Walking through Havana's Chinatown, you’ll come across interesting sights, such as the Diario Popular Chino (Kwon-Wah-Po), a newspaper that continues to be published in the present day, a Chinese cinema where films are shown in their original version and a quirky pharmacy offering traditional Chinese homeopathic remedies.
Something no one can miss during a visit to Havana’s Chinatown is its ample variety of restaurants. A good excuse to take a break from traditional Cuban cuisine and the black beans and rice staple; the Chinese food served here might be a Cubanised version, albeit a very tasty and interesting one.
There are also a minority of establishments with a more authentic Chinese offering for those wanting to stay close to the original Chinese floors they’re used to. Perhaps the best loved specialties by most Cubans who come to dine here (and the most shocking to foreigners as most don’t expect to find pasta dishes in a Chinese restaurant!), is the Chinese’ restaurants’ selection of Italian dishes.
It may come as quite a surprise to see that most Chinese restaurants in this neighbourhood have a menu featuring both cuisines. What both Italian and Chinese dishes have in common here are the accessible prices, which are below the average of most Cuban paladares. On the streets lining the town, there are some fast food outlets and street vendors which are a great option for the hungry visitor in a hurry.
Chinese population in Cuba?
Every June, Cuba celebrates the arrival of the first Chinese immigrants to Havana’s port. This immigration began in 1847 under the Spanish colonial administration, when Chinese workers on eight year contracts were brought to work in the sugar fields alongside African slaves.
Around 120,000 Chinese workers arrived on such contracts in the 19th century. They brought their culture and their religion (Buddhism) with them. Being predominantly male and unmarried, they had relationships with African and Cuban women, creating yet another facet of Cuba's fascinating patchwork of culture diversity.
Two thousand Chinese, fought with the Cuban rebels against the Spanish in the Ten Years' War (1868–1878). A monument in Havana honours the Cuban Chinese who fell in the war, on which is inscribed: "There was not one Cuban Chinese deserter, not one Cuban Chinese traitor".
In the late 19th century, around 5,000 immigrants of Chinese origin arrived from the U.S. on Cuba, fleeing discrimination. Further Chinese immigrants arrived on Cuba in the first half of the 20th century, fleeing political change in China.
A historic neighbourhood under restoration
After completing their contracts or otherwise obtaining their freedom, some Chinese workers settled in Cuba, although most preferred to return to China, if they had the means to do so. In 1980, 4000 Chinese lived in Havana's Chinatown (Barrio Chino), but by 2002, only 300 pure Chinese were left.
Today, the Barrio Chino is undergoing restoration, along with the rest of downtown Havana and Chinese cultural activities are experiencing a revival. A handful of local associations are campaigning for the Barrio to retain the character of what was once Latin America's largest Chinatown and provide tuition in Chinese languages and martial arts.
Although visitors will not glimpse many Chinese-Cuban faces in Chinatown today, the regeneration has gone some way to reverse its decline. Some physical elements of the original neighbourhood remain, such as the large gate marking the entrance to the neighbourhood, designed in the style of the Ming dynasty. Tourists are treated to the occasional outdoor performance of a lion dance.
The Chinese grocers and dry cleaners may be long gone, but in their place are now street markets, food stands and restaurants, all exhibiting the familiar decor of red lanterns and Buddhist symbols of good fortune. As you stroll around the Barrio Chino, attempt to recapture this once vibrant immigrant community and marvel at how workers from the other side of the globe once called this small Caribbean island home.
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Quinta Avenida is often called the most beautiful street in Cuba, and for good reason. Located in Miramar district, it's home to historic mansions, many of them repurposed, as well as other landmarks including the Fountain of the Americas, an iconic clock tower, the island's largest church, and what is perhaps Cuba's most famous theme park. Read on to learn more about Quinta Avenida, an oasis of peace in a bustling city.
Although it has transformed considerably since its original construction in the late 18th Century, the Alameda de Paula in Havana is brimming with charm. This beautiful seaside walkway is fully lined with mature trees, benches, a fountain, and the domed Paula Church. When visitors are ready to take time away from other attractions, this can be one of the great places to sit down and pause for reflection.
The Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation is one of Cuba's top tourist attractionsâhowever, you won't find any signs guiding you to its fields some 17 kilometres southwest of Pinar del Rio. Since it's a private enterprise, its plantation tours operate in something of a legal grey area; regardless, they come highly recommended. Though famed proprietor Alejandro Robaina passed away a few years ago, his farm continues to grow what is arguably the world's finest tobacco. Take a tour and find out why!
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