Most visitors to Havana very quickly find their way to Parque Centrale and the surrounding area, traditionally the downtown of this bustling city. Surrounded by important and historic hotels (the Saratoga, the Inglaterra, the Telegrafo and the Parque Centrale hotel itself), the Capitolio and several museums, this area has been the ‘downtown’ of Havana since the early 1900s.
But there is a more vital, more modern centre of Havana in Vedado. La Rampa – a designated section of Avenida 23 – is a slow hill that ascends six or so long blocks from the Malecon up to the crest at Calle L. The broad corner of 23 y L is the centre of the action with the landmark Yara Cinema and the Habana Libre Hotel (the Hilton prior to the Revolucion) on the corners. Across the street on the northwest corner is Coppelia, Havana’s ice cream HQ.
La Rampa itself is a perfect stroll for Cubanos. Not quite as charming as Calle Obispo, its pedestrian friendly equal in Old Havana, La Rampa works despite being newer and clogged with traffic. The sidewalks are separated by six lanes packed with traffic, mostly smogging buses and loping taxis of all descriptions. Nonetheless happy hordes fill both sides and risk crossing almost anywhere. Needless to say this all adds up to a lot of honking which further builds the already high volume of the street noise.
Start at the bottom of the ‘ramp’ then walk up the east sidewalk from the Oro Negro gas station toward the Habana Libre. Past a couple of cafeterias, you walk by salsa clubs, discos, the Milan Cinema to Sofia’s Restaurant at Calle O, an outdoor hangout with Cuban live music. Now you’re into the thick of it with more discos and just uphill La Zorra y El Cuervo jazz club that looks and feels like a New York 50s basement haunt with inexpensive admission and top international talent. Continuing uphill are more discos, a Pollo chicken and croquette stand and (in the daytime) a pretty nice souvenir market.
The crowds on the sidewalk are never ending, particularly now that Wi-Fi is available anywhere on the street. The slope of the hill increases as you approach Calle L leveling off at the corner. The traffic at 23 y L reaches fever pitch with even more cabs, seas of pedestrians, bus and taxi stands and a lot of admiring glances among the people lining the streets of all and any genders.
Just west of L, toward M is the most popular Perro Caliente stand in the capital and beyond that a bit, there’s a major bus stop, a Cadeca office and a bank before 23 heads off from La toward a series of important crossroads like youth gathering mecca 23 y G (Avenida de los Presidentes) and film buff 23 y 12. This is the main drag of modern Havana, the centre of its film world and a route to the once wealthy suburbs in the west.