Travel Courier
Issue Date: Jun 06, 2019

Havana celebrates its first 500 years


(Photo above: Rayler Navarro Cepero was serving mojitos at a re-creation of La Bodeguita del Medio on FITCuba grounds.)

Havana is now throwing a lively and lengthy birthday bash, and you’re invited.Cuba’s capital is this year marking its 500th year, with the actual date of that milestone being Nov. 16.

But, as Cuban tourism minister Manuel Marrero noted at this year’s FITCuba tourism show, festivities are running throughout the year.

“It is no longer [just] Nov. 16,” he said of the ongoing tributes. “It is every day.”

Tourism authorities hope Havana’s basking in the limelight will help Cuba reach a record five million tourist visits this year.

Cubans, both Habaneros and otherwise, are proud of Havana reaching the five-century mark, the latest of a number of Cuban cities to do so.

“Welcome to Havana,” said Havana-based Cubatur tour guide Betsy Olivares Betancourt, who’s upbeat about the varied and increased number of cultural activities taking place in her hometown this year.

“This is a good experience,” says the lifelong resident of the city that began life as San Cristobal de la Habana.

Luis Viamontes Borras, who promotes the city of Camaguey as a tourist destination, has no qualms about putting in a good word for Havana, famed for its nightlife, including salsa clubs.

“I love Havana,” he says. “I love coming here.”

Rayler Navarro Cepero of Old Havana’s La Bodeguita del Medio, which used to regularly host novelist Ernest Hemingway when he was wanting a mojito or two or three and remains a hugely popular watering hole with tourists, is “super, super proud” of the 500th.

“All tourists should come to Havana and visit la Bodeguita del Medio,” he says, noting those who do follow in Hemingway’s thirsty footsteps will be able to enjoy distinctly Cuban drinks and distinctly Cuban music.

Yadelys Garriga Cruz, a guide with the San Cristobal Travel Agency, notes Old Havana has undergone a huge amount of restoration that now wows locals and visitors alike, including UNESCO, which has given the district World Heritage Site status.

“This is the place everybody wants to live now,” she says. “This is the place everybody wants to come to.”

Viamontes Borras says the anniversary celebrations ensure that there’s never been a better time to visit la Habana.

“They’re doing so many things this year,” he states. “This is the time to visit.”

But Navarro Cepero does note there’s a somewhat downside to the celebrations, stating that its unfortunate that a literary giant who loved Havana didn’t live long enough to see this year’s festivities.

“Hemingway would have loved this,” he states.