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.
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.
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 into 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 taster of this lively and exotic city. Watch this space for a return trip…