The Island of Contrasts




The island of CUBA, 1,250 km long, 191 km at its widest point, is the largest of the Caribbean islands and only 145 km south of Florida.

The name is believed to derive from the Arawak word ‘cubanacan’, meaning central. Gifted with a moderate climate, afflicted only occasionally by hurricanes, not cursed by frosts, blessed by an ample and well distributed rainfall and excellent soils, it has traditionally been one of the largest exporters of cane sugar in the world.


Geologically at least, Cuba is part of North America; the boundary between the North American and Caribbean plates runs E-W under the Caribbean Sea to the S of the island. Along the plate margin is a deep underwater rift valley, which runs between Cuba and Jamaica. This feature is quite close to the Cuban coast to the S of the Sierra Maestra, with water plunging to 6,000m deep only a few miles offshore.


The northern coastline is gradually emerging from the sea. Old coral reefs have been brought to the surface, so that much of the northern coast consists of coral limestone cliffs and sandy beaches. By contrast the southern coastline is being gradually submerged, producing wetlands and mangroves, with fewer sandy beaches than the N of the island. Limestones of various types cover about two-thirds of the island. In most areas, there is a flat or gently rolling landscape.


There are three main mountain areas in the island. In the W, the Cordillera de Guaniguanico is divided into the Sierra del los Organos in the W, with thick deposits of limestone which have developed a distinctive landscape of steep-sided flat-topped mountains; and the Sierra del Rosario in the E, made up partly of limestones and partly of lavas and other igneous rocks.

Another mountainous area in central Cuba includes the Escambray mountains N of Trinidad, a double dome structure made up of igneous and metamorphic rocks, including marble.


The Sierra Maestra in E Cuba has Cuba’s highest mountains, rising to Pico Turquino (1,974m) a rather different geological history, with some rocks formed in an arc of volcanic activity around 50 million years ago. Older rocks include marble, and other metamorphics. Important mineral deposits are in this area; nickel is mined near Moa.



Spanish Conquest 

Cuba was visited by Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus) during his first voyage to find a westerly route to the Orient on 27 October 1492, and he made another brief stop 2 years later on his way from Hispaniola to Jamaica. Columbus did not realize it was an island when he landed; he hoped it was Japan. He arrived on the N coast of ‘Colba’, but found little gold. He did, however, note the Indians’ practice of puffing at a large, burning roll of leaves, which they called ‘tobacos’. Cuba was first circumnavigated by Sebastián de Ocampo in 1508, but it was Diego de Velázquez who conquered it in 1511 and founded several towns, called villas, including Havana.

The first African slaves were imported to Cuba in 1526. Sugar was introduced soon after.

Tobacco was made a strict monopoly of Spain in 1717. The coffee plant was introduced in 1748. The British, under Lord Albemarle and Admiral Pocock, captured Havana and held the island in 1762-63, but it was returned to Spain in exchange for Florida.



Independance Movement

Towards the end of the 18th century Cuba became a slave plantation society. By the 1860s Cuba was producing about a third of the world’s sugar and was heavily dependent on slaves to do so, supplemented by indentured Chinese labourers in the 1850s and 1860s. An estimated 600,000 African slaves were imported by 1867.


Independence from Spain became a burning issue in Cuba as Spain refused to consider political reforms which would give the colony more autonomy. The first war of independence was in the eastern part of the island between 1868 and 1878, but it gained little save a modest move towards the abolition of slavery; and complete abolition was not achieved until 1886. Many national heroes were created during this period who have become revolutionary icons in the struggle against domination by a foreign power. One consequence of the war was the ruin of many sugar planters. US interests began to take over the sugar plantations and the sugar mills, and Cuba became more dependent on the US market.


From 1895 to 1898 rebellion flared up again in the second war of independence under the young poet and revolutionary, José Martí, together with the old guard of Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómez. José Martí was tragically killed in May 1895 and Maceo in 1896. Despite fierce fighting throughout the island, neither the Nationalists nor the Spanish could gain the upper hand.

However, the USA was now concerned for its investments and its strategic interests. When the US battleship Maine exploded in Havana harbour on 15 February 1898, killing 260 crew, the USA declared war on Spain. American forces were landed, a squadron blockaded Havana and defeated the Spanish fleet at Santiago de Cuba. In December  peace was signed and US forces occupied the island for 4 years.

The Republic of Cuba was proclaimed in 1902 and the Government was handed over to its first president. However, the Platt Amendment to the constitution, passed by the US Congress, clearly made Cuba a protectorate of the USA. The USA retained naval bases and reserved the right of intervention in Cuban domestic affairs but, to quell growing unrest, repealed the Platt Amendment in 1934. The USA formally relinquished the right to intervene but retained its naval base at Guantánamo.



Around two thirds of sugar exports went to the USA under a quota system at prices set by Washington; two thirds of Cuba’s imports came from the USA; foreign capital investment was largely from the USA and Cuba was effectively a client state. Yet its people suffered from grinding rural poverty, high unemployment, illiteracy and inadequate health care. Politics was a mixture of authoritarian rule and corrupt democracy.

From 1924 to 1933 the ‘strong man’ Gerardo Machado ruled Cuba. He was elected in 1924 on a wave of popularity but a drastic fall in sugar prices in the late 1920s led to strikes; nationalist popular rebellion was harshly repressed. The USA tried to negotiate a deal but nationalists called a general strike in protest at US interference, and Machado finally went into exile. The violence did not abate, however, and there were more strikes, mob attacks and occupations of factories.

In Sept 1933 a revolt of non-commissioned officers including Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, deposed the government. He then held power through presidential puppets until he was elected president himself in 1940. Batista’s first period in power, from 1933-44, was characterized by nationalist and populist policies, set against corruption and political violence. In 1940 a new Constitution was passed by a constituent assembly dominated by Batista, which included universal suffrage and benefits for workers such as a minimum wage, pensions, social insurance and an 8-hr day. In 1944 Batista lost the elections but corruption continued. Batista, by then a self-promoted general, staged a military coup in 1952. Constitutional and democratic government was at an end. His harshly repressive dictatorship was brought to a close by Fidel Castro in Jan 1959, after an extraordinary and heroic 3-year campaign, mostly in the Sierra Maestra, with a guerrilla force reduced at one point to 12 men.



Fidel Castro, the son of immigrants from Galicia and born in Cuba in 1926 saw José Martí as his role model and aimed to follow his ideals. In 1953, the 100th anniversary of José Martí’s birth, Castro and a committed band of about 160 revolutionaries attacked the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba on 26 July. The attack failed and Castro and his brother Raúl were later captured and put on trial. Fidel used the occasion to make an impassioned speech denouncing corruption in the ruling class and the need for political freedom and economic independence. In 1955 the Castros were given an amnesty and went to Mexico. There Fidel continued to work on his essentially nationalist revolutionary programme, called the 26 July Movement, which called for radical social and economic reforms and a return to the democracy of Cuba’s 1940 constitution. He met another man of ideas, an Argentine doctor called Ernesto (Che) Guevara, who sailed with him and his brother Raúl and a band of 82 like-minded revolutionaries, back to Cuba on 2 December 1956. Their campaign began in the Sierra Maestra in the E of Cuba and after years of fierce fighting Batista fled the country on 1 January 1959. Fidel Castro, to universal popular acclaim, entered Havana and assumed control of the island.


Communism and the 1960s

From 1960 onwards, in the face of increasing hostility from the USA, Castro led Cuba into socialism and then communism. Officials of the Batista régime were put on trial in ‘people’s courts’ and executed. The promised new elections were not held. The judiciary lost its independence when Castro assumed the right to appoint judges. The free press was closed or taken over. Trade unions lost their independence and became part of government. The University of Havana, a former focus of dissent, and professional associations all lost their autonomy. The democratic constitution of 1940 was never reinstated. In 1960 the sugar centrales, the oil refineries and the foreign banks were nationalized, all US property was expropriated and the Central Planning Board (Juceplan) was established. The professional and property-owning middle classes began a steady exodus which drained the country of much of its skilled workers. CIA-backed mercenaries and Cuban exiles kept up a relentless barrage of attacks, but failed to achieve their objective.

1961 was the year of the Bay of Pigs invasion, a fiasco which was to harden Castro’s political persuasion. Some 1,400 Cuban emigrés, trained by the CIA landed in the Bahía de Cochinos  (Bay of Pigs), but the men were stranded on the beaches when the Cuban air force attacked their supply ships. 200 were killed and the rest surrendered within 3 days. In his May Day speech, Fidel Castro confirmed that the Cuban Revolution was socialist. The US reaction was to isolate Cuba, with a full trade embargo and heavy pressure on other American countries to severe diplomatic relations. Cuba was expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the OAS imposed economic sanctions. In 1961-62, the trade embargo hit hard, shortages soon appeared and by Mar 1962 rationing had to be imposed.

In April 1962, President Kruschev of the USSR decided to send medium-range missiles to Cuba, which would be capable of striking anywhere in the USA. This episode, which became known as the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, defused only by secret negotiations between John F Kennedy and Kruschev. Without consulting Castro and without his knowledge, Kruschev eventually agreed to have the missiles dismantled and withdrawn on condition that the W would guarantee a policy of non-aggression towards Cuba.

Economic policy during the 1960s was largely unsuccessful in achieving its aims. The government wanted to industrialize rapidly to reduce dependence on sugar. However, the crash programme, with help from the USSR, was a failure and had to be abandoned. The whole nation was called upon to achieve a target of 10 million tons of sugar by 1970 and everyone spent time in the fields helping towards this goal. It was never reached and never has been. Rationing is still fierce, and there are still shortages of consumer goods. However, the Revolution’s social policies have largely been successful and it is principally these achievements which have ensured the people’s support of Castro and kept him in power. Education, housing and health services have been greatly improved and the social inequalities of the 1940s and 1950s have been wiped out.


1970s Soviet Domination

During the second decade of the Revolution, Cuba became firmly entrenched as a member of  the Soviet bloc, joining COMECON in 1972. The Revolution was institutionalized along Soviet lines and the Party gained control of the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the local and national assemblies. A new socialist constitution was adopted in 1976.

Cuba’s foreign policy changed from actively fomenting socialist revolutions abroad (such as Guevara’s forays into the Congo and Bolivia in the 1960s) to supporting other left wing or third world countries with combat troops and technical advisers. Some 20,000 Cubans helped the Angolan Marxist government to defeat a South African backed guerrilla insurgency and 15,000 went to Ethiopia in the war against Somalia and then the separatist rebellion in Eritrea. Cuban advisers and medical workers went to Nicaragua after the Sandinista overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979; advisers and workers went to help the left wing Manley government in Jamaica and to the Marxist government in Grenada (until expelled by the US Marines in 1983).

In Sept 1979, Castro hosted a summit conference of the non-aligned nations in Havana, a high point in his foreign policy initiatives.


1980s Dissatisfaction

By the 1980s, the heavy dependence on sugar and the USSR, coupled with the trade embargo, meant that the expected improvements in living standards were not being delivered as fast as hoped and the people were tiring of being asked for ever more sacrifices. In 1980, the Peruvian embassy was overrun by 11,000 people seeking political asylum. Castro let them go and he opened the port of Mariel for a mass departure by sea. He also allowed prisoners to head for the USA in anything they could find which would float. It was estimated that some 125,000 embarked for Miami.

This was the decade of the Latin American debt crisis, and Cuba was unable to escape. Development projects in the 1970s had been financed with loans from western banks, in addition to the aid from the USSR. When interest rates went up in 1982, Cuba was forced to renegotiate its US$3.5bn debt to commercial banks, and in 1986 its debt to the USSR. The need to control public finances brought more austerity.

Before the collapse of the Soviet system, aid to Cuba from the USSR was traditionally estimated at about 25% of GNP. Cuba’s debt with the USSR was a secret; estimates ranged from US$8.5bn to US$34bn. Apart from military aid, economic assistance took two forms: balance of payments support (about 85%), under which sugar and nickel exports were priced in excess of world levels, and assistance for development projects. About 13 million tons of oil were supplied a year by the USSR, allowing 3 million to be re-exported, providing a valuable source of foreign earnings. By the late 1980s up to 90% of Cuba’s foreign trade was with centrally planned economies.

The collapse of the Communist system in Eastern Europe, followed by the demise of the USSR, very nearly brought the end of Castro’s Cuba as well. There were signs that a power struggle was taking place at the top of the Communist Party. In 1989, Gen Arnaldo Ochoa, a hero of the Angolan campaign, was charged with drug trafficking and corruption. He was publicly tried and executed along with several other military officers allegedly involved.


1990s Crisis and Change

In an effort to broaden the people’s power system of government introduced in 1976, the central committee of the Cuban Communist Party adopted resolutions in 1990 designed to strengthen the municipal and provincial assemblies and transform the National Assembly into a genuine parliament. In Feb 1993, the first direct, secret elections for the National Assembly and for provincial assemblies were held. All 589 official candidates were elected. Oct 1997 saw the first stage of the third elections for delegates to the municipal assemblies of People’s Power  (these serve a 2-year term). The electoral process concludes with general elections in 1998,when provincial delegates and national deputies are elected for a 5-year term.

Economic difficulties in the 1990s brought on by the loss of markets in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, together with higher oil prices because of the Gulf crisis, forced the slag Government to impose emergency measures and declare a special period in peace time.

Rationing was increased, petrol became scarce, the bureaucracy was slashed. As economic hardship continued into 1993, Cuba was hit by a storm which caused an estimated US$1bn in damage. In mid-1994, economic discontent boiled up and Cubans began to flee for Florida in a mass exodus similar to that of Mariel in 1980. It was estimated that between mid-Aug and mid-Sept 30,000 Cubans had left the country. Eventually the crisis forced President Clinton into an agreement whereby the USA was committed to accepting at least 20,000 Cubans a year, plus the next of kin of US citizens, while Cuba agreed to prevent further departures.

As the economic crisis persisted, the government adopted measures which opened up many sectors to private enterprise and recognized the dependence of much of the economy on dollars. The partial reforms did not eradicate the imbalances between the peso and the dollar economies, and shortages remained for those without access to hard currency. Cuba intensified its economic liberalization program allowing farmers to sell at uncontrolled prices once their commitments to the state procurement system were fulfilled. Importantly, the reforms also allowed middlemen to operate. Markets in manufactured goods and handicrafts also opened and efforts were made to increase the number of self-employed.


US Pressure in the 1990s

Before the Revolution of 1959 the USA had investments in Cuba worth about US$1,000mn, covering nearly every activity from agriculture and mining to oil installations. Today all American businesses, have been nationalized; the USA has cut off all imports from Cuba, placed an embargo on exports to Cuba, and broken off diplomatic relations. Prior to the 1992 US presidential elections, President Bush approved the Cuban Democracy Act (Torricelli Bill) which forbade US subsidiaries from trading with Cuba. Many countries, including EC members and Canada, said they would not allow the US bill to affect their trade with Cuba and the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end to the embargo. The defeat of George Bush by Bill Clinton did not, however, signal a change in US attitudes, in large part because of the support given to the Democrat’s campaign by Cuban exiles in Miami.

In 1996, US election year, Cuba faced another crackdown by the US administration. In Feb, Cuba shot down 2 light aircraft piloted by Miami exiles allegedly over Cuban air space and implicitly confirmed by the findings of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) report in June. The attack provoked President Clinton to tighten and internationalize the US embargo on Cuba and on 12 Mar he signed into law the (Helms-Burton) Cuban Freedom and Democratic Solidarity Act. The new legislation allows legal action against any company or individual benefiting from properties expropriated by the Cuban government after the Revolution. It brought universal condemnation: Canada and Mexico (Nafta partners), the EU, Russia, China, the Caribbean Community and the Río Group of Latin American countries all protested that it was unacceptable to extend sanctions outside the USA to foreign companies and their employees who do business with Cuba.


Recent Events

The Cuban Communist Party held its 5th Congress in Oct 1997, timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara in Bolivia, whose remains were returned to Cuba in July. Immediately afterwards, Cuba began a week of official mourning for Che and his comrades in arms, where vast numbers filed past their remains in Havana and Santa Clara, where they were laid to rest on 17 October.

In Jan 1998 the Pope visited Cuba for the first time. During his 4-day visit he held open air masses around the country. The Pope preached against Cuba’s record on human rights and abortion while also condemning the US trade embargo preventing food and medicines reaching the needy. The visit was a public relations success for both Castro and the Pope. Shortly afterwards, 200 prisoners were pardoned and released and more were expected.



 (Pop 2,204,300) Havana, founded in 1519, is situated at the mouth of a deep bay; this natural harbour was the assembly point for ships of the annual silver convoy to Spain. Its strategic and commercial importance is reflected in the extensive fortifications, particularly on the E side of the entrance to the bay (see below). Of all the capital cities in the Caribbean, Havana has the reputation of being the most splendid and sumptuous. Before the Revolution its casinos and nightlife attracted the mega stars of the day in much the same way as Beirut and Shanghai and remarkably little has changed architecturally since then. There have been no tacky modernizations, partly because of lack of finance and materials. Low level street lighting,  relatively few cars (and many of those antiques), no (real) estate agents or Mc. Donnalds, no neon, no advertising (except for political slogans), all give the city plenty of scope for nostalgia. It is probably the finest example of a Spanish colonial city in the Americas. Many of its palaces were converted into museums after the Revolution and more work has been done since the old city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, with millions of dollars of foreign aid and investment. Away from the old city, there is also some stunning modern architecture from the first half of the 20th century.


Orientation – Havana

The centre is divided into five sections, three of which are of most interest to visitors, Habana Vieja (Old Havana), Central Havana and Vedado. The oldest part of the city, around the Plaza de Armas, is quite near the docks. Here are the former Palace of the Captains-General, the temple of El Templete, and Castillo de La Real Fuerza, the oldest of all the forts. From Plaza de Armas run two narrow and picturesque streets, Calles Obispo and O’Reilly (several old-fashioned pharmacies on Obispo, traditional glass and ceramic medicine jars and decorative perfume bottles on display in shops gleaming with polished wood and mirrors). These two streets go W to the heart of the city: Parque Central, with its laurels,  poincianas, almonds, palms, shrubs and gorgeous flowers. To the SW rises the golden dome of the Capitol. From the NW corner of Parque Central a wide, tree-shaded avenue, the Paseo del Prado, runs to the fortress of La Punta; at its N sea-side end is the Malecón, a splendid highway along the coast to the W residential district of Vedado. The sea crashing along the seawall here is a spectacular sight when the wind blows from the N. On calmer days, fishermen lean over the parapet, lovers sit in the shade of the small pillars, and joggers sweat along the pavement. On the other side of the six-lane road, buildings which from a distance look stout and grand, with arcaded pavements, balconies, mouldings and large entrances, are salt-eroded,  and sadly decrepit inside. Restoration is progressing slowly, but the sea is destroying old and new alike and creating a mammoth renovation task.

Further W, Calle San Lázaro leads directly from the monument to General Antonio Maceo on the Malecón to the magnificent central stairway of Havana University. A monument to Julio Antonio Mella, founder of the Cuban Communist Party, stands across from the stairway.

Further out, past El Príncipe castle, is Plaza de la Revolución, with the impressive monument to José Martí at its centre. US$3, or US$5 including lookout tower, great views,  very interesting, Spanish text only. The large buildings surrounding the square were mostly built in the 1950s and house the principal government ministries. The long grey building behind the monument is the former Justice Ministry (1958), now the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, where Fidel Castro has his office. The Plaza is the scene of massive parades (eg May Day) and speeches marking important events. It was completely transformed for an open air mass held by the Pope in Jan 1998 with massive religious paintings over the surrounding buildings.

From near the fortress of La Punta a tunnel runs E under the mouth of the harbour; it emerges in the rocky ground between the Castillo del Morro and the fort of La Cabaña, some 550m away, and a 5 km highway connects with the Havana-Matanzas road.


Old Havana (La Habana Vieja)




Castles and Fortresses

Castillo del Morro - Cabaña Historical Military Park

Whoever is master of this hill will be master of Havana was the assessment made of the location of the Morro - La Cabaña fortress complex more than 400 years ago by Antonelli, the engineer who designed the defense system of Colonial Havana.

The English, following Antonelli's appraisal to the letter, took Morro Castle by storm in 1762 and proceeded to occupy Havana, and when the Spanish regained possession of the city they ensured that would never happen again by building the most powerful fortress in the Americas: San Carlos and San Severino de la Cabaiia, whose construction was concluded toward the end of the 1700s.

This fortress, together with Morro Castle (Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro), make up the Morro - Cabaña Historical Military Park, the most extensive museum in the country.

Morro Castle is, in itself, a museum piece that reveals the solutions of renaissance architecture applied to military strategy.

Inside the castle, there are two theme rooms on the history of navigation in Havana Harbor, which contain objects salvaged from a ship that went down at the harbor entrance in the 18th century.

There are also temporary exhibits on various themes.

Nightly Gun Shot (Cannon Ceremony) $5 USD - Yep “ONE” shot!


Fortaleza San Carlos and San Severino de La Cabaña

Fortaleza de la Cabaña  Built 1763-1774. Fronting the harbour is a high wall; the ditch on the landward side, 12m deep, has a drawbridge to the main entrance. Inside are Los Fosos de los Laureles where political prisoners were shot during the Cuban fight for independence. Every night the cannons are fired in an historical ceremony recalling the closing of the city walls in the 17th century to protect it from pirates; this starts at 2045 so that the walls are closed at 2100.

Open to visitors 0830-2200, US$3. There are two museums here, one about Che Guevara and another about fortresses with pictures and models, some old weapons and a replica of a large catapult and battering ram. Access as for Castillo del Morro or via Casablanca.

The fortress of San Carlos and San Severino de La Cabaña holds the most important collection of antique weapons in the country: a full-scale medieval catapult and battering ram; double-curved swords of Southeast Asia; the Indian Katar, a fearsone three- bladed dagger; the venerable katanas of the samurai; ornate Arabian rifles; and an entire battery of cannon cast in Seville In the 18th century.  When Havana was a walled cfty, every night at 9:00 p.m. La Cabaña fortress would fire one of fts cannon to announce the closing of the doors, a tradition preserved by the people of Havana to this very day.   The impressive view from Morro Castle or La Cabaña takes in the entire harbor and the skyline of the city.



World history through the development of weapons.


Military architecture.

History of Cuba.

History of navigation in Cuba.

Diverse temporary exhibits.


Castillo de la Punta

Castillo de la Punta  Built at the end of the 16th century, a squat building with 2m thick walls, open daily. Entrance (free) through gap in makeshift fencing, custodian with dogs shows you around. Opposite the fortress, across the Malecón, is the monument to Máximo Gómez, the independence leader.


Castillo de la Real Fuerza

Castillo de la Real Fuerza  Cuba’s oldest building and the second oldest fort in the New World. First built in 1558 after the city had been sacked by buccaneers and rebuilt in 1582. It is a low, long building with a picturesque tower from which there is a grand view. Inside the castle is a museum with armour and ceramics, open daily, 0830-1830, US$1. Art exhibitions downstairs. Small shop and cafetería upstairs.

This museum is located in the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the oldest colonial fortress in the Americas (1577) built, according to the military engineering practice of the times, with massive bulwarks, studded with cannon, bombards and culverins (many of them still in place) and a moat to protect it from the enemy.

The fortress was the official residence of the Captains General until 1791. Atop the "Tribute Tower," former belfry and look-out point, we find a world-famous statue that is the symbol of Havana, La Giraldilla, a graceful female figure representing Doña Isabel de Bobadilla the first woman governor of Cuba.

The figure was cast in bronze and served as a wind vane for ships entering the harbor.

After a long history as a fortress, Governor's residence, library and archive, in 1977, on its 400th anniversary, it was declared a National Monument and now houses a specialized Cuban ceramics collection.



Works by Amelia Pelaez, Wilfredo Lam, Rene Portocarrero, Rodriguez de Cruz, and many representatives of the present generation of Cuban ceramics artists.


Address: Calle Tacon e/ Obispo y O'Reilly,

La Habana Vieja.


Open: Tuesday to Saturday: 11:30 to 17:30.

Sundays: 09:00 to 12:00.

Closed Mondays.


There are two other old forts in Havana: Atarés, finished in 1763, on a hill overlooking the SW end of the harbour; and El Príncipe, on a hill at the far end of Av Independencia (Av Rancho Boyeros), built 1774-1794, now the city gaol. Finest view in Havana from this hill.



Plazas, Cathedrals, Palaces & Convents (Habana Vieja)

Plaza de la Catedral

The Cathedral  Construction of a church on this site was begun by Jesuit missionaries at the beginning of the 18th century. After the Jesuits were expelled in 1767 the church was later converted into a cathedral. On either side of the Spanish colonial baroque façade are belltowers, the left one (W) being half as wide as the right (E). There is a grand view from the latter. The church is officially dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, but is better known as the church of Havana’s patron saint, San Cristóbal, and as the Columbus cathedral. The bones of Christopher Columbus were sent to this cathedral when Santo Domingo was ceded by Spain to France in 1795; they now lie in Santo Domingo. The bones were in fact those of another Columbus. Open Mon-Tues, Thur-Sat 0930-1230, Sun 0830-1230, Mass at 1030. Several days a week there is a handicraft market on the square in front of the Cathedral, and in adjacent streets.


Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas  This has been restored to very much what it once was. The statue in the centre is of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. In the NE corner of the square is the renovated church of El Templete; a column in front of it marks the spot where the first mass was said in 1519 under a ceiba tree. A sapling of the same tree, blown down by hurricane in 1753, was planted on the same spot, and under its branches the supposed bones of Columbus reposed in state before being taken to the cathedral. This tree was cut down in 1828, the present tree planted, and the Doric temple opened. There are paintings by Vermay, a pupil of David, inside.

On the N side of the Plaza is the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, the former private residence of the Captains General, now housing the Feria Cubana del Libro. Its patio is worth a look.


Palacio de los Capitanes Generales

On the W side of Plaza de Armas is the former Palace of the Captains General, built in 1780, a charming example of colonial architecture. The Spanish Governors and the Presidents lived here until 1917, when it became the City Hall. It is now the Historical Museum of the city of Havana (open Mon-Sat 0930-1830, camera fee US$3) and houses a large collection of 19th century furnishings, portraits of patriots, flags, military memorabilia and a grandly laid out dining room. The building was the site of the signing of the 1899 treaty between Spain and the USA. The arcaded and balconied patio is well worth a visit.

The courtyard contains royal palms, the Cuban national tree. An extension to the museum is the Casa de la Plata, a silverware collection on Obispo entre Mercaderes y Oficios, fine pieces, jewellery and old frescoes on upper floor, free with ticket to Museo de la Ciudad. The former Supreme Court on the N side of the Plaza is another colonial building, with a large patio.

The Museum of the City was installed in the Palace of the Captains General, the stately baroque residence of the colonial Governors of Cuba formore than 100 years and the most impressive building on the Plaza de Armas (the former Parade Grounds).

This palace, built in 1791, was the seat of colonial power until 1898, when the Republic was created.

Between 1902 and 1920, it was the official residence of the Presidents of the Republic, and from 1920 to 1950, the headquarters of the City Government of Havana.

The museum's collections provide a panoramic view of the history of the city from the founding to the present. Its most important rooms are devoted to the Cuban wars for national independence.

The "Hall of Flags" contains the original Cuban flag and the one flown by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes when he began the first war for independence in 1868, as well as a number of flags used by the Spanish colonial government in Cuba.

The art collection contains objects, paintings, porcelains, silver, bronzes and furniture of great historical value and beauty.




History of Cuba.






Address:Calle Tacon e/ Obispo y O'Reilly,

Habana Vieja.


Open:Tuesday to Saturday: 11:30 to 17:00.

Sundays: 09:00 to 12:00.

Closed Mondays.


The Church and Convent of San Francisco

Built in 1608 and reconstructed 1730, this is a massive, sombre edifice suggesting defence rather than worship. The three-storey tower was both a landmark for returning voyagers and a look-out for pirates. The church is now a concert hall and the convent is a museum containing religious pieces. Restoration work still going on.

Open daily 0930-1800, US$2, bell tower with stunning views of the city and port an extra US$1.

Most of the treasures were removed by the government and some are in museums.


 The Convento de Santa Clara

Founded in 1644 by nuns from Cartagena in Colombia, it was in use as a convent until 1919, when the nuns sold the building. In a shady business deal it was later acquired by the government and after radical alterations it became offices for the Ministry of Public Works until the decision was made to restore the building to its former glory.

Work began in 1982 and is still continuing. The Convent occupies four small blocks in Old Havana, bounded by Calles Habana, Sol, Cuba and Luz, and originally there were three cloisters and an orchard. You can see the cloisters, the nuns’ cemetery and their cells. The first cloister has been carefully preserved; the ground floor is a grand porticoed stone gallery surrounding a large patio packed with vegetation, in it are the city’s first slaughter house, first public fountain and public baths. The Sailor’s House in the second cloister, reputedly built by a sailor for his love-lorn daughter is now a Residencia Académica for student groups (and independent travelers if room). Open Mon-Fri 0900-1500, US$2 for guided tour in Spanish or French, entrance on Cuba


La Plaza Vieja

An 18th century plaza, undergoing restoration since Feb 1996 as part of a joint project by UNESCO and Habaguanex, a state company responsible for the restoration and revival of old Havana. The former house of the Spanish Captain General, Conde de Ricla, who retook Havana from the English and restored power to Spain in 1763 can be seen on the corner of San Ignacio and Muralla. As restoration continues, 18th century murals are being uncovered on the external walls of the buildings, many of which boast elegant balconies overlooking the plaza. Art exhibitions in the colonial house on the corner of San Ignacio and Brasil. The newly-restored Cuban Stock Exchange building, La Lonja, Oficios and Plaza San Francisco, is worth a look, as is the new cruise ship terminal opposite.


Iglesia de La Merced

Construction of this church began 1755, and was still incomplete 1792, when work stopped. Building was completed late in the 19th century. It has an unremarkable exterior and a redecorated lavish interior.


Centro Habana

El Capitolio

Opened May 1929, constructed in a local Capellania limestone , The Capitol  is a copy, on a smaller scale, of the US Capitol in Washington. At the centre of its floor is set a 24-carat diamond, zero for all distance measurements in Cuba. The interior has large halls and stately staircases, all most sumptuously decorated.

It served as Cuba’s Chamber of Representatives and Senate.

The loft cupola rises 62 meters and it is topped by a replica of Florentine sculptor Giambologna’s famous bronze Mercury in the Palazzo de Bargello.

A massive stairway, flanked by neoclassical figures in bronze representing Labor and Virtue - lead steeply to three tall bronze doors sculpted with 30 bas-reliefs depicting important events of Cuban  history.

The stunning Salon de los Pasos Perdidos is made entirely of Marble, with bronze bas reliefs all around and massive lamps on tall carved copper stands.

Facing the entrance door is the third largest indoor statue in the world, a Cuban maiden resembling Liberty and representing the Cuban Republic.

Entrance to the left of the stairway, US$1 to go in the halls, US$3 for a tour.


Parque Central

Very pleasant park, shaded by royal palms (Cubas National Tree), poincianas and almond trees with monument to José Martí in the centre. Very lively at all times with locals, who gather at one of the corners to discuss baseball and politics.


Partagas Cigar Factory

Located on Calle Industria behind the Capitolio, gives tours twice daily, in theory, at 1000 and 1330, US$5. The tour lasts for about an hour and is very interesting. You are taken through the factory and shown the whole production process from storage and sorting of leaves, to packaging and labelling (explanation in Spanish only). Four different brand names are made here; Partagas, Cubana, Ramón Allones and Bolívar. These and other famous cigars can be bought at their shop here, open 0900-1700, and rum, at good prices. Cigars are also made at many tourist locations (eg Palacio de la Artesanía, the airport, some hotels).


Gran Teatro de la Habana

The Teatro Garcia Lorca was built in 1847 as a social club for the large Galician community with an exorbitantly baroque façade. It has four towers, each tipped by an angel of white marble reaching gracefully for heaven. They can be best appreciated and photographed from the rooftop of the neighbor Inglaterra Hotel. With its red velvet seats, it still functions as a theatre for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and Opera. The marble staircase to the main hall is magnificent and the mahogany woodwork at the cafeteria is remarkable.


Presidential Palace (1922)

A huge, ornate building topped by a dome, facing Av de las Misiones; now contains the Museo de la Revolución (T 62-4091). Open Tues-Sun 1000-1700, entrance US$3, cameras allowed, US$3 extra. (Allow several hours to see it all, explanations are all in Spanish.) The history of Cuban political development is charted, from the slave uprisings to joint space missions with the ex-Soviet Union. The liveliest section displays the final battles against Batista’s troops, with excellent photographs and some bizarre personal mementoes from the Sierra Maestra campaign. At the top of the main staircase are a stuffed mule and a stuffed horse used by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. The yacht Granma, from which Dr Castro disembarked with his companions in 1956 to launch the Revolution, has been installed in the park facing the S entrance, surrounded by planes, tanks and other vehicles involved, as well as a Soviet-built tank used against the Bay of Pigs invasion and a fragment from a US spy plane shot down in the 1970s.


Museum of the Revolution and Granma Memorial

The luxurious mansion that was the residence of the Presidents of the Republic between 1920 and 1960 now holds the Museum of the Revolution, devoted to the national rebellion of the Cuban people.

Its halls contain a detailed panorama of the country's struggles for national sovereignty in a historical discourse supported by abundant testimonial material made up of photographs, original documents, mock- ups, weapons, personal belongings of revolutionary fighters, recordings, videos and films.

Adjacent to the Museum is the "Granma Memorial," the immense glass case holding the yacht used by Fidel Castro and over 80 revolutionary fighters to return to Cuba from their exile in Mexico.

The landing took place on December 2, 1957, at a point on the southern coast of Oriente Province, and that was the.beginning of the Liberation War in the Sierra Maestra Mountains.



History of Cuba.




Address: Refugio No 1 e/ Monserrate y Zulueta,

La Habana Vieja.

Open: Tuesday to Saturday: 13:00 to 18:00.

Sundays: 10:00 to 13:00.

Closed Mondays.



The Museum tour: 1-day passes  For US$9 you can buy a 1-day ticket at the Museo de la Ciudad allowing you entrance to this museum and its Casa de la Plata and the following:


Casa de los Arabes (with restaurant, Al Medina) opposite, on Oficios between Obispo and Obrapía, a lovely building with vines trained over the courtyard for shade (open daily 0930-1830, US$1); Casa de Africa, on Obrapía 157 between San Ignacio and Mercaderes  (Mon-Sat 1030-1730, Sun 0930-1230, US$2), small gallery of carved wooden artefacts and handmade costumes; Vintage Car Museum, Oficios y Jústiz (just off Plaza de Armas, open daily 0900-1900, US$1); there are a great many museum pieces, pre-revolutionary US models, still on the road especially outside Havana, in among the Ladas, VWs and Nissans; Casa de Guayasimín, Obrapía entre Mercaderes y Oficios, exhibition of works donated to Cuba by Ecuadorean artist Oswaldo Guayasimín (paintings, sculpture and silkscreens) and occasionally

other exhibitions, the upstairs part is being converted into studios so that he can work here, Guayasimín painted a famous portrait of Fidel Castro for his 70th birthday with his hands raised; Casa de México, opposite the above, also called La Casa de Benito Juárez, Obrapía entre Mercaderes y Oficios, a museum of Mexico in a pink building marked with the Mexican flag (open Tues-Sat 1030-1730, Sun 0930-1230, US$1); Casa de Simón Bolívar, Mercaderes entre Obrapía y Lamparilla, contains exhibits about the life of the South American liberator  (open Tues-Sat 1030-1730, Sun 0930-1230, US$1); Casa de Asia, Mercaderes entre Obrapía y Obispo, converted from a solar, a multi-family dwelling with a central courtyard, into an exhibition space of art, furniture and other artefacts donated from the Asian subcontinent, bonsai plants are being cultivated in the central courtyard, for sale in a shop next door, the

funds will be used to set up the museum display.


Museum of Decorative Arts

Installed in the sumptuous former mansion of the Countess of Revilia de Camargo, this museum exhibits a grand collection of valuable pieces and works of art.

The most varied samples of the applied arts are shown in the permanent and temporary exhibits: the fine cabinet work and joinery of French and English furniture in the styles prevalent in the 18th century; original collections of Meissen, Sevres, Wedgewood and Faillance china; collections of Oriental porcelains; and Bacarat, Venetian and Catalonian crystal.

A rug woven by hand in 1772 by Franchis Carolus Romanus is one of the museum's most treasured pieces.

There is also and important collection of Chinese screens, including an outstandin(j 17th-century Coromandel.

The luxuriously an majestically decorated "halls" comprise the Main Hall, done in the rococo with gilt and goldleaf wall decorations and the Neoclassical Haii (the Countess's bedroom) with a secretaire that once belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette.



China and Porcelains.


Paintings and Sculptures.

Applied Arts.


Address: Calle 17 No.502 e/ D y E,



Open: Tuesday to Saturday: 1 1:00 to 18:30.

Sundays: 09:00 to 13:00

Closed Mondays




Miramar is some 16 km W of the capital, and easily reached by bus. To get a good idea of the layout of the city and its suburbs visit the Maqueta de la Ciudad (scale model of Havana) on Calle 28 113 entre 1 y 3, open Tues-Sat 1000-1800, US$3. Opened in 1995, this is fast becoming a great attraction. The model covers Havana and its suburbs as far out as Cojímar and the airport. Colonial buildings are in red, post-colonial pre-Revolution buildings in yellow and post-Revolution buildings in white. Some of the model is difficult to see, especially in the middle, but there is an upper viewing gallery with two telescopes. Good fun, every building is represented, recommended for the end of your stay in Havana so that you can pick out the places you visited.



East Havana Beaches (Playas del Este)

Located 18 km from the capital, the East Havana beaches have a long strip of white sand along a good area of Havana´s northern coast.

Easily reached by way of the Via Blanca highway, it´s just a few minutes to the beaches at Bacuranao, Megano, Santa Maria del Mar, Boca Ciega, Guanabo, Jibacoa and Tropico. Confortable hotels such as the Tropicoco, Itabo and Villa Atlantico make for a pleasant stay.



Home of Gregorio Fuentes (Calle Pesuela #209) model for the fisherman in Hemingway’s novel “The Old Man And The Sea”.  Quaint fishing village with a bust of Hemingway.  Also see Jimmy Buffett’s novel

“Tales Of Margaritaville” pages 197 - 206.  A very pleasurable visit, in late 1999,  with a very active and lively  Gregorio who just happens to be 102 years old and still loves the ladies!



Pinar del Rio

Cuba s westernmost province is famous for its vast tobacco plantations, where the leaves used in making Havana Cigars are cultivated, Vinales Valley and Soroa, along with their surrounding mountains, are exuberant in their display of flora.



This is the home of the huge earthenware jugs used for collecting rainwater. The cattle-raising province is one of Cuba´s most prosperous.

The city of Camaguey is 750 kilometers from Havana, located in the middle of an extensive plain. The charming Santa Lucia beach is north of it. The city has an international airport.

There are new resorts in Cayo Coco, beside Cayo Guillermo. There are international airports in the city of Ciego de Avila and also in Cayo Coco.




Set among the mountains and close to the sea, this city is something of a living museum. Its architecture has remained virtually untouched over the years. Cobblestone streets, balconies, churches and stately mansions display the baroque and neoclassical styles of the colonial period.

There are many caves with the remains of old Indian settlements, and near the city is Ancon Beach, covered with 10 kilometers of white sand and clear waters, as well as keys and sea beds rich in corals and other species of Cuba fauna.

Founded in 1514 by Don Diego Velazquez, Trinidad today is a World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Valle de los Ingenios, where the ruins of old sugar refineries are preserved a true national jewel



It is located 336 kilometers from Havana and next to the countries third largest bay lies the city of Cienfuegos, which is currently enjoying significant economic growth. It features a number of tourist attractions, such as the Jagua Castle, a colonial era military installations, the Rancho Luna beach, the Botanical Gardens and the Valle Palace. It is near the Escambray mountains, a setting of great natural beauty and historical importance.


Cienaga de Zapata & Playa Larga (Bay of Pigs)

The Zapata Peninsula is on the southern coast of Matanzas, and extraordinary natural park perfect for bird watching. A major tourist attractions there is Guama, a settlement built on a lake similar to those of the Taino Indians in the pre-Columbian period.

At Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), site of historic events, the Playa Larga and Giron tourist villas are going up, each with pool and natural beach.


Cayo Largo

South of Havana, set right in the Caribbean Sea, is the most attractive key of the Canarreos archipelago. Its entire southern coast is skirted by 25 kilometers of fine white sand beaches.

Cayo Largo is an oasis protected from environmental pollution.  Its coral beds are among the most beautiful in the Caribbean.

Cayo Largo is a free port where travelers can arrive directly by air or sea without visa or passport requirements.


Santiago de Cuba

Founded in 1514 and located 967 kilometers from Havana, Santiago is the countries Second largest city. It lies next to the Caribbean Sea and is flanked by the Sierra Maestra mountains, scene of the guerrilla war against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship.

Santiago de Cuba is famous for its carnivals, mountains and architectural treasures.

The Metropolitan Cathedral, the Municipal Palace, the Bacardi Museum and the Don Diego Velazquez House, are the oldest in the country.

Other points of interest for visitors include the San Pedro del Mar Cabaret, yacht excursions along the coast, the climb up to the Gran Piedra, El Cobre Basilica and the historical museums at the historical museum at the Moncada garrison and Siboney Farm.



At 132 kilometers from Havana, this is one the countries leading tourist resort. Its beach forms a long narrow strip of 23 kilometers of fine white sand lapped by clear warn waters. It is a complete tourist complex with a number of recreation options.

There are more than 3,000 rooms at Varadero. The best known hotels and villas are the International, Melia Varadero, Sol Palmeras, Bella Costa, Melia Las Americas, Bella Mar, Las Palmas, Paradiso, Kawama, Siboney; Solimar, Tortuga, Arenas Blancas and Punta Blanca.

The rapid development of tourism in Cuba is giving rise to a steady increase in hotel capacity.

On offer at Varadero are outings on yachts and motorboats, fishing, skin diving and practically all water sports. Nights are equally enjoyable at the cabarets, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment spots.

Varadero is linked to Havana by the Via Blanca highway, along the north coast, and to locations abroad by its airport and dock.

There is telephone direct communications with all countries of the world, 24 hours a day, and good rental car services.



Useful Information

 Currency and Forms of Payment

The peso is the national currency. Bills are in denominations of one, three, five, 10 and 20 pesos.

Cuba accepts the following convertible currencies: the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish corona, Austrian shilling, US and Canadian dollar, Portuguese escudo, Dutch florin, Belgian, French and Swiss franc, UK´s pound sterling, Italian lira, German and Finnish mark, Spanish peseta, Mexican peso and Japanese yen.


All  cash payments may be made in US dollars.

The VISA and MASTER CARD credit cards systems to get cash are located at the Habana Libre, Nacional and Habana Riviera hotels. You may also exchange your traveler’s cheques at these locations. There is a 3% commission fee.


In Cuba there are two kind of Cuban Pesos: the domestic peso U$22=US$1) and the International Cuban Peso (CU$1=US$1). These are equivalent to the Cuban peso which has parity with the dollar. Its use is recommended as is facilitates purchases and services, but you can pay for all services with U.S. Dollars.

*Note that credit cards or traveler’s cheques issued by a US bank are not accepted.

Thomas Cook cheques are accepted. If you live in The US, to find out the location of the nearest Thomas Cook office, dial 1 800 287 7362 and enter your zip code. There is a 1% fee.



Cuban food is highly seasoned, but does not use hot spices. Traditional dishes are generally based on rice and beans, pork, and fried or boiled root vegetables flavored with onion and garlic. Meals are usually accompanied by beer. Seafood is of  excellent quality and taste.   Best food seems to be found in casa particulars.



Rum is the drink of Cuba. There are extra dry and aged rums of magnificent bouquet.

The white rum mixes with practically everything and is ideal for cocktail. Traditional drinks of Cuba are the Cuba Libre, Mojito, Mulata and Daiquiri.

There are various brands of beers of different types and quality, as well as carbonated beverages and soft drinks.


Beer - Several German style beers are produced, usually served very cold. Some brands are Hatuey, full flavored lager are *Cristal, Mayabe and Bucanero Negra.  *Cristal is 4.9% and Bucanero is 5.4% alcohol so be careful or it will sneak up on you.


Coffee served thick and strong like expresso, Cafecito  is usually served black in tiny cups  and is heavily sweetened.  Café con leche (coffee with milk) is served everywhere!


Cuban Cigars

The unrivaled reputation of Cuban cigars as the best in the world transcends politics.  No only are they are a source of hard currency but also of national pride.  Now about 35 brands and 500 varieties still exist and approximately 20% are machine made.   There are several good books on cigars and a list and guide can be found in Christopher Baker's "Cuba Handbook".    A good source for information  on spotting fake Cuban cigars is  found at:   A box of Trinidad’s list for $695 USD so not cheap.  Many brands can be obtained for reasonable prices, just be careful of fakes.


Medical Services

Cuba’s quality public health system extends across the entire country, and is free for Cuban. In emergency cases tourists are also given medical care free of charge.

There are usually doctors at the hotels and are free to hotel guests.



110 volts and 60 hz. The outlets are for flat prongs.

Only the Parque Central hotel has 220 volts, so watch your hair dryer!



Nothing is taxed anywhere in Cuba.



Absolutely voluntary. 10-15% recommended.


Radio and TV

The Cubavision Internacional is the channel that broadcast TV programs for hotels.

CableVision also send signals of the most important channels of the U.S.A., Mexico, Germany, Italy and Spain. Radio Taino is Cuba s tour radio station and it broadcast is in Spanish and English.




Can be taken anywhere except military and prohibited zones. Color film is available at hotels and a few stores. There is no black and white or specialty film available



Cuba is a hospitable country. It is easy to find help whenever you need it. The streets are safe, attacks are rare. There are tourist police in hotel areas.  Seems there was a policeman on every block but never stopped, hassled or bothered in any manner.  The police seem to ignore visitors.


Immigration, Customs and Health Regulations

US Law and travel to Cuba

US citizens are NOT prohibited from traveling to Cuba.  However, the Trading With The Enemy Act, prohibits US citizens from spending money in Cuba?  Cuba has NO restrictions on Americans visiting and on the contrary openly welcomes US visitors.  A valid passport (Will not be stamped but the Cuban authorities) and a visa or tourist card is required for entry.



Travelers must have an up-to-date passport issued in their name, or a travel document recognized by the Cuban government, a visa authorizing entry into the country or a Tourist Card, and return ticket to place of origin or transfer to a third country with the necessary visas and permits.

Excluded from these requirements are countries with whom Cuba maintains free visa agreements: Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

Travel agents apply for their clients visas or Tourist Cards at Cuban consulates. Tourist may apply themselves at the consulates or get their Tourist Cards as our travel agency Cuba Travel Service Cancun or the offices of airlines flying to Cuba. These cards should be filled out on a typewriter, no changes are permitted as these will render them invalid.

The Tourist Card cannot be used for any other purpose and does not cover any kind of work, intellectual or otherwise.

The length of stay authorized in Cuba corresponds to the days reserved in tourist facilities.

Passengers in transit do not require a visa for 24 hours, so long as lodging has been reserved. They must have a ticket to continue to a third country. This can be done at the Jose Marti airport.

Travelers arriving on cruise ships and yachts can disembark with their passport or travel document.



Travelers can bring in two bottles of liquor, a carton of cigarettes, personal effects, photographic equipment, typewriter, personal jewelry, etc, all duty free. They cannot bring in firearms, narcotics, pornography or Cuba currency. Durable goods or valuables acquired in Cuba must be declared upon leaving the country, showing receipts.



There are restrictions only for countries where yellow fever or endemic cholera exist, or which have been declared infectious zones by the World Health Organization. In these cases the international vaccination certificate is required.


Travelers Assistance

The following agencies have representatives in Havana: Assist Card, Europe Assistance, Gesa Assistance. ASISTUR, S.A. is the main insurance Cuban company for travelers visiting the Island.


International Communications


The largest is Havana Jose Marti, the main entry point to the country, followed by Varadero and Camaguey. The air terminals at Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Cayo Coco, Holguin, Manzanillo and Santiago de Cuba also service international flights.



Cubans main ports are at Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Ciefuegos and Matanzas, which has a supertanker base.

The Marina Hemingway in Havana, the dock in Varadero and Cayo Largo del Sur are international ports for small craft.


Telephone and Telex

Tourist facilities have telephone exchanges for international communications, there are also special booths for calls abroad.

Domestic long distance calls can be made from private telephones by dialing 00, and for international ones, 09. A new international service is currently being functioning in all hotels of Cuba, which has direct world wide access.

To make a collect call to the US dial 66 12 12. 

Cellular phones can be rented from Cubacel (tel. 80 02 22)

connection costs are as follows:

$3.00 per day activation fees

$7.00 per day rental fee for phone (voided if you bring your own phone)

$.90 per minute airtime.

$500.00 deposit.

From a cellular phone, dial 1191 + area code + number.


Ground Transportation

All the countries cities run local buses. There is also regular taxi service, and taxis can be ordered by phone  The provinces have these same services between their Municipalities. Interprovincial buses connect the country's major cities.

Rail transport is intermunicipal and interprovincial, except for some short routes near Havana.



Oil prospecting and drilling is making steady progress, as is the construction materials industry. More than 90 % of the country has electricity.

Cuba has a merchant marine fleet. Fishing plays an important role in the economy.

The iron and steel industry produces steel and has sheet steel factories.

Biotechnology is in full development and the results of the countries research are internationally recognized. The pharmaceutical and electronics industry are also showing important progress.

Finally, tourism is taking off. There is a large investment plan that should place Cuba in the lead in Caribbean tourism within the decade.


The Arts

Cuban culture is rooted in the islands ethnic mixture. Particularly characteristic is its music which, after of the United States and Brazil, Cuba is the third most powerful country in the musical field in the contemporary world.

Cuban cinema has earned international prestige. The Cuban Film Institute ICAIC produces full length features and documentaries.

Cuban traditions are preserved in the carnivals, as well as folklore dance group, such as the National Folk Ensemble, and in country music ballads.

Cuba has three principal dance companies The Cuban National Ballet, the Camaguey


Hotels - Many available at varying prices.


Casa Particulares - One of the best ways to stay in Cuba is to find a rented room, usually in a private home.  For $US25 (usually not licensed by the government therefore not recommended) to $40 per night with breakfast included.

The best way to meet the real people of Cuba.




Travel Guide

Cuba Handbook

By Chrsitopher Baker.



Cuba and the night by Pico Iyer

Waiting for Fidel".  by Chris Hunt

Trading With the Enemy : A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba  by Tom Miller


General Interest

In Focus CUBA

A guide to the politics people and culture

By Simon Calder


Architecture books

Cuba 400 years of architectural Heritage by Rachel Carley

Living in Cuba Mc Bride and Black

Revolution of forms. Cuba's forgotten art schools by John Loomis


Movies available in video


Strawberries and chocolate (Fresa y chocolate. Available at Blockbusters)

Bitter sugar (Azucar Amarga)


I am Cuba



EL ALJIBE  .Try the house specialty, chicken. $15 per person all you can eat. Located in Avenida 7ma entre 24 y 26 .Miramar.


HURON AZUL  This is a Paladar or private Private restaurant located near the Nacional Hotel. The food is excellent.  153 Humboldt St. near “P” St. in Vedado.


CASA  DANTA  This Paladar  is located l in Miramar. Excellent .seafood, particularly the lobster.  Calle 11 # 6013 e/60 y 62. Playa


EL HELECHO This is one of my favorite Paladares . excellent food, great service, wonderful atmosphere. Calle 6 y Linea. in Vedado.


LA GUARIDA.  Calle Concordia No. 418 e/ Gervasio y Escobar. Centro Habana. This is the location of the film “Strawberries and Chocolate”. Amazing building . My personal favorite paladar.


LA COCINA DE LILIAN. Calle 48 #1311 entre 13 y 15 Playa .Beautiful outdoor garden Patio setting.


EL COMEDOR DE AGUIAR An elegant dining atmosphere with good food and fair prices located inside the Hotel Nacional.


LA TERRAZA FLORENTINA Top of Capri hotel. Best city view. Inexpensive Italian food.


TORRE DE MARFIL. Close to the Ambos Mundos. Mercaderes entre Obispo y Obrapia.

 Great Chinese food. Not as cheap as the ones in Barrio Chino (Chinatown) but better quality.


*LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO  In Havana Vieja, A very famous name with lousy, expensive food. But try the Mojito, it’s the traditional drink of Cuba and La Bodeguita makes the original version, it’s white rum, lime, sugar, fresh mint and club soda, very refreshing. * (A Hemingway hangout in the old days).


RESTAURANT and BAR LA TORRE. Most incredible view in the whole city. Exquisite french food. Located on top of the FOCSA building in Vedado . Calle 17 and M.


CAFE DEL ORIENTE. It does not get any classier than this. Calle oficios No. 112.Across from the San Francisco Church in old Havana.


PALADAR LAS MARIAS. Best BBQ in town. Next to La Casa de Lilian. Calle 48 % 13 y 11

Tel 29 21 40


GRINGO VIEJO. This is my favorite in Havana. Calle 21 No. 454 e/ E y F

Tel 32 61 50 Closed on Sundays.


LOS TRES CHINITOS It was about time Havna had a decent italian reataurant. Best pizza in town. Huge portions of caneloni. Hard to get in. Call for reservations. Tell Dieguito or Adrian, the owners I sent you.

Dragones 355 % Manrique y San Nicolas

Tel 63 33 88


EL CAPITOLIO. Here’s one of the nicest paladares in Havana.

Calle 13 % 18 y 16


LA ESPERANZA. Beautiful house in Miramar owned by a very nice gay couple (Uber & Manolo )who cook very sophisticated cuban dishes with a french twist.

Calle 16 no. 105

% 1ra y 3ra


Tel 22 43 61


LA CASA DE ADELA.. This is a real find. Adela is an artist and sculptor. She will serve your meal in a beautiful terrace.

Calle F No. 503 (Azotea)Entre 23 y 21Telefono 32 37 76

Note: She will not let you in if you don’t tell her I sent you. Make sure you mention my name.




CABARET TROPICANA The biggest dance show you will ever see. Magnificent!

(* Must see) Be prepared to pay up to $70 for a good ticket -

CABARET PARISIEN another dance show, smaller than the Tropicana but still worth checking out.  $30.00 admission.

HABANA CAFÉ at Melia Cohiba Hotel.

DISCOTECA HAVANACLUB.  Hotel Comodoro in Miramar

El GATO TUERTO  Café concert open all night. Piano bar. Calle O entre 17 y 19. Vedado. Close to the Nacional.

LA ZORRA Y EL CUERVO. Jazz Club.  Calle 23 entre N y O. Close to the Habana Libre hotel.

The Nacional has a floor show (3hours) almost equal to the Tropicana for $25.00.

Casa de los Marqueses de Aquas Claras  le Patio Good dessert, excellent mojito and excellent bands.

Café Mina in Plazade Armas

Patio bar at the Seville Hotel

Rooftop terrace of Ambos  Mundos Hotel

(Having sampled Mojitos all over the city (in the heat and humidity it

becomes the ultimate thirst quencher), I'd put my money at the bar at the Ambos Mundos Hotel. They were relatively cheap ($3) I think, as opposed to $7 at El Floridita) and good. 

One of the best pools is the rooftop pool at the Dutch owned Golden Tulip/Park Hotel near the Inglaterra Hotel


CASTROPOL. A show you never thought you’d see in Cuba. A drag queen show. Very professional and fun for everybody, Shows starts around 11PM. Tel 614801

Located on the malecon (oecanfront) about two blocks east of the Duville hotel. $2.00 admission.

If you are into drag queen shows, you may also try the Sociedad Rosalia de Castro close to the train station in old Havana. Lots of fun for everybody.


More Bars/Restaurants

El Floridita is haunted by Hemingways ghost and his seat is preserved as a shrine.  Overpriced even for the tourist crowd but having one daiquiri at El Floridita is a must.  Don’t miss this as you will kick yourself the rest of your life!  Check out the Doorman.


Café Taberna

In the heart of Plaza Vieja in the former locale of the first café in Havana. Beny More live music all day long. Great atmosphere.





PARTAGAS CIGAR FACTORY Tours every day, almost every hour, $5 a person.

THE NATIONAL CAPITOL (El Capitolio) The national seat of government until a guy named Fidel showed up. Well worth hiring a guide and spending an hour roaming the halls.

EL MORRO AND LA CABAñA FORTRESS Guarding the entrance to Havana Harbor, the fortress is stuffed full of interesting sites and museums. Every night at 9:00 there is a  Gun Shot Ceremony.  ($5USD)

MUSEUM OF THE REVOLUTION More communist artifacts than you can shake an AK47 at. Many artifacts from the brutal regime of Batista and all the good brutality of the Communist takeover.  Life size figurines of Che and the holy breaded one.


Internet Resources


Most informative  (now bad)


Official Cuban website:


Lonely Planet general info:


Great Havana map:


Havana resources:


Cubana Airlines


Havana Weather


Local time in Cuba


Daily news from Cuba 


Getting to Cuba (US citizens)  (now bad link)


Havanautos rental car:  (dab link now)


General Things

What to bring/wear

Pack as light as possible

Washable cottons or synthetics

Women at least one dress

Men at least one pair of slacks (Required for floor shows)

Comfortable walking shoes and a hat or cap


Pocket dictionary

Liter sized water bottles - fill at hotel or casa particulars everyday and save $$

Insect repellant


All necessary cosmetics

Extra bath towels - Leave when you go home

Wash cloths - We only saw the one we brought with us?


The most important thing I brought was a wife who could speak  Spanish to a limited degree.  Much better understanding of the people and culture when you have explanations.   The Cuban people love Americans and fully realize the difficulties are governmental.


Bring small bills, mostly $5, $10 & $20 and remember they will not accept travel checks or credit cards. The necessity of having to carry so many small bills caused us to order two security wallets and a money belt from


Always be polite even when being hustled or pestered and say "No Gracias Amigo".


Weight restrictions and bags

20 lbs. carryon and 40 lbs. checked for each person total allowance.

However, only 44 pounds are allowed free of charge. Any baggage on excess of that will be charged about $2.00 per pound.

Recommend tags for each bag and locks to secure it they have zippers, also secure with plastic ties to hinder anyone attempting to open the bags.

Attach identification tags to the outside to each bag and also have identification in each.


Things to bring and leave as gifts

Any unwanted cosmetics




Small household items



Computer disks



Bottles of cooking oil





Underwear and socks




Chewing Gum - Chicklets in packets so you can share with many kids

Candy - small individually sealed packs to share with many.

$1bills - a neat gift to a kid - even had one refuse the offer!





Cuba Travel

 Viajes Lexa S.A. de C.V.

 Av. Quintana Roo No. 1621

 Suite TIJ-1173 Zona Centro

 Tijuana B.C. Mexico 22000

 Phone: 011-526-686-52-98


 US Voice Mail: 310 842 414


Have a wonderful trip!