Havana is one of the most exciting, vibrant cities in the Caribbean. With unprecedented changes continuing apace since the withdrawal of Fidel Castro from Cuba's politics in 2008, it's also one of the most dynamic.
Cuba pulsates with laughter, music, humour and yes, difficulties. All life's ingredients coalesce in Cuba's tropical mix and nowhere more so than in its magnetic capital. Even the name Havana (La Habana) evokes images of antique cars, killer cigars and revolution.
Today's Havana tempers revolutionary fever with the fervent desire for hard cash, but the city remains true to its heart, its passion permeating its steamy alleys and salt-sprayed sidewalks.The exquisite architecture of Old Havana makes it the Americas' best-preserved colonial centre. Taking a stroll through shady plazas to the world famous Malecón with no goal beyond an ice-choked mojito feels like stepping back in time.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Habana Vieja (Old Havana) is being restored through a programme that feeds tourist revenues into renovation efforts. But not all that glitters is gold: some 300 buildings a year become uninhabitable or collapse outright in Havana, and visitors are offered the jarring sight of brightly painted, restored buildings alongside crumbling ones.
Even the worldliest travellers can suffer from culture shock in Havana, where Al Capone-era cars cruise alongside late-model Audis and children in pressed uniforms skip to school. Contradictions are rife, but trumped by a live-for-the-moment attitude embodied in the ubiquitous Cuban rhythms.