Its 12:20 am, the aircraft touches down and then bursts into a loud applause. Impatient passengers are all antsy in their seats, there’s a sudden chatter and beeping phones. I for one seem to have missed most of the 9 hr show for I laid in deep slumber. Happy though that it worked it this way, I am now wide-awake to HOLIDAY!
I pass through immigration and get to the baggage belt when I see 3 shabbily dressed people with ID cards around their neck walking right at me. In a chirpy tone I am asked to show my passport. Nervous yet trying to stay composed I hand it over and in no more than a second I see my US visa exposed, ramblings in Spanish and head nods going around. Tensed, I answer all questions thrown at me and then I submissively ask if there is a problem. No I am told and then I’m let go off!
Puff! My heart sinks. The bags now out and I cannot wait to step foot.
There’s a herd of people at the exit mostly with big protruding bellies, figure hugging clothes and smiling faces. My immediate notion is there is happiness in the air.
Stepping out into a place back in time I am overpowered with the strong smell of sweet tobacco. As I stand and come to terms with a realizing a long time dream I hear those sweet word. Buenvenido En CUBA!!!
Now a gazillion mojitos later I am ready to show of the Cuba that stole my heart and whine about the misses this country offers.
The streets of old Havana are enchanting and mesmerizing. I was mostly left bewildered to see human kind inhabit structures I am not entirely sure are safe to reside in however, that said it seemed like life went on just fine. These old dilapidated structures in reality are a work of art. If you’re able to see past the shambles and the ruins you will see stunning architecture and details in almost all of them.
Havana has plenty of historic sites to visit. The best way to do so is the hop on hop off bus – The ride will cost you just 5 CUC = 5 Euros and will take you on a 1 hr. &45 min journey around town. Try and get a seat on the upper deck as always however watch out for the untamed fauna that might know you over if you decide to stand up.
Walk down the iconic Malecon just before sunset. This beautiful 8 km stretch is perfect for building an appetite before dinner or to digest it once your done. Scorned with young clueless cuddling lovers, families and bunch of friends you could definitely find your self a little spot in between all this madness to experience the simple Havana life.
Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro is a perfect place if you want to witness Havana’s best band – The Buena vista Club. I suggest you do not eat here however drinks are reasonably priced and I am sure you wouldn’t mind a mojito or 2 over peppy Cuban tunes.
Walk through Prado the marbled street that divides Old Havana and Centro Havana. Take time to sit in one of the marbled benches designed by French architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier. If you appreciate art, this is just the place for you. Tons of artists lay out their work for the public to stare, smile and admire but mostly to buy of course. As in every city do not fall for the ridiculous asking prices. Bargain, be cheap but not too cheap and you could get your self a pretty fair deal.
Watch a Cabaret show at the Tropicana – which is more extravagant and steep, priced at 100 CUC /Per Person or you could watch a smaller version at Havana’s oldest Hotel – Hotel Nacional for 35 CUC /Per Person.
Visit the Mueso De La Revolucion for a true taste of old Cuban grandeur. Start from the top floor and take a tour descending down to the part of revolution that you might have read or remember of. Don’t miss the 18m Pavillion Garnma tucked away in the back of the museum and guarded at all times.
Now if you have a feel for Latin music and have urges to learn how shake those hip, then head down to the Teatro America to learn how do just that. At 8 CUC /per hour you could discover the hips don’t lie kinda moves. Don’t shy away from this experience if you don’t have a partner. Cuban men are more than willing to dance at the drop of a hat and the course will hook up with one in no time.
Where to stay
The Hotel Nacional is probably one of the best hotels this city has to offer. What it also offers is a great in house ambience and a living experience like no other. Every fixture and piece of art here is period. If you intend to time travel in a fanciest way possible then this is where you should book yourself.
I always find myself looking for a home away from home on Vacation and Casa Particular – Casa 1832 fits every single check box. Hidden in a street just off the Malecon this gem will leave you speechless. The property is simply like no other in the city and you will start to appreciate the details as you approach the door. The mosaic tiles and décor are just amazing. Hold on though the best is yet to come. This casa is absolutely stunning and the proud owner adds to the cozy atmosphere.
Book in advance to guarantee yourselves a spot at this casa particular. The little porch inside the house is a place to sit stare and if not than read read read. Rooms are well done, clean and perfect to come back to, after a long day out in this hectic city.
Where to Eat
Most Casa Particulars offer sumptuous breakfast for just 5 CUC. A standard one would be a large pate of fresh fruit, fresh fruit juice, bread, butter & jam with eggs done as you please. Tea/coffee is served very generously too. My advice would be to fill your self up in the morning before you head out to explore the city.
However if you’re not an early breakfast eater you can always head down to the city oldest and famous bakery adjacent to Hotel Inglaterra. Grab a chorizo stuffed bread or a ham & cheese sandwich to get you going. Coffee served here is good for a quick une coffee moment.
Cafe Sia Kara is one of those places you stumble up on when you’re looking something completely different. This most mosibly the hippest had in town. Situated right behind the capitol its actually quite an easy find. It reminds me of a cool cafe serving funky drinks hefty portions of delicious food & tapas. Cafe Sia Kara looks like its the only place that moved past the 1950’2 but managed to collect all the lovely teasures through the years.
I was mostly extremely disappointed with the food all through my trip apart from one place in Havana called Café Laurent. This place is tucked in a residential building in what is definitely the most posh side of town. You will be greeted by a tough security guard at the entrance of the building who will then hand you over to a staff member to escort you up to the restaurant. Preset fancy isn’t it?
The restaurant looks like a penthouse thats converted into a café and the food was exceptionally good for Cuban standards. The staff is knowledgeable and the place offers a good selection of wine.
My last piece of advice
The 7 deadly tourist sins never to commit in Cuba!
1.Don’t pay too much heed to the numerous taxi drivers trying to oversell you a ride in the old timers for ridiculous amount of money. You could get a ride across the country for dirt cheap.
2. Do not fall for the friendly lady in the street that says she works in the hotel/casa you live in and then volunteers to show you the way to the Co-Operativo that sells Cuban Cigars.
3. Do not chat with the helpful couple with a baby that wants to direct you to the best bar in town for mojitos. You will land up paying double the amount per drink and extra for your uninvited guests.
4. Never!!! Never, buy Cigars in the street.
5. When you make a deal of any sort with a private taxi pay half at the half and half when you arrive at destination.
6. I found Cubans in general to be smooth talkers. You’ve got to watch out to not misunderstand being cheated with their uber friendliness.
7. Don’t listen to the passerby that recommends a restaurant. They all get a little cut for dragging people to the restaurants. You will pay more that usual and just might land up eating below average food.
It took us just a day in Havana to learn these pricey lessons! But it definitely saved us a few bucks over our 12 day trip. Now I just hope you don’t take a whole day too 😛
Well up next on the blog is showing off the real Cuba that stole my heart. We get on this beauty and drive down to explore 5 cities across the country.
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