How do we start writing about Vedado? Well, it was a borough of Havana we liked the least (in comparison to the two others we stayed in for longer: La Habana Vieja and Centro Habana). In Vedado all old-Cuban-style glamour and charm is somehow lost under the concrete. Streets are overcrowded, busses and cars too loud, and people too busy. We felt like we landed on a different planet. So if you are still deciding where to stay in Havana, Vedado should not be a borough to be taken into consideration. Don’t be fooled by the legendary Hotel Nacional or the famous Plaza de la Revólucion, for checking out all touristic places you need less than a day, not a one week stay 😉
Vedado is Havana’s business district. It was constructed mainly in the first part of 20th century. The Lonely Planet guide writes that Vedado’s rascacielos (skyscrapers) are inspired by their art deco equivalents in New York and Miami. What?!?!?! If you think that this means: “New York nostalgia in Cuba #loveit #omg #sobeautiful,” you couldn’t be more wrong. We really tried for half of a day to get used to Vedado and find any beauty in it, but the only thing that we wanted at the end was to come back to our cozy Centro Habana. But enough about what we cannot find in Vedado, let’s see what we can actually see here 😉
Plaza de la Revólucion
We start our Vedado tour from Plaza de la Revólucion, to which we are taking a taxi with our casa owner Alejandro. This huge square (7200 m2) was created in the 1920s and is famous for its gigantic mural of Che Guevara on the facades of Ministerio del Interior. The mural of Che is in reality a steel memorial that apart from Che (a copy of Alberto Korda’s famous photograph from 1960) includes as well a quotation “Hasta la Victoria Siempre.” On the right side we see the other hero of the Cuban Revolution – Camilo Cienfuegos (who is “sometimes mistaken for Fidel Castro,” yeah yeah happened to us too, sorry Camilo) with the quotation “Vas bien, Fidel.” The square itself is dominated by the José Marti Memorial, behind which you can find the Palace of the Revolution – the seat of the Cuban government and Communist Party. There are as well many other government buildings located around the Plaza.
We visited Plaza de la Revólucion because of the famous Che and after a few pictures we headed to Avenida de la Independencia to get a colectivo to the corner of C 23 and Av de los Presidentes. From here you can simply make a longer walk and visit the Havana University: Universidad de la Habana. The building itself is in neoclassical style and the must-sees here are definitely the Alma Mater statue, the Plaza Ignacio Agramonte, and the university library. We, however, skip all this intellectual feast and head straight to the most famous Cuban hotels.
Hotel Habana Libre
Hotel Habana Libre, the only reason to even bother to notice this hotel among the concrete jungle is its history. Before the Revolution it was a building of the Havana Hilton Hotel, but after it Fidel decided to end its connections with the capitalistic world and rename the hotel to Habana Libre.
This is another hotel-legend in Havana. It was built with mafia money in the late 1950s. Luxury and glamour were seen everywhere and its rooftop pool was featured in Our Man in Havana by Carol Reed and Soy Cuba by Mikhael Kalatazov. It was closed in 2003 and stayed a long time as a modern day ruin. In 2014 after renovations it was finally reopened.
Hotel Nacional is THE legend among all Cuban hotels. It was visited by almost all possible celebrities even during the Fidel Castro times, when visiting Cuba often was seen as supporting communism. The hotel was built in the 1930s and in 1946 it hosted the largest ever gathering of the North American Mafia during a Frank Sinatra concert. Since then many many famous people stayed here, the walls are simply cracking from the weight of all the celebrities’ pictures 😀 There is as well a tobacco shop here, a very expensive RUM bottle (Dario, please please be careful 😉 ), and an outdoor café with a beautiful view over the harbor and the Malecon (especially during a sunset). There is just one thing missing in this glamorous fairy tale: black tea!!!! Nowhere to be found, sorry dear tea lovers.
We decided to walk back to our casa and admire on our way the beauty of the Malecon and smaller Havana streets. One more time passed through Callejon de Hamel, but it was quiet during week and had not much left from the magic that is happening here during Sundays. If before your Vedado sightseeing you haven’t visited Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón, now is as well a good moment to do this.
Day 6: Havana diaries
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