Cuba’s crumbling charm
A story seen through his eyes!
Sitting at the crossroads of the Caribbean, Cuba is a Latin paradise inviting you to explore the sights, learn about history, practice your Rumba moves, or indulge into a Cohiba cigar and a glass of rum.
At arrival I was instantly hit with the humid heat. Be ready for lots of standing in line and waiting in the airport, but don’ get angry, this slow rhythm will be getting to you sooner than you think. Arriving at the hotel, the lady receptionist was dancing & singing “La vida es un carnival” letting us wait for about 10 minutes, offering a charming preview of what the entire vacation would feel like. That was the moment I gave up my European rush and entered into their laid back rhythm and I’ve pretty much enjoyed it on the entire staying. After a quick chat with the lady at the reception it was the time to head out to explore the city.
First thing you need to know when you’ve just arrived in Cuba: there are two types of currencies here: the Cuban Peso, used primarily by the locals and the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), which is the currency mostly used by tourists.
10 things Cuba is famos for
1. The feel of Havana city
Cuba is all about exploring the unique and unpredictable and Havana- the city of intense contrasts.
To understand Havana you first have to understand its history. Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, Havana’s position as ‘Key to the New World’ saw a rapidly grow into a flourishing and fashionable city of commerce and leisure. By the 1930s, it had become the Las Vegas of the Latin world, full of luxury hotels, swinging nightclubs and casinos – and seedy characters. Much of Havana’s legacy today is grounded in those cocktail-fuelled days of hedonistic abandon.
El Capitolio Nacional- a neoclassical impressive building
El Templete, the oldest neo-classical building in Havana
2. Step into the Old Havana and bring an homage to Hemingway
We explored Havana Vieja which has amazingly beautiful architecture, with colonial buildings that somehow enhance charm rather than define age, we sat around, people watching and enjoying some Daiquiris in La Floridita, one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite hangouts.
3. Cuban cuisine
Begin an exciting gastronomic journey with La Guarida, a restaurant that provides quality dining experiences for the most discerning epicurean. Here the owners have created their own magical place: a cosy atmosphere with soft lights, fine table setting, candles, Cuban music and good jazz. The effect is magnificent. Fidel’s famous explanation of “Por Eso Decimos Patria o Muerte” (country or death) on the wall is a traveller’s photo opportunity on the way down.
*La Bodeguita del Medio- Just the place for a cigar and tequila, Hemingway’s favorite bar still retains a certain ambience, offering a dining room, a cigar divan and a patio.
*Paladares – Cubans started welcoming paying diners into their houses for home-cooked food, with family members serving you. An exciting way to experience their traditional gastronomy!
*Here are some highlights of restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy the Cuban flavors: Floridita- known for its best Daiquiri, Il Templete in Havana Vieja, Doctor Cafe, Il Vezuvio- known for the best pizza in Cuba, Tortuga, La Terasa, La Fontana, Hotel National terrace. All these are great places to spend you evenings and soak in the Cuban atmosphere.
Nights are dedicated to bar hopping from one lounge to another, enjoying Appletinis or chilled Daiquiris.
Tips – tipping is a way of life in Cuba. It is common to tip people in all walks of life if they do something special for you. In addition, as in all destinations, there is tipping for restaurant staff, housekeepers, porters, taxi drivers, concierge, and others in the hospitality industry.
La Bodeguita del Medio
4. Enjoy music and dancing, day & night
Cuban Jazz, Celia Cruz, Buena Vista Social Club have raised international awareness of the Cuban music. It’s best to take a peek at Havana’s music halls and clubs, going to the concerts in Casa de la Musica 2, Salon Rojo, La Cecilia- for outside concerts or the Diplomatic Club.
Whether it’s on the beach or in dancing classes, just let yourself be driven by salsa, rumba or mambo, deeply rooted in African rhythms.
In Havana the locals show you their most authentic traditions and ways of life in a very friendly manner. Anywhere you walk, any time of the day or night, you’ll find men at makeshift tables engrossed in dominos. The sound of children playing, which has been lost in much of the world, can be counted on at every corner.
6. Indulge into a glass of rum and a Cohiba cigar
Right before you splurge into these 2 Cuban trademarks, learn a little rum history to begin with, or go visit the cigar factories, such as the Partagas behind the Capitolio or Francisco Donatién Factory. Take a glimpse at the art of hand-rolling cigars and let them teach you the secrets of the leaves.
7. Take a city tour in a classic 50’s car
Cruising along the Malecón, the ocean road, in a 1950’s classic car is a real delight. Cuba has a large number of old cars: ancient Chevrolets, Buicks and Plymouths which survive from the time Fidel Castro led the Communist revolution of 1959. It is a nostalgic sight.
8. Cuban coffee
Once in Havana you don’t want to miss the sunrise paired with a rich brew of Cuban coffee, that comes in four ways: cafecito – nothing fancy…but intense, colada- for those who need more than just one shot of coffee, cafe con leche and cortadito- “small cut” with milk.
9. Sun, sand & swimming
Cuba is renowned for its spectacular beaches. You can soak up in the tropical atmosphere on their most known beach, Varadero or on Playa del Este, in Santa Maria. Further east, in Jardines del Rey archipelago, there is Ernest Hemingway’s favorites place, the towering dunes of Playa Pilar.
Street art of varying quality flourishes in the Plaza de la Catedral and surrounding alleys. If you’re searching for Cuban gifts and souvenirs, you will find them in small street stalls scattered in Old Havana and Vedado. On La Rampa in Vedado there is a craft market open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can venture further along to the Feria del Malecon where hundreds of artisans sell their jewellery, carvings and paintings.
A must on the sightseeing list are: Plaza de Armas (the oldest square in Havana and the site of the city’s foundation), El Templete (the oldest neo-classical building in Havana), Casa de la Obra Pia ( designed with colonial furniture and linen goods typical of those that would have decorated the home of 18th-century Havana nobility), Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña (the most beautiful fortress in the city, built in the 18th century), Covento de Santa Clara (a pre-baroque nunnery with beautiful cloisters), El Capitolio Nacional (a neoclassical impressive building), Havana’s Playing Card Museum, Hotel Nacional de Cuba (a beautiful Art Deco hotel), El Malecón Habanero (the locals favorite stroll place providing stunning views of the Bay).
“It is the glorious mix of history and music, poetry and passion, adventure and astonishingly rich culture that makes Cuban city life so magical.”