Sitting pretty is the largest and most vivacious city in the Caribbean; Havana’s infectious energy and romantic atmosphere are the stuff of legend. Where else can you find revolutionary sloganeering drowned by all-night parties, ration shops next to sixteenth century Spanish colonial palaces, and vintage American cars running on Russian engines?
Habaneros as the locals here are called love their city, and it is easy to see why. In the midst of warm Caribbean crystalline water, more than 500 years of history has conspired to create culturally unique and electric societies in Latin America. Recently, friends of mine who run Zone Garage Saskatchewan took a trip down to Cuba and had great things to say about their visit to Havana. From stomping ground for pirates to serving as a slave port for the colonial masters, and a gambling haven for North American Mafia, Havana has survived virtually everything thrown at it and still found some time to innovate. Here are the top must-see attractions in Havana, Cuba.
There are two economies in Cuba the dollar economy for tourists and the peso economy for locals. To experience Cuba as the Cubans do head to a farmer’s market and spend some pesos. Unlike most city markets which import food from the countryside, most of the food on sale is grown in Havana’s urban gardens and because of the cost of importing pesticides, it’s all totally organic and delicious.
At the forefront of modern Latino culture, Havana has spawned Cohiba cigars, club rum, salsa and Mambo, so remember to bring your dancing shoes on your trip. Havana’s answer to up to 50 years of political isolation is to shake its thing every night in the rum-soaked clubs and bars. Impeccably dressed and preened to the nine, habaneros sashay their way from one party to another. It is such a timeless scene of unbridled revelry.
Havana’s earthy authenticity is its greatest attraction, this is not a cynically concocted amusement park or a trussed-up tourist resort. Just walk the mildewed neighborhoods and follow your ears. At Santeria Tambor, initiates practice the drumming rhythms and dances that are used in authentic sensitive rituals. Drums are used in Santeria rituals to invite “Orishas” which are spirits who possess individuals. the individuals then speak and act as an Oracle for the divinity invoked.
When the city dwellers want to escape the urban sprawl, they head to Lenin Park to witness pure Cuban rodeo. The atmosphere at this event is alive and kicking, all its dusty socialist glory as locals watch performances and cheer for their favorite Latino cowboy.
Although 50 years of socialism has taken its toll on this city’s fragile economic and social fabric, the habaneros indomitable spirit is a constant source of inspiration. In a society that invented steaks made from grapefruit skin, stretch Ladas, and camel buses, survival is this city’s second name.