What to see in Havana
What to see in Havana. Today I want to talk to you about an unforgettable experience that happened to me this past month: flying to Cuba. An emotional journey to discover the history, culture and decadent beauty of a country that has always fascinated me and I could not wait to visit. I will divide the story of my trip in two part: Havana and Cayo Levisa. In this post I will talk about the first one, so here is what I saw in Havana plus some travel tips for those who are planning a vacation there!
What to see in Havana in 3 days
My trip to the capital of the largest Caribbean island started with an Air France from Malpensa and had a little more than 3 hours layover in Paris. Period during which I took advantage of resting and connecting my iPhone to the internet for the last time before the long journey. At Paris-Charles De Gaulle Airport there is a comfortable Air France Lounge in Hall L of Terminal 2E, accessible to those departing or arriving from an intercontinental trip to Paris, as long as the layover is longer than 3 hours. You have access to a lounge with wi-fi, a library, a business lounge where you can work comfortably on a computer desk and a relaxation area where you can sit on soft armchairs in perfect Parisian style while awaiting your next flight. Those who have to face a very long flight can take advantage of the hotel’s internal Hotel, which has about 80 bedrooms and also private baths for those who have time only to take a shower.
I then moved to the Air France Business Lounge, located in Hall M of the same Terminal 2E, between fashion boutiques and art exhibitions (there is a Free Museum where every six months is organized a different exhibition, now it is dedicated to Picasso). After having lunch at the rich buffet I went back to my gate, ready and regenerated for the long flight Iwas about to have!
My arrival at Havana was at about 8pm in the evening: I had a the taxi arranged from Italy to accompany me to the casa particular in the Habana Vieja district (the cost of the taxi is 25 CUC, Cuban coin). For a travel experience as authentic as possible and to get better in the Cuban culture, I did not want to stay in one of the many hotels in town but in a casa particular which is a home of the locals (at a cost of 30 CUC per night). Normally these houses are run by women, mainly moms who live there with children or grandchildren, with the help of a person in the kitchen and for cleaning. I was really lucky because both houses where I stayed at Old Havana were both very well kept!
The next day, after breakfast at the house, made of eggs, fresh fruit and homemade jam with bread, I went to explore Old Havana. There are so many things to see in the neighborhood that I wanted to dedicate it all the time it deserved, even at the expense of other neighborhoods in the city. The Capitolio Square, one of Havana’s most emblematic buildings, stands out in the blue sky and is visible from many points of the city, making it a point of reference for those who like me had decided to walk on foot.
Facing the Capitol you will come across the famous colored houses, another symbol of Havana. In fact they are found a bit everywhere, but surely the ones you find here are the best kept and in typical colonial style.
In Havana the temperature was at 30°C, but the high humidity rate made it feel even more hot. I have chosen light and soft dresses, such as this delightful blue dress with ruches I bought on Zalando. Even the sunglasses you see in the photos (indispensable) are from the same shop-online, Zalando, e they are Miu Miu’s.
Continuing on Paseo de Martí, the main street, you will come across various buildings that are very different from the surrounding houses: this is a series of 5 Star hotels, which are noted for their well-being, in sharp contrast to the rest of the landscape. I recommend you go in to see Hotel Parque Central and also take the elevator to the ninth and last floor: you will find yourself on the roof, where you can enjoy a magnificent view of Capitolio and all Habana Vieja other than a beautiful bar-restaurant and a swimming pool.
Exactly in front of the Parque Central is a parking area of the many colorful vintage cars that serve as a taxi. Those are mainly Chevrolet, dating from the first half of the 1950s, very well maintained by their owners who I saw with my eyes running small maintenance on the road after each trip. About once a year they paint them in pastel colors and there are any for all tastes, as well as all the shades of the rainbow!
Colored taxis are not just there: if you keep your eyes open you will notice them parked at every corner of the streets, waiting to attract tourists.
Walking through the streets you will often come across small fresh fruit benchs: I suggest you to try the delicious and super refreshing mango, much sweeter than what comes here in Italy!
The Old Havana’s heart is Calle Obispo, from which I left for my second day around Havana. It is the city’s liveliest street with shops and small souvenir places that follow one another.
Going all over you will find yourself passing through a multitude of murals and, before heading towards the Bodeguita del Medio, I suggest you stop at Hotel Florida to admire the wonderful interior courtyard, colored by an exhibition of paintings by local artists.
If you happen there you can’t miss Bodeguita del Medio, the place where the famous Mojito cocktail (based on Mint, Lime, Rum and Cane Sugar) was born. This place was attended by many celebrities of the past such as Hernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda who left the signs of their passage in the many photos, signatures and graffiti that cover most of the walls.
Continuing between the various Calle I then reached Plaza Vieja, the architectural jewel of Havana: compared to all the others it has been restored and therefore it turns out to be the cleanest and most elegant one.
Following the route of Hemingway in Havana I then made a stopover at another of his favorite venues, El Floridita. Here it is said he always ordere a Daquiri. The interior is very lively with live music and dancers.
The third day was devoted to the discovery of two other Havana neighborhoods. The first stop is the Habana Center, the Barrio Chino, bordered by a large pagoda arch. The goal was to get to the La Guarida Restaurant before the famous white cloth letting dry in the air was picked up by the threads. They are located on the first floor of the building that hosts the Restaurant, which became famous because in 1993 it was chosen as the location of a famous Cuban film entitled Fresa Y Chocolate, which first sensitized the Cubans on the theme of homosexuality.
In the photos I wore a red off-shoulder dress by New Look found on Zalando, which I have paired with some colorful pompom earrings from Zalando as well.
On the second floor is the Restaurant, where I had lunch with marlin tacos and delicious fried plantain!
Going higher up, on the third floor you will reach the kitchens: continue until you find the spiral staircase leading to the roof. From there you will enjoy a unique view that embraces the entire city. I highly recommend it!
After lunch I went on the way to Vedado, another renowned Havana neighborhood. From Malecon, the famous waterfront road, I reached the Hotel Nacional. This historic luxury hotel is an American symbol that Castro nationalized in the 1960s and which was opened to the public only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, from which Cuba was forced to reopen to tourism. Between avenues of palm trees, gorgeous furnishings and a seaside bar there is also a natural park that houses a wonderful peacock!
I am going to end the post by answering to many of you who have written comments and private messages on Instagram after I started posting photos of my trip (if you missed them, check my account @lauracomolli). Here is my list of travel tips!
1) Before leaving, remember to apply for a visa (it can be purchased at the Cuban embassies or on specialized internet sites) and to provide health insurance for yourself. Both are mandatory, in their absence you will not be able to enter Cuba.
2) The Cubans have no access to internet and the only way to connect easily is to go to one of the many hotels and purchase wi-fi cards. I’ve tested a couple and the cheapest one is available at Hotel Parque Central: 10 CUC (less than 10 €) for 5 hours of navigation within 30 days. The other cards are instead sold at 5 CUC for 1 hour.
3) The level of hygiene in general is quite low. It is indispensable to bring a pair of guest towels, a pillowcase for your pillows and sanitizing wipes as needed.
4) Walk with closed shoes: sidewalks, in addition to being rugged, are house of waste of various kinds, including animal waste.
5) “How is Havana at night? Is it safe?” This is one of the most frequent questions I have been asked about. If during the day I always felt quiet while walking around the city, in the evening I always preferred to come back for dinner time to the house: this is because the lighting in the streets is almost non-existent, which I’m not used to and sincerely scared me.
6) Having no Google Maps available due to the total absence of the Internet, the only thing that can help is to rely on a map or download an app that uses GPS. I recommend you an app called maps.me: remember to download Cuba’s map from home, so that you have it handy once you land on the Cuban soil. I found it very useful! I even happened to give directions to the taxi driver!
7) How is Havana in June? Another very frequently-asked question. Many of you have written to me whether it’s the right month to book a trip to Cuba, scared by the fact that it coincides with the beginning of the hurricane period. Surely they are not uncommon, so you have to be aware of the risk. I fortunately did not have this problem: there were only heat and some short raining in the afternoon.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Air France-KLM for this wonderful opportunity: see you soon with a new post dedicated to the second part of my trip to Cuba!
Happy Friday to all of you!