The most picturesque way to reach Vedado from Centro Habana or Habana Vieja is to stroll down the famous Malecón sea wall, which snakes west along the coastline from La Punta for about 4km. It’s the city’s defining image, and ambling along its length, drinking in the panoramic views, is an essential part of the Havana experience. But don’t expect to stroll in solitude: the Malecón is the capital’s front room and you won’t be on it for long before someone strikes up a conversation. People head here for free entertainment, particularly at night when it fills up with guitar-strumming musicians, vendors offering cones of fresh-roasted nuts, and star-gazing couples, young and old alike. In recent years it’s grown in popularity for the city’s expanding clique of gays and transvestites, who put its sinuous length to good effect as a nightly catwalk and meeting place, especially the area close to the Hotel Nacional in Vedado. In the daytime it’s crowded with schoolchildren (intent on hurling themselves into the churning Atlantic), wide-eyed tourists and anglers climbing down onto the rocks below.
The Centro Habana section, referred to on street signs as the Malecón tradicional, has been undergoing tortoise-paced renovations for around two decades now. Lined with colourful neo colonial buildings, it’s the oldest, most distinct and characterful section in the city, though – potholed and sea-beaten – it looks much older than its hundred or so years. Construction began in 1901, after nearly a decade of planning, and each decade saw another chunk of wall erected until, in 1950, it finally reached the Río Almendares. Today there are a few places worth stopping in for their enjoyable sea views. The best of these is Café Neruda, Taberna El Galeón, Castropol and the La Abadía tapas bar.