Callejon de Hamel: Afro-Cuban Culture in Central Havana
This 2 block alley tucked between Aramburu and Hospital streets in Central Havana wasn’t a scheduled visit on our itinerary, but after a day of getting to know each other (basically me bragging about my beautiful multiracial children and showing off their pictures), our guide made the executive decision to take us to Callejon de Hamel… and wow, I’m so glad he did.
Afro-Cuban Culture: Callejon de Hamel
According to our guide (who is ridiculously smart and speaks multiple languages – more on him soon!), this area of Central Havana was once quite unsavory and has since been transformed into the mesmerizing experience it is today: vibrant street art that covers every visible wall, the tantalizing rhythms of drums and exposure to Cuba’s Afro-Cuban culture. As we got out of the car, our guide gave us one tip of advice: move, speak and behave with respect, as the alley is a place for Santería, a Afro Cuban religion.
Started by Cuban artist Salvador González, Callejon de Hamel in Centro Habana is a place to shop for original art pieces by the founder himself, drink specialty drinks and dance. It’s designed to honor the beauty of Afro-Cuban culture. And I loved it so, so much.
Travel Tip: The Palador is Callejon de Hamel’s open air bar. Order the Negron, their specialty drink, and enjoy the live music.
Traditional Cuban Culture
I’ve read a bunch of reviews after our trip and I’ve fallen more in love with the place since we got back. This particular Callejon de Hamel review by Island Girl in Transit was great and I totally agree with her: the area of Centro Habana is unlike anything else. Yes, tourists are there… but don’t let that deter you. It’s truly a hub of Afro-Cuban culture.
Reviews also say to visit on Sundays during the midday for live rumba music, but go anytime you can. In fact, to avoid herbs of tourists, maybe plan to go twice. And then go again. We went during the week and came upon a performance of dancers and singers, a handful of travelers and the school kids getting out of the nearby high school. It was a beautiful afternoon.
To visitors, the murals, shrines and orishas mixed in with imagery of Cuban nationalism may seem very like an interesting blend, but to locals it’s a source of identity and heritage.
Travel Tip: Visit Callejon de Hamel on Sunday, midday. This is when the live music starts and people come out from to dance rumba on the streets. Or go any other day for authentic Afro-Cuban culture and a less touristy feel.