Five-hundred years since its city was founded, Cuba’s capital city remains as resilient as its rundown buildings and elegant as the vintage cars still rolling in the streets. After nearly four centuries of Spanish rule, over 50 years of US-backed governments and 60 years of socialism, Havana’s people (Habaneros) are still thriving and ready to party.
Here are eight ways to celebrate Havana’s 500th birthday.
Make a wish at the ceiba tree
In what’s arguably one of Havana’s most famous traditions, every November 16, a large crowd gathers around a ceiba tree in front of El Templete, located on the northeastern corner of Plaza de Armas, the very spot the city is believed to have been founded in 1519.
Based on superstition or not, most people wait until midnight before walking three times, counterclockwise, around the tree and making one wish. The tradition is linked to a religious rite with some devotees leaving coins and flowers at the base of the ceiba – the tree where the spirits of the ancestors live.
Make it happen: From 6pm until midnight, head to El Templete with a tribute and join locals for turns around the ceiba tree. Don’t forget to make a wish.
Run the Marabana marathon
Almost 5,000 participants from over 50 nations gather each November to take part in the Marabana’s 10K, half-marathon or full marathon. Whether running or walking, participating in Havana’s marathon offers a unique opportunity to explore the city’s most popular and picturesque neighborhoods.
The race covers the major sections of Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and Vedado. Prizes will be awarded in several categories.
Make it happen: Register on Marabana’s website or stop by the Hotel Nacional de Cuba on November 8 or 9. The race starts at 7am on November 10.
Calle Obispo’s street festival
For a real snapshot of Havana, head over to Calle Obispo for its cultural festival. From El Floridita and right down to the sea, the entire pedestrianized boulevard is filled with living statues of pirates, fairies and creepy characters. Bands perform live on several street corners and cafés. For Havana’s 500th anniversary, the street will be packed with colorful stilt walkers dancing to the rhythm of trumpets and drums.
Make it happen: The event will take place on November 16. Pick a place near the Ambos Mundos hotel, sip a mojito (or two) and finish at the leafy Plaza de Armas.
Watch art and fashion blend at Havana Fashion Week
Havana’s Arte y Moda fashion festival held at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes - Arte Cubano is where revolutionary designs pay homage to the country’s rebel icons, vintage vibes and unique elegance. Havana Fashion Week began in 2003 behind the concept of breaking traditional market-oriented aesthetics and blending contemporary art with fashion.
In the past 10 years, Cuban design community has planted its roots in Havana. From Dador’s linen clothes inspired by the iconic seawall of the malecón, Katy Ocaña’s earrings recreating colorful stained-glass windows or Clandestina’s popular "Actually, I’m in Havana" statement t-shirts, the Havana fashion scene is growing.
Make it happen: Arte y Moda’s fashion shows take place at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes - Arte Cubano; November 12 - 17. Tickets available directly at the museum.
Enjoy the ballet
Flying all the way from the Mariinsky Theatre in Russia, the St Petersburg’s Ballet company is taking part in the Havana festivities with a one-night special performance at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba.
Tickets might be difficult to get. Cubans really love ballet.
If you can’t snag a ticket, a great alternative for ballet devotees is at the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso which is hosting its own celebration as the official headquarters of Cuba’s ballet company.
Make it happen: The St Petersburg ballet performance is scheduled for November 15 at 8:30pm. Purchase tickets at Teatro Nacional’s website or at the venue from November 4. Tickets for the Gran Teatro performances can only be purchased at the venue.
Head to a baseball game
Nothing like spending a day at the ballpark. And in Havana, there’s one place to head – Estadio Latinoamericano. Havana’s Industriales baseball team will play host to a once-in-a-lifetime All-Star game featuring some of the sport’s most popular veteran players. The newly installed large LED screen means you won’t miss a moment of action.
Make it happen: Estadio Latinoamericano is near Plaza de la Revolución in the El Cerro municipality. Tickets cost CUC$1 (around USD$1) and can only be purchased on game day (October 29) at the stadium.
Listen to the Habana 500 symphony
The fanciest gala on the night Havana turns 500 takes place at the end of the Paseo de Martí (El Prado) where it meets the malecón. Cantares a las Puertas del 500 (Songs at the Doorway) will feature a live classical concert by the Orquesta Sinfónica del Lyceum Mozartiano de La Habana with material composed specifically for the occasion. A bevy of celebrities is expected to attend the event which ends with a fireworks display.
Make it happen: No tickets are needed to attend the November 16 event, which is slated to kick off at 9pm at Castillo de San Salvador de La Punta. For more information, visit Cantares 500.
Let it loose on a Havana Night
Nearly five miles (8 km) of live concerts will run all along Avenida del Puerto and the Malecón. From the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis to Salón 1830 a buffet-style of the best musical acts Cuba has to offer will be on full display.
Noche Habanera (Havana night) will feature five different stages playing everything from slow-paced boleros to break-a-hip-styled salsa to Cuba’s newest alternative pop-rock.
Oh and the entire event is free.
Make it happen: Head straight to the Malecón on November 15. The event starts around 9pm.