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A Postcard from Havana, Cuba's Cultural Capital

Picture of Jack Guy
Updated: 22 June 2018
The Cuban capital is an enigmatic place that has proven to be a huge draw for travellers throughout the ages. With Cuba back in the news due to wrangling over U.S. sanctions, here is a quick look at life in Havana.

An historic capital

Spanish colonisers founded Havana in the 16th century, and the port city soon became an important part of the conquest of Latin America. Conveniently located in the northern Caribbean, Havana was a strategic staging post, and springboard for Spanish expeditions to Mexico, Central America and South America.

Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Havana-Cuba
Malecon ⒸChiara Irico
Malecon ⒸChiara Irico

Imposing architecture

Visitors to Havana cannot fail to be impressed by the huge dome that adorns the Capitolio building. Until the 1950s it was the tallest building in the whole city, and the design was inspired by the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC. While the Capitolio used to be the seat of the Cuban government until the Revolution in 1959, it is now home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences.

Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Bar ⒸChiara Irico
Bar ⒸChiara Irico
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip

Streets awash with colour

Walking around the city, you can’t help but be struck by the diverse colour palette of the buildings. Everywhere you look there are bright hues, which make a great backdrop for photos. The colourful buildings first came about in the 20th century as a way of showing off the prosperity of the country, but these days many are in need a fresh coat of paint.

Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip

A city divided

Many people argue that Havana is in fact three different cities in one. First you have the historic district of Old Havana, with its colonial architecture and high concentration of restaurants and bars aimed at tourists. Next up is the Vedado district, with its crumbling mansions and leafy boulevards. In recent years the area has become increasingly popular with visitors, and there are some innovative bars and restaurants opening up aimed at those who want to see a different side of Cuba. Finally there are the newer suburbs on the edge of the city, where Cubans live and work. To get a real feel for the city, hop in a vintage Chevrolet and take a tour of the three different versions of the city.

Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip
Havana-Cuba
Mithila Jariwala / | © Culture Trip