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Havana on foot - La Rampa and around

Havana on foot - La Rampa and around

Ice cream, movies, popcorn, people-watching and pizza. This all happens in Havana's social heart in an area known as La Rampa.

La Rampa is at the core of the modern city. Its bustling beginnings straddle a busy junction in the district of Vedado, several miles west of the Old Town and it rolls east down a slope of bars, shops and clubs towards the sea, filled with lurching classic American cars.

The big junction at the heart of it all is at Calle 23 and Calle L. Here the roads are bound by the russet-red Cine Yara (the former Warner Radiocentro dating from the 1940s) and a hot cinema favourite for new releases [1], Coppelia [2], the 1966 national ice-cream spaceship parlour and Havana hang-out, and the Hotel Habana Libre [3].

The Habana Libre, with its distinctive royal blue, black and white Amelia Pelaez mural, was Fidel Castro's headquarters at the beginning of the 1959 revolution. Don't miss the original Habana Hilton Trader Vic's now masquerading as El Polinesio [4] - its interior is almost unchanged since it opened in 1959.

On the opposite corner of Calle L and La Rampa is the well-stocked music shop Habana Si [5] staffed by helpful locals. Continue your walk south down Calle L passing Hotel Habana Libre and on towards Havana's university, situated on its Vedado slope since 1902. The Universidad de la Habana (University of Havana)'s wide flight of steps lead to the grand Alma Mater statue crafted by Mario Korbel [6]. After passing through the lofty main entrance of the university, head to the building on the left of the central garden.

La Rampa and around - Map

The Museo de Ciencias Naturales Felipe Poey (Felipe Poey Natural History Museum) [7], on the ground floor, is a giant exhibition room (Mon–Thurs 9am–noon, 1–3pm, Fri 9am–noon; free) containing the dusty exhibits of stuffed animals in antique glass cabinets; it also features large, inanimate marine wildlife suspended from the ceiling. It's the perfect picture of a Victorian taxidermists' private haven and should not be missed. In the same building is the Museo Antropologico Montane (Montane Anthropology Museum) (Mon–Thurs 9am–noon, 1–3pm, Fri 9am–noon; free) whose star exhibit is the tobacco idol, a one-eyed anthropomorphic wooden figure, discovered in the far east of the island [8].

Return to Calle L and head south where the road turns into Calle Ronda. Standing on the corner of Calle San Miguel and Calle Ronda is one of Havana's finest and most curious museums, the Museo Napoleonico (Tue–Sat 9.30am–5pm, Sun 9.30am–12.15pm; CUC$3). The Napoleon Museum [9] houses the largest collection of Napoleon Bonaparte memorabilia outside of Europe. The sumptuously restored ornate Florentine mansion houses the vast collections of sugar baron Julio Lobo including a library, busts, military exhibits and Napoleon's death masks all amid marble floors, crystal chandeliers and paintings.

Retrace your steps to La Rampa and head north along Calle M to the corner of Calle 21 and stop by the preserved 1950s bar of La Roca [10] for coffee or a reviving cocktail. Further down Calle M the former 1953 US Embassy by architects Harrison and Abramovitz, which now houses the US Interests Section [11], can be spied. At Calle M between 19 and 21 is penthouse paladar (private restaurant) Cafe Laurent [12] offering good-value daily lunch menus. Further north at the corner of Calle M and the corner of 17 is the imposing mint-green 1954-1956 Focsa [13] apartment building.

Swing east along Calle 17 passing the chocolate-and-cream coloured state restaurant La Casona de 17 [14]; opposite La Casona, enter the dimly lit 1950s world of Bar Emperador [15], or take the neighbouring elevator for the spectacular city views from the top floor Focsa bar, La Torre [16].

Walk east along Calle 17 and you will see the Memorial a las victimas del Maine (Monument to the USS Maine) commemorating American soldiers who died when the ship Maine exploded in Havana harbour in 1898 [17]. Turn south along Calle N to the corner of Calle 21 where you'll see the iconic Mobster-built Hotel Capri. Turn east down Calle 21 to the grand, iconic Hotel Nacional, seat of the US mob conference in 1946 [19]. After drinks on the alfresco terrace, head south down Calle O to La Rampa and turn west up the slope to see the vast Pabellon Cuba [20], a multi-media space used for art exhibitions, craft fairs and music concerts.

Cross the road towards the 1950s Ministry of Health building and the neighbouring covered crafts market [21]. After browsing the souvenirs, turn northeast towards the sea and look out for all the nightlife venues that are stuffed cheek-by-jowl along the road. At Calle O and 23 is La Zorra y El Cuervo [22] basement jazz bar. Continue walking towards the sea and you'll find the 1955 Cine La Rampa [23] on the corner of Calle P next door to the popular multi-venued salsa, and gay haunt La Gruta.

Claire Boobbyer

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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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