With its historic streets, talented artists and lively music, there are countless reasons to explore the bustling capital of Havana. And if you haven’t been already, we recommend you put this vibrant Cuban city at the top of your list. Road Scholar has been going to Cuba since the 1990s, and it continues to be one of our favorite destinations because of the colonial architecture, fascinating history and, most of all, the friendly locals. However, 2019 is an especially exciting time to explore Havana because this year it’s celebrating what few North American cities have ever achieved: its 500th anniversary.
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Whether you’ve never been to Cuba or have frequented this lovely island nation, 2019 is the perfect time to head to Havana. Here are our top 10 reasons to celebrate Havana’s 500th anniversary with the locals:
A day in Havana is often spent dancing to lively music, sampling the local cuisine (and maybe even a Cuban cigar), exploring the landmarks and laughing with the locals. Those who have been to Cuba are sure to tell you that the people here are some of the most welcoming in the world. In 2019, you can expect to be swept up in the joyous spirit of a country already so incredibly proud of its heritage. Though Cuba has faced its trials and tribulations, exploring Havana this year is a chance to experience this beautiful country at its best, alongside the excited locals.
Cubans are immensely proud of both their history and culture, so it makes sense that in 2019 they’ve decided to unveil several new museums to showcase what makes Havana so grand. There’s at least seven new museums opening around the anniversary, but we recommend the new Automobile Museum to learn about Havana’s colorful cars or the unique art exhibit “El Páis del Arte” inside the Galleria Continua, and timed to open right around the Biennial.
One of the main draws of Havana is its colonial-style architecture. Walk through the main streets and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The history of the city is something the locals strongly value, which is why they’ve enlisted the help of expert historian Eusebio Leal Spengler to restore roughly 600 buildings and landmarks, a project that began in 2017. Arguably the most important restored building is the Capitol, which has finally opened after being under construction for the last eight years. Inside this impressive building is the third-largest interior statue in the world. It's quite the sight to see!
Music is a huge part of Cuban culture and the jubilant sounds of salsa can be heard around every cobbled corner. So it’s no surprise that this vibrant city would be celebrating its 500th anniversary with free concerts from the Cuban Institute of Music on the second, third and fourth Saturday of every month. Listen to the colorful bands with the locals as you celebrate the history of Havana together.
For 2019, Havana has not only promised an improved experience for visitors, but also vowed to make life in the city better for its residents. Work has been underway to improve the local streets and highways, as well as increase the overall cleanliness of the city. The water and waste management infrastructures have been updated and new government-funded programs have been put in place to educate the locals on the importance of not littering, so the city can be enjoyed by all.
More children enjoying new and improved sport complexes, as well as plenty of parks popping up around the city, breathe fresh life into Havana as it renovates its public spaces and parks. This year you’ll be able to listen to the laughter of the youngsters kicking around the fútbol or enjoy a picnic of fresh tamales in the sunshine just like a local.
The Havana Biennial is one of the most exciting events in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. For an entire month, hundreds of artists from over 40 countries will venture to Havana for free art expositions, workshop and conferences – all for the public to enjoy. With outdoor performances, beautiful displays and incredible pieces for collectors, the city transforms into an art lover's paradise. This year’s theme is “The Construction of the Possible,” a nod to the cancellation of last year’s biennial due to Hurricane Irma. In 2019, the festival returns for the first time in four years on April 12-May 19, 2019.
After being closed for almost a decade, the new shopping center and cultural hub will reopen just in time for the 500th anniversary. Erected in 1920, the reopening of Cuatro Caminos aligns with the city’s great effort to restore its historic landmarks. Many of the market’s original features, including the facades, will be intact, while also embodying a modern twist. Not only will this market provide fascinating insight into Cuban life for visitors, it will also provide many new jobs for the locals.
Though Road Scholar has been going to Cuba for about 20 years, most of America has not. To welcome U.S. travelers, and other adventurers from around the world, Havana has put a lot of effort into building and renovating the city’s hotels. The new Prado and Malecon Hotel will be a 10-story masterpiece, set right on the Malecon for easy access to one of the city’s trendiest areas. Also in the neighborhood will be a new, currently unnamed hotel that’s sure to make an impact on the city as the tallest building in all of Havana.
Although there are plenty of exciting openings and festivals to enjoy, at the core Havana’s 500th anniversary is a celebration of its history. While you’re in Havana, the locals will be reflecting on the city’s past, and it will be a great opportunity to talk about their experiences over their lifetime. Listen to the locals tell their stories, as well as the stories passed down from generations before them, while also exploring all the museums that offer a comprehensive history of Havana over the last half-millennium.
To learn more about traveling to Havana click here.
To travel to Cuba with Road Scholar, click here to explore our in-depth learning adventures.
Road Scholar offers opportunities to travel legally to Cuba under the new OFAC Regulations published June 5, 2019. Following the General License category “Support of the Cuban People,” Road Scholar programs include activities intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. Each day's program promotes independence for the Cuban people and results in meaningful interactions with the Cuban people.
About the Author JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Program Development, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn's extensive travel industry experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world's most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.
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