can sense life in Havana during the Colonial era.
Lively and picturesque, El Malecon seaside avenue covers 8 kilometers running from fortress Castillo de la Punta in Old Havana to fortress Castillo de Santa Dorotea de Luna de Chorrera, strategically set at the mouth of the Almendares River.
Vedado is a diverse and hip district marked by office buildings, hotels, condos and historic homes. Nightlife in Vedado is worth the price of admission. Landmarks in Vedado include the Museo Napoleonico, a collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, and the Cementario de Cristobal Colon, which houses more than 500 chapels, family vaults and mausoleums.
Spectacular beaches sit invitingly 20 minutes from downtown Havana. Bacurano Beach is nearest to Havana. Playa Santa Maria del Mar typifies Cuba’s stunning beaches, replete with white sand and dotted with coral and shell remnants. Continue the fun at Guanabo where nightlife and music bring energy to sunbathed tourists and natives alike.
Ernest Hemingway, along with his four dogs and some 60 cats, called Cuba home for 20 years. Hemingway’s residence is now one of the most famous art museums in the world. Hemingway kept a fishing boat at Cojimer, a small port town. Santiago, the protagonist in the Old Man and The Sea, was modeled after a local fisherman who Hemingway befriended.
The Great Theatre of Havana (Gran Teatro de La Habana) houses the National Ballet and State Opera. The architecture is as captivating as the artistic expression. Gran Teatro is the oldest theater in the Western Hemisphere. Gran Toro underscores the significance of the arts in the cultures of Havana and Cuba.
Havana is one of the most musically oriented cities in the world. In keeping with Cuban culture, music seems to resound through streets day and night. Popular genres include Afro-Jazz, bolero, jazz, rock, rap, reggae classical and more. Dance lessons attract many tourists who learn salsa, rumba, mambo and many more sizzling dances.
Aeropuerto Internacional Jose Marti is Havana’s the largest airport in the country. Conveniently located just 15 kilometers outside Havana, the airport is a quick trip to downtown Havana. International flights arrive and depart from terminal three. National travel is handled through terminals 1 and 2. Tour buses and taxis are stationed outside the terminals.