I wish that, while reading, you are sipping the most perfect Pina Colada from Sia Kara bar, enjoy the sunset on the Malecon, eat lobster from Chacon 162 restaurant, while people from 7 to 70 years of age all around you are dancing salsa. Then, this post will have completely different flavor. Instead of that, you can play music while you read it. I’m sure your heart will skip a beat.
Without a single doubt, Havana leaves incredibly strong impression. You will not at any time be left indifferent nor disinterested. Havana is the rhythm of salsa, rum watered, bathed in the sun and children’s shouting. Havana is a city of contrasts. Havana is defiance and pride. As if you launched a time machine to the past. All around you will be cars over 60 years old, that are still very attractive to tourists and offer a different type of ride. Consume them in as largest quantities as possible.
We will remember the encounter with the old, refined and proud lady for life. Her awkwardness in some areas will hurt you as well, dilapidated buildings that have suffered a variety of shocks and disasters and mashed children on the streets finding a reason to laugh at everything. Just for them, bring sweets. Some sort of candy, whatever you can think of to surprise them, to help them capture the sparkle in their eyes and gratitude on their lips.
This old lady is not hiding anything from you. She opens the doors of her apartments and houses, sitting on the sill, eating out, socialize with neighbors. Trying to survive with all the tourists. And there are a lot of them… on every corner and from different parts of the world. Expect high prices, especially for tourists and a different currency – CUC, which is almost equal to one US dollar.
Cheap tickets were purchased via Aeroflot agency, with a stopover in Moscow. Get ready for a flight lasting almost 12 hours. My longest flight so far. The good part is that you can view really a lot of movies during that time.
Very few people talk any language that is not Spanish, so … thank you, Televisa Presenta, for all lessons of Spanish. Without it, we would be helpless. Thanks to Milica, as well, which has adopted a lot of words from Esmeralda.
Expect queues everywhere. Cubans seem accustomed to large slow ranks. Waiting is not a problem to them. As soon as you exit the airport, if you are lucky to reach your suitcase, you will find a huge queue in front of the exchange office. Expect at least an hour of waiting and replace all the money you plan to spend in Cuba, because your course will be nothing better in the city and at the hotel reception even worse. Take the EUR, as the USD exchange has an additional fee.
Often, you will be offered a ride from the airport to the house / apartment together with accommodation. Price range is from 25 to 30 CUC (fight for 25). In almost every apartment you will be offered extra breakfast – toast, spreads, eggs, fruit, juice, coffee. Try, if you do not like it, you can not find an alternative. I recommend you find your accommodation in Old Havana (Habana Vieja). List of Casa Particular can be found at the link. I think it would be a shame to miss special and different stay in homes where Cubans live.
Haggle about everything, literally everything. Most of them are ready to negotiate, but if not, just a few meters away, someone else will be. You can forget about free internet. Most people do have it in their homes, but don’t share the password with the guests. You can buy internet card for 2 CUC and try to log on to Wi-Fi in one of the parks. It’s easy to find those internet parks, because you will find a large number of people who are poking their phones. I say – try, because often you will not succeed since network is usually overloaded.
What else you should not miss, besides the already mentioned:
- Mojito in La Bodeguita del Medio bar. One of the bars made famous by Hemingway, where, with the Cuban note, you can enjoy socializing with strangers and good beverage.
- Daiquiri in La Floridita bar, where you can try the papa doble, Daiquiri named in honor of Hemingway, whose statue can be seen in the bar.
- Tour of Havana Club Rum Museum, where you can familiarize yourself with all kinds of rum Havana Club, how it is produced, processed and you can brew at the end of the tour and taste the rum. There is a great tour in English and starts every hour.
- Walk Malecon, especially when the sun starts to sets. Young Cubans love to meet at this promenade. They bring drinks and guitar and enjoy the sound of the sea, the sound of passionate melodies.
- Hangar at the port, behind Havana Club Museum, where the vast, long lines you can purchase souvenirs at very reasonable prices
- An hour drive in old timer. Do not agree to the price over 30 euros. Choose a car model that you like the most. You’ll also get a guide who knows English, so as you drive by the most important parts of Havana, you can talk about the history of Cuba (read – the Revolution). While driving, you will hear where Beyonce is building a hotel, where scenes from the cult Godfather movie are filmed, where Vin Diesel was staying , who was loved by Cuban people more than Fidel itself and many others.
- FAC (Cuban Art Factory) – the place that collects a large number of people wishing to enjoy the dance, drink, good art work … in a few words, something different than anything you can see in Havana. Free time tango was organized when we visited the factory. A bunch of people who are stumbling, trying to catch up with the instructor …
- Tobacco Museum – dilapidated due to renovations, the original museum building was moved to another part of town. Ticket price is 10 CUC and you will have access to the entire process of creating a cigar. From sorting and preparation sheets, removing the vessel, through rolling and pressing, to packaging in decorative boxes. Workers earn salary depending on the number of cigars they produce. Every month, they get 5 cigars, which is considered as a great benefit that comes with the salary. Charming messages of employees – “I’m looking for a girl between 20 and 40 years” are written on some desks.
- Drive Coco Taxis. A special kind of experience. The price is lower than the price in the ordinary taxis
- Buy Cohiba and lite it up in the bar at the top of Iberostar hotel, overlooking the El Capitolio (the building that is being renovated longer terms than it was built) and Cuban sounds, phenomenal music
- Eat ice cream at Heladeria Coppelia. Ice cream is not even close to the best in the world, but this is a very popular place and many locals come here. If you want to eat ice cream in the garden, you will have to wait in queue (who would guess).
- Buy sweets from vendors on the street. My favorite is the churros and it’s very yummy.
- Wander through markets that offer plenty of fruits and vegetables. Prices are in CUP (25 CUP for 1 CUC)
- Maybe something that had to be mentioned the first … squares, main streets, important buildings:
Plaza del Armas
Plaza de la Catedral – part of Havana around the square and the museum of rum I liked the most
Plaza de la Revolucion with monument to Jose Marti, the starry tower on top of which you can climb, mural of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the mural of Camilo, who was loved more than Fidel among the nation
The main pedestrian street – Calle Obispo with many cafes, souvenir shops, candy shops …
Paseo del Prado, Paseo de Marti, where you will see a bunch of skateboarders, salsa dancers and school children in very short uniforms (I am talking about the girls)
Vedado – once banned place for all black people (name of the town means “forbidden”) where you can see the remaining of magnificent houses and buildings after the Revolution, that were given to Cubans for use, but because of low salaries, Cubans can not maintain them, so they are so dilapidated.
Castle of San Salvador de la Punta at Malecon
Chateau De Los Tres Reyes del Morro, where you can see a fantastic sunset.
Consume their excellent cocktails, smoke cigar when ever you can … and be aware that Coca-Cola can be found at a few places in Havana.
These three Cuban / Mexican people, Havana did not leave indifferent, and I believe no one from a million tourists who annually visit the capital of Cuba is indifferent either. We continued our journey to Trinidad, Santa Clara, Varadero and Vinales, but more about it you can read in my next post.
All photos by: Danica, Vlada, Milica
Camera used: Nikon D3000