Much like the art scene, the architecture in Havana might not be what you expect. Back in its heyday, Havana was a bustling metropolis where a lot of people from around the world (and particularly the wealthy, the famous, and the mafia) came to party. Not only that, but there were a lot of very wealthy Cuban families who appreciated the good life. In short, it had a period of decadence that is still evident in a lot of the buildings. While many of these have fallen into disrepair, the lines and elegance are still very much apparent.
Luckily a few have been maintained, like the Gran Teatro de Habana…
…and gradually, more are being fixed up back to their former glory.
Everywhere that my girlfriend and I walked -- whether it was Habana Vieja, Centro, Vedado or any of the other districts -- we were amazed at the beautiful structures in styles from baroque to art deco and everything in between. With the increased influx of tourism, hopefully it’s just a matter of time before a lot of these rundown structures are fully restored to become beautiful boutique hotels or casa particulares (bed and breakfasts).
Now what’s a trip to the Caribbean without inspecting the beaches? Cuba definitely does not disappoint. While there are many amazing islands and beaches dotted around the country, you actually don’t have to go very far out of Havana to find a piece of paradise. Just a short 20 minute bus ride ($5 round trip) from Parque central, you’ll get to Playa de Este, the Eastern beaches (get off at the last stop). If you come mid-week, they’re not crowded and you get the real Caribbean beach feel. Powdery white sand, crystal clear blue water and swaying palm trees without all the buildings and overdevelopment that can ruin the island vibe.
Coming from living in the Philippines, I admit that we have some beautiful beaches; although, seeing a beach with the same fine, soft sand, clear water and shallow waves of Boracay, but with less than a quarter of the development, instantly attracted us. Now imagine if a beach like that was only a 20-minute drive from downtown Manila… that’s what Playa del Este is for Havana. I can definitely get used to that…
Think that’s all there is to Havana? I’m not done yet. Coming up next is the vibrant and colorful street scene of Havana, as well as travel tips and trick for those of you who have been inspired enough to go and visit yourselves.
Till then, Salud!
(All photos and video taken by Marc Nelson on an iPhone6 from @PowermacCenter with a mojito-proof case courtesy of @Lifeproof)
(Thanks also to @piquadroph for my indestructible travel luggage)