Where to take the best travel photos in Cuba
Cuba is one of the world’s most unique and exotic new destinations opening up to travellers from all parts of the globe. It has become a photographer’s paradise, filled with unique and spontaneous street scenes, iconic architecture and of course the 1950’s style cars and cigars! Photographers are flocking to Cuba, to capture the essence of this culture, it’s charming people, and crumbling buildings. The options can seem overwhelming, so here’s your guide of where to take the best travel photos in Cuba.
The essence of photographing Cuba and Havana in particular is about spontaneity, a willingness to discover the grittiness of the city and to look past the obvious. This guide will show you some great iconic spots for photos but will also try to get photographers of any skill set to discover much more of this great city. Take a look at our travel guides on Cuba visa requirements and our Havana City Guide for more information on how to make your experience in Cuba your best travel experience yet.
Spend a day walking along the Malecon and you’ll uncover a different scene every few steps. Enjoy a coffee at a street café and you’ll uncover any number of different people strolling past ready to be captured. Discover the ruggedness of Centro Havana by looking above street level at the decaying buildings, peering over gates to discover that hidden street boxing ‘gym’. Enjoy the pristine Caribbean beaches only a short trip from the city. All of these photographic opportunities await you! Here’s our top list of places to photograph in Cuba.
La Habana Vieja
La Habana Vieja (Old Habana) is Havana’s cultural and architectural epicentre, with a fantastic array of colonial era and neo-colonial buildings. Granted UNESCO Heritage status in 1982, the government has done a great job in restoring a lot of the old buildings and squares. You’ll have to dodge the tourists in this area, but it’s worth it to capture any number of European inspired streets and squares such as Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza de Armas. Spend some time strolling around and sitting and waiting (with a coffee or mojito) for something to catch your eye and your camera lens. There is a stunning contrast between the old, colonial buildings and the soaring trees that surround the squares.
Walk up and down the cobblestone streets and Calle Obispo to experience the hustle and bustle of the area and capture some great street vendors or salsa bands spilling out on the streets from the bars. Capture a shot with any number of street performers from salsa dancers, stilt walkers or a Habanera woman dressed in traditional clothes and totting a giant cigar (prepare to part with a small amount of cash for one of these shots).
The Malecon is Havana’s most iconic area. Stretching for 8km, this epic concrete walkway separates the city of Havana from the sea. Known as the ‘longest sofa in the world’, the Malecon is a gathering place for a plethora of locals, and can provide some of the best and most spontaneous shots at any time of the day. In the mornings, capture the locals fishing from the sea wall and the rocks, capture street vendors transporting their wares towards Old Havana or wait around for a saxophone player to start up with the ocean as a backdrop. Follow the stream of 1950’s cars as they cruise along the Malecon carrying locals and tourists. Don’t forget to wait around for sunset, to capture from the sea wall one of nature’s blessings in a pink and hazy sunset over the ocean, it will become a defining shot in your collection.
Parque Central & Surrounds
Parque Central is the main square in Havana, and is often filled with locals, tourists, artisans and performers. This concoction of people makes it the perfect place to capture unique and defining photos. It’s also the main location for the congregation of the classic cars. Here, drivers will wait and haggle with tourists for city tours and taxi trips. If you wander around and take your time, there are some great opportunities for shots with the classic cars and the famously stunning Hotel Inglaterra as your backdrop.
The buildings and hotels surrounding the Parque Central are great examples of the grand colonial architecture that Havana is well known for, and a great spot for the architecturally inclined photographers. The detailing and workmanship in the buildings make for some unique and sharp photos.
So take your time, enjoy the life of the square and capture some spontaneous moments or lifestyle and culture in this square. The Jose Marti statue in the middle of Parque Central is also worth stopping for a shot of.
Not far from Parque Central is El Capitolio (Havana’s Capitol building). This building was modelled on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington and is an iconic shot in Havana. It offers an unparalleled contrast between the American style capitol building, very grey and straight, with the crumbling colourful buildings that surround it. At the time of publication, the building is undergoing restoration, so photos are impeded, however with some creativity and some classic cars in the foreground you can still achieve some great shots!
Colourful buildings near El Capitolio
Opposite El Capitolio and a little further down the road are a series of colourful buildings that are a great opportunity for some spontaneous photography. Wait patiently on the concrete island in the middle of the road for some classic cars to cruise past, and capture the cars in front of these beautiful, colourful colonial buildings. Play around with your shutter speed and get some unique action shots with the buildings in the background. You’ll also find some extravagant and colourful people walking these streets, so keep your eyes open. Photos of the people of Cuba are among some of the best, as their unique culture shines brightly throughout them.
As mentioned above, Centro Havana is the run down and decaying area of the city. Here the buildings are literally falling down around you as you walk the streets. However, life still goes on here for the Habanero’s and they utilise every opportunity. You can spend hours walking these streets, getting under the surface of Havana and photographing what everyday life for a lot of the locals is really like (our tip is to probably avoid it at night, as a safety precaution). You might stumble across some kids on the street playing football, a grandmother sitting outside her shop waiting for business, a classic car on blocks awaiting repairs or some great colonial buildings half falling down.
A challenge here is looking past what is just on the street. Respectfully and tactfully peer over fences or in garages to see what you can discover. You might just come across something you weren’t expecting like a raw street boxing gym.
Havana at night
Enjoy all that Havana has to offer photographers at night. Walk the streets, capture the bars and restaurants spilling out onto the streets with late night revellers enjoying the simple pleasures of Salsa dancing. Play around with some long exposures to capture the energy of the streets at night. This is the perfect opportunity to see how Cuba comes alive at night time.
Finally, Havana has some fantastic and unique opportunities to capture street art. Anything from colourful Caribbean influences to black and white portraits on crumbling walls, and always the chance to get some classic cars in the shot. Walk the streets of Old and Centro Havana and see what you can discover! They’re often found in the most unsuspecting places, so ensure that you peer around small alley ways and down side streets, as they will reveal the truly beautiful artworks.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of photography opportunities in Havana, let alone the rest of Cuba. It’s a great starting point, and hopefully a way to get photographers and travellers visiting Cuba to open up opportunities that otherwise may have been overlooked.