24 Hours in Havana: A local’s guide

This week our 24 hour itinerary is especially unique as it’s been written by one of our friends in Havana, Daniel. We hope you enjoy!

If you only have 24 hours in Havana, one of the best places to visit is the old section of the city. Start your day in the Central Park (Parque Central), which is a beautiful spot that’s surrounded by newly refurbished buildings. This historic area has buildings such as the Capitol, which is the headquarters of the National Assembly (Cuban Congress). Another interesting building is the old Manzana de Gómez, which was the first mall ever built outside of the United States of America. In 2017 it was turned into Hotel Manzana (Hotel Apple), which is the only 5 star-plus-hotel in Cuba. Another interesting hotel to visit would be Hotel Telégrafo, opened in 1863, which was the first hotel in Cuba with telegraph service.


From there, walk straight ahead and you will find . This emblematic bar is where the American writer, Ernest Hemingway, used to have his daiquiri. On this same street you will find tens of small shops and craft markets where you can buy a souvenir for your family or friends. A short walk away is the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernest Hemingway used to live for years. His room is in the same condition as it was when he left the hotel and is open for travelers to visit.

Next up, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (the Palace of the Captain Generals). On this spot 500 years ago, the Spaniards started building a catholic church of wood and thatch. This was the third time construction began of what became Havana, the capital of Cuba. Havana had been founded at the south of the island in 1514, it later moved to the north coast 11 kilometers away from the definite place. Later it moved to the above mentioned spot, Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, which is very near to the entrance to the harbor of Havana.


In November 1519, in the shade of a Ceiba tree, the Spaniards decided to officially have the first Catholic Mass and the first Council meeting and recorded the foundation of Havana. There is a small Greco-Roman temple (El Templete) marking the exact place where Havana was founded. Inside the building there are original huge paintings of how a French painter imagined all those events happened. The ashes of the painter and his wife are also kept there.

Close to the Templete, there is an old Spanish fortress called El Castillo de la Real Fuerza (The Castle of the Royal Force), which was built in the 16th century. The soldiers there began doing their military drills in a clear area in front of the original Catholic Church. Up to that moment, that clear space had been called Main Square or Church Square. Then it began to be called (Arm Square), which is the name that has remained.


In the same area, you will be able to find other squares built by the Spaniards. One of them is La Plaza de San Francisco (San Francisco Square), which was built next to the church with the same name. Since it was very close to the harbor, merchants started keeping their merchandise there to take them into the ships docked in the harbor and vice versa. In a few years the square became very busy and noisy.

The noise became such an issue that the catholic authorities asked the Spanish Government to do something about it. In response, another square was built nearby but far enough to prevent the noise of the merchants from hampering the spiritual labor of the friars in the church. This square was the first to be built with no religious purpose at all. It was called Plaza Nueva (New Square) until other squares were built and this one began to be called Plaza Vieja (Old Square) which is the way it is known nowadays.  

From this square, you can walk to l (Cathedral Square). This area was formerly called Plaza de la Ciénaga (Marsh Square) because the soil there was very swampy. By the second half of the 18th century the church was finished and received, some years later, the status of Cathedral. The Cathedral has received the visit of three Catholic Popes, former President of the United States Barack Obama and many other national and international personalities.


This has been a tour to the mother cell from which Havana spread to become the largest city in the Caribbean!

We’d like to thank Daniel for his contributions to this week’s article and hope you have a great in Havana!