“The feeling that you have been transported to a decade you were not even born. The roaring 1950s-era vintage cars passing by and the towering colonial mansion almost in derelict estate that anytime soon it will gonna collapsed”.
Welcome to Havana! The warmth of Caribbean sunshine welcomes us! The sticky atmosphere in the air revving up my holiday feelings! Walking around the Havana Old Town was overwhelming. The unpretentious Cuba’s capital city, standing proud since being founded in 1519 by the Spaniards.
And the city’s core, the Old Havana remains it’s intact façade and its character up to this time. The buildings reflect the city’s vibrant architectural mixed from 16th-century Spanish colonial architecture of baroque style Cathedral.
The first time I stepped out and walked along the cobbled stone streets, I was awestruck! The feeling that you are in the 16th century time warp. The screaming pastel coloured mansion houses from red-pink-green to blue, such a picture perfect.
Anyone has obsessions with cars? Oh this place is for you, make sure you add it on your bucket list! Havana is such a wonderful place to explore and you can’t go wrong by waving a vintage car for a road trip around town. Either the shiny red vintage car or the pink one, or any colour that you could have imagine you are spoilt for choices. Come on let’s go for a joy ride!
Where to Stay? The Hotel National de Cuba is an iconic 1920s landmark, and guess what we stayed in this hotel! Where famous artist like Frank Sinatra and Stephen Spielberg to mention a few has stayed during their visit in Havana.
A very high end hotel with great facilities from spa, pools, good wi-fi connection and even has it’s own bank for the guest, a few cafe’s and great outdoor bars with fantastic sea view and local live music every night.
Hotel also offer free daily tour for the guest around the hotel and have the chance to see the room that the famous Cuban mafias used to occupy. Plus a stunning view at the rooftop overlooking the cityscape.
What to see? Let’s explore the oldest and most important and iconic buildings around Havana! We had a chance to join the free Havana walking tour.
The meeting point was in front of the National Capitol Building (El Capitolio ), a very good start for sightseeing! It used to be the government office of the Cuban Congress until 1959 after the Cuban Revolution. Now a days, it has been house of the Cuban Academy of Sciences.
Interesting Fact! That it stand tall at 300 feet, it was the tallest building around Havana until 1950’s and it claims that it houses second of the largest indoor statue The La Estatua de la Republica ( 15 meter high) around the world! The cupola was inspired from the Pantheon in Paris and the third highest cupola in the world at the time off its construction.The centre of the main hall has the replica of a 25 carat (5 g ) diamond was embedded on the floor, the original stone was stolen and was mysteriously found at the president San Martin chamber.
Havana Grand Theatre ( Gran Teatro dela Habana ) The building dates back from early 20 century, the striking building architecture is considered one of the most iconic building around the Old Havana. The stunning Neo-baroque building and striking archways is perfect for photography, capture the marble angels figure at the towers that gives a complete grandeur look.
The building was first know as the Palace of the Galician Centre, over the years after the Cuban revolution it became the permanent home of the Cuban National Ballet and and Cuban National Opera. The Cuban Ballerina Alicia Alonzo has performed here, her famous performance was “ Gisselle” the French Romantic ballet.
Castle of the Royal Force ( Castillo de la Real Fuerza ) It was listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Havana and it’s fortifications. It is located on the western side of Havana harbour was originally built to depend against attack by the pirates.
But due to its location it was badly damage with the French attack and was demolished and was rebuilt closer to the harbour. The it was adopted as the governor’s residence, and the subsequent changes has made and the watch tower was added.
The “La Garaldilla” a woman sculpture it was believed to honour Isabel de Bobadilla the first female Havana governor. The figure has became the City of Havana symbol also it’s permanent features on the Havana club rum label.Wandering around the Cathedral square are surrounded by streets with imposing baroque church. The area is designated in UNESCO heritage site. The
Cathedral of Havana San Cristobal was built in a stunning Baroque style architecture. The distinctive asymmetrical tower facade constructed from coral stones with preserved marine fossils.
What & Where to eat? Let’s try some Cuban street food! In every street corner you will noticed locals are queuing up, it means there’s food. I noticed most of the street food are greasy deep fried and based in flour or maze which are sold from a stands, wheelbarrows being push around, or in a basket while vendors walked around the street.
I had a chance to try some of Churros, a fried long thin dough pastry often sprinkled with sugar or dip in chocolate sauce. Of course same thing as in Spanish mainland which obviously they inherited the Spanish tooth.
Chivirico a traditional Cuban snack made of flat fried dough with sprinkle of sugar. Roasted peanuts a freshly roasted salty peanut rolled in an elongated cone shape paper.
Sweet potato chips, thinly sliced, deep fried chips a simple and deliciously good snack while walking around Old Town.
If you are looking for a nice restaurant look no further. Hotel Nacional de Cuba has it’s onsite restaurant, the Comedor Aguiar. The fine dining setting completes with a lovely music by a pianist at the corner and a free rum shot to end a sumptuous dinner.
We also stumbled upon a lovely restaurant, it was suggested by Denise our holiday representative. We didn’t think twice when he mentioned that Barrack Obama has dined here too! The San Christobal Paladar is family run business and owned by Carlos. The menu offers local authentic cuisine, but as usual I always order seafood when ever I can.
After lunch our waiter was so friendly and he offered us to have to try the cigar and of course out of curiosity we gleefully say sure! Ismael (waiter ) also demonstrated the tricks on how to choice the best cigar.
“Did you know that to choice a good cigar is by rolling the cigar near your ear and listen to the cracking sound of the dried tobacco. And after choosing the cigar light using an odourless flame because it does affect the taste of tobacco is lit by a lighter”.
If ever you are near the El Capitolio and feeling hungry, there are several restaurant lined up just across the road. We went for lunch in D’Lirio a very nice restaurant with spacious lounge bar. Decorated from wall to wall large canvas paintings detailing the Old Havana. A very charming place with lovely and helpful staffs.
Cocktail Anyone? Let’s follow the Ernest Hemmingway footsteps and it’s fascinating connection to Havana’s vibrant soul. He one’s wrote “ I love this country and I feel like home”. His final years in Cuba was soaked in booze of Cuban rums. So what are you waiting for let’s go for a stroll and finally hunt for the place to quench your thirst!
My first stop was in “El Floridita” this place was famous for its Daiquiri, where Hemmingway drink his Daquiri one too many as if like drinking water. Now a days, the place is packed with tourist and locals enjoying some daiquiri and swaying along with live Cuban music. Or sit by corner of the bar and join Hemmingway statue drinking his daiquiri!
If you are still thirsty let’s head off to La Bodeguita del Medio famous for its Mojito. Hemmingway has supposed to drink his favourite mojito here. The place was jammed packed when we visited, so we were just happy hanging around outside and listening to the Cuban music.
Walking along the Obispo street it still gives you amazing feeling of the authenticity and vibrant atmosphere that’s still evident in Havana. Passing along the plethora of bars and restaurant offering local Cuban cuisines with vibrating sounds of Cuban music in every corner. While walking along you can polish you salsa dance regime or cha-cha steps! And maybe stopping at every bar and have a sip of perfect and smooth Cuban rum!
The long stretched street full of tourist walking about with curiosity in their eyes, while scanning with the colourful souvenirs. I tagged along to the wave of tourist buying local produce to take home. From authentic cigar to usual fridge magnets, key rings and colourful paintings of Havana streets and vintage cars.
Are you looking for an oasis in the midst of Havana’s heat and humidity? There are scattered parks around the city and guess what its where the locals hang out too. As most of the park are wi-fi zone why not join the locals and relax your feet from an exhaustion of long wanderings.
Or hang around at the Malécon, an esplanade stretching for 5 miles. Locals gather here waiting for the sunset, it gets busy during Saturday evening there are blaring Cuban music and locals are just having an chill evening with their friends. Inhaling a gust of moist, salty air laced with heat and exhaust of the city this place is a perfect place to sit and relax while sipping a bottle of cerveza! With the sultry breeze caressing your softly face, the brief moment of peace.
Why not go and visit some museums. During my wandering around the Obispo street, I stumbled upon this very quiet museum. The Museo Nacional de los Comites de Defensa de la Revolucion ( CDR ) the place will give a glimpse of the political system in Cuba. The display are sort of the remnants of the revolution. ( Warning most the display are in Spanish but for 2 CUC I’m not complaining! )
Continue your wander along the Obispo street and you will one of the Oldest Pharmacy in Havana. The Taquechel Pharmacy Museum has retained it’s original interiors from the old shelves with old jars on display, and guess what it is still in used they are selling local Cuban medicinal products.
Along Calle 23 ( La Rampa ) The International Press Centre ( CPI ) is not actually a museum. It is a Foreign Affair Ministry which is in charge with foreign press, they coordinate national and international events that takes place in Cuba. An interesting exhibit of the past event and political affairs around Cuba ( entry is free ).
A week spent in Havana brings back the rich Cuban melancholy of the sad and dark past of Cuba’s communist political system and dictatorship. While the political atmosphere seems easing up just a little bit, the country is still on the mend for a freer society.
But looking at the brighter side visiting Cuba is a safe place t. Cuba is definitely waiting to be explored! If the exploding kaleidoscope of rows of beautiful pastel coloured houses is not enticing enough! Why not visit and go for a joy ride with the stunning shiny red vintage car!
Oh what about a sip of 12 years Cuban rum and a puff of authentic Cohiba cigar! As I’m writing this my hands is tapping along with some salsa on the background.
Go and join the free Old Havana Walking Tour, its a great way to have a glimpse of the past history of the place. Check out their facebook page here Free Tour Havana
Instead of hiring an ordinary yellow taxi, take the chance to flag out the vintage taxi car it’s your chance to ride on those stunning vintage car at the same price with ordinary taxi. ( flag rate 10 CUC , but you can haggle too)
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