At the end of every trip there’s always one place/thing that stands out to me more than everything else.
Callejon de Hamel was that place for me in Cuba.
Vibrant colors. Expressive art. Quirky decor. Rich culture. Live music. And the ‘negron’, a signature drink I could vouch for after just one sip. So much positive vibes, it was an unexpected explosion of Afro-Cuban culture in the heart of Havana. And I loved it!
It’s just a short stretch – two blocks between Aramburu and Hospital Streets in Central Havana – but it’s a place you could easily spend a few hours without realizing how much time has passed. Whether you’re staring at the mesmerizing murals on the walls; shopping for original Afro-centric artwork by artist Salvador González at the small gallery for $400 CUC (or doing like me and purchasing more affordable prints from his son at $30 and up); sipping on a Negron at La Paladar; listening to live music in the alley; or studying the intricate sculptures that crop up along the thoroughfare…you’ll have plenty to occupy your time.
If you like taking pictures (selfies or otherwise) you’ll be in heaven because everywhere you turn there’s a photo op for you to capture Insta-worthy pics. Every inch of space is blessed by some eclectic, unique touch: a vintage typewriter or antique sewing machine are a part of the decor at the bar; a massive sculpture depicting the African god, Shango, towers over pedestrians as they walk by outside; and bath tubs fused into the wall and inscribed with poetry serve as quirky art installations.
There, every color has a meaning and the community organizers involved in the project are extremely proud of this truly unique attraction (with good reason). They are very present at the site and will approach you without hesitation to educate you about the artist, the history of the project and even small details like the meanings behind some of the colors most prominently featured. Through conversing with them I came to realize exactly how entrenched the African culture is in this community project. For example, the color blue is in honor of Yemaya, a Yoruba Orisha, the goddess of the ocean, considered to be the mother of all; while black is for Elegua, the Santeria Orisha who opens and closes the paths for all mankind.
Callejon de Hamel was one of the first items on my Cuba list and one of the last things we did before heading to the airport. On the one hand, I felt like I didn’t have enough time to soak it all in, but on the upside, it provided the perfect sensory overload of so many things ‘Cuba’ that I felt honored to have it be one of the last things I did before boarding my flight.
Want to check it out? Here’s what you need to know:
Where it is
Between Aramburu and Hospital Streets in Central Havana
When to go
Sunday, midday – that’s when the live music kicks off
What to do
- Buy a piece of art. It’ll be a great souvenir and it’s nothing like what you find at the craft markets.
- Try the Negron, if even it’s just to say you tried it. I can’t imagine you’ll regret it.
- Photograph the murals, they’re absolutely amazing. While you’re at it, take a selfie, no one will judge.
- Sit in one of the quirky chairs along the alley. Because…why not?
Now that I’ve explained all that you can take a look at this very amateur video edit. It by no means does this place justice, but it captures some of the atmosphere.
Ever been to Callejon de Hamel? There are so many things to take in, but if you had to narrow it down, what was your favorite part of the experience?