There is a very characteristic thoroughfare in Havana. It extends for five miles along the ocean front, looking out to the Florida Straits and the Great Blue River, also known as The Gulf Stream; between La Punta, where Paseo del Prado starts, and the Torreon de La Chorrera, at the mouth of Almendares River. It is the Malecón or Sea Wall Drive.
Hotel Nacional is probably one of the places you will stay, or at least visit during your stay in Havana. It sits on a bluff overlooking The Malecon. There is a very nice view of the City from the Hotel back gardens. You can see the ocean front make a wide curve, all the way to the entrance to Havana Bay. Cars whiz by, and every now and then you may see some pedestrians, or people riding bikes, or jogging along the sidewalk next to the sea wall. But it is only at sundown, and after, that The Malecon comes alive, and becomes a favorite spot for those not lucky enough to have plenty of hard currency (dollars or “CUCs”) to pay for a night at a restaurant or fancy bar.
Whole families come down from their cramped and sweltering apartments, and go for a walk along The Malecon, enjoying the cool ocean breeze that always blows after sunset. A little later, couples drop by, holding hands, embracing, and kissing. Most of them are happy to have their “together” time, sitting on the sea wall, feet hanging down, or cross-legged, looking out to the ocean, the stars, and hopefully a romantic moon, reflecting on the waves. There are also groups of friends, young people, getting together for a cheap night out, bringing perhaps a bottle of cheap rum or “aguardiente” (firewater), not having more for hanging out at a bar… You can also find older people, alone, in pairs, coming to sit on the wall for a while, unable to sleep, or looking for some relief from the scorching heat at home. There is always plenty of room and plenty breeze for everyone.
If you want to meet the common folk, not the hospitality industry worker, not the hustler, trying to get you to spend some dollars for his own profit, but the real, naturally hospitable, down-to-earth people of Havana, come down to The Malecon after sundown; stroll along, say hello, ask anybody to give you a hand to climb on the wall, strike a conversation with anybody (if your Spanish is at least passable) or with somebody who may speak some English (not so hard to find, really). It may be your most open, friendly, and surprising people-to-people contact during your whole visit.