What isn’t to like about Cuba? It has good weather. the people are lovely and friendly and it is like stepping back in time to the 1940’s or 1950’s. My friend Myra and I had booked a holiday to Cuba through The Holiday Place. It wasn’t cheap but we had booked 3 different destinations and Havana was our first port of call. We flew direct with Virgin Airlines. You do need a visa but the travel agent arranged this and it was very cheap. We had great flights there and back as neither of the flights were full so we were able to spread ourselves across a few seats and even managed to get a few hours sleep. The outward journey was 10 hours and the return journey was 8 1/2 hours. The first thing you notice on arriving at the Airport are the vintage cars, Mustangs, Cadillacs and Buicks and others I didn’t recognise. Although most don’t have the original engines the bodywork is original and immaculate. Most of these are taxis now and it is possible to hire them and travel in style to your hotel.
We stayed at the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel. A large hotel with a colonial courtyard inside. During our visit to Cuba we met a lot of people who used “casas particulares” which is like Airbnb and means you can stay with a local family. This would be a lot cheaper than the hotels we stayed in and we only heard good reports of these.
On our first day in Havana we hired one of the Vintage cars to take us on a tour of the City. Sitting in the back of our red 1949 convertible we felt like a cross between “Thelma and Louise” and someone from the show “Happy Days” ! It cost about £60 for 2 hours and was worth every penny. Ramon, our driver, pointed out all the sights we might want to visit and then took us through the tunnel to the hillside fort and the huge statue of Jesus. He took us past The Capitol building which is ironically designed to look like the Washington DC building! We also went to Revolution Square where we stopped to visit the monument. After the 2 hours we had an idea of what we wanted to go back and see on our own. Ramon dropped us off back at the Hotel and as I looked later at the photos I had taken I realised we actually looked more like “Driving Miss Daisy” than “Thelma and Louise”!
There are so many bars and restaurants in Havana and nearly all of them have live music (although be warned the musicians do expect to be tipped). The food in Cuba is not fabulous and for vegetarians, like us, almost non existent but the great atmosphere in the restaurants makes up for any culinary deficit. The main street near our hotel was Calle Obispo and although the restaurants and bars here were great fun we found they were quite a bit more expensive than places slightly off the beaten track. There are some lovely squares to sit in, Plaza de Armas and Cathedral Square being the most attractive. Our favourite museum was Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. This houses the City Museum and has an eclectic collection of flags, statues, paintings and other artefacts. It is in a beautiful colonial building with a lovely courtyard, complete with peacocks! The Museo de la Revolucion is the most popular museum but we were a little disappointed as it is mainly (interesting but not wildly exciting) photos of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. However they do have a new extension which houses the boat that brought Castro from Mexico to start the revolution (called “Granma”) and there was also a missile from the Cuban Missile Crisis. Horrifically there was also part of the wreckage of the US plane that was shot down at that time. (Interesting fact: because the Americans denied it all for 19 years the pilots body was not returned to the United States for all that time!)
We were advised to take a stroll down The Malecon (the sea wall) but this wasn’t in fact that interesting. But it is a good view point from which to view all the vintage cars driving around plying for business.
There isn’t great shopping opportunities in Havana. It has lots of shops selling T shirts etc but nothing much else. It feels very much like a communist country when you look at the shops. Lots of the shelves are bare and we saw a lot of people queuing at the doors of an electrical store as they had just had a delivery and this was obviously rare.
So, in summing up, I would definitely recommend Havana. You probably only need 3 or 4 days there before moving on to other parts of Cuba. We found Havana to be very friendly and were quite happy walking around the city at night.
To see what we thought of the other places we visited in Cuba I will be writing other reviews (Trinidad and Varedero).