Regla and Guanabacoa Districts
If you’re looking to get to know a different side of the Cuban experience, one that many tourists simply don’t experience, then the municipalities of Regla and Guanabacoa are certainly two fine places to go. Located on “the other side” of Havana Harbour, these municipalities are distinct in many ways but united by the strong Afro-Cuban culture that thrives here. Over the years, this culture has been manifested in literature, dance, music, and visual art—but more than anything else, Regla and Guanabacoa are famous for the unique religions that live on in this area, religions that generally speaking fall under the umbrella of Santería.
A syncretic mix of West African religious traditions and Roman Catholicism, Santería is still widely practiced throughout much of the Caribbean today. That said, Cuba is a Santería hotbed, and Regla and Guanabacoa are the hotbeds of Santería in Havana. Guanabacoa itself is the home of three distinct Afro-Cuban religions—Regla de Ocha, Palo Monte and Abakuá—and a walk or slow drive through the streets here will provide innumerable glimpses into many home-temples containing shrines to different deities representing each of these religious currents and more.
For a more “mainstream” but still definitively local religious experience, visitors to this part of Havana can get to know the Virgin of Regla—a unique depiction of the Catholic Virgin Mary with skin as dark as that of so many residents of this part of the city. Located in the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Regla, things get especially busy each year on her feast day of September 7th when celebrations to the Virgin begin. On this day, religious pilgrims decorate her image with marine images including shells, corals, starfish, and sea grass. This is because, in local Santería tradition, this depiction of the Virgin has been syncretized with Orisha Yemayá, the owner of the ocean and everything within it.
Lastly, any trip to Regla and Guanabacoa should be rounded out with a visit to the latter’s excellent municipal museum—a place so interesting that we explore it in full detail on another page. Suffice it to say, here you can take a closer look at recreations of many home-temple shrines and altars, and also speak with guides intimately knowledgeable about the religious traditions of the area.
To get to the Regla/Guanabacoa municipalities, you have two primary options: the first is of course a taxi from any other part of Havana, but a more unique option is the Lanchita de Regla, a ferry boat that takes off from Old Havana’s ferry terminal, located just a block away from the Rum Museum for reference. This is a great way to add yet another more off-the-beaten-path Havana experience to your holiday.
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