Cuba is like nowhere else. Thanks to the long trade embargo with the United States the Caribbean island nation has been stuck in its own unique time warp. For better or worse this has given the country a uniquely timeless flavour that endures to this day. As the relationship with its larger neighbor finally starts to thaw, now is the best time to visit and experience this unique country before everything changes.
Nowhere are Cuba’s contradictions more apparent than in its Capital Havana. The most evocative of all the cities in the Caribbean, Havana has a special dichotomous allure. It is also the best place to experience Cuba’s richly complex and proud culture.
The wealth of different treasures found just below the city’s often shabby façade reward discovery, and before the island turns into another typical holiday destination you should take a chance to experience it for yourself.
One of the most striking this for first-time visitors in Havana is how grand the city is. Despite the obvious signs of neglect, the city boasts impressive boulevards, resplendent city squares and striking colonial architecture all around. Combine this Spanish colonial grandeur with the ever-present 50s muscle cars, erstwhile Americana, and Caribbean verve and you have one of the world’s genuinely unique cities.
Walk along the Malecón
Havana’s most famous thoroughfare the Malecón (or the Avenida de Maceo to give it its official name) is a five-mile-long sea-front road. As popular with locals as it is visitors, the Malecón is one of the best places to people spot and take in the Cuban capital’s atmosphere. Thanks to years of disuse many of the buildings along its length have fallen into ruin, giving you a fascinating glimpse into the history and struggles of the city, yet it remains as alive and vibrant as ever. The street is one of the safest in the city and is seeing improvements as Cuba continues to open itself up to western visitors. Make sure and visit at sunset, as the views across the water are worth it.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
While more famous for its music, Art plays a vibrant and vital role in the country’s cultural life. One of the best places to experience Cuban art is at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Found in the beautiful surroundings of Centro Asturianas, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes contains the finest examples of Cuban art as well as many international pieces from the colonial period and beyond.
La Fábrica de Arte Cubano
A multidisciplinary cultural/community hub, there is always things going on at the La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Located in an old renovated government-owned factory, the FAC is always a buzz of life with everything from folk dancing, photography exhibitions, painting, and all manner of other cultural goings-on.
331 Art Space
Another artistic space, Studio 331 offers a small slice of Cuban art as the studio of three young local painters Frank Mujica, Alex Hernandez and Adrian Fernandez. Found in a recently refurbished colonial-era mansion, the aim of the space is to bring attention to contemporary Cuban art and has a range of paintings available to buy.
Fusterlandia is the nickname of the seaside village of Jaimanitas on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. It gained this moniker due to the artistic endeavors of local artist Jose Fuster. Originally found in his home of Casa de Fuster, these murals and 3D pieces of art are now found across the village offering visitors a rare way to experience Cuba’s artistic side. You can also still visit Fuster’s original studio for yourself.