Havana stands out, refreshingly for some, as one of the few capitals in the West whose centre is not dominated by a shopping district – Obispo, in Habana Vieja, is as close as it gets. Elsewhere, although new malls and boutiques are mushrooming steadily around the city, the general standard of merchandise is quite low, with rum, cigars, coffee and crafts the exceptions. For everything else the large hotels and the Artex and Caracol state chain stores have some of the best-quality products. Standard opening hours are Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm; only a tiny minority of shops stays open after 7pm. Some shops are open all Sunday but most either don’t open or close at lunchtime. Havana still has a significant number of national-peso shops, especially in Centro Habana, mostly half-empty and stocking used, old or shoddy goods – the fading signs and barely stocked outlets along Avenida de Italia stand as testament to a bygone era.

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