Rum, revolution, cheap cigars and classic cars – Havana is without doubt one of Central America's most iconic cities. Founded by the Spanish as a convenient launching point for their conquest of the New World, these days Havana is better known as the ragged-around-the-edges capital of modern-day Cuba. It's a dizzying mix of salsa, street festivals and crumbling Communist architecture and a must-see destination for anyone with an interest in experiencing the old-world charm of yesteryear.
There is perhaps no better symbol of the Old World meeting the New than Cuba's historic Old Havana. Now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, this fascinating downtown district was founded by Spanish colonialists on the Bay of Havana in 1519. Home to many of the city's most recognisable sights – including the famous Malecon seawall and the nearby Morro Castle guarding the bay – Old Havana attracts millions of visitors to its shores with its unique old-world cityscape. From classic American cars cruising the ramshackle streets to the faded billboard reminders of revolutionary days, there are constant glimpses of Havana's halcyon days in the 1950s everywhere you turn.
To suggest that Havana's architecture is unique is an understatement. From the flourishes of Spanish colonialism to the city's rich Art Deco history and the modern cityscape shooting skywards outside Old Havana, Cuba's complex capital is a mish-mash of architectural styles. When gas lights first lit up the city in the 1840s, they shone on the Neoclassical buildings soaring above Havana's squares and plazas – the most famous of which is the Aldama Palace. The Cathedral of Havana is one the best examples of Cuban Baroque architecture, while the best of the city's countless Art Deco masterpieces are located in the wealthy residential district of Miramar.
Sultry salsa sounds
Havana might be renowned for its charming old town and unique architecture, but it's also the centre of the Son Cubano movement which swept the globe in the 1930s. At the heart of Son music is the salsa – a primarily Afro-Cuban dance music now popular throughout Latin America. Though largely a product of innovative marketing – with Cuban dance rhythms popular long before salsa became a global phenomenon &nash; there is something quintessentially Cuban about enjoying a sultry salsa in one of Havana's glamorous nightclubs, preferably with a rum in one hand and a Cuban cigar in the other.