Cuba libre (part I) – La Habana

Plaza de la Revolución - Che Guevara
Plaza de la Revolución – Che Guevara

I just came back from a few days in Cuba! I had a great time there with some friends while visiting the capital Havana (La Habana) and the tobacco plantations in Viñales.   Come join us throughout this trip!

Cuba is a country of charming decline. This small island located in the Caribbean Sea is only 90 miles away from the southern tip of Florida. Cuba’s government is a Marxixt-Leninist single party state that has been headed by a member of the Castro family for many decades. As a matter of fact, the country is full of propaganda.

Day 1

Our day started off very early to catch a taxi to Baltimore and then fly from there to Ft Lauderdale and off to Havana. After passing the lengthy passport line at the José Martí airport, we caught another taxi to the Cathedral square (plaza de la Catedral) of the capital (25 CUC). We walked around the beautiful colonial square and headed for lunch. After that, we started hunting for an accommodation in La Habana Vieja until we found a place to stay for the next couple of days.  Given the uniqueness and isolation of Cuba, Internet and the usual online booking system for hotels don’t really work there. That’s why the best option is to look for people’s ‘casas particulares‘ (private houses), where they will warmly welcome you and offer you a bed & breakfast kind of service.

After accommodating ourselves, we got ready to explore the port area at night. We walked along the Paseo del Puerto, passing by the Customs building, the Habana Club museum and the plaza San Francisco.

Day 2

We explored quite a lot during our second day in Havana. We first headed to Plaza Vieja, which is currently one of the most important and popular in the city. All the buildings that surround this square were former residence of the aristocracy in colonial times and have been rescued and restored. We strolled around Old Havana and saw the imposing Capitolio and the Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso. Then we returned to Plaza Vieja to meet a friend and exchange some money. After that, we caught a vintage car to the famous Plaza de la Revolución with communist buildings representing the faces of Che Guevara and  Camilo Cienfuegos. 

Following this, we started a long walk including Quinta de los Molinos, the University of Havana, the ice-cream parlor Coppelia, a street market (where I bought my cute Cuban ‘maracas’), the well-known  Malecón, the Museo de la Revolución, plaza de la Catedral, plaza de Armas and finally, the beautifully preserved Calle de los Oficios. 

On the day after we headed to Viñales and then came back to Havana to spend half a day before catching our flight back to the US.

Day 5

During our last day in Havana, we entered (but didn’t visit) the Museo de la Revolución and saw the Granma yacht that transported Fidel and other revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 to overthrow Batista’s regime. We also walked along Paseo del Prado until the Capitolio and strolled around Havana’s Chinatown (Barrio Chino). This was a surreal mix! To wrap up our stay in the Cuban capital, we toured Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Catedral one last time before catching a taxi to the José Martí airport.

On our way back, Spirit canceled our flight to Baltimore, so we had to spend the night in Ft Lauderdale.  The next day, we got to lay at the beach for a few hours before returning to Baltimore and then to DC.

Playlist

Trip details
Preparations & good things to know:
*I got my visa a few days before traveling  at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC. While at the airport in Ft Lauderdale, we had to fill in some more paperwork.
*I also read some articles on Lonely Planet and watched documentaries about Cuban history in order to better understand the country prior to arrival (check out ‘The Cuba Libre story’ on Netflix).
*The currency of Cuba is the Cuban peso or the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). They have two official currencies that are accepted in different areas of the country. Most Cubans are paid in both currencies, and can use the Cuban peso for most of their expenses, while the Cuban convertible peso can be used for luxury items. We had to change some money in a ‘casa de cambio‘ (or cadeca) while in Havana close to calle Obispo.
-Flights: Baltimore-Ft Lauderdale-Havana with Spirit. This is an awful airline and I’ve had various bad experiences with them already. On our way to Cuba, our flight was delayed several times. On our way back, they canceled our flight from Ft Lauderdale to Baltimore.
Ft Lauderdale airport: I always love having some snacks at Casavana. This time around I had tea, a guava and cheese cake and a meat empanada.
Accommodation in Ft Lauderdale: we had to stay at the Aqua Hotel since the airline canceled our flight back to Baltimore.
Cafeterias in Ft Lauderdale: we had breakfast at a nearby Starbucks.
Accommodation in Havana: we stayed at a ‘casa particular’ (private house) in Habana Vieja called Marili House and located in Acosta 64-68, San Ignacio e Inquisidor. 
Restaurants in Havana:
*Paladar de doña Eutimia: we loved this place so much, we came here twice during our stay. The first time, we tried tostones rellenos, arroz a la cubana, ropa vieja, coffee, crème caramel and mojito frappé. The second time we had croquetas de Leticia, fritura de malanga, ropa vieja and a mojito frappé once again.
*El Templete: we had calamares a la romana, filete de pescado a la plancha, and a sandwich cubano for dinner.
*Papa Ernesto: we had breakfast at this street food bar close to Plaza Vieja.
*Café Bohemia: lovely patio to enjoy tropical juices. I tried their jugo de fruta bomba-papaya y plátano.
*La Mina: I had a chocolate ice cream.
*Hotel Nacional: good spot to have a drink at night by the Malecón.
*Cha Cha Cha: cool and modern restaurant where I had a Serrano ham sandwich.  
Tips for next time in Havana:

*Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

*Fábrica de Arte Cubano

*Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes Magos

*Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña

*Cárdenas neighborhood 

*La bodeguita del medio for drinks and salsa

*Discoteca El Cangrejo

*Tropicana (burlesque/carnival)

*Four Seasons hotel

*Floridita

*Ballet

Apparently, other Cuban cities worth visiting include Trinidad and Varadero. I’ll keep that in mind for next time!

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