I really wanted to visit Havana for years. It is one of those places that you know you will meet in a unique situation and that will not take much to change forever.
Relevant Year: 1959
The beginning of the island blockade. Key year, in which time appear to have stopped. It is worthwhile to feel this peculiar reality, conditioned by politics, almost unique in the world.
The architecture is charming. It is impossible not to look absorbed in this mixture of ruins and modernism. Colonially built houses and American cars evoke the elegance and splendour of the past.
Creativity applies not only in art but also in everyday life and it is easy to know trajectories that have been reinvented several times.
Music, music and more music
And more music, please. It greets you from the first step and you can not help but be guided by it and follow it without resistance.
Places to discover
Havana is a city where tourist circuits are also interesting. But there are never too many unofficial tips. The visit can be divided into neighbourhoods, walks or hotels because a lot of life takes place there.
A lot of wandering around. The city is lived in the streets to the maximum. To walk along the avenues and small streets of the old city is to live Havana from the senses. The colour and rhythm of salsa and modern reggaeton filter in from the nearby streets, while the aroma of cigars guides the stroll and completes the postcard.
Cubans tell what you want to know better than any guide.
Squares of Havana
Old Havana has four main squares and all of them are recommended. All these squares are within walking distance.
The Plaza de Armas has the Palacio del Segundo Cabo and the Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales. In front of this Palace, the conserved wooden street calls our attention. The legend says that the Captain-General was bothered by the continuous noise of the carriages and the mud that in rainy times was formed, and since then has been maintained. The square is worth seeing and buying old books there and in the kiosks.
Around the corner is the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where Hemingway often stayed. Enjoy a piña colada and piano versions of boleros in the lobby.
Nearby we find several places of good music. “Lo del Benny Moré”, with good live music, dance and close bodies. And the famous “Bodeguita de En Medio”, with good mojitos, good live music and other classic frequented by Hemingway.
In San Francisco Square there is excellent architecture and a beautiful monastery with sacred music.
Cathedral Square is very beautiful. The Cathedral is among the oldest churches in America. The temple consists of a pair of unequal towers and its late Baroque façade designed by the Italian Francesco Borromini. Nearby is the Wilfredo Lam Centre for contemporary painting. And of course, music in every corner.
As a curiosity, it is commented by Cubans, that the orientation of the statues in the squares is determined according to the origin of those represented. The Cubans look towards the inner part of the city, while the Spaniards look towards the sea that brought them to the island, indicating their distant origin.
Parque Central. Bacardi Building
Finally, the Plaza del Parque Central. You arrive by Prado, from the end of the Malecón. The Hotel Inglaterra stands out, with a good terrace with music. Opposite you will find the Gran Teatro García Lorca with beautiful sculptures and an excellent ballet.
Crossing Parque Central, you will reach the Bacardi Building, the best example of Art Deco. And hopefully, you can visit the rooftop for a panoramic view of the city.
To take a break, you can take a daiquiri in “El Floridita”, where it was invented.
Capitol. Between San José, Dragones, Prado and Industria Streets. It’s a majesty and replica of the U.S. Capitol, but it beats it in detail and height.
Partagás Royal Tobacco Factory
If you see a Cuban with a cigar in his mouth, surely the cigar has the seal of Partagás. It is the oldest in the country and has existed since 1848. Anybody gives the instructions and you arrive without loss, it’s north of La Fraternidad Park. In it there are at least 500 workers rolling up Cohiba or Montecristo cigars. It is a good place to buy cigars. You will also be offered the option to buy cigars on the street. If you know about cigars don’t hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity, make sure they are good and you will make a good deal.
Cuba is famous for the quality of its art. They stand out in cinema, dance, painting…
It recently joined the traditional offer, the initiative of the Cuban Art Factory (FAC). An old oil factory, transformed into an interdisciplinary creation laboratory. Impressive. They exhibit the best of contemporary Cuban art. A fascinating discovery, with a high standard in the art, social and community focus. Art Center to live it, following the most avant-garde tendencies of the big cities.
Unmissable walks in Havana
- Walk along Avenida G and/or Avenida de Los Presidentes. G goes to the middle of El Vedado, a neighbourhood full of Italian villas, beautiful houses, discovering some good restaurant on the route. And at the end of the boardwalk the elegant neighbourhood of Miramar. In those walks just watch your hat. My Cuban hat ended up looking for new destinations (and perhaps a better life) across the sea.
- Walk along the Malecón at night and talk to the people who gather each evening to play the guitar and drink rum.
- If you get to the middle of the Malecón, come to the Hotel Habana Libre. The restaurant on the top floor has a panoramic view of the city. Have an ice-cream in front of you, in the ice-cream parlour where Strawberry & Chocolate was filmed.
- See the sunset at the Hotel Nacional, the most characteristic hotel of all. Have a piña colada between their peacocks in their beautiful gardens, while you enjoy the bay. The best hotel to visit, with an impressive interior and memories of all the personalities that passed in the Bar of the Stars. Historical photos.
- Near the Hotel Nacional, you can end the day listening to Jazz in the mythical La Zorra y el Cuervo.
- Go to the nearby East Beaches / Playas del Este, to spend the day.
Gastronomy of Cuba
In Havana the food is a fusion of African and Spanish, only the Cubans knew how to bring Creole flavour. Try the lobster, fried yucca with mojo, pork. The fried or roasted suckling pig is especially rich. They are special offspring of the island, cooked with Spanish techniques. The “Ropa vieja” with tostones (pork or veal in strips with peppers and fried plantains) became my star dish during the stay. Drinking beer, piña colada, mojitos, rum… is not always the place for wine.
There are restaurants for all levels and with a varied menu. But it is the smaller stalls that leave direct profits to the inhabitants; in them, they make homemade menus and with nothing to envy to the big businesses.
Some of the restaurants that recommended us: La Guarida. A classic that we already love because of the name and the place. Don’t hesitate to go up to the somewhat ramshackle house, as you enter you will find the perfect lair, well cared for and with modern aesthetics. El Litoral, in front of the boardwalk. El del enfrente. Address: O’Reilly 304.
Charming hotels in Cuba
The National Hotel / Hotel Nacional of Cuba located next to the sea, specifically in the Vedado neighbourhood. It is used by celebrities, science personalities and politicians. It loves its history, location and set, although it is missing a little update.
Another charming hotel is the Hotel Santa Isabel, in a Palace in the Plaza de Armas. In order to live a more authentic Cuba, in the Center of the Historical Center, that transports you directly to live past times. Large rooms with high ceilings and wooden shutters that sift the light and heat of the afternoon, while letting the music of the street pass…
In addition, many chains have renovated their hotels and renovated historic buildings offering luxury standards.
Handicrafts of the area
Las Naves de San José has the largest artistic handicraft market in Cuba. It is on Avenida del Puerto, next to the Wood and Tobacco Warehouse. Palm Hats, cigar accessories, leather sandals, art. All with the Cuban stamp.
A pair of Cuban hats help me evoke this unique journey every time the sun shines.
It’s time for Cuba!
Give yourself the opportunity to get to know Havana because it is full of traditions and history. To admire its views, to understand its history and its architecture.
You have to go because it’s unique, it’s still unique and not to be missed.
If you have time to get to know the Province, come to Trinidad and the beaches of the keys: Cayo Guillermo (province Ciego de Ávila), Cayó Santa María and Cayo Largo (only by plane). Paradise.