Havana, a fiery Caribbean
In the past, Havana’s sheltered harbour attracted settlers and pirates. Open again since the end of the 1990s, after more than 50 years of economic embargo, this inexhaustible, ethnically diverse capital is fast becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
A town called La Habana was founded in 1514 by Spanish conquistador Diego Velazquez de Cuéllar, on the south coast of the island of Cuba. A few years later it migrated to its current location at the strategic entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. A leading port and a favourite target of pirates, the colonial city built, over the following centuries, the fortifications that give it the allure of a majestic empire overlooking the turquoise Caribbean. French, English, and Spanish have fought over this island, whose remarkable buildings today delight visitors strolling through the streets of "Habana Vieja".
Coffee, rum, sugar, tobacco: Cuba is a land of plenty that continues to arouse envy. In the 20th century, Havana shone with brazen success, forging a sulphurous image. Its strong character, a taste for alcohol, parties, dance, and music made the Cuban capital a haven for travellers from North America and Europe, who came to drink, bet, dance, and slum it among the locals. The romantic city became the adopted home of Ernest Hemingway, who loved it for its tropical cocktails and feverish passions. This was, and remains, the quintessence of Havana, which bewitches all with its colours and fragrances. In its artist's paintings, in the heat of its spirit, the winding streets of its historic centre, or the modern buildings of its waterfront, Havana remains as indomitable, cheerful, laid back, and bright as ever.
Combative too: it is still marked by the victory of Fidel Castro and his July 26 Movement. The Cuban Revolution remains an iconic presence, as the many posters of Che make clear. But the island is changing: Communist Cuba opened its doors in late 2015 to US citizens, initiating, de facto, a new era in which tourism will be its most crucial activity. A myriad of new facilities will open shortly, but Havana already has much to offer, and not just its superb scenery. Come vibrate to the sensual rhythm of salsa cubana, and take the pulse of this flamboyant city, always ready to face change without losing its soul.
When to go
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© Text and photography courtesy of EnVols