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Havana - Vedado district - Krista photo

Havana -Old Town - foreign and domestic tourists - Krista photo

We spent four days in the city, and it was particularly hot and sultry for the time of year (March) with temperatures generally at 24-25°C even in the evening. Still, as mentioned above, night falls early, and by 7pm it was completely dark. Don’t be put off when you see the airport… Even though Havana International Airport is the first glimpse travelers from all over the world get of Cuba. But we mustn’t let it discourage us, because many adventures await :)

After our passports, pre-arranged tourist cards and bags have been checked, we’re free to go.
In front of the airport is a vast caravanserai, but the travel agents and people from the transfer agencies know their jobs, so relatively quickly we’re able to find our pre-booked bus or taxi, which whisks us to our hotel.

What first strikes you as you drive down the road to the hotel, is that this is not a city burdened with an excess of street lighting. Passing the capitol building, it’s surprising to see it shrouded in darkness. This is probably a result of scarce natural resources.
Our hotel, the Hotel Copacabana, was a good distance from the center of town, down by the seaside along the Malecón promenade.
There were both advantages and disadvantages to this location. Being at the seaside made it a breezy, quiet hotel, and we had the full, relaxing experience of falling asleep to the sound of gently breaking waves…
On the other hand, we had to take a taxi into town every day. We didn’t try the public transport; there are local busses, but not much in the way of timetables, information or even bus stops. I’d definitely recommend that tourists rely on taxis, though of course in the city center it makes sense to just walk.

In any case, taking a taxi in Havana is an experience in its own right, and not one to be missed. It isn’t too expensive, just 10 or 15 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) to get downtown from our hotel, and many of them are that characteristic ‘old-timer’ style – taking a trip in one is practically obligatory in Cuba. So if you succeed in hailing one, that’s twice the fun :)
Anyhow, there are always taxis waiting in front of almost all the hotels, and it was funny to observe how Havana must have the most taxis per capita of any city in the world. Wherever you walk in this city, you’ll have drivers calling out to you ‘taxi, taxi…’ so getting from A to B isn’t likely to be a problem.

To our European eyes, the conditions in Havana are often shocking. We saw streets piled with litter, dilapidated or even collapsed buildings, stray dogs everywhere – though these are generally small and appear harmless enough – while the nose is frequently assailed by unpleasant odors. All this means that travelers should be prepared to step out of their comfort zones – but after all, that’s the spice of life! Still, it does no harm to be safety-conscious too. (r.j., 2019)


Krista photo

Practicals

Transport

Public bus

Public buses (gua guas, as called by the locals) are mostly very crowded, with no air-conditioning. Foreign tourists rarely undertake to use them. The traveling public is mostly innervated,  They are surprised by what a foreign tourist is looking for in such a mass transport.

Havana - vintage cars - Krista photo

Havana - city bus - Krista photo

Havana - yellow-black, Soviet-made Lada taxi - Krista photo

Havana - coco taxi -overpriced service - Krista photo

Havana - rickshaw - Krista photo

Accomodation

“Even before we departed, we agreed that we would stay in private accommodation rather than a hotel. We booked our apartment on Airbnb, and were welcomed by a lady called Rosa. It quickly became clear that Abel’s Spanish was far better than Rosa’s English – a fact characteristic of the rest of the city as well. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Abel’s Spanish is perfect: present tense only, and no pronouns except the first and second person singular and plural. Still, grammatically speaking, we’ve found that there isn’t much call for the conditional future tense during the sorts of conversations which come up during a normal holiday. If you say, ‘we go tomorrow’ or ‘we come yesterday’ people generally know exactly what you mean. Rosa understood all our questions, and together with Zana’s idiosyncratic mix of Italian and Spanish, we could understand all her answers. She helped us arrange our next accommodation, and even to hire a people-carrier.

Our first accommodation was in Centro Habana, a district which would certainly shock visitors who had not previously travelled outside Europe… and even we found it challenging. ‘Shops’ in the normal understanding of the term are relatively rare, and finding somewhere to buy, for instance, a bottle of mineral water or a cookie wasn’t easy. Most shops are like something out of Eastern Europe in the seventies: just a few goods on the shelves, basically no choice of brand, and the same prices everywhere. In spite of this paltry offering, the goods on offer are fiercely protected: in larger stores you have to place your backpack in a special luggage room.

On the other side of the National Capitol Building begins Habana Vieja (Old Havana), which is both more interesting and more touristy. Of course, the more expensive hotels are all concentrated here. This is where you’ll find the Bodeguita del Medio and the Floridita (Hemingway’s favorite bar, and accounts suggest he knew his way around a drink). The huge crowds, however, usually mean it’s impossible to go in. There are also many beautiful old buildings and squares.” (2018)

Havana - well-restored Hotel Raquel - Krista photo

Havana - private apartement for rent - Krista photo

Food

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Havana - view from the balcony of a paladar (private restaurant) - Krista photo

Havana - La Bodeguita del Medio - Krista photo

Shopping

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Havana - legalized street commerce - Krista photo

Fun

“In the center of Havana, in one of the narrow passages between the Aramburu and Hospital, the walls of the buildings are decorated with arresting murals and statues, celebrating the vibrancy and traditions of the country’s Afro-Cuban heritage. It’s best to visit on a Sunday, when the visual spectacle is augmented by frenetic rhythms. Around noon, the whole area explodes with noise and color.

Jazz! There are two places which I would particularly recommend visiting. One is La Zorra y el Cuervo, and the other is the Corner Café. Here you can find the best musicians in Havana, playing every night. The former is frequented mainly by older afficionados, while the latter attracts a younger set, so you can expect more frenetic rhythms there. The standard is excellent in both venues, however, and both have a pure, unadulterated Cuban atmosphere.

Dance! Cuba’s dance schools are among the best in the world. These schools often hold open events on the street, where anyone is welcome to take part. You can learn the basics, and maybe even one or two tricky moves as well. Look for dance performances, which are unmissable, especially if you enjoy, for instance, the salsa!

Parties! Younger visitors should definitely check out Havana’s university quarter, where open-air concerts are held both during the day and in the evening. When the sun does down, explore the area with a bottle of Havana Club in hand, then dine at El Cocinero.” (2017)

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“Of course, I couldn’t miss out on the street dancing! It’s a wonderful, liberating feeling to spend the whole day in such a pleasant, relaxed, dance-party atmosphere. When you hear salsa music, you immediately experience a sudden rush of joy, and I for one always forget my worries at such moments. It was also great to see that the locals feel the same way.

I always wondered whether the atmosphere in Cuba could really be as fantastic as I imagined it in distance Europe… Well, the answer is YES, it is. You really can just join a group of serious party animals – the sort of parties we think only exist in music videos. I thank my lucky stars I have had this experience.”

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“I love Cubans, love the sweet smell of fruit that pervades the island, and the Latin clubs I keep coming back to night after night. I made a lot of friends there, some of whom are rich, but most of whom are poor.

Day or night, I love to walk the streets of the city. Even walking alone, I’ve never had any bad experiences, never even so much as an unfriendly word spoken to me. Of course, there are some people who try to befriend you with a financial goal in mind, but generally this isn’t the case.

My favorite place is a club called 1830, at the end of the Malecon. My other great love is La Gruta, a dance venue specializing in Reggaeton.” (2020)

Havana - the band plays in Havana Club Rum Museum - kr photo

Public safety

In bars or clubs, never leave your belongings, especially valuables, unattended. Don’t go to the dance floor by leaving your camera or cell phone on a chair or table. Typically, thefts are motivated by the occasion.


“Better safe than sorry! We can’t say anything bad about the public safety situation, since nothing untoward happened to us during the entirety of our stay. Since tourism is in the collective interests of the locals too, I don’t think they want to see anything bad happen to them.
Cubans are very friendly – they are happy to mingle with tourists, and it’s easy to make friends. Everyone speaks at least a few words of English, and almost always ask ‘where are you from?’ I should also note, as others have, that this friendship is not always selfless and disinterested: they are happy to take 1-2 CUCs in exchange for directions or information. Others, standing outside a shop, might as you to buy one or two items for them while you’re inside… The truth is, seeing their poverty, and the circumstances caused by the perpetually faltering economy, you’ll probably do it for them. (r.j., 2019)

Health

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Havana - Forbidden to litter for the sake of our health - San Jose y Escobar - PNR (National Revolutionary Police Force (Spanish: Policía Nacional Revolucionaria, PNR) - kr photo

Havana - gym with religious encouragement - Krista photo

Others

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Havana - international airport - recommended use of Cadeca's automatic teller machine - correct exchange rate - Krista photo

Havana - cool installation - Krista photo

Havana - snapshot - h.p. photo

Background

Havana - Centro - Krista photo

Havana - Old Town - tourist crowd - Krista photo

Destination in brief

Population (in 2020): 2.1. million

Average net monthly salary (in 2020): 30 USD!

About 40,000 cars registered back in 1956 are still in use in Havana.

In 1964, Fidel Castro banned the Beatles music in Cuba, but by the turn of the millennium, he had changed his mind and was even at the dedication of Havana's John Lennon Park unveiling his statue. He told the crowd that I, too, am a dreamer who has seen his dreams turn into reality," Today, you can sit on the bench beside Lennon. The statue's real glasses kept getting stolen by tourists. A local retiree lady earn some money by placing authentic wire-rimmed glasses on the figure whenever tourists come by.

History

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Havana - old cash-register - kr photo

Nowadays

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Havana - non-touristy area - Krista photo

Havana - well-restored historic building - Krista photo

Havana - street scene - Krista photo

Havana - tourism - Krista photo

Havana - restored - Krista photo

Havana - kids - f.g. photo

People

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Havana - locals - Krista photo

Havana - school girs in uniform - Krista photo

Havana - men - f.g. photo

Havana - domino players - f.g. photo

Havana - siesta - f.g. photo

Havana - taylor in La Habana Vieja - m.z. photo

Attractions

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Havana - Plaza de Armas - Krista photo

Havana - Old Town - Church and Convent of St. Francis of Asisi, - Krista photo

Havana - Cathedral - Krista photo

Havana - Capitolio - m.d. photo

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