Havana, Cuba, still seems like a complete and utter mystery to most people—especially Americans. With so much history and culture, the alluring draw of this off-limits city is bringing more and more hesitant tourists to wonder about it, especially after celebrities have been deciding to make it their new vacation spot. But the fact of the matter is that Havana, while it continues to mystify, is a beautiful hub full of welcoming people.
Before World War II, Havana was seen as “the rich man’s playground,” the biggest sugar producer, and an escape from prohibition.
When Castro and Guevarra marched into Cuba in 1959, the communist revolution turned the country upside down. Here a man reads ‘Granma,’ the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, where the year reads “año de la revolución 53” (fifty-third year of the revolution).
Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, is the oldest part of the city, and today is central to tourists. Unlike other areas of the city, the buildings are restored and the streets cleaned.
Meanwhile, buildings collapse almost daily into the streets in other areas of the city because there isn’t enough money for renovations.
At the Plaza de Armas, in Habana Vieja, people can shop at a daily second-hand book market for “possibly every book about the revolution.”
The Catedral de la Habana is a landmark in the city, built sometime between 1748 and 1777. But until Pope John Paul II visited Cuba during Castro’s regime, religion was generally looked down upon.
Habaneros can get their monthly ration of staples, with a limited quantity per person, at bodegas like this one. The typical ration includes a few pounds of sugar, a pound of grains, some sort of protein, some cooking oil, a dozen eggs, and maybe a few bread rolls. Everything else has to be bought.
Produce and meat are sold at agros, at prices set by the state. The meat is mostly pork, and while it’s usually too expensive for most Cubans, they can buy the fat for about 13 pesos, or US$0.49, a pound.
Fresh produce is hard to come by and expensive. For example, one eggplant costs about US$0.40. Many Cubans spend a good chunk of their monthly income on fruits, vegetables, and meats.
For a quick snack, you can always stop at a fried “croqueta” seller stand. Street food in Havana is typically less than $1.50, but even that is too much for some.