Stretching some eight kilometres along the Havana coast from Old Havana to El Vedado is the Malecon, a sea wall, pedestrian promenade, and multi-lane vehicular road famous for its beauty both in Cuba and throughout the wider world. The Malecon is perhaps the ultimate emblem of Havana—and if you don’t make a trip here, to some extent you may never have visited the city at all. The Malecon is one of Havana’s true melting pots, attracting visitors from all parts of the city and from around the world as well. It’s also a contemplative place, thanks perhaps to the grand and striking architecture slowly being ground into submission by the sun and the sea.
A bit of history
Construction on the Malecon began in 1901, during a time of United States military occupation. Some 500 metres were completed during this era, with the intent of protecting Havana’s coastal residents from crashing waves and public health problems that the country was facing at that time.
Subsequent governments continued construction on the Malecon with periodic frequency. The modern incarnation of the Malecon reaches from Havana Harbour to the Almendares River in the El Vedado district of the city. The final stretch of the Malecon was completed in 1952, though renovations to the already-existing sections go on almost constantly- a constant barrage of salt water isn’t good for buildings, roads, or anything else manmade really!
As a connecting route between some of Havana’s most historic districts, it should come as no surprise that the Malecon itself is home to many of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Chief among these are the Castillo de la Punta and the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, perhaps the city’s most historic luxury hotel.
The Malecon is also marked by a number of historic monuments, most celebrating Cuban military generals and independence fighters. An interesting addition to the collection is the monument to the victims of the USS Maine, an American warship mysteriously destroyed here during the Spanish-American War, which was modified into a sort of anti-imperialist piece after the Cuban Revolution.
The malecon as a gathering spot
Today, the Malecon is especially famous for its role as Havana’s most popular gathering spot for Cubans and tourists alike. During the day, adventurous adolescents can often be found diving into the sea and, as dusk hits, the promenade is taken over by musicians, artists, exercisers, dreamers, and loving couples out for their evening strolls.
At all hours, the Malecon is popular with fishermen hoping to land a big one and bring it home for dinner. Later in the night, the stretch of the Malecon around 23rd Street becomes especially popular with members of Havana’s LGBT community - nothing to get uncomfortable about, it's just a colourful addition to the night.
If you don’t visit the Malecon at any other time, come around sunset, when the warm glow of the evening sun lends the weather-worn buildings lining the roadway an ethereal, almost ghostly quality. It’s one of the most sublime experiences Cuba has to offer - and when you’re done taking it in, continue on your stroll with the sounds of laughter, music, and the waves crashing all around you.
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