Cuba, it’s a pretty controversial place but that didn’t stop Sanjay and I adding it to our travel list for 2016 and even though we were only able to stay in this eye opening country for four days, we absolutely loved it… I think I can go as far as saying it was our favourite destination last year! Due to the short stay, we spent all our time in Havana. This city seduces visitors with its beautiful buildings, Cuban beats and steamy weather, it’s one of the most thrilling, confusing and compelling places you’ll ever visit and in this post I’m going to give you the lowdown on where to go, what to do and some sweet treats to eat along the way! 😀 Plus show you a whole lot of photos!
Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the streets are lined with 1950’s vintage cars and Spanish colonial architecture, it’s an area loaded with history, a sensory feast that must be explored by foot to get a true sense of how amazing it is! (Seriously, walk it, you won’t get tired of exploring the backroads and discovering what Old Havana has to Offer).
- Plaza Vieja – This is one of the most popular squares in Old Havana, the locals love it and it’s a great place for tourists to come and experience a vibrant gathering spot. There are many restaurants and bars in the area as well as the camera obscura tower, where you can experience great views over Havana.
- Plaza de San Francisco – The buildings in this cobbled square have been lovingly restored to their former glory. Two of the city’s most famous buildings are located here, the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis and the Lonja del Comercio.
Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis
Lonja del Comercio
- Catedral de San Cristobal/ Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception – Completed in 1777, this is a magnificent example of Cuban, Baroque architecture, there are large bell towers flaking either side of the building which can be admired from the lovely cafes situated in the plaza.
- Plaza De Armas – Havana’s oldest square is also social hub and home to the City Museum. The centre of the square is lined with palms and hosts a daily (except Sundays) second hand book market, super cute!
Fusterlandia is actually the nickname that has been given to a small seaside town just on the outskirts of Havana, called the Jamanitas. Cuban artist Jose Fuster went about creating an enclave called Casa de Fuster, which houses a collection of mosaic murals and statues. The artwork has since spilled out into the surrounding neighbourhood, hence the name Fusterlandia 🙂 The Jamanitas are quite a distance from down town Havana so be prepared for a long ride and negotiate the price with your taxi driver prior to setting off. We went by Coco Taxi (3 wheeled, open air taxi) and agreed to pay CUC20. Also make sure you check the closing time for Casa De Fuster, we arrived 10 minutes too late and it was closed! We did get to explore the artsy neighbourhood though!
Cuba’s most famous seaside avenue, this 7km long ocean boulevard stretches from Habana Vieja (Old Havana) to the neighbourhood of Vedado. It’s a local meeting spot where people gather to watch the sunset, gaze at Havana’s skyline and enjoy the cool sea breeze.
El Capitolio/ The National Capitol Building
El Capitolio rises form the city skyline and its dome can be seen from most parts of the city and was used as the seat of parliament until 1995 after the Cuban revolution. It was constructed pretty much exactly the same as the US Capitol building only bigger!
Plaza de la Revolucion
Worth a visit due to its historical significance. The northern side of the plaza is the Ministerio del Interior and is known for its huge mural of Che Guevara with with the words Hasta la Victoria Siempre written underneath (Always Toward Victory). Overlooking the building is the Jose Marti Memorial with a 109-meter gray tower and white marble statue of the Cuban national hero.
Ride a Taxi Particular or if you feel a little bit fancy go for a city tour in one!
The American classic cars are a Cuban icon, you can’t come to Cuba and not ride in one! These classic 1950’s cars have been kept in various conditions, some well maintained and shiny and others old and rusty either way they’re huge and a lot of fun to ride in, especially when your driver turns up the Cuban beats! The cars can be easily picked up in the square across from the National Capitol Building. We went for a tour of the city in one (pink of course!) which lasted around four hours. The tour included cruising through Old Havana and then visiting and or driving past the following places –
- La Cabana de Che Guevara
- Cristo de la Habana (which is 51m above sea level)
- Plaza de La Revolucion
- The Capitol Building
- Gran Teatro de la Habana
- China Town (Yes, they have a China Town but no Chinese people!)
- Palacio de la Artesanía (You can buy souvenirs here)
La Cabana de Che Guevara
Cristo de la Habana
Gran Teatro de la Habana
Palacio de la Artesanía
Live like a local!
Step out of your comfort zone and try living like a local. Instead of the usual hotel accommodation, try staying at a local casa or rent out an Air BnB apartment in a “ghetto” suburb and get amongst it with the locals! We rented a one bedroom apartment through Air BnB in Habana Centro, a suburb, where unpleasant smells fill the air, the buildings are almost crumbling around you and the dirt roads have giant potholes in them! I know it doesn’t sound overly great but we loved it, the atmosphere was electric and so authentically Havana!
The view from our apartment
Our apartment entrance
Our funky green kitchen!
Sanjay wasn’t overly impressed with the buildings crusty but very authentic elevator, which we only ended up using once haha 😛
Living local… This by far is my favourite Cuban photo… I saw this man waiting in the street with three pineapples placed on top of his car, I asked him if I could take a photo of it, he said yes and just as I was about to take it, he stepped into the shot and posed! Random fact… Pineapples are my favourite fruit 😀
Check out the art
The art scene is booming in Havana and you’ll find many artists setting up stalls throughout the streets. There’s also a bit of street art around too!
I’m not a big drinker but Cuba has invented a few good cocktails, so you may as well sample them from the source, right?!
I don’t drink coffee but my coffee connoisseur husband, thinks that the Cuban ones are pretty good!
Take a ride in a Coco Taxi 😀
These things are freakin’ awesome, they’re basically a three wheeled rikshaw only so much cooler! Bright yellow, quirky and shaped like a helmet, you’ll have so much fun hooning around the city in them!!!
The sweet stuff…
Most of you will know I’m addicted to sweet things, namely desserts, so here are a few of the delicious treats and one not so much that we tried while in Havana 😀
Fresh coconut ice cream cart – Plaza Vieja
If you’re a fan of coconut and ice cream, this is for you… Frozen in a coconut shell, these things are perfect in the Havanan heat! They come in several flavours, in case you want to try them all 😀
Churros Cart – Plaza Vieja
One of the great Cuban street food rituals – The Churros Cart! These churros are made freshly in front of you and they taste amazing. The queue can be pretty long at times, so be prepared to wait!
Museo Del Chocolate – Plaza Vieja
It’s not quite a museum but a great place for chocolate lovers to visit, you can watch chocolate being made at the back of the café, then get amongst it and sample it and of course everything on the menu contains chocolate!
San Jose Panaderia – Calle Obispo, Old Havana (Pedestrian only street that runs from the Plaza de Armas to roughly Parque Central)
This popular bakery always has a queue out the door. It’s clean, the breads and pastries are freshly baked onsite and it’s all super cheap!
Coppelia – Vedado
Legendary among the locals but to be honest we found this ice cream parlour to be somewhat overrated. Sanjay and I read about this parlour in a tourist booklet and decided to give it a go, we were even prepared to wait in the queue which stretched around the block just like the locals and experience the authentic sharing tables but we were not given the opportunity to. Instead we were ushered to a virtually non-existent tourist only queue, outside of the main parlour and were told to place our order there. While it was somewhat nice not waiting in line, we felt ripped off as we didn’t get that authentic Coppelia experience that we’d read about and to top it off, the ice cream really wasn’t that great. Unless you’re determined to try it, I’d give this place a miss!
So there you have it, my guide to Hanging in Havana! Regardless of what you end up doing while in the mind blowing Cuban capital, I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time!
If you are planning on travelling to Cuba, be sure to check out my guide to Cuba, which is full of awesome info and tips that you’ll find really useful for your trip. As always…
Happy Travels, Priti X