best caribbean destinations, havana Cuba

Havana, Cuba in Images

The malecon in Havana, Cuba. See more images of Havana here.

“Beautiful” and “dilapidated” are the words that come to mind when I describe Havana, the capital city of Cuba. The paint on the buildings is crumbling and exteriors are falling due to years of neglect, but somehow the streets of this densely populated coastal town warrant a kind of romantic notion of chaos and community .

havana, cuba

Taxis in Havana, Cuba

Taxis in Havana, Cuba

The vibe in Havana is pretty much unrivaled from anything I’ve seen before. Life is in the streets. Men, women and children stand in the sidewalk, catching up with passersby, all of whom they seem to know. They’re a friendly bunch, willing to talk to anyone who’s willing to stop. Though sometimes the approach is a bit off-putting (whistling, cat calling, lip smacking), I found it to be harmless and cultural.

LIfe in Havana, Cuba

Life in Havana, Cuba

And then, of course, there are the cars. A strong sign of the embargo I wrote about in my last post, Havana and the rest of Cuba is dotted with 1950s American cars, in all their glory of yesteryear. They’re amazingly well kept, and a sure sign of great mechanics around the country.

1950s cars in Havana, Cuba

1950s cars in Havana, Cuba

A tourist in Havana Cuba

A tourist in Havana Cuba

Buying a new car is expensive, if not impossible, given the tight limitations on foreign trade. It’s hard to get a straight answer from anyone in Cuba, but the one I got most consistently when I asked how much a doctor earns is $25 USD per month. I also met the manager of the Havana train station who told me he earns $10 USD a month, but he likes his job and goes willingly five days a week. I visited the studio apartment he shares with his brother where we drank a beer on the balcony overlooking a seven-story building that has a small forest growing inside, so long it’s been since anything has been maintained. Luckily, housing has been passed down from generation to generation, so most Cubans don’t need to buy property, and nobody is homeless.

Havana Cuba

A rope life in Havana

A sweet shop in Havana, Cuba

A sweet shop in Havana, Cuba

A fast food restaurant in Havana, Cuba

A fast food restaurant in Havana, Cuba

During the week I spent in Havana, there was a local art festival. The famous malecon, which runs five miles along the sea, was decorated with varying art from the creations shown in the featured image above, to ladders reaching into the sky, to a manmade beach complete with umbrellas and chairs. The malecon is where fisherman fish during the day, and locals converge when the sun goes down, sharing bottles of rum, smoking, playing music or just hanging out. After dark, almost the entire strip is covered in bodies, and it’s a fantastic sight to see.

Street art in Havana

Street art in Havana

Fishing on Malecon

Fishing on the malecon in Havana, Cuba

The Prado, or main walking street in Old Town, is lined with glowing yellow street lamps and those crumbling building facades line the way to the ocean. During the art festival, artists were set up along the promenade between the bustling streets on either side, practicing their craft and selling the fruits of their labor.

An artist on the Prado in Havana, Cuba

An artist on the Prado in Havana, Cuba

An artist in his studio in Havana, Cuba

An artist in his studio in Havana, Cuba

An artist in his studio in Havana, Cuba

An artist in his studio in Havana, Cuba

And despite all the negativity the country sometimes earns (on behalf of the government), they do have a few things working well for them, like free quality education and healthcare. The literacy rate is 99.8% (slightly higher than the U.S.), and because of the free education and some of the best medical schools around, the country has the most doctors per capita than any other. They also have a top-notch medical school that accepts scholarship students from other countries, trains them, and then sends them to areas of need around the world.

Taking a break from school in Havana

Taking a break from school in Havana

A pharmacy in Havana

A pharmacy in Havana

In short, Cuba is so much more than cigars, rum and palm trees, though all of the above are there in ample quantities (a bottle of rum for $4, anyone?). Havana, in particular, is a resilient city that demonstrates just how resourceful people can be. While most will tell you life is hard in Cuba, and that they are eager for change, they appear happy and relaxed. Change is coming soon, but it might be on island time.

A small child in Havana, Cuba

A small child in Havana, Cuba

 

Where I stayed in Havana: 

Casa Caribe Havana Hostel operates more like a casa particular, or homestay, than a large hostel. It’s an apartment with two amazing hosts, Rodolfo and Carlos, where one bedroom is a shared space with several bunk beds and the other is a private room for rent. There is a rooftop patio overlooking Central Havana, and breakfast is included in the price. The location is also great, just a few blocks from the malecon (pictured above) and a 10-minute walk to Old Town. I highly recommend staying there.


Havana, Cuba in Images
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

 

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10 Comments

  1. Laura says:

    Hey Jessica,

    Thank you for sharing about your time in Cuba and your lovely photos, the lady painting in her floral dress is so calming and the taxi’s remind me of the cars they drive in the film ‘Babes in Toyland.’ That’s so great, and unexpected to me as my Cuba knowledge is almost non-existent, that the literacy rate is so high!

    Laura

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Laura! Thanks for the compliment on my photos, and I’m glad you learned something new. I learned a lot in Cuba, too. In fact, it seemed like every time I turned around I had something new to learn! It’s a fascinating country.

  2. Jeff says:

    Great photos! I”m planning on being there the first week of December. I went 13 years ago and your photos look the same as mine back then, except for those taxis. Now those are ugly. Thanks for sharing.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks, Jeff! That will be so fun to compare your experiences, 13 years apart. I bet it looks pretty similar, but in another 5-10, you’ll have to make yet another trip to see all the changes! I’m hoping to return 10 years from now, too.

  3. Kris Sonsin says:

    This is fantastic. Someday I hope I'll get there myself! Can't wait for more posts and photos!

  4. Frank says:

    Fantastic photos Jessica!
    I like that you pointed out the good and bad of Cuba – some people like to focus on only the bad. But besides the free education and health care they also get basic staples subsidized by the government. You won’t see people starving or sleeping on the streets in Cuba, unlike on many other Caribbean islands. And the people, as you say, are educated. Really nice people, we love the Cubans.We just wish them more opportunities in the future, that’s what’s missing for most people in Cuba.
    Beautiful post.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  5. Kirstie says:

    Cuba has been the place I’ve most wanted to visit for years and years, and I just put in my application yesterday for the travel agency that’s now chartering direct flights from L.A. to Havana. It may be really happening! Your photos make me all the more excited, and I’ll be following your posts.

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