When it is cold and rainy on the Cloud, I head straight for Havana, Cuba for sunshine, fabulous beaches and exciting nightlife!
A little history of Havana Cuba
Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean with more than 2.1 Million people. It was founded by Conquistador Diego Velazquez de Cuellar on 25 August 1515. It became the major trading port for the Spanish in the New World. This also made it an attractive target for buccaneers, pirates and French Corsairs. So, its heavy fortifications are still a grand part of its cityscape.
Havana, Cuba was extremely popular as a vacation and gambling spot for Americans from the 1930s when Prohibition restricted the availability of fun in the neighbouring mainland.
Havana feels unspoiled despite the several new resorts that have cropped up on its pristine beaches in the past decade. There are still some “must see” attractions for the first-time visitor including:
this is the famous old town that you’ve seen in pictures. Visit the Plaza Vieja where you can stroll and meet local residents.
El Morro Castle
this famous fortification is on the headland of the bay surrounding the port and is scenic by day or night.
El Morro castle is beautiful at sunset!
- Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabana – the canon blast at 9:00 PM each day has occurred without break since 1550. It’s a tradition that is exciting and LOUD!
- El Capitolio – this is the seat of government in Cuba that was modelled after the Capitol in the USA. El Capitolio was reopened in 2019 after a substantial renovation and it is beautiful inside and out.
- Classic Car Tour – Cubans love their classic American cars! The USA stopped exporting cars and parts there in 1959 so all of the revered older cars are carefully maintained with parts that are salvaged and even manufactured in Cuba.
Fusterlandia is fun to visit!
- The Malecon – this seawall and roadway is famous for being depicted in movies of the city like the recent Fast and Furious franchise.
- Fusterlandia – this is my favourite neighbourhood in Cuba! Artist Jose Fuster has beautifully tiled his entire neighbourhood to turn the area into a colourful art exhibition.
Here’s a pro-tip: check out Fabrica De Arte Cubano which is a combination nightclub, art gallery and performance centre. There is always something cool to see and experience!
Reaching Havana is convenient by air or ship. The Jose Marti International Airport has undergone a substantial renovation in the past decade but is still small enough to be easy to navigate. There are convenient non-stops from many airports in Europe and Canada and also local connections from within the Caribbean region. Havana is a traditional port and the stop of many non-USA based cruise ships. Once in Havana, there is an efficient bus and public transport system and ample taxis.
Here is another pro-tip: Be aware that the classic car taxis are more expensive than their modern equivalents but they are undoubtedly more picturesque. Ask about prices before you enter the vehicle and then sit back and enjoy the ride!
Enjoy a classic car ride to El Capitolio
There are numerous modern resorts around Havana but I find them to be artificial even though they are welcoming with all modern conveniences. I prefer the classic properties including my favourite, the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski la Habana. The Hotel Nacional is perhaps the most famous of hostels with a fantastic smoking lounge where you can taste the best cigars while sipping fine rum. The Hotel Saratoga is a renovated art deco remnant of the time when Americans visited the island during the winter. All properties are reasonably priced and offer high standards of service.
Cuban food is outstanding and tasty. There are formula dishes that feature the areas fish and seafood as well as the ubiquitous rice and beans. My favourite restaurants include La Fontana, which is hard to find in its residential neighbourhood but has excellent food. El del Frente has an award-winning chef and produces modern takes on classic favourites. Opera is an exciting venue with scrumptious dishes and is a good value by Havana standards.
Cigars are Cuba’s most famous export
Here’s a final pro-tip: Hemingway was famous for drinking “Papa Dobles”, his signature tipple. They were made with twice as much rum and no sugar poured into a chilled double cocktail glass. Try them sparingly unless you have an iron liver!
Finally, you’ll want to take home as much rum and cigars as your country’s Customs will allow. The rum is a great price, but remember that Beirut is slightly better priced on cigars than Havana.