A Look at Life in Havana


The streets of Havana are filled with tourists and locals throughout the day. Relatively few people own cars—most walk or take taxis or public transportation—and many side streets have little automobile traffic. Image by Kassondra Cloos. Cuba, 2013.


Potholes like this plague the streets of Havana. Buildings collapse with frequency, sometimes killing people, and there are many fenced-in areas with large signs warning people of danger. Image by Kassondra Cloos. Cuba, 2013.


A vintage car cruises past colonial-style buildings in Havana directly across from the capitol building. Image by Rachel Southmayd. Cuba, 2013.


Even where the buildings are falling down, many of Havana’s classic antique cars still shine—at least on the outside. It’s not uncommon to see groups of men repairing cars on the side of the street. Low-quality gas is expensive, and one taxi driver claimed it makes the cars perform poorly. Many personal cars are used as taxis to supplement a family’s income. Image by Kassondra Cloos. Cuba, 2013.


Warning signs like these are common in the streets of Havana, where abandoned or stalled construction projects present dangers to pedestrians. Image by Kassondra Cloos. Cuba, 2013.


A mural on the side of a building near the University of Havana depicts the evils of capitalism. The grotesque figure eating the world is covered with the names of prominent global companies like Coca-Cola and Disney. Image by Rachel Southmayd. Cuba, 2013.


On the side of a dilapidated wall near Old Havana, a nationalistic scrawl: “Viva Fidel y Raul.” Fidel Castro was the leader of the Cuban revolution and then president. He resigned from public life in 2008 and his brother, Raul, assumed his position as head of the Communist Party of Cuba. Image by Rachel Southmayd. Cuba, 2013.


The image of Che Guevara and a giant Cuban flag adorn the façade of a building adjacent to Plaza de la Revolucion. Che Guevara, who traveled the world participating in political movements in the 20th century, still is regarded as a national hero in Cuba. Image by Rachel Southmayd. Cuba, 2013.


Tourist buses line up in La Plaza de Revolucion in Havana, full of visitors from across the globe. Groups from the United States are required to travel with a government-approved tour guide. Image by Rachel Southmayd. Cuba, 2013.


Havana’s colors are bright, especially in areas like this where buildings are well-maintained. It’s the government’s responsibility to restore buildings. This is one of the more touristy areas, a few blocks away from the Hotel Nacional, where many famous people have stayed during visits to Cuba. Tourism provides some of the best jobs because workers receive tips. Image by Kassondra Cloos. Cuba, 2013.


El Capitolio, the Cuban capitol building, once served as the seat of government in Havana. Now, it functions as part of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. Image by Rachel Southmayd. Cuba, 2013.


Boats abound in the bay beyond the Cuban sea wall. Fishing is common, and many locals arrive before sunrise to cast their lines off the sea wall. Image by Kassondra Cloos. Cuba, 2013.


The Cuban sea wall is a popular location for tourists and locals alike. Some, like this man who arrived before sunrise, go to fish, and others sit along the wall to socialize during the afternoons and evenings. Image by Kassondra Cloos. Cuba, 2013.


The view from the top of the bell tower in the historic Saint Francis of Assisi Church shows the disparity between various parts of Havana. The capitol building (upper right) stands tall and bright, but many apartment buildings are weathered or condemned. Citizens are not allowed to renovate the exteriors of their homes. That is the government’s job, so the houses go unfixed for long periods. Image by Rachel Southmayd. Cuba, 2013.

Havana is a city of 2 million people, and it’s hard to forget it. During the day, even during typical working hours, throngs of people meander the narrow streets. In many places in Old Havana, sidewalks are hardly wide enough for a single person, and pedestrians and automobiles typically share the road. The streets in touristy Old Havana are lined with wastebaskets and cleaned frequently to keep city squares looking fresh and tidy, but venturing beyond view of the old villas-turned-hotels reveals a different city scene.

Crumbling buildings with chipped paint and slumping balconies overlook the often-littered streets and many railings are decorated with flapping laundry hung out to dry. Still, amid the grungy buildings that are intermingled with the rubble of collapsed walls, the essence of grandeur has not completely left Havana.