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Havana

“I could see Havana looking fine in the sun” ERNEST HEMINGWAY

If someone had told Sebastian de Ocampo, back in 1508 of this pocket bay becoming what it is today he would have perhaps been called a madman or a threatening sorcerer condemned to die at the stake. He spotted Havana for the first time while circumnavigating the island, virgin and unspoiled as it remained for six more years when Panfilo de Narvaez did some recon landings nearby, to finally establish a little township, near the region of Batabano, in a zone that Indian settlers called Abana. However it was not until the 16th November 1519 when San Cristobal de la Habana, emerged as a Spanish village in its current location, after the first Mass was said in the Plaza de Armas in the presence of first governor Diego Velazquez and his crowd of conquistadores.

From the beginning, the city was doomed to a prosperous tourist future, for location, history, culture and architecture got together to create one of the most stunning holiday destinations in the Caribbean. Declared officially capital of the nation in 1607, Havana became the hub for Spanish trade in the West Indies, the meeting point of fleets coming from or returning to the mother land loaded with the colonies` gold and goods. This prosperity favoured the rising of a wonderful city, a mix of colonial architecture and traditions that enchant the most demanding foreign visitor, who can go back in time by choosing from a wide selection of Havana tours.

For the history enthusiast, the old sector of town, declared World Heritage Site in 1982, can be the most exciting Cuba travel experience, to be lived by walking its Plazas, cobbled-stone streets and alleys, churches, museums and art galleries or simply riding on replicas of horse-drawn carriages used by wealthy Cubans as means of transportation. At night, the deafening sound of the cannon shot at La Cabana fortress is a must for those crossing the harbour before 9.00 pm, a colourful ceremony recalling the times when Spanish troops announced the closing of Havana’s pirate and buccaneers-proof walls.

Resuming Havana travel is to venture into the Vedado and Miramar neighbourhoods, the result of the western city`s expansion and the core of Modern Havana that also stretches eastwards and southwards. Wider avenues and parks feature this city section where American vintage cars roll along with modern vehicles. Here, every detail is reshaped from the 50s, when U.S. citizens felt at home in Havana hotels and casinos since the land was the passport to alcohol and business during the prohibition. With renewed artistic shows, Cabarets Tropicana and Parisien are living witnesses of that glamorous epoch.

Connecting both sectors, travellers will find Hemmingway`s legacy, sculpted in bronze in a corner of the famous Old Havana’s Floridita bar, in the spirits of Cojimar’s fishermen, in the tranquillity of the Vigia Farm and the sounds of anglers’ canes at a bill fishing catch in the Marina Hemmingway. Modern Havana is also about the socialist Revolution, the one symbolised by educational and health achievements, by places like the Revolution Square, the University of Havana, and the Granma Memorial.

To the east lie the sandy beaches of Bacuranao, Megano, Boca Ciega, Santa Maria and Guanabo. All of these are only 14 kilometres from the city centre. Arroyo Bermejo and Jibacoa are a little further from Havana city. These beaches are renowned for clear, calm waters and are a haven for walking, horse riding or cycling.

Havana tours are by large educational experiences providing international visitors with the opportunity of taking practical Spanish lessons, learning salsa and folk dancing or discovering the secrets of cigars’ rolling and Cuban rum’s blending.

Hosting the largest international airport in the land, all combinations of Cuba travel can be attempted from the city whether to nearby Western destinations like Varadero and Cayo Largo or more distant Central and Eastern tourist centres.

Havana hotels offer a variety of accommodation to suit every person and budget-classy hotels steeped in tradition, contemporary hotels with all the mod cons, or casas particulares.

But no trip will be complete without a taste of the Cuban cuisine and cocktails in a private Paladar, state restaurant or bar, with the feast of pork, sea food, chicken, Mojitos and Daiquiris.