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Havana on foot - The Malecon

Havana on foot - The Malecon

Begin your walk at the junction of La Rampa (Calle 23) and the iconic salt-splattered sea esplanade, the Malecon [1]. Havana's coastal road and seawall slopes around eight kilometres along the Florida Straits with the Malecon wall punctuated by regular mini, pointed towers. It was built, by the Americans, in stages from 1901 and is affectionately known as Havana's "sofa"because it draws "habaneros" from all walks of life to parade, sit, smooch, gossip, fish, flirt and play music.

At night, the "sofa" is crammed with youngsters, hipsters, and the gay fraternity, who crowd it from end to end to pass the night away. Cruising along the Malecon after midnight, the gathered crowd can be seen up to eight rows deep – especially around the junction with La Rampa by the bluff dominated by the Hotel Nacional.

During Havana's 11th Art Bienal, held in 2012, the Malecon was transformed into an open-air gallery where some of Cuba's leading artists exhibited pieces in, on and under buildings, a tunnel, the sea, and the esplanade itself in a collective exhibition known as 'Behind the Wall'.

The Malecon - Map

Head east on foot along the sea road from La Rampa admiring the eclectic line up of architecture. On the corner of Malecon and Calle 25 is a cafe [2] in a dusty pink mini-castle building. This was the most notorious brothel – La Marina – in the city in the 1950s.

At Malecon and Calle Marina the squat, 17th-century St Lazarus tower [3], used as a lookout between Havana's main forts, is dwarfed by the soaring beige-tinged Ameijeiras Hospital (intended to be a bank building but never completed as such) [4] and the 1916 classical statue of Antonio Maceo [5], the Independence War fighter a.k.a the 'Bronze Titan', whose plinth faces inland.

From here, the loveliest Malecon buildings begin. The curving architectural line up – at its most beautiful in the golden light of the late afternoon sun – is undergoing restoration. Best seen from across the road, begin here at the corner of Calle Belascoain with a lovely wedding-cake pink building complete with doric columns. From here to the Malecon end facing the iconic lighthouse, El Morro, the columned and balustraded buildings glow in colours of lemon yellow, mandarin, dusty pink, and various hues of green.

On the corner of Calle Lealtad sits the new, botanical green, glass facade of the Hotel Terral [6], the newest hotel in the city. Its all-you-can-eat breakfast is a steal at CUC$10 and its large windows offer great views of Malecon life.

Further down, a few other modern constructions punctuate the Malecon curve. These include La Abadia tapas bar (no. 407 between Calles Campanario and Manrique) with its modern gothic metal arches [7], and the nearby Cafe Neruda (no. 255 between Calles Manrique and San Nicolas) with its Moorish flourishes named after Chilean poet Pablo Neruda [8].

Soon after passing the Neruda cafe, cross the large Calle Galiano (Avenida de Italia) which dissects Centro Habana, and was once Havana's Oxford Street, lined with large department stores, in the 1950s [9].

On the corner of Galiano and Malecon is the blue Hotel Deauville [10] whose casino was run by the Mob in the 1950s. Further on is the mustard-coloured Restaurant Castropol [11] that belongs to the Asturias Society (No. 107 between Calle Genios and Calle Crespo). There are two restaurants inside; the best spot is the alfresco terrace upstairs – perfect for sunset views. On the corner of Calle Capdevila is the towering blue mosaic building known as the "coffin tower" [12] for the coffin-shaped window balconies overlooking the Malecon.

At no. 17 Malecon is the unusual architecture of the neoclassical Centro Hispano-Americano de Cultura (Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 9am-1pm) an arts and film space, also known as the Caryatid House for the six female figures displayed in lieu of columns on its facade [13].

Cross the road here to view the inaugural plaque of the Malecon [14] on its Old Havana corner. It states: "Malecon constructed 1901. Leonard Wood USA. Governor General of Cuba." Just to the east of the plaque is the modest statue of Venezuelan revolutionary Sebastian Francisco de Miranda sculpted with his cape swirling as he is about to draw his sword.

As the strong sun subsides, watch for the teenage divers and fishermen along the seawall, here, that stretches into Havana's harbour.

Claire Boobbyer

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Diverse and imposing Havana is a must - but don't forget Varadero

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Claire Boobbyer

Cultural Explorer

A self-confessed wanderluster and devoted culture lover, Claire writes about her frequent travels...

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