I wish I could put together a post for you about the best way to explore Havana, or where the best food is found, or even the top sights you must not miss. Alas, we went to Havana on a tour from our Varadero hotel (our first ever experience of non-independent travel) and so I have very little first-hand advice to offer for this beautiful city. I did not, however, want our photos of Cuba to be absent from the blog, so here are my favourites of our day in Cuba’s capital.

cuba city squares havana jrThe Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception (Havana Cathedral)

havana blue mosaic balcony cuba

City of contrasts

Havana is not a place I had any kind of expectations for (we booked our trip to Cuba on a Wednesday and arrived two days later), but it was truly fascinating. The biggest impression is definitely visual; it is so very vibrant with such colourful buildings, signs and vehicles everywhere you look. Visitors often describe their experience in Havana as stepping back in time. I would agree to some extent, but I also saw a fair amount of modern artwork, facilities and buildings alongside the old.

Havana has to be the quietest capital city I have ever been to for both foot and vehicle traffic, but also one of the loudest in other ways (live music on the streets alongside loud diesel engines). Some of the buildings are crumbling away, but others are surprisingly well kept and retain beautiful original features. It’s touristy in the way that there are plenty of large tour groups around, but we still found ourselves walking into completely deserted squares and alleyways, right in the centre of Old Havana. The city presented so many contrasts, and I’m sure I have not begun to scratch the surface.

For that reason, we both definitely want to return to Havana, and Cuba in general, to explore more. Next time, we will be sure to be travelling independently.

havana streets cuba

paladar los mercaderes cuba havana

cuba colofull street and old red delivery truck

carved windows cuba havana

colourful buildings cuba havana

A restricted experience

Our guided tour was frustrating at times as it (inevitably, I suppose) revolved around paid activities which showed very little of the local culture that we had not already experienced at our resort. One, for example, was a trip to an old rum factory, but over an hour of the ninety-minute ‘tour’ involved waiting in line to buy rum and cigars. A little later on, only ten minutes into our ‘two-hour walking tour’ of Old Havana, we were directed to a bar for an hour long sit down with some mojitos (which I will note, was not included in our tour price). We politely declined and explored the surrounding streets instead. Lunch was also a two-hour long affair with more drinks.

Next time, we will be controlling our own experience in Havana – a city with a lot more to offer than a guided tour ever could cover. Having said that though, I am still glad we got a taste of this lively and exotic city. Watch this space for a return trip…

talking statues cuba havana

la habana building cuba

pigeons havana cuba

government building cuba havanaEl Capitolio (National Capitol Building) – home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences

cuba havana camilo cienfuegosMural of Camilo Cienfuegos (Cuban revolutionary who accompanied Castro and Guevara) in Plaza de la Revolucion

havana buildings cuba

50s cars cuba havana

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

2 Comments

  1. I would love to go to Cuba, it’s been at the top of my wish list for years. I’m always a bit unsure of taking guided tours because I think they can be a let down, especially tours like this one from the sounds of it. I don’t like being herded places and not allowed to spend as much time as you want in each place. I prefer tours where you are shown the sights and then have the rest of the day to explore as you wish. Your photos of Havana are beautiful too!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Anna,

      I’m definitely wary of guided tours too – my favourite ones have been free walking tours of European cities, which I find can be very helpful to get a quick perspective on an area with lots of history. We visited Cuba with two days notice and had little time to research – so we ended up on a guided tour from our resort in Varadero (a two hour drive away). Next time we will explore by ourselves! Thanks for your comment 🙂

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