Our favorite, lesser-known stops for architecture, cooling off and dancing to rhumba
Everyone is talking about Cuba, even the British architect, Norman Foster, who recently presented his book with Mauricio Vicent Havana: Autos and Architecture in the Cuban capital. Foster wishes to establish a dialogue between the rich architecture of Havana and Cuba’s classic cars or "almendrones" as they’re referred to in Spanish and it's easy to understand why.
Arriving in the Cuba of today, one feels like they’re living in three simultaneous time periods. (It’s no longer true to say that Havana is suspended in time.) In the first epoque, you feel anchored by the force of Cuba’s colonial history, in the second, you are dominated by the rituals of the omnipresent state and in the third, you feel uplifted by the perpetual hope for a better future that is just around the corner.
24-hours is very little time to become acquainted with a place that offers glorious walks and leisure time – like sipping on a daiquiri in the Floridita while dreaming of Hemingway. But enough! Traverse the city in a cocotaxi - a motorized three-wheeler for carrying tourists that have no qualms about touring the city with a windswept look - and tap into the languid rhythm and swinging cadence of this special place.
A tour of the University of Havana's campus
The campus of the University of Havana is nearly 300 years old. At the foot of the main neoclassical stairwell, you’ll be welcomed by a bronze statue with open arms, the "Alma máter." The Czech-American artist of this sculpture, Mario Korbel, found inspiration for this statue in the face of a young Cuban, Feliciana Villalón, daughter of one of the university’s professors.
Between the numerous campus buildings, the Central Library stands out with its art-deco facade as do others: the School of Science, with an interior patio marked by its spectacular entrance, and the Rectory, with its magnificent neoclassical portico. The mixture of these styles prepares your senses for a city where architecture, touched by time, is the leitmotiv.
Coppelia Ice Cream
Cooling off in the heat of midday by licking an ice cream from Coppelia
When the heat takes over, it’s time to move toward El Vedado, the elegant 19th century neighborhood of the embassies. The objective: a lick of delicious chocolate ice cream in the Coppelia Park. Get there by walking along L street from the university.
In Havana, there is more than one way to enjoy the many kinds of ice cream, varying from ultra sweet to creamy. This park has two kinds of vendors: you can go to a kiosk for tourists and pay the equivalent of two dollars in Cuban Pesos or make a line, wait for an hour and a half, pay barely a fraction of the tourist price, and take a seat among the shared tables and bars, excellent for trading bits of the latest news and local gossip.
The Bacardi building in Old Havana
Sipping on the best Cuban Ron Collins in Old Havana
The street of Mercaderes, in Old Havana, was completely restored by the City Historian's Office, leaving it a pedestrian-only street very similar to how it once was in the18th century. The shops, restaurants, museums and cultural centers offer both salsa lessons and Ron Collins, one of the great remedies for lifting the intense heat of the late afternoon. Take a cocotaxi towards Malecón to explore it thoroughly.
It’s rumba time! Get into the groove of Cuban music and dance the night away
As night falls, hail another cocotaxi to get to La Zorra and el Cuervo2, (very close to Malecón), to find the rumba hotspot. This club earned a reputation for being the place for hearing the best musicians on the island. This is the musical crib of Bebo and Chucho Valdés and Roberto Fonseca. Far from the hordes of tourists, here you can get lost in the swinging groove of Cuban music.
University of Havana: San Lázaro y L., Municipio, Plaza de la Revolución; www.uh.cu
La Zorra y el Cuervo: Calle 23 e/N. y O. Vedado; T. (537) 7838 2696; FB: Club “La zorra y el cuervo”