Few travelers take the time to penetrate Guanabacoa, a dense urban neighborhood whose fabled past is overlaid by a gritty contemporary exterior. Once an indigenous town, later a hotbed of resistance, still a stronghold of the Santeria religion; it's a neighborhood with a layered history crying out for a face-lift. But, with a little imagination, anyone can delve in.
Parque de la República
Entering Guanabacoa from the west, it’s easy to overlook Parque de la República, a former military parade ground that, these days, is dominated by a sunken Greco-Roman style amphitheater built after the revolution in 1960. The alfresco structure hosts sporadic local happenings including music performances, dance and live theater.
The hub of the neighborhood is the slightly scruffy but unashamedly perky Parque Martí, overlooked by the local church which, on the rare occasions it opens its doors, reveals precious baroque art. Linger on a bench and you’ll quickly find yourself absorbing a slice of street life seemingly a million miles from tourist-crammed central Havana.
Calle Pepe Antonio
No exploration of Guanabacoa should conclude without a call-out to local hero, Pepe Antonio, the battling mayor who led the resistance against the invading British army in 1762. In Calle Pepe Antonio, the street named in his honor, local life battles on amid the disheveled buildings. At No 13 is the currently closed Cine-Teatro Carral, with interesting Arabic embellishments.
Convento de Santo Domingo
Locals regularly lament the state of the sadly blemished Convento de Santo Domingo, which urgently needs money and attention to prevent its collapse. The muscular baroque building has survived plenty of knocks in its 280-year history, including occupation by the British in the 1760s. Inside, the ornate altarpiece is dedicated to the locally venerated Virgin of Candelaría.
Guanabacoa has contributed grandly to Havana’s cultural life throughout its long history and its former Liceo (a club for writers and artists) – today the Casa de Cultura Rita Montaner – remains a place where you might catch an exposition, live performance or passing troubadour. Founded in 1861, this was where José Martí made his first public speech in Cuba.
Ermita de Potosí
The diminutive Ermita de Potosí doesn’t really advertise itself as the oldest ecclesial building in Cuba, but, dating from 1675, that’s exactly what it is. It’s also one of the few historical structures in Guanabacoa that has been meaningfully renovated.
- Historic buildings
- Old churches
Bus Metro bus P-15 from the Parque de la Fraternidad in Centro Habana goes to Guanabacoa, stopping via the main train terminal in Habana Vieja.