Cubaphile Claire Boobbyer publishes her new guide to Havana
Havana Pocket Precincts celebrates the best of the Cuban capital’s sights, restaurants, bars, cafés, music spots and shops. Must-visit trips to island mountains, dive spots, Hemingway haunts, and colonial towns also feature.
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I’ve explored the streets of Cuba’s capital for years. My love affair with Havana is distilled into this curated guide to the city accompanied by dozens of my colourful photos.
"With all its tattered beauty, Old Havana is the most intriguing part of the Cuban capital. Its magnificent buildings were built for the glory of empire and the glory of God. Across several centuries, Cuba’s Spanish colonial elite erected Baroque churches, pretty patios, tinkling fountains, handsome civic mansions and fine villas, all linked by huge shadeless squares and tight narrow streets. Plundered silver from Spain’s South American colonies passed through Havana. Chests were roped down on the so-called Treasure Fleets, which then crossed the Atlantic to Seville. And city rulers built fortresses to protect the loot from the real pirates of the Caribbean who circled the island waiting to pounce." (Extract from Northern Old Havana chapter introduction)
Fast forward 500 years and Havana has celebrated its quincentennial birthday, and the 60th anniversary of its Socialist Revolution. Just shy of 10 years ago, Cubans were granted greater freedoms to launch their own businesses. This act has revitalised Havana, in particular. Where streets were once empty and dusty with idleness, entrepreneurial creativity has enlivened Havana’s ancient streets and porticoed squares with private restaurants, stylish cafés, cool bars, designer stores, secret music haunts and boutique homestays. Tourism rebooted and legions of quick-thinking Habaneros launched vintage car tours in their polished candy coloured Detroit classics, pimped-up Ladas, or boneshaking bicycle taxis for visitors keen to soak up Havana’s magical atmosphere.
With my guide in hand, stroll northern and southern Old Havana, and turn-of-the-century tree-lined Prado promenade, followed by the salt-whipped serpentine ocean road, the Malecón. Catch one of the regular ferries to the other side of the Bay of Havana to the historic towns of Casablanca, Regla and Guanabacoa, and climb to the muscular fortresses built to protect the city’s harbour. Wander the tumbledown streets of Centro Habana in search of past glories, hidden sights, music venues, and avant-garde art spaces. Further west, in the city’s once plush neighbourhood of mansions and landscaped boulevards, discover unusual museums, world-class restaurants, inviting cafés, and under-the-radar music spots.
Wanting to escape the city for sea breeze and mountain air? Havana Pocket Precincts features trips to the island’s southwest – the eco-community of Las Terrazas, limestone haystack mountains of Viñales, tobacco heartland, and west coast beaches. On the south central coast, stroll the cobblestone streets of colonial jewel Trinidad, and snorkel and dive at the storied Bay of Pigs – now buzzing with a boho beach scene. Follow in American novelist Ernest Hemingway‘s footsteps to his home and favourite places; and bag a sunlounger and parasol at the eastern beaches on Havana’s doorstep.
While travel is off-limits just now, start planning your dream trip to Cuba’s enigmatic capital with this perfect pocket-sized guide.