“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” – Bill Bryson
This is Cuba. Everything is just a guess. Turning a street corner is like turning the page of a book that you can’t put down because you know the next page is going to be just as good. It’s enticing. It grabs your attention. It sucks you in. I don’t understand it. But it’s beautiful, perhaps one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. And Havana, well this place was such a treat. It was the second stop on my Cuban itinerary and it was full of wonder. My curiosity reached new levels. This place is a paradox. Havana, all of Cuba really, is a place that seems to be stuck in time. And I: couldn’t.get.enough. I spent 8 days in Havana, which is quite a bit of time for one spot but I had the chance to explore nearly every inch of this city. Here’s the down low:
Take a free walking tour
As an American, I never had the chance to learn about Cuba. Ever. It was always this place that was never spoken about. Along this free walking tour I had the opportunity to learn all about its history, people and culture. Main topics included Christopher Columbus, Jose Marti, Fidel Castro, the revolutionary wars, Cuban independence and the post revolution period. My tour guide, Jamie, had the answer to every single one of my questions. You’ll meet in Parque Central, you can’t miss the sign, and embark on a 2ish hour tour through Old Havana, Calle Obispo, Plaza Vieja, along the Malecón, and back to Parque Central. You literally walk the entire thing so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring lots of water.
… Walk some more
There is nothing better than getting lost in a new city. I wandered deep in the neighborhoods, this was how I truly got to know Havana. I know we all have our limits and different comfort levels when traveling- so go with your gut. If you feel uncomfortable on the street you’re walking on, find a new street to walk down. I can tell you that I never felt unsafe walking through Havana- and I was deep in the neighborhoods.
Take a vintage car tour of La Habana
All about the perspectives. Head to Parque Central and pick a car to whisk you away through the city. I had to go with this blue beauty! It will be about 40CUC for an hour ride through the city. Which, I might add, is much larger than I expected.
Visit the Malecón
You’ll do this on the free walking tour BUT be sure to visit on your own time. Head here for sunset with some Cuban rum, boxed or bottle.Yes, boxed rum is a thing here. You’ll mingle with the locals and really get to know the Cuban people. Plus, it is a great spot to watch the sunset!
Visit Callejòn de Hamel
This is an area dedicated to Afro-Cuban art. Set on its very own street the art is endless- multicolored murals, sculptures, and the sounds of Cuban music filling your ears.
Spend an evening at Fábrica de Arte Cubano
La Fabrica for short. This place has night life unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Admittedly, it doesn’t look like much from the outside. But as soon as you step through the doors you will totally understand why travelers and locals flock to this place Thursday-Sunday. It’s an art gallery turned nightclub- all at once. Wander around the galleries sipping mojitos and talking amongst friends, head to the dance floor to break it down, go downstairs and pay a visit to the delicious food trucks, or watch a live exhibition. Pro tip: do it all.
Cabs are plentiful when the night ends so not to worry. And as always, negotiate prices with the drivers!
Eat your way through the city
I didn’t have the most amazing foodie experience in Havana. And to be honest, I’ve heard mixed reviews about the cuisine in all of Cuba. Some say it’s delicious and I just didn’t eat at the right places and others have said I’m lucky to have found dishes worth talking about. I guess it depends on your personal experience.
When I say I didn’t have the most amazing foodie experience, I don’t mean that every dish was awful I just found the cuisine to lack flavor- you know, that Cuban flavor you would expect to grace your taste buds.
I spent most of my meal times at Paladares which are privately owned restaurants. Generally speaking, the prices will be more expensive but the quality of the meals will be much better. However, I still think it is important to eat at a cafeteria at least once! This is where the locals go. Some Paladares worth highlighting are La Guarida, Otramanera, Café Archángel, and Rio Mar. Archángel was my favorite- I loved it so much I went three times! This café has an amazing coffee selection, an assortment of fresh juice (get the Guava Juice), and countless breakfast options. Also, it’s true what they say, there is nothing quite like Cuban coffee.
Oh Cuba, you definitely made a lasting impression on me. There was something special about this place. Perhaps because it was forbidden for so long or maybe it was the vibrant culture or the people- whatever it was it made me feel all the feels. I felt so comfortable walking around, just as any other place. Planning your own adventure to Cuba as an American? Be sure to check out this post too!