A few days ago friends visiting New York City asked me to accompany them for a walk in Central Park. Unexpectedly, that walk brought back memories, of me as a kid, visiting Havana's Almendares Park (officially now part of Gran Parque Metropolitano). To be clear, the park and the eponymous rivers have seen better days. And yet we usually do not hesitate to show it to our concierge travel clients, who are open to authentic experiences and want to gain real insights into the Cuba of today. After all, the park is one of the largest - yet lesser known - urban parks in the world; totaling approximately 1,730 acres - for context, NYC Central Park is 843 acres.
Little known facts about the Almendares Park:
- The park was the brainchild of Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, a French landscape architect/city planner, who lived/worked in Havana in the 1920's - a glory time for the city. Yes, this is the landscape architect that created the Eiffel Tower’s Champs-de-Mars gardens and the Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona. For the park, he collaborated with Cuban architects like Pedro Martínez Inclán. They aimed to contribute to the rapid modernization that the city was experiencing but maintain a green corridor along the Almendares river. From the grandiose plan, the only surviving piece is the Havana Forest, at the entrance of which the park is situated.
- If you have been researching Havana - or have visited Havana - you have seen Forestier’s better-known work in Cuba, such as.:
- the Grand Escalinata (staircase) of the University of Havana,
- the Paseo del Prado (site of the Chanel fashion show), and
- Parque Central (the Kempinski Hotel is across the street).
With the deterioration of the park, it became best known as a place for illicit liaisons and Santeria ritualism. But the park is experiencing a renaissance. The Amphitheater is coming alive with a series of weekend events; the lush forest favorite spot for model shoots and wedding photos; and travelers strolling amidst the giant trees and curtain of green is becoming a common sight.
If you travel to Cuba from New York or any other US origination, make sure you ask your Cuba specialist travel agency to place it in your itinerary and provide tips on what to look for while there. Even better, attend one of the Coachella-like events that happen there on the weekends.