Havana, the capital city of Cuba, is a photographer’s paradise. From colorful buildings, to vintage cars, to Cuban cigars, Havana takes you to a different world in a different era. As you plan for your trip, be sure to add these Instagrammable spots in Havana to your photography list.
For a long time, it was difficult to visit Cuba due to the internal political situation and the United States-imposed trade embargoes. But things are changing in Cuba. In my recent visit to Havana, I found the city to be warm and welcoming to tourists. The city was very safe, contrary what you might read online.
Cubans have mixed opinions about the Communist rule. Nevertheless, they are now embracing change and opening doors to tourists. Newly renovated hotels and tour agencies are popping up everywhere. The Cuban people are benefiting from the insurgence of tourism and are proud to show off their beautiful country to visitors. So be sure to bring a camera and check out some of these incredibly Instagrammable spots in Havana.
1) STREETS OF OLD HAVANA
Let me start with the best and the obvious: Old Havana. Built by the Spanish rulers in the 16th Century, Old Havana is the heart of the city. Colorful buildings — some dilapidated, some standing strong — make up the Old Havana lanes. UNESCO declared Old Havana a World Heritage site in 1982. This part of the city is restricted to pedestrians only. So, if you are planning to explore the lanes of Old Havana, wear comfortable shoes and carry water. Of course, don’t forget your camera.
Old Havana consists of four squares: Old Havana Square (also called Vieja Habana Plaza), Cathedral Square (Plaza de la Catedral), Arms Square (Place d’armes), and San Francisco de Asis Plaza (Plaza San Francisco de Asis). Each has its own character and charm so give yourself time to explore them all and photograph away!
2) CATHEDRAL SQUARE
Although I already mentioned Cathedral Square in the previous section, this particular landmark deserves special attention. The Cathedral de San Cristobal, located in Old Havana, is described by Lonely Planet as “music set in stone.” Interestingly, at one point you could find the remains of Christopher Columbus here, although now they’re located in Seville, Spain. This cathedral is still functional, so you can visit for a service on Sunday to experience Cuban religious culture.
When you visit the Cathedral Square, there is a narrow alley located opposite the Cathedral. This lane is filled with colorful walls, but it was this beautiful mural that really caught my attention. Keep an eye out for hidden gems like this all over the alley!
3) MUSEUM OF THE REVOLUTION (MUSEO DE LA REVOLUCION)
As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated to the Cuban Revolutionary period. The museum houses the personal belongings of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegoes. You’ll also find other pre-revolutionary relics, transcripts, and a timeline of the events of the revolutionary period.
I am a history nerd and visiting the museum was like being a kid in a candy store. I have read tons of history history books, especially about the Communist and Cold War era. However, the information in the museum shared from Cuba’s perspective was particularly intriguing. There is an entry fee to the museum (8 CUC) and photography is allowed inside.
The exterior of the Museum is equally beautiful. I took this picture from the parking lot, facing the Museum (side doors/entrance).
4) REVOLUTION PLAZA
Plaza Revolution is another tribute to the Cuban Revolution. This open square served as the site of many political rallies since Fidel Castro came to power. Two government buildings are located opposite Plaza Square, each being iconic landmarks dedicated to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.
I became extremely interested in the life of Che Guevara after the “Motorcycle Diaries,” so this place fascinated me.
5) VIEWS FROM EL CRISTO
Situated in the Caribbean, Havana has a stunning coastline. One of the most photo-worthy viewpoints of the ocean is El Cristo. El Cristo is located in Casa Blanca and is named after the marble statue of Jesus that sits on top of a small hillock. The statue resembles the statue in Rio de Janeiro. However, at El Cristo, Jesus’s hands are positioned as if they’re holding a cigar and a mojito, according to popular Cuban belief.
From El Cristo you also get a great view of Malecon. Malecon is a popular place for Cubans to hang out and enjoy the cool ocean breeze. Although it’s nice to experience Malecon itself, it’s also great to get a different perspective from the hill at El Cristo!
6) BUILDINGS OPPOSITE EL CAPITALIO
El Capitalio has been the seat of the Cuban government since the 1950s. Currently, it is home to Cuban National Academic Sciences. El Capitalio is located very close to Old Havana. You can capture amazing pictures of the Capital building from across the road.
I took this picture on the side of El Capiatlio. This lovely array of colorful buildings looks amazing, doesn’t it?
7) GRAN TEATRO DE LA HABANA (GRAN THEATRE OF HAVANA ALICIA ALONSO)
Gran Theatre of Havana is located next to the El Capitalio building. The interior details of the building are amazing, as is the exterior of the building. I shot this from across the road, facing the beautiful Theatre.
Not only is Gran Theatre of Havana beautiful, but it houses so much of Havana’s history. For example, it is now called the Alicia Alonso National Ballet Theatre, named after the first ballerina of Cuba. Additionally, this building once served as a social center for immigrants who moved from Galicia to Cuba. It’s no wonder that most of the designs and furnishings inside the theatre were original pieces from Galicia or made by Galicia artists.
8) HAMEL ALLEY OR CALLEJON DE HAMEL
Callejon de Hamel is a colorful lane located in Centro Habana, dedicated to Afro-Cuban relations. The alley is filled with paintings. There is an art gallery located here as well, dedicated to the creator of Hamel Alley, Salvador Gonález.
On Sundays at noon, there are rumba performances in the alley. Over the years this has become a testament to Afro-Cuban religions through the art created by Salvador. In my opinion, it is a must visit on your trip to Havana.
9) CUBA SIGN AT HOTEL NACIONAL
Nacional Hotel is one of the main historical landmarks in Havana. The lobby of the hotel is a testimony to the struggle of the revolutions in the 1950s. You will even find bullet marks in the hotel’s lobby. In addition, in the 1940’s, the Nacional Hotel hosted the infamous Mafia conference called the Havana Conference. If you want to learn more, the hotel conducts a history tour every day.
In addition to the history, I like this landmark because is has a patio restaurant with amazing views of the Malecon. But before you leave, be sure to check out the Cuba sign located on the Nacional Hotel grounds facing the roads and Malecon. You’ll see in this photo that the building behind the sign is the Nacional Hotel.
10) HAVANA VIEWS FROM ROOFTOPS
Havana is such a beautiful city, and there may be no better way to soak it in that from the rooftops. Thankfully, there are tons of rooftop restaurants in the city where you can spend your evenings watching the sun go down over the Havana skyline.
This picture was taken from Hotel Parque Central’s Rooftop restaurant in Old Havana. There are many hotels in the same complex, but I found the views from Parque central to be the best.
QUICK TRAVEL TIPS TO HAVANA
I had a great time in Havana. Most important, I want to make sure you do, too. Here are some useful travel tips for Havana and Cuba in general.
Havana Jose Marti International Airport is that major airport hub for international tourists coming to Cuba. If you are travelling from Europe and planning to visit some of the resort towns (away from Havana), plan to touch down in the capital city of Havana.
2) TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
Travel documents: Most passport holders need a $20 USD Visa on Arrival (also called a VOA or tourist card). Some airlines include this price with the flight fares but always confirm. Tourists from certain countries, however, need to go through additional processes for being approved for a visa. For example, United States passport holder need to prove they are traveling for a particular authorized purpose (find more information here).
Cuba has two types of currencies. The Cuban Peso (CUP) is restricted for use by locals only. The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), on the other hand, is for use by the tourists. Typically, 1 CUC = 1 USD. You can only exchange currencies upon arrival in Cuba.
4) HEALTH & SAFETY
Havana is safe to visit and I had no issues while there. Cubans are very friendly, so just try to understand their culture before visiting. If you find something uncomfortable, just remove yourself from the situation.
In terms of health, travel medical insurance is required for entry into Cuba. Many airlines that fly direct from the United States to Cuba include insurance in the ticket. But if not, be prepared in advance or you’ll need to buy the Cuban insurance offered at the airport.
Every new street corner in Havana is a photographer’s dream. With bright colored homes and vintage vibes and beautiful skyline and ocean viewpoints, you won’t be able to put your camera down. Be sure to check out these Instagrammable spots in Havana, Cuba to help guide you once you arrive in this magical city!
Have you been to Cuba? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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- Vinales: Cuba’s Most Underrated City
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