As you read this article, I suggest you cue Camila Cabello’s Havana song as a suitably atmospheric background soundtrack 😉
Incidentally, you may want to read my first article on Cuba, in which I share my impressions and some of my favorite pictures, before this one.

At first blush, Havana, seen from carefully chosen angles around its Capitolio building, looks stately, grand and exotic.

Havana, Capitol / Capitolio

Look across the street from the steps of the Capitol building, and you feel transported into a scene from the 1950s, blending colorized colonial architecture and vibrant signs of life.

Paseo de Martí, Havana, Cuba

Just to the side of the Capitolio, the beautifully elegant Gran Teatro would not mar the nicest European avenues …

Gran Teatro, Havana, Cuba

… and its neighbor the once prestigious (and still pretending to be) hotel Inglaterra reinforces this feeling of old-world stylishness.

Hotel Inglaterra, Havana, Cuba

However, turn the corner, and, still in right in front of the Capitole, another reality emerges – quite literally, like this tree sprouting from the ruins of another once grand theater…

Havana, Cuba

Turn the next corner, and you find yourself immersed into very real Cuban life, on the edge of the Havana Central neighborhood.

Street scene in Havana, Cuba

Most tourists however, typically have a more sanitized experience of Havana.

Some arrive by boat, distant echo of the explorers who first set foot here toward the end of the 15th century, and of the slaves brought from Africa. What a contrast.
Setting foot in the Caribbeans, Christopher Columbus reportedly exclaimed “No man has ever seen a more beautiful land!”

Cruse ship arriving in Havana, Cuba

Tourists typically focus their attention of the small carefully restored area of Old Havana, where atmospheric plazas are reminiscent of Southern Europe, like the Plaza de la Catedral.

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana, Cuba
Plaza de la Catedral, Havana, Cuba

Street musicians play for them / us around the leafy Plaza de Armas …

Plaza de Armas, Havana, Cuba

… and proud owners of 1950s American cars are eager to take us for a ride around the city.

The dazzling glitter of the freshly painted bodies tends to eclipse the harshness of the neighborhoods they cross …

… as they cruise the legendary Malecón seaside avenue (which I personally found rather underwhelming).

Malecón avenue, Havana, Cuba

As they rush to take snaps of the main sights, like the somewhat megalomaniac effigies of Fidel Castro and the Che on Plaza de la Revolución …

Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba

… they may also get a glimpse of one of tallest – and possibly the ugliest – building of Havana: the Russian embassy!

Russian Embassy, Havana, Cuba

I much prefer the grit of the back streets of Havana Vieja, where the scenes exude energy …

Street scene, Havana Vieja, Cuba
Street scene, Havana Vieja, Cuba

… joy …

… determination …

… emotion …

Street scene, Havana Vieja, Cuba

… vibrance …

Street scene, Havana Vieja, Cuba

… and faded grandeur.

Iconic 50s American cars, Havana Vieja, Cuba

This is where real life takes place. In the absence of “regular” stores, most of the shopping is done in the street, in specialty outlets …

Street market, Havana Vieja, Cuba
Shopping in Havana Vieja, Cuba

…  or in transportable “supermarkets”…

Street market, Havana Vieja, Cuba

… and locals rush to the back of trucks offering hard discount deals on freshly arrived products.

Communication takes place, over cable …

Street scene, Havana Vieja, Cuba

… or on the most advanced wireless technology. 😊

Cars get their washed …

Iconic 50s American cars, Havana, Cuba
Iconin

… locals watch the world go by …

… cool dudes hang out…

Street scene, Havana, Cuba

… or get their hair cut …

… then play baseball with broomsticks and bottle caps.

All this intensity is sometimes hard to take!

Fortunately, a bit further afield, the Colón cemetery (Cemeterio de Colón) offers a haven of peace …

Colón cemetery (Cemeterio de Colón), Havana, Cuba

… conducive to devotion.

Colón cemetery (Cemeterio de Colón), Havana, Cuba

It also hosts rather grandiloquent art.

Colón cemetery (Cemeterio de Colón), Havana, Cuba

Back to the center of Havana, one more, for the road 😉 : Havana has the most beautiful traffic jams I have ever seen!

Havana, Cuba

You liked reading this article? Please share it! Thank you! – and comments are always welcome.

And if you liked it, you will probably also enjoy my other articles on Cuba:

Stay tuned, more to come!
Didier.