Walking Calle Mercaderes
Setting out toward Plaza Vieja from the Hotel Ambos Mundos, after 20 meters you’ll pass the charming Museo de Ásia (Asia Museum, Mercaderes #111, tel. 07/863-9740, Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–1 p.m., entrance CUC1, cameras CUC2, videos CUC10) on your left. Next door, the Casa de las Especias (Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–4 p.m.) sells natural herbs, such as oregano in cloth bags. The scent upon entering is worth the visit.
Nearby, call in to the Pabellón de la Maqueta de la Habana (Model of Havana, Calle 28 #113, e/ 1ra y 3ra, tel. 07/206-1268, maqueta [at] gdic [dot] cu, Tues.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., adults CUC3, students, seniors, and children CUC1, guided tour CUC1, cameras CUC2).
On the west side, 20 meters farther south, are the Casa de Puerto Rico and Casa del Tabaco, both at Mercaderes #120. Besides a fine stock of cigars, the latter houses the Museo del Tabaco (tel. 07/861-5795, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–1 p.m., free), a cigar museum upstairs.
At the end of the block, at the corner of Obrapía, the pink building with the Mexican flag fluttering above the doorway is the Casa de Benito Juárez (also called Casa de México, Mercaderes #116, tel. 07/861-8186, Tues.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–4:45 p.m., Sun. 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m., entrance by donation), displaying artwork and costumes from Mexico, including a collection of priceless Aztec jewelry.
Turn west onto Obrapía to visit the Casa de la Obra Pía (House of Charitable Works, Obrapía #158, tel. 07/861-3097, Tues.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 9:30 a.m.–noon, free) and Casa de África (Africa House, Obrapía #157, e/ Mercaderes y San Ignacio, tel. 07/861-5798, Tues.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 9:30 a.m.–noon, CUC2).
One block east, between Mercaderes and Oficios, is the Casa de Oswaldo Guayasamín (Obrapía #112, tel. 07/861-3843, Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–1:30 p.m., free), housing a museum of art and photographs from Latin America. Guayasamín, a famous Ecuadorian painters, lived and worked here for many years; you can see his works—many are portraits of Fidel—on the upper story, where his living quarters are displayed as he left them upon his death in 1999.
Next door is the Casa de los Abanicos (Obrapía #107, tel. 07/863-4452, abanicos [at] oeetp [dot] ohc [dot] cu, Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–1 p.m., free), where traditional Spanish fans (abanicos) are hand-made and painted.
Return to Mercaderes and pop into Habana 1791 (Mercaderes #176, tel. 07/861-3525, daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.), on the southwest corner of Obrapía, where traditional fragrances are made and sold. Continue south half a block to Casa-Museo del Libertador Simón Bolívar (Mercaderes #160, tel. 07/861-3988, Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–1 p.m., CUC1), displaying cultural works and art from Venezuela. The collection includes portraits of the “Great Liberator,” ceremonial swords, coins minted in his honor, and paintings by contemporary artists. Bolívar stayed here in March 1799 and is commemorated in the small Plaza de Bolívar at the corner of Mercaderes and Obrapía.
Across the street is the Armería 9 de Abril (Mercaderes #157, tel. 07/861-8080, Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., CUC1), a museum that commemorates four members of Castro’s 26th July Movement killed in an assault on the armory on April 9, 1958.
Crossing Lamparilla, peek in at the Hostal Conde de Villanueva, one of Havana’s finest boutique hotels. One block south, the corner of Mercaderes and Amargura is known as the Cruz Verde—Green Cross—as it was the first stop on the annual Vía Crucis pilgrimage. Today it houses the Casa del Chocolate (tel. 07/866-4431, daily 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m.), selling chocolate rolls and beverages and featuring a museum collection of porcelains and wall pieces relating the history of chocolate.
Midway down this curling block you’ll pass Mesón de la Flota, a Spanish bodega with live flamenco. About 75 meters beyond, you’ll arrive at Plaza Vieja.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition