Havana (Oh Na Na)
Before you ask the inevitable question,
“Do they play Camilla Cabello’s Havana 24/7 on the local radio stations?”
My answer will have to be a resounding,
No, they don’t.
Ha! Ironic, I know.
Though they’ve not seemed to have heard Cabello’s self-professed love I must agree with Ms. Cabello when she says “half of my heart is in Havana (oh na na)” and I’m sure if you visited yours would be too!
Havana’s eclectic blend of vintage and modern spiced with Caribbean flare makes it a city unlike any other.
Havana, Cuba is the living definition of blast from the past; a real #throwbackthursday in every sense. Between its colonial architecture and its 1950’s vintage cars it’s hard not to feel like someone has just opened up a time capsule right in the present!
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No trip to Cuba is complete without a stop to this artsy capital city. In fact it was the first stop of Jerry and my’s 2-week and 5 destination travel experience through Cuba.
Welcome to Hava-NAH!?
If I were to tell you the horrors of the morning that was the day of our flight to Havana you’d say I was lying. So I’ll save myself the shame and just say, get a good night’s rest before you leave out for your flight! If you don’t, maybe you’ll end up doing something crazy like, FORGETTING YOUR ENTIRE SUM OF TRAVEL CASH AT HOME!
FUN FACT: Cuba is heavily cash based, few places accept cards so it’s extremely important to have cash on you at all times!
Lack of sleep aside, Jerry and I landed in Havana with all crises surely averted (yeah right) and brimming with excitement. After successfully dodging a seedy passenger who tried to offload suspicious items into our suitcase, we were on the home stretch. That is until they discovered our drone. We literally spent 2 hours stumbling around Spanish (welcome to Cuba!) trying to explain complex drone terminology.
Safe to say guys, DRONES ARE A NO GO IN CUBA! At least not for your average tourist.
But hey, the bonus of spending 2 hours trying to clear customs was the empty lines at the Cambio!
FUN FACT: Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP). Travellers are required to change their cash at the airport since these currencies are only available in Cuba and most places don’t accept foreign currency. Best currency to exchange? Euros and Canadian dollars- the USD attracts a 10% penalty.
Stay: Casa Mirabel
Finally, after what seemed to be a lifetime of travel woes, Jerry and I were able to make it to our accommodation, a lovely casa particular owned by the sweetest host of all our Cuban stays, Miriam.
FUN FACT: Casa particulares are homestays set up by locals privately. They’re a popular choice among travellers who crave authentic interactions with Cubans. Best part about them? They’re pretty affordable!
A more hospitable welcome we could not have asked for. Who else waits on tardy guests until midnight?
Breakfast was always prepared fresh for us in the mornings and should we have had any issues she was more than glad to help.
FUN FACT: At an additional cost of $5 CUC breakfasts and other meals can be added to casa particular stays. These meals are typically made by your host so you know it’s made from the heart, just like mom’s home cooking.
We were so lucky to have found Casa Colonial Miriam Mirabal on AirBnB and chose it because of its super convenient location. It was located smack dab in the middle of all Havana’s beautiful sights!
What to Do:
Jetlagged but enthused to be in this vibrant old city, Jerry and I set out on the first of our Cuban escapades with our trusty Lonely Planet Cuba (Travel Guide) in hand.
Now, tackling Havana is by far no easy feat, especially for a photographer like myself! The city engulfs you in its numerous beautiful historical sights, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
What we quickly learned, however, is that there are three regions to explore: Havana Vieja, Centro Habana and Vedado.
Easily the most visited part of Havana for tourists, this region is a spectacular display of Cuba’s rich colonial history.
Less hasslesome than the touristic region of Habana Vieja, Centro Habana is the best location to experience the local side of Havana.The highlight of this region for us definitely had to be relaxing by the Malecón, a popular sea wall where locals and tourist alike hang out.
Other attractions are the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo de la Revolución plus many more!
Top Tip: The Lonely Planet Cuba (Travel Guide) has great suggestions for the top spots to visit while you’re in Havana.
Vedado is known as the business centre of Havana. So what is its appeal for tourists? Well, if you love nightlife and clubbing you’ll find the liveliest bars and clubs right here!
Arguably the most popular club to visit is the Fabrica de Arte Cubano. Sadly Jerry and I were unable to get in due to its large crowds. We DID, however, follow a few locals (in the dead of night- living on the edge?) to a hipster bar, Espacios.
Fun Fact: Havana absolutely comes to life on Saturday nights! So if you’re into cultural nightlife plan your trip to include a weekend in Havana.
By far the most impressive part of our nightlife experience in Havana, Cuba was the Parisién Cabaret.
Although the most popular cabaret to see in Havana is the Tropicana, we found the Parisién a cozy, intimate setting to witness this colourful display of Cuban culture.
I’m pretty sure by now we’re all aware that Havana is vintage car heaven! This didn’t make it any less exciting to see all these American old cars crisscrossing the streets.
Adding to the vintage feel of the city were the horse-drawn carriages that carried both tourists and locals around.
Other interesting modes of transportation could also be found around the city such as Bicycle taxis.
Before our visit to Cuba we heard many rumors that the Cuban cuisine was no good.
Don’t believe it! #issalie
This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Jerry and I happened to find a slew of restaurants in Havana that offered world class cuisine. Two of the most memorable restaurants were Tatagua off the Paseo del Prado and Bar Monserrate. Not only was the food and drink great but so was the friendly customer service we received.
Fun Fact: Tipping in Cuba is well received. A tip of even $1 CUC to your waitress/bartender will surely put a smile on their faces!
What’s especially beautiful about Havana is its racial diversity. Although Cuba, like many places in the world, deals with its own form of racial biases, there were certainly no indicators of it in Havana. As you can imagine for us as an interracial couple this came as a great relief!
Fun Fact: Cuba’s population is made up of a 64.1% white, 26.6% mulatto/mestizo (mixed) and 9.3% black.
Blacks, whites and mulattoes intermingled with each other which made our hearts smile. Sake of a few sly winks of approval from other black women (who likely thought I was a Cuban having a fling with a tourist), we felt quite at ease in Havana. It was nice to feel anonymous for once.
Who likes dealing with odd stares and hushed whispers while travelling anyway?
Fun Fact: Cubans have a term they call Cuban women who seek out white tourists, “Jinetera” (hee-nay-tear-ah)
Much like its racial diversity, Havana represented a unique blend of European aesthetics with a Caribbean touch. I’d liken the experience to being in Europe and experiencing its architecture but with the benefits of tropical Caribbean climate.
From a bird’s eye-view, too, the city reminded us a lot of the city of Athens. Although a bit derelict, you could see its vintage splendor.
Top Tip: A good place to catch a bird’s eye view of Havana is from the rooftop bar at the Hotel Manzana. We must warn that prices at the bar can be quite expensive!
Goodbye Havana, Hello Viñales
Havana met all our expectations plus more (I won’t admit to shedding a few tears of joy #thugtears). What a beautiful way to begin our Cuban travels! The next city on our 5 destination tour around Cuba would be the town of Viñales.
What were/are your expectations of Havana? Share with us in the comments below!
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