The history of Havana has much to do with the water. The city was moved to its present day location by Spanish Conquistadors who noted the strategic value of the harbor found here. Being a city with strong maritime links, it makes sense that natives here look to the sea for food, commerce, and in latter decades, tourism. Among the top attractions in all of Havana is the El Malecon.
Many a waterfront Latin American city has a malecon, which is basically a waterfront walkway or avenue, and in Havana, it's surely a featured location. No visitor to Havana should miss a stroll along this famed and charming stretch, and should you get the chance to catch an El Malecon sunset, you will begin to understand why a paved, seaside avenue can be such an asset for a city.
El Malecon Havana extends a little over 4 miles, from the Bay of Havana at Old Havana, to the northwestern district of Vedado, thus forming the northern edge of Old Havana, Central Havana and Vedado. It is a major meeting point for social gatherings in the city, and the views and perspective that it affords is certainly why it is such a big draw, not only for tourists, but for locals alike.
The Havana El Malecon de Cuba was originally conceived by U.S. authorities at the start of the 20th century. Construction of the walkway began in the early 1900s, not long after the United States gained control of Cuba after the Spanish-American War. In its early years, El Malecon partly served as a public baths area, as many Havana citizens sought the warm Caribbean waters found here. By 1920, it was on its way to becoming a major route from Old Havana to the newer sections of town. Today, the Malecon is many things, including a major artery for transportation. It's six lanes allow traffic to pass along fluidly, and there is more than sufficient space to walk along it, or to simply find a perch and look out to sea.
As you might imagine, people-watching is wonderful along El Malecon Havana, and you can often glimpse locals taking a quick swim, or perhaps fishing for dinner. Walking is above all the best way to enjoy El Malecon de Cuba, but should you be worn out or suffering from mobility issues, you can view it from a taxi, or better yet, a horse carriage. Many Havana city tours include El Malecon in their list of attractions, so should you be strapped for time, you might consider arranging one.
Depending on when you go, walking along El Malecon Havana can include dodging the crashing waves that sometimes pour over the seawall. Local kids like to play a game of cat and mouse with the crashing waves, which are at their strongest in the Cuban winter months. Should a wave hit you, it might take you to the ground, which depending on your mood and overall character, could almost be fun. Okay, maybe not, but at least you will have a good story to tell. Among the top festivals in Cuba, and any Latin American country for that matter, is Carnival. During Carnival in Havana, hordes of Cubans flock to El Malecon to enjoy the goings-on.
Starting in Old Havana, the first sights of major interest along El Malecon de Cuba are the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta and the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro, both of which were built during colonial times. The Spanish needed to fortify the shoreline to protect against invading pirates, hence such structures. In Old Havana, you can stop at the Antonio Maceo park to see the statue that pays tribute to this interesting Lt. General of the Cuban Army of Independence.
The section of the El Malecon Havana seawall that is found in the Central Havana district is perhaps the most intriguing, as you can view the crumbling, yet charming facades of the old buildings that front the route. Some are painted in soft, pastel colors, and at sunset, it is a particular joy to see how the light plays off of the buildings and houses. Though El Malecon is justifiably popular during the day, it is also at its best at night, when the sea breezes and overall atmosphere attract scores of folks looking to enjoy a social evening out. Parades, concerts, and even car races are just some of the things that are known to take place at El Malecon, and when nothing much seems to be going on here, you can always just watch the ships heading in and out of port.