Habana is a city that will leave you a sign!
I am quite convinced that when you think about Habana, one of the first thing it comes to your mind is Havana Club, rum! Well, let me tell you that Habana is much more than rum: it is music, art, culture, traditions and comida deliciosa (delicious food).
To start with, I will explain how the city is divided into areas: Habana Vieja (Old Town), centre Habana, Vedado, Miramar. These are the main quarters of the city.
Habana Vieja, has really left a special memory to me: I am a big fun of old towns in general and the Habana’s one has a lot to offer to your eyes and taste.
The main road is called Obispo, a very long road plenty of shops, bar and restaurant and of course piles of curious tourists!
But you know me, I like to discover the local reality, what it’s far from the touristic spots. The best for doing that was to just keep walking with no direction or indications: lose yourself, as I did in Habana Vieja. I have seen beautiful colonial buildings, streets full of kids running and playing around, Habaneros selling tasty street food or working and doing normal routines. The old town hides so many gorgeous gems that it would have been a real shame to stick with the most known streets.
Some of these secondary streets that I bumped into were: Jesus Maria, Luz, Compostela and Agosta. I highly suggest going and explore them and stop rising up your face and looking at your surroundings, smell the air, talk with people and enjoy it.
Indeed, there are hot spots not to be missed, some closer to Obispo and some little further away but still within the Old Town.
Here a list with also some road indications, that might turn handy and more information:
Plaza de la Catedral in calle San Ignacio, is a beautiful Cathedral worth it a visit, right in the middle of the Old Town. The Cathedral was built in the and now is also site of Colonial Art Museum
Museo 28 de Septiembre : in Obispo, a venerable building that dedicates two floors to a rather one-sided dissection of the nationwide Comites de la Defensa de la Revolución (CDR; Committees for the Defense of the Revolution).
Bodeguita del Medio : this is a must stop for Mojito, as one of the bar in town, but as I’ve already mentioned in another article, it is a very crowded bar with plenty of tourists and I really believe that so many other bars do a Mojito as good as at this place, but hey.. if you do not mind some wait just stop and have a refreshing Mojito. You can find it in Calle Empedrado, corner with Calle Cuba
Museo de Arte Colonial, Galleria Victor Manuel and Centro Wilfredo Lam : close to Plaza de Armas
Excavacion Muralla de Mar: beautiful excavation at the very end of the Old Town, by Plaza San Pablo and Plaza de Armas. The Wall was constructed in 1733: part of the colonial archaeology. The wall is very close to Castillo de la Real Fuerza, where to admire a fantastic view of Habana. The fort is considered to be the oldest stone fort in the Americas.
Mezquita Abdallah: this is a Mosque in the heart of the Old town, in Calle de Los Officios, and walking all the way down to the same road you will end up admiring the outstanding Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis : (Saint Francis of Assisi) built at the end of sixteenth century (1580–91) as the home of the Franciscan community, and were altered in the baroque style in 1730. The Basilique is the right place for Classic music lovers, as this Convent offers several events dedicated to Classic music.
In Calle des Officios, you will also see a very old Ferro Carriles de Cuba (a carriage of an old train) and Camera de Representantes.
If you would like to drink a nice Mojito and avoid the crowd, do like I did: keep walk and stop in the secondary road : the Mojitos or the Cuba Libre (and all other gorgeous drink) will taste even better without a crowd of people and wait. I’ve generally stopped at Bar Los Cubanos and Bar Los Hermanos.
Just by the Old Town, you can visit also Parque Central : a general meeting point, easy to recognize as you will see parked some nice Vintage Cabrio. It is time to unwind and get in a nice Cabrio to enjoy a trip of Habana feeling like in a 60’ movie. But be careful as this experience does not come for cheap: price goes from 30 CUC onwards.. just negotiate a little. Here you can stop asking of Nozlen, he will definitely help you out to find a perfect deal for your pocket. Do not forget to mention him that you are my reader and he will do the best possible to make you happy about your Cabrio experience.
On the right side of Parque Central, you won’t miss the great view of Capitolio as well: The Capitol was the seat of government in Cuba until after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and is now home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences.
Now, I hope you do not mind a little boat trip to discover the beauty of the Castillo de Los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro: an ancient fortress, drawn up by the Italian engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli on the opposite side of the Harbour, Casablanca. You can easily reach the Morro getting on a ferry from Embarco de la Habana at Avenida del Puerto. The cost for the ferry is 10 cents of Pesos, and be careful as they do not give change (there is also a taxi option, but prices will be quite different). The ferry takes around 10/15 min. Once you reach this lovely port in Casablanca, you can hike few minutes up to the Christo (yes, a mini version of the Brazilian one) and then keep your hike up to the Morro. Be careful tough, as it’s a 30/40 min walk and the sun is really high over there. You can still opt for a taxi or a bike ride instead to go up from the port to the Morro. Entrance at the Morro is (current price) 6 CUC and 1 CUC for the guide, which I highly suggest.
Once you are there, stop and enjoy the amazing view of Havana Vieja, close your eyes and dream to be in the 15th century … how does it feel?
Anyways, there is much more to explore in Havana Vieja, but I would take out all the fun if I will mention all them all, so pack your bag and go explore.
Moving now to Centre Habana, where I have booked my accommodation, needs some preparation: is one of the less wealthy areas of Habana, but one of the most authentic, and as a matter of fact, I have loved it. I would like you to trust me that you will not find any danger here. True, as everywhere in the world you should be careful at night, but nothing major, I would simply say, use some common sense and you will be fine. I travel by myself in Cuba and I never felt unsafe, not here in Centre Habana, not everywhere else.
I liked this part of town, mainly because is real local and you will have the possibility to eat as locals do: is easy to find in the streets normal private houses that sell foods like panini, toast, Cuban pastry and delicious juices for a super cheap price. But I warn you that some of them might not really match the basic of hygiene, so before buying something just look through the window how clean seem the place and “Bon Apetit”. Or you can indulge in a nice Cuban meal at the top floor of the Restaurant La Guarida: http://www.laguarida.com/
There are not really major famous spot in this part of town, but the beauty of the building and houses is really unique and here feels to be in the real part of Habana, living with Habaneros and getting to know more about their lives.
I have met many beautiful people here in Centre Habana, that I will never forget for their kindness and help. Do not be scared to stop to talk to people when they stop you, Cubans are really talkative and lovely and they will do their very best to help.
Also, you can really have some very long and nice early morning run by the Malecon (Habana’s harbour), or simply enjoy the Harbour at night with all the local people sitting and dancing and drinking local Cerveza. Maybe you will be lucky to get involved by Habaneros dancing salsa 😊
TIPS for my women readers: Cuban men might really try to chat you up all the time, with their “Hola Mamacita” “ hey beautiful….” But it is actually very funny and at the end of the day, they are simply appreciating you with no annoying touchy and still with plenty of respect. Just smile at them if you do not feel like to start a chat and carry on your walk.
I will not spend much time talking about Vedado and Miramar, simply because these are both residential areas, with no much to see. Most famous for the night life and party time, as mostly Vedado is plenty of bar and Club. Some nice club to be visited, if you feel to shake your legs are La Gruta and 1830.
Last but not least I would like to mention “Plaza de la Revolucion”: a square where you can feel the history of Cuba in the air, enjoying a fantastic wall of Che Guevara.
I have spent in Habana 1 week, as I generally like to settle in a new city and mingle with local people, trying to get to know their reality and their normal living at my own peace, but if you do not have that much time I can suggest to spend in Habana 3 days but not less than that, as otherwise, you risk to leave the city with missing memories.
Yes, I am talking about Memories that I have collected of Habana and Habaneros: dancing salsa on the street, playing with kids and getting lost watching their curious eyes, talking with women and their routine, what they are going to cook or what they dream to be.. I hope you will feel the same after your trip in Habana.