My Heart is in Havana

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Cuba is changing. Rapidly. When I visited Havana this year, I saw very few people on their phones. Mostly people are hanging out on the streets (like the rest of the world used to). But the internet is slowly rolling in, and a few wifi hotspots around Havana has people gathering together to experience the World Wide Web. The US embargo is slowly being lifted and everything classic about Cuba is about to be modernized.

Old Havana (Habana Vieja)

Old Havana (or Habana Vieja) is the most famous area of Havana. It's where you'll see the compact and narrow old streets, old buildings and the most iconic locations in Havana.

Plaza de la Catedral
The Cathedral Square in Old Havana, Cuba
Plaza de la Catedral is the main cathedral square in Old Havana. It connect some of the most important and famous streets of this part of town.

La Bodeguita del Medio / El Floridita Bar
Famous bar La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana, Cuba
Like Ernest Hemingway once wrote; "My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita". A quote which hangs - signed by the man himself - at one of his main watering holes in Havana la Bodeguita del Medio. A place which - thanks to Hemingway - has become one of the most popular spots to visit in Old Havana. Floridita is also still around and doing quite well on Hemingway's branding.

Local Pizzaria
The cheapest meal you can get in Old Havana, Cuba
Right now, Cuba has two different currencies. A local Cuban Peso (CUP) and a convertible Peso (CUC) with the same value as the American dollar. Basically the CUC makes tourist pay up to 25 times more in Havana, than the locals do. Old Havana is so touristic, that you'll rarely see prices listed in CUP. One of the few places left is the small pizzarias on the street called Obispo. They sell a pizza for 15-20 CUP (less than a USD), just to compare a meal at the cheapest restaurants/cafés in Old Havana will cost you 5-6 CUC/USD and often more (average prices are around 10-14 CUC/USD). Getting the local CUP is possible if you go and exchange in the bank, many of the touristic places won't accept them though.

Museum of the Revolution
Ceiling painting in the Museum of the Revolution in Old Havana, Cuba
Museum of the Revolution is the place to learn about the major chances Cuba has undergone. From the patriotic ceiling paintings to the bullet holes in the walls. The history is strong with this one!

Plaza de Armas
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales in Old Havana, Cuba
The main building on Plaza de Armas (Weapons Square)  is the Palaxio de los Capitanes Generales (former residence of the governors of Havana). The plaza marks the end of the main area of Old Havana. Many locals hangout in the small park and there are cozy street cafés located around the edges of the square. Castillo de la Real Fuerza - a star-shaped fort - also lies at Plaza de Armas.

Cuban Cigars
Cuban man posing while smoking a cigar in Old Havana, Cuba
The single best souvenir to bring back home from Cuba. The quality of Cuban cigars are said to one of the best in the world. Naturally, locals have noticed the interest from tourists and "fake/cheap" cigars are sold at mainly on the streets as high-end quality cigars. Make sure you buy yours in a government authorized shop. There are some located on Oficios street, don't ever buy from a guy wanting to sell on the street - odds are, he's ripping you off.

Havana Club Rum Museum
Havana Club bottles in Old Havana, Cuba
They put rum is practically every drink. And Havana Club is their pride. The Museo del Ron Havana Club (Havana Club Rum Museum) takes you on a tour from the beginning of the brand, to the process of making it and ends it all off with a little taste of their product.

Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro
Local fisherman in front of Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro in Old Havana, Cuba
Probably the most famous and most easily recognizable fort/castle in Old Havana. Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro is located just across the canal. The fort can be seen from various spots without crossing the canal, but if you want to tour it, you have to cross.

Plaza de San Francisco
Plaza de San Fransisco in Old Havana, Cuba
Another plaza with a cathedral. Like any other parts in Old Havana, this plaza has new narrow streets to explore. Old Havana is really all about the tiny details, the smalls shops, the locals you meet and the back-in-time-feeling you get wandering in these streets.

Central Havana (Centro Habana)

Central Havana is what used to be just outside the wall surrounding Old Havana. Here, one of the first railways in the world was built, only to later be replaced by the capitol building. Other important places like the old cigar factory and the famous Malecón are also located in Central Havana.

Capitol of Cuba
Bronze statue inside the Capitol in Havana, Cuba
The Capitol building resembles - on the outside - the US Capitol in Washington DC, but inside there's a very different vibe to it. A diamond placed in the floor, an 18-meter bronze (world's third largest indoor statue) along with several impressive hallways and discussion rooms. Worth the visit and the guide tour.

Paque Central (Classic Cars)
An old Plymouth in Central Havana, Cuba
Alright, wherever you'll go in Havana, there will be classic cars roaming the streets. These old school cars have a huge income potential and are cared for and passed down through family generations. Tours vary in length and price. Everything from 60 CUC/USD to 15 CUC/USD. A great place to negotiate and look for exactly the car you want to ride is at Parque Central (Central Park) near the Capitol.

Paseo del Prado
Paseo del Prado in Central Havana, Cuba
Paseo del Prado is a side street next to Parque Central. This street is famous for the many local artists selling their art. Not too shops are the same and a stroll down this street is quite interesting, even if you don't plan to buy any art.

Fábrica de Tabaco Partagas
The closed Cigar Factory in Central Havana, Cuba
The Fábrica de Tabaco Partagas is where the famous habanos cigars used to be fabricated. Now, unfortunately, the factory is closed down. Cigar production still continues all over Havana and Cuba however. The old factory is located close to the Capitol and the building is quite nostalgic, even though it's closed down.

Malecón

Malecón is basically the northern pier of Havana. The four-laned street stretches several kilometers along the coastline. Locals hang around here, fishing and watching time pass by. There are some great restaurants located along the way if you choose to take a walk here.

Vedado

Vedado is even further west from Old Havana and Central Havana. Historically some of the most essential places are located in the Vedado area. Revolution Plaza and Avenida 23, just to mentions a couple.

Revolution Plaza / José Martí Memorial
José Martí Memorial on Revolution Plaza in Vedado Havana, Cuba
Many rallies took place at Revolution Plaza. Fidel Castro, Pope Francis and other religious and political figures have addressed the Cuban people here. A memorial honoring José Martí has been built here as well.

Che Guevara & Fidel Castro Wall Monument
Che Guevara Wall Monument in Vedado Havana, Cuba
Across from the Revolutions Plaza stands two large buildings, each with a face. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara each has a wall monument, which lights up at night. A great place for that perfect Cuba picture.

Colon Cemetery

The most prominent cemetery in Havana is placed in Vedado. Colon Cemetery (named after Christopher Colombus) houses more than 500 major mausoleums and is especially noted for the many sculpted memorials.

Avenida 23
A small part of Avenida 23 in Vedado Havana, Cuba
Avenida 23 is an important street in Vedado and in Havana. It begins at sea (from Malecón) and is packed with restaurants, movie theaters, mansions, clubs, cigar factories and much much more.

Avenida de los Presidentes

A side road to Avenida 23 is Avenida de los Presidentes. A street with a park area in the middle of the street running along it. The park has several statues and busts of former leaders of Cuba and other political figures of importance to the Cuban history.

Casa de la Amistad
Casa de la Amistad in Vedado Havana, Cuba
The story about Casa de la Amistad is a romantic and sad one. A Cuban woman; Catalina Lasa (presumably the most beautiful woman in all of Cuba) was married to Pedro Estevez Abreu. But see was desperately in love with another man; Juan Pedro Baró. With no divorce laws in place in Cuba at the time. Catalina and Juan fled the country and settled in France. As soon as Cuba adopted divorce laws, Catalina was back to benefit from them. Out of his great love for Catalina, Juan built a mansion and painted it in pink - her favorite color. Unfortunately Catalina died soon after and Juan moved back to Europe, heartbroken and alone.

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