I traveled to Cuba, the “Pearl of the Caribbean,” from August 22nd until September 6th 2017. My interest for Cuba came from all those street shots I had seen over the years; it felt like a place stuck in time that it was still worth visiting before it’d start looking like any other place on the planet. So I went, looking forward to getting amazing shots myself.
I went during the rain season, because who doesn’t like tropical climate? Ok yeah, I screwed up a bit from that standpoint, but while I didn’t get that many days of sun, Cuba is colorful enough to make up for it.
I went to La Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos and Trinidad. I ignored Varadero as I couldn’t find what made it appealing and didn’t travel East even though it might be worth it for an extensive trip. This first blog post focuses on La Havana.
A little introduction to La Havana
La Havana (or La Habana in Spanish) is the capital city and leading commercial center of Cuba. The city has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.
The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Americas, becoming a stopping point for treasure-laden Spanish galleons returning to Spain. King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592. Walls as well as forts were built to protect the old city. The sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana’s harbor in 1898 was the immediate cause of the Spanish–American War.
We’re starting our visit with La Habana’s iconic old American cars.
Ok yeah, you do find some more modern cars in Cuba but the Cubans do love their old American cars and will do anything to make sure they keep running. In the end, they’re more hybrid cars: some of it Russian, some of it Korean.
I could have spent a week shooting portraits of cab drivers: there’s endless amazing stories happening in those cars and the drivers were all intriguing.
And if you don’t have a cool old American car, you can still spend a bit of time upgrading your bike…
Don’t worry, I’ll show you cars from outside too; just be a little bit more patient. Before that though, a few pictures of the streets of La Havana Vieja, the historical center.
La Havana Vieja
So what comes is pretty damn cool. But what it doesn’t show is the hoards of tourists and tourist traps. When hanging out in La Havana Vieja, I tried to make abstraction of those but it can become quite annoying.
Ok, made my point, now some cool street scenes.
One of the most typical part of La Havana is its Malecón, a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km (5 miles) along the coast.
You probably wonder what happened here. I’m not 100% sure either but a few glasses of rum heavily contributed (remember, it’s Cuba, rum > water).
Kids, artists and people up for a debate.
Architecture: Hotels, Museums, the Opera and Art Galleries
When reading recommendations from friends and travel sites, I didn’t read anything about visiting hotels while they can be some of the most beautiful things to see in La Havana. The following pictures are from Hotel Florida, Hotel Ambos Mundos, Hotel Raquel and Hotel Sevilla.
Tacos and empañadas from O’Reilly 304
One of my favorite places to eat.
Streets of Centro Habana
While I enjoyed walking around La Habana Vieja, it felt so touristy at times that I felt like going a bit further. So I actually spent most of my time walking in “Centro Habana,” which is a lot more authentic. The map below shows Centro Habana, located between La Habana Vieja (East) and the modern part of the city (West).
People from the markets
Dancing and playing on the street
In Cuba, you hear music everywhere. But it’s not your neighbor’s boom boom that prevents you from sleeping. You get used to it by night and by day. And then maybe you try to learn how to salsa (full disclosure: I failed).
Kids playing on the street.
Capoeira on the streets…
When it rains…
… you end up in a bar like this one, or playing pool with locals.
I’ve been living in Shoreditch, London, for about 4 years so I’ve developed a little addiction to street art. Here’s what I found in La Havana.
People from La Havana
Cuba <> street photography <> street portraits… So here’s some of them.
Tropicana, a Cuban Cabaret
There’s a number of cabarets you can see in La Havana. I went for the most famous, Tropicana. Touristy? yes. Worth it? If you haven’t seen a cabaret before, I’d say so.
Here’s some background:
The Tropicana had an impact in spreading Cuban culture internationally. New York’s Tropicana was a Latin music club launched in 1945 by two Cuban restaurateurs, the brothers Manolo and Tony Alfaro, who made it the most glamorous nightclub in the Bronx. On the TV series I Love Lucy, the character Ricky Ricardo (played by Cuban-born Desi Arnaz) was a singer and bandleader at Manhattan’s fictional Tropicana nightclub, now recreated in reality in Jamestown, New York at the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center‘s Tropicana Room.
Heading to Viñales…
… In one of those amazing cars 🙂
All right, that’s it for La Havana! Don’t worry, it only gets better. Post about Viñales to follow 🙂