In Habana Vieja, the oldest part of Havana, the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and Palacio del Segundo Cabo are glowing in the early morning sunlight. The castle was built in 1577 to protect the city against pirates.
Havana – Been There

Havana's old center is as pretty as on TV

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Havana – Been There Havana's old center is as pretty as on TV

Countless appearances in films, adverts and photography have made Havana a star and the reality lives up to the imagery.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

Havana's ancient center, a gem of Spanish colonial architecture, is continually being restored, with much of the previous work set back by a hurricane in 2008. The baroque Catedral de San Cristóbal sits on the Plaza de la Catedral, and the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the oldest stone fortress in the Americas, is on Plaza de las Armas. Do not miss the 360-degree views of the city from the Cámara Oscura on the top floor of the Edificio Gómez Vila.

Havana’s real atmosphere, however, is in its back streets of the city, crumbling in the tropical humidity. I do not have to wander far to find truly picturesque, already-familiar sights: the 1950s Chevy up on blocks, the old woman with a cigar, the girls having their hair braided in the shade. People have plenty of time on their hands when their jobs are often meaningless, while life is lived outdoors to escape the lack of privacy and heat of the confined spaces inside.

Walking with Alvaro, a local, I am spared much of the “Hello, where you from?” patter that I hear other tourists being subjected to as they pass. It can make an average day tiresome but is a reminder that this casual air often hides a daily battle for existence. Cubans call it "la búsqueda" – the search.

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