I love Cuba! What to do in La Havana – Alessandra
Cuba is by far one of my most favorite destinations.
The atmosphere is incredible. The music, the people, the beauty of its towns and landscapes. The food and the incredible blue of the ocean. And above all its history. It’s like being in a time machine. It will bring you back to the fifties. The colorful cars and the Spanish colonial buildings, the lack of internet and more in general the non existing technology will make you feel like in a movie. At the same time though, if you go beyond the first impression, it gives food for thoughts. It isn’t easy for Cubans to live a life that is frozen or worse going backwards instead of forward. And I couldn’t help but wonder how the island would look like if things had gone differently. Anyway. Back to my trip.
My best friend and I spent some months planning the trip. We didn’t have a lot of time and wanted to make the most out of it.
We decided to be based in Varadero and from there, travel to other close by cities of the island.
We took this decision mainly because we wanted to be at the seaside which indeed didn’t disappoint.
Varadero is on the ocean. The Caribbean sea is beautiful, but also the ocean side is quite something. We traveled there at the beginning of May. Apparently we were very lucky with the weather. The week before a storm had hit. When we arrived we met some people that were leaving who apparently were forced to stay most of the time indoor.
We instead, over a little more than a week, only had one day of rain and the rest was sunny and beautiful.
The beautiful beach in Varadero
Varadero is mainly resorts for tourists. The town is small with few restaurants, bars and one club. If you are a city explorer, I would not suggest you to stay there. There isn’t much to explore. I am a city explorer, but I’m also a lover of the beach and the sea and after a winter between Zurich and Amsterdam I was dying for some time in the sun, so Varadero was the choice.
From there we travelled to La Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
It would take too long to write about all of them, so in this blog I will only talk about La Havana.
Let me first saying though, that if you are planning to go to Cuba, you should know that the locals are eager to meet tourists. For different reasons and not all of them good unfortunately. So if you happen to be there, be aware of the scammers, because there are many. Don’t believe everything you are told especially when it comes to money.
I have to say that we were lucky and didn’t have any bad experience, but I’ve heard stories from friends who weren’t as lucky as we were.
I also heard that if you speak Spanish, the experience is different. Friends that only spoke English seemed to have had some not so nice experiences. My friend and I speak Spanish. Whether that played a role in having a wonderful trip I can’t say, but for sure it helped us meeting local people.
Talking to them gave us the opportunity to see Cuba not only through out tourist’s eyes but also through the eyes of the people that live the Cuban reality. We got to see both sides of the same coin. On one side the beauty of this frozen-in-time island and on the other side the frustration of the cubans who would take any chance to move to a country that could offer them a better future.
After a few days in Varadero, we rented a taxi and head towards La Havana. During the ride, we made friends with the taxi driver, Juan, who was a man in his 50s that had never left the island. He told us about his family, about his work and how things are handled in the country. He was very polite and told us nice episodes of his life. We couldn’t help but wonder how much of what he told us was restricted by the fear of the regime. Tourists in Cuba are the only source of money. They are over protected.
When we arrived at La Havana, while crossing the city, Juan explained us that there is a historic part called La Havana Vieja (the old Havana) and a new part called La Havana Nueva (the new Havana), but that their conditions don’t match the names cause while La Havana Vieja, being a main attraction for tourists, is somehow maintained, La Havana Nueva is sort of abandoned.
When we arrived at our casa particular, a cuban bed and breakfast, in La Havana Nueva we could clearly see what he meant. The whole neighbourhood seemed to be falling apart. Our casa particular belonged to a “wealthy” family. A huge house on 4 floors which must have looked beautiful before the embargo. And it was still an impressive building just not really maintained. We were staying in a small separated apartment on the rooftop which had a huge rooftop terrace.
The view for the rooftop of our casa particular
We settled in and started our adventure in La Havana. While the “new’ part of town is indeed falling apart, the old Havana is where the magic happens. Colourful old houses, cars from another époque, impressive buildings, cablestone streets. I can’t describe the way I felt while walking in La Havana vieja.
A small street in La Havana Vieja
Among the different things that we did and visit, these are what I suggest should be on everyone’s bucket list:
This was for us a great experience. We met the owner of the house, a doctor, and his wife and in the morning their maid who would prepare our breakfast, always spent some time with us chatting. It was very very nice.
Well, if you like cars from the 50s that’s a must. But I believe it’s a must anyway. These cars are just incredible!
A car in La Havana
In this museum you find the story of the revolution. Very interesting museum with room dedicated to Fidel Castro, el Che and all the people that fought and won the revolution. Again food for thoughts.
Malecon is a promenade along the sea. It’s very nice to walk there. On one side the ocean and on the other side a multitude of bright coloured buildings
The mojito is a typical cocktail from cuba and la plaza Vieja is one of the main squares in La Havana. The combination is great.
A Mojito in Plaza Vieja
That’s an easy to do. Music is more or less everywhere in La Havana and everybody dances salsa. It’s just so cheerful! I loved it.
This was for me the best of all. We reached the Hotel late in the afternoon. The Hotel is pretty old. Again a time travel! This hotel is famous because Hemingway stayed there. We took a very old style elevator and went all the way up to the rooftop where there is a bar. We ordered a Pina colada and watch the sunset. The view was great.
A Pina Colada on the rooftop of the Hotel Ambos Mundos
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