*A series of guides on shooting Street Photography in cities around the world. Find the best spots to shoot, things to capture, street walks, street tips, safety concerns, and more for cities around the world. I have personally researched, explored and shot Street Photography in every city that I create a guide for. So you can be ready to capture the streets as soon as you step outside with your camera!
When it comes to dream destinations for street photographers, Havana is usually somewhere at the top of the list. Endless images showcasing the city’s lost in time atmosphere makes it hard to resist. A place with so much appeal in photos could end up being disappointing in person, but in my opinion, the opposite is true when it comes to Havana. It’s even better in person. If you created the perfect city for photography in your mind, it could be Havana. And while the overdone clichés of old cars and cigars might make you hesitate, there is so much more to the city than that. It’s full of life, color, character and more around every corner. And you have to admit, those “cliché” 1950’s cars still look pretty dang good in a pic.
Havana deserves its reputation. Trust me.
So here’s a Street Photography guide so you can be ready to capture all that Havana has to offer before you even arrive!
- Havana Vieja
- Plaza de Revolucion/Estadio LatinoAmericano
- Diez de Octubre Road
Top 5 Street Spots:
1. Havana Vieja
Vieja is the main focus for the majority of visitors here, and the neighborhood you see most in the countless photos of Havana. A UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with 500 years of architecture and historical sites, it’s also filled with restaurants, art galleries, shops, and bars, all with that Old Havana flavor. In the Americas, you arguably won’t find anything that competes with the charm of walking through this section of the city. The architecture, churches, colonial squares, cobblestone streets and atmosphere all come together to give it an impressive and old character. As the main focus for visitors, though, all that charm comes with plenty of touristic atmosphere too. While Vieja is too good to let it ruin its authenticity, it still does effect it. This is the section where you’ll find street performers, women dressed up with big cigars, souvenir stands, and restaurants catering to tourists, while the rest of the city feels much more local. For many, they will love the charm and ease of exploring Vieja over the rest of the city. While I prefer shooting in the city outside of Vieja, I still always spend some time here too.
After Vieja, the Malecón is probably the next most popular section for tourists, but for good reason. The Malecón is a roadway, esplanade, and seawall that goes for miles along Havana’s coastline. It starts in Old Havana and goes through Centro until it ends in Vedado, making it a great connecting section on a street photography walk. I’m sure most have seen photos along the Malecon and it really is as photogenic as it gets in a city. The old Havana buildings on one side, friends and lovers leaning against the wall on the other side, the famous old cars coming down the road in the middle, waves crashing against the rocks below, and a mix of sea and city view in the background. The atmosphere is one of a kind. It’s a popular walk and spot to hang out for locals too, including fishermen, so there’s always a really nice mix of activity here. The afternoon/evening is usually the best time to come here for the most life.
Just east of Centro along the Malecon you’ll find the district of Vedado. Developed less than a century ago, it’s a more modern part of Havana. There’s a more affluent feel here, while still having a blend of Havana atmosphere. Before relations changed between the U.S., this was the commercial district tourists came to for entertainment, which was mafia-run at the time. While the casinos are long gone and much of the nightlife and hotel luxury has changed, there’s still a feeling left behind from its past. It’s one of the nicer areas to walk in the city with tall buildings, art galleries, restaurants, bars and more, with a mix of 1950’s North America meets Havana. Like the rest of the city, there’s a frozen in time feeling here, while still providing a change of scenery. A cultural center of the city with a classical feel.
Centro is just east of Vieja and has the highest population density in the city. While not as nice or historically charming as Vieja, it still contains much of the crumbling character and centuries old atmosphere. It’s also not nearly as touristy, while still being packed with activity and interest to explore. You’ll find a mix of old retail commercial spaces, bars, restaurants, hotels and active streets. It’s probably the busiest area in the city to walk and there’s life buzzing around you everywhere. You get a more local feeling too. The amount of activity, authenticity and old urban Havana flavor found in Centro attracts me for street photography even more than the more photogenic Vieja. Barrio Chino (Chinatown) is also located here. While not big, it’s one of the more interesting small areas to walk for street photography.
5. Plaza de Revolucion/Estadio LatinoAmericano
Plaza de la Revolución is both the name of the city’s famous “Revolution Square” and a municipality of Havana. While the large grey square isn’t pretty, it does get photographed due to the famous large outlines of Che Guevara and Jose Marti on two of the buildings. It’s also the base of the Cuban government. While it can be quiet, many large events are held here, especially political rallies. Other spots for street photography not too far from the square are around Estadio Latinoamericano. Latinoamerican Stadium has a large square in front that is always full of people on their phones, tables and computers. That’s because Havana only has wi-fi in specific areas, usually parks and squares. This one in front of the stadium is my favorite due to the huge open space and the sheer amount of locals it attracts. Especially once evening hits, you’ll see the lot packed. It can make for an interesting sight to see. It also makes for a local hangout, sometimes with music blasting and coolers full of beer. Surrounding the stadium, you have more local streets of activity to explore too.
6. Diez de Octubre Road
Diez de Octubre Road is a Main Street in Havana that stretches across the middle of the city, from Vedado towards the airport. Out of all the places I’ve included, this is the one no visitors explore so you won’t find any info on it. But I love it. I can spend days walking this endless street with my camera. There’s so much interest you pass through and by, with a variety of colorful scenery and life to capture. The local feeling here is amazing and you really get to know the city walking here. Photogenically, it has more than enough of that Havana character too, but with no tourist polish at all. There’s so many spots I enjoy stopping through along this street, but I recommend just walking Diez de Octubre Road and finding them for yourself.
Regla is a very short ferry ride from Old Havana taking you to a more peaceful and industrial side of the city. It’s known for its colonial history and traditional Santeria practiced here too. Not too many tourists come here, but you’ll see a few along the main streets. Regla isn’t too busy and has a blue-collar feel to it with the shipyards and warehouses. Mixed in with this, you’ll find its charming colonial atmosphere too, though, creating an enjoyable change of scenery to check out with your camera. If you want to get out of the busyness of Havana without really leaving, Regla provides more interest to discover.
Sample Street Walk:
For a full day of Street Photography, covering some of the best spots, you can follow this sample street walk for Havana:
- Start your morning walking around Vieja (1)
- Walk west into Centro (4) and make sure to check out Barrio Chino too
- Head towards the Malecon (2) and walk up along the coast into Vedado (3)
- After exploring some of Vedado (3), either walk back through Centro and Vieja, or head southeast to Plaza de Revolucion (5)
- Finish in Centro along the Malecon catching the sunset life, or in Vieja catching the evening life
3 Things I Think of First from Photographing Havana:
1. Frozen-in-Time Feeling
One of the aspects that Havana is famous for is its frozen-in-time atmosphere. This is also something many photographers love about the city. It provides character you won’t find elsewhere. We’re already attracted to older photos of cities because of that nostalgic character, but, unfortunately, you can’t travel back in time. Havana provides the closest option, though.
You won’t find McDonald’s, Starbucks or other modern businesses and advertising covering the city’s streets. Instead, you find a city that feels like it was before all that took over. The buildings are old, and many times crumbling, but they’re also beautiful and filled with character. Of course, there’s the famous classic cars too filling the streets. While they’re they’ve become cliché in Havana photography, there’s a reason we love them. And then more anything, there’s the people and life of the place. Everyone’s outside living life-like they have for centuries. You see old photos of kids playing in the streets of New York, but in Havana you can still capture it today. There’s other cities that feel old and back in time in many ways, but it’s different here. You get that urban atmosphere feeling still, but in a package that feels like it really hasn’t changed much compared to every other city in the world.
2. Social street life
Not only is Havana one of the most photogenic cities in the world, it’s also one of the most photo friendly. Even better, though, it’s the perfect type of photo friendliness for street photography. Places like India are very photo friendly too, but eyes are always on you and waiting to pose for your camera. This isn’t a problem in Havana. They’re not so curious about you, but they’re just as photo friendly. Unless it’s one of those oversized cigar women or a Fidel look-alike looking for money, no one will be bothered if you take their photo. Either they’ll laugh or more likely, they won’t care at all. Sometimes they’ll even invite you over for a drink.
People live outside with doors open enjoying their vibrant culture and rarely mind letting you into their world for a few photos. It’s great for street photographer and even greater for the experience.
It’s no secret that I love color and there might be no city more colorful than Havana. Bright, vibrant colors are surrounding you everywhere you go. From the buildings and walls painted in a variety of colors to the people wearing just as much color. Some cities have one area that is covered in color, but in Havana it’s everywhere. I like using color to add to or complete a photo with the life still being the centerpiece, but on my last trip here I had to put a little focus on trying the opposite. Havana’s colors were just too much for me not to put them as the centerpiece in a short series.
So to see some of the variety of colors this vibrant city has on display, you can check out this side series here.
Link: Havana Colors series
4. The Endless Interest outside of Vieja
Havana Vieja is great and without question deserves your time, but it’s not like that signature frozen-in-time atmosphere is only found here. While many cities have an old town, Havana possesses this character throughout the city, but without the tourism and polish.
Centro can feel just like Old Havana that you might not know you’ve crossed into it, but it still has less of a touristic feel. Vedado is a nicer area of Havana and runs by the Malecon and ocean. Regla is a very short ferry ride from Old Havana taking you to a more peaceful and industrial side of the city. Areas like Cerro and Plaza de la Revolucion give a wide view of local city life in Havana. 10 de Octubre is one of my favorite main roads to walk endlessly. With so many amazing areas to visit in Havana, you must make the Old Town only one part of your photo visit here.
What To Do For a Street Photography Break?:
Chill at the Malecon, Eat some Ropa Vieja, Smoke a Cigar, and Drink a Mojito
Cuba is known for a few things that can work their way into a street photography break. Even many non-smokers end up trying a cigar while in the world’s most famous producer. Even if you don’t actually try one, the factories can be interesting to check out. Cuba is also famous for its rum. Hemingway’s favorite stop for Mojitos and Daquiris helped make these drinks even more famous in Havana too. And while Cuba gets a bad name for the food, I actually enjoy it. There’s not a ton of variety, but there’s a few dishes to try. I’d recommend trying the country’s most famous dish, Ropa Vieja, which translates to “old clothes,” but tastes much better. I promise.
And at the end of the day, sitting atop Malecon’s wall enjoying the view with others is always a good call.
Street Safety Score: 8
*As always, no place is completely safe! So when I talk about safety, I’m speaking in general comparison to other places. Always take precaution, be smart, observe your surroundings and trust your instincts anywhere you go!
Latin America isn’t known for safety, but Havana is the exception. It’s the safest major city in Latin America by most accounts and provides a very safe feeling atmosphere for street photography. Walking by crumbled buildings, even at night, it might not always look safe, but it feels that way. Locals feel a little more cautious about safety here, but statistics back up the safe feeling. This is mostly concerned with violent crime, though, as petty theft is still something to be cautious of, like any city. You do have to be careful with your money and pay special attention to being cheated (count your change), but as far as street safety goes, Havana is a paradise within Latin America.
People’s Reaction Score: 9
Havana is one of the easiest major cities in the world for street photography. When it comes to photo friendliness, it rivals any asian city. In other words, you can shoot without worry. Of course, be respectful, but it can be surprising just how photo friendly the people are. Most won’t care at all, others will smile, and others might even invite you inside their home for more photographs, and some rum. When it comes to reactions, Havana is one of the best photography experiences there is.
Exchange for local pesos
A big piece of advice I’ve learned from traveling to Cuba is to exchange for both Convertible and Local pesos. Cuba has two forms of currency, one is their local peso (CUP) and the other is the convertible peso (CUC). The convertible peso is always equal to the US dollar, and currently exchanges to around 25 local pesos, so there’s a big difference. When you exchange foreign money here, they’ll always convert it to Convertible pesos and most visitors assume this is the currency they must use here, but it’s not. As soon as you exchange for the Convertible pesos, just push some of it back under the counter and they’ll convert that to local pesos. You can use either currency most places. So why is this important? It can save you money. Many locals and businesses are happy to try to charge you the local peso price, but in convertible pesos with no exchange rate. That means the sandwich costs 5 local pesos and they’ll try to take 5 convertible pesos, ripping you off 25 times the price. Also, many restaurants will convert the local peso price, usually giving you a bad exchange rate. In addition, just having local pesos gets me more respect and less trouble as your aren’t seen as the normal easy tourist target. Using local pesos saves you any trouble you might run into, as well as saving you money.
Havana can feel expensive for most tourists, but in actuality, it can be a very budget destination. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that charges so much more to tourists, but it’s easy to work around. A regular tourist meal in the Old Quarter can cost $15, while that same meal can cost $3 at another restaurant. Pizza and sandwiches are easily found for 50 cents at quick stop windows. And while taxis are a huge rip off here, you can take collectivos for only 50 cents, while riding in one of those old classic cars they charge $25 plus for in the center. If you want to save tons of money, Havana is all about going where the locals do and paying in local pesos.
Collectivo Taxis & Casa Particulars
In can be difficult finding places to stay in Cuba, but Havana definitely has the most options and is getting easier and easier. Hotels are overpriced in Cuba, but Casa Particulars are a great option. These allow you to stay in a local home, sometimes like a bed & breakfast and sometimes with a place all to yourself. They usually run around 15-25 euros a night and you can reserve many online or look for the signs hanging on doors all around town. Air Bnb is more recently available option too now, which can be even more convenient.
Taxis are another very overpriced service in Havana. A 7km ride from the airport usually goes for $25. In the city, though, you have the option to take a Collectivo for around 50 cents. They’ll look just like those old 1950’s cars and they stop and pick up people, while going on different routes. You’ll see people waving them down so you just have to join in and tell them where you’re going. They’ll tell you to get in if it’s on their way. The best part is getting to ride in one of those classic cars at a small fraction of the tourist prices they charge in Vieja. Speaking a little Spanish can help with collectivos, though, as they don’t always want to take tourists.
Explore everywhere, every direction
Havana is like a street photographer’s playground. It almost feels like it was designed from a photographer’s dream checklist. Culture, Vibrance, History, Character, Authenticity, Colors, Contrast, Photo Friendliness, and Endless places to shoot, all in wrapped into package that makes it so walkable that you can just step outside and head in any direction. Around every corner and down any street, you’re bound to find interest to capture. Almost too much interest that you do have to reign in that focus and not get too carried away snapping away at everything.
Watch out for interest overload and cliche
Some cities have a neighborhood that is famous and attracts photographers for its character. In Havana, this is the whole city. Everything feels photographable, but that can be a problem too.
More than any other city other than maybe Paris, you have to watch out for the cliché. This city is has been photographed so much, you end up seeing the same photos. In Havana, the uniqueness really seems to attract the cliché too. Close your eyes and picture Havana. What do you see? Old cars and cigars. And that’s what nearly every photographer sees, and that’s what people still like seeing too. But there’s so much more to the city than this, that I feel it cuts it very short. And those clichés are photographed for a reason, those old cars are beautiful. But they can still be captured in a more unique way where it doesn’t feel so cliché. You just have to treat like any other city and find the real interest, not just the initial photogenic newness of Havana.
For me, Havana is the closest thing to a street photographer’s paradise out there. It’s a playground of history, character, age, colors, texture, light, life, vibrance and more. Everywhere you walk, you’re surrounded with so much life, in both the people and the city, that it can be overwhelming for photography. You might want to capture everything, including the cliché. But if you bring it in a little and really explore and experience the city, Havana will reward you like no other city can.
I hope this guide can help you go experience Havana before everyone else does discover it, though. So grab your camera and capture all that Havana has to offer for Street Photography!
If you still have any questions about shooting in Havana, feel free to comment below or email me!
(I want to make these guides as valuable as possible for all of you so add any ideas on improvements, including addition requests, in the comment section!)