These two working-class municipalities border Playa to the south (with La Lisa west of Marianao) and are characterised by generally poor-quality housing and roads in appalling condition. Nevertheless, if you want to get away from swanky hotels and spruced-up World Heritage Sites to get a glimpse of hard-scrabble life as lived by the majority of habaneros, Marianao and La Lisa certainly offer that.
Although relatively devoid of touristic sites, Art Deco fans should seek out Plaza Finlay (also known as El Obelisco), at the junction of Avenida 31 and Calle 100. This well-designed square-cum-traffic roundabout is encircled and graced by four curved-façade buildings adorned with bas-reliefs; and pinned by a 32-metre (107-foot) syringe-like obelisk in the center: A tribute to Dr Carlos J Finlay, who identified the strain of mosquito responsible for transmitting yellow fever. For more Art Deco, stroll east 100 meters along Avenida 31 to the Hospital Materno Eusebio Hernández (1941), also known as the Maternidad Obrera. This maternity hospital is one of the most interesting buildings of its genre in Havana. Hundreds of thousands of babies have been born in this hospital, which, from the air, resembles a vast womb.
To the north of the Carlos J. Finlay obelisk is the immense Ciudad Escolar Libertad educational complex, established on the site of the old Columbia Military Camp from where Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba in the waning hours of 31 December 1958. Located among the schools, on the north quadrant, is the Museo Nacional de Alfabetización (see pxxx), created in homage to participants in the massive 1961 literacy campaign. Those with even a smattering of Spanish will find the displays compelling. The blue manse immediately west was Batista’s erstwhile residence.
To the west, Marianao is bordered by the municipality of La Lisa. The residential area is seriously run-down and has little to offer tourists.
After dark, head back to Marianao to satisfy your curiosity about the legendary Tropicana cabaret. Opened over 70 years ago, this open-air extravaganza is still as ostentatious and compelling as ever.