A Warm Welcome
Havana – the very word conjures up exotic images of a classic cars, cigars and rum cocktails. We had wanted to visit for so long and finally we had made it. We were greeted at airport by Felipe, the host at our casa particular (Cuban Bed and Breakfast). He drove us to his home in central Havana, pointing out places of interest as we went. Arriving in Cuba felt like being transported back in time. We knew Cuba would be different. However, nothing had prepared us for the sight of so many 50’s classic cars on the roads. In fact, it was nothing less than spectacular. The other thing that struck us was the heat – to say it was hot in Havana was an understatement. We were there in February and found the heat quite debilitating. Luckily there were an abundance of bars in which to partake in an ice cold mojito!
At the apartment we were introduced to Odalys, Felipe’s wife. The couple were warm and welcoming and our stay with them was one of the highlights of our trip to Havana. Our cute room had a fridge and air-conditioning (which was a godsend in Havana’s humidity). Additionally, it even had a balcony overlooking the lively street.
A Breakfast Feast!
Every day Odalys would make us a huge breakfast. It consisted of a massive plate of fruit each, bacon, eggs, toast, cheese and ham followed by cake. Not to mention fresh juices and coffee! It certainly kick-started our day! In fact, it kept us going until late afternoon, which was handy, as Havana isn’t particularly know for its cuisine. On Ku’s Birthday, Odalys even sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in Spanish and made a special cake! As a matter of fact, the level of hospitality we received from the couple was incredible. We can’t recommend them enough.
Classic Cars and Cocktails
Havana was visually stunning with its crumbling colonial buildings and classic cars. The music, as expected, was excellent. In fact, we discovered a great bar called Los Dos Hermanos (The Two Brothers). Because we enjoyed the bar so much, we actually went there a couple of times. The mojitos were strong and the band had the audience in the palm of their hand.
There were several highlights during our trip to Havana. The Afro-Caribbean music in colourful Callejon de Hamel on Sunday morning was impressive to say the least. Also up there, was a two-hour tour around town in an orange Buick. Additionally, we loved our visit to the quirky and creative enclave of Fusterlandia in the neighbourhood of Jaimanitas (see photograph below). We also really enjoyed wandering the streets and plazas of the historical area. Afterwards, when the heat got too much, the sea breeze on the malecon provided much needed relief.
There were an abundance of stray cats in Centro Historico, located in the heart of Havana. However, the locals appeared to do a good job in feeding them. The cats gathered in the small parks, where bowls of food were put out for them. As we were missing our furry friends from our housesitting gigs, we were happy to befriend them.
Havana is home to several decent museums. We chose to visit Museo de la Revolucion and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes La Habana. In all honesty, we didn’t find the Museum of Revolution to be particularly well-presented. Having said that, the building itself was impressive. In fact, the exhibits that were located outside (including a bullet-riddled delivery truck) were more engaging than those inside. Naturally, Fidel Castro featured prominently.
The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes La Habana was housed in a stunning building. There was an excellent array of Cuban art on display. In fact, we both really enjoyed perusing the exhibits, which were primarily contemporary. Many of the pieces had a political perspective. As a bonus, there was also a good café on the ground floor.
Life in Havana
There is another side to Havana. It is clear to see that many people are suffering from a lack of basic items. People can be seen lining up outside shops which appear to have limited stocks on their shelves. Poverty is rife and life is tough for many.
From a visitors perspective, internet is limited, as is decent food, especially for vegetarians. We found that in many cafes, bars and restaurants, service wasn’t particularly friendly or prompt. (With the exception of Dos Hermanos and a veggie-friendly café called Arcangel). Havana is substantially more expensive for tourists because it has a dual currency system. Rum, however, was unbelievably cheap!
Overall, we were really pleased that we made the effort to get to Havana, but we do not think that we would return. It is a fascinating destination and is like nowhere else in the world we have ever been. Having said that, it is not without its issues.