Hoping in from the crude Delhi winters that din’t seem to end this year, I couldn’t wait to get on a plane that would take me to someplace sunny. Little did I realize, my prayer would lead me to not just a sunny place but a place filled with colour and life. A city unlike others with no comparisons – Havana, Cuba!
Well, Cuba had never been one of the top destinations for me. It wasn’t much talked about until recently. Since Arnav was planning a trip to the east coast of The United States, I thought let me grab this opportunity and plan a short two day trip for us to Cuba (He wasn’t very happy with my decision at first). With a lot of convincing, I finally got what I wanted and deep down I knew he would love the vibe of this city. Here is my short two day guide in this vivacious vintage city!
Rich cultural heritage and the old vibe just takes your heart away!
While there are many options in Havana for a luxurious stay, opt for something in old Havana, a place that will transport you back in time. Surround yourself with beautiful vintage convertibles and old buildings from the 19th and 20th century. We stayed at Hotel Iberostar Grand Packard, a new property that is built on the corner of Paseo del Prado (one of the most beautiful streets in Havana), with a pool deck overlooking Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (more popularly known as El Morro). The hotel provides a very safe and short walking distance to all the places in old Havana. The service was brilliant and even though the Hotel is new, it holds that classic touch to it with spectacular views of the old city right from your room window.
Eat & drink:
Mekede restaurant: An authentic Cuban restaurant with artistic vision and décor. From antique clocks hung on the walls to mimicked gramophone records as place mats and antique singer sewing machine tables, this place is spellbinding. If you are a vegetarian like me, try some of their Moros y cristianos (a Cuban beans and rice dish) with salad.
Floridita: If there is a place in the world that knows how to make a perfect Daiquiri, then this is it! An old hangout place for Hemmingway, this small bar at the corner of the street serves the best daiquiri’s with live music!
La Bodeguita del Medio: Cuba, being the birthplace of Mojito, you are sure to get some refreshing taste at every corner. However, if you want to taste Hemmingway's style of Mojito, this is the place to be. It is crowded and lively. Live music lives in every corner of Havana and so it also does at La Bodeguita del Medio. Leave your presence in this popular bar by scribbling your name on the walls – something that makes this spot so unique!
Fabrica de Arte Cubano: An art factory that is also a party spot! Ever heard of this blend? This place is a paradise for art lovers and if you are not into it, you can always hop into the bar or club section and grab a drink. Fabrica de arte Cubano depicts all forms of art in Cuba – from paintings to illusions to DJ dance floors and also live theatre acts.
Torreon de La Chorrera: A place found while riding back from Fabrica de Arte Cubano. Torreon de la Chorrera is an old fort that has been revived and now is not just a spot for great pictures but also a bar and a club. Grab a drink here and you may also get a chance to learn few salsa moves from some of the locals at this bar.
Miramar, not too far from the old town, has traditionally been an upscale area. Today, it maintains this reputation with the addition of upper-end hotels and restaurants.
- Ride in a colourful vintage car that gives you a tour around the old Havana city. Our tour was organized by the hotel in a red convertible vintage car with Leicester as our tour guide. He definitely knew his way around the city and also offered to take us to one of the small bars beside the local streets for a drink. We saw all the following sites on that tour itself.
- The tree-lined Paseo del Prado in Old Havana deserves a leisurely stroll. The terrazzo, marble benches, bronze lions, and iron lampposts impart the feel of a grand boulevard from a bygone era. Elegant old cinemas, mansions, and hotels from the 19th and 20th century line the street, many of which have been restored.
- El Capitolio: Rising from the city skyline, this grand building is similar to the Panthéon in Paris. Even though it was undergoing major renovations when we visited, it still looked remarkable. The magnificent Gran Teatro de La Habana with its beautiful Baroque façade also stands near the Capitol as one of the largest opera houses in the world.
- Stroll through some of the main streets like O’Reilly in Old Havana to embrace the long-gone days. Along with it’s charm, these streets also house many cafes and small bars and provides street entertainment and dances. Old Havana gets its charm from the elegant Neoclassical and Baroque buildings that border the cobbled squares and narrow streets. You can also spot Catedral de San Cristobal here.
- Strolling along the Malecón (El Malecon) at sunset is a wonderful way to soak up the feel of this evocative city and see some sights along the way. Not too different from our Marine Drive in Mumbai, however, it provides a charm like none other. Overlooking the boulevard is a colorful collection of well-preserved 20th-century buildings in a mix of architectural styles. Get wet in the splash from the ocean at this stretch or dance with the musicians on the side. You can also visit Hotel Nacional on this stretch to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
- Try a Cuban cigar and visit a cigar factory. We visited Partagas cigar factory in Old Havana. Here you can see how they roll a classic Cuban cigar with their five different varieties of leaves and what makes them so special and unique in the world. If you are keen to learn in depth about Cuban cigars, visit Vinales Valley. A 2-3 hour drive from Havana, this is where you will spot some Tobacco leaves plantation and learn about rolling of a Cuban cigar. This trip also offers horse rides and few other activities.
- Ride in a coco taxi (rickshaw): Small coco taxi’s are a great way to get around the town in a short span and they are definitely worth a try.
· Food, art or entertainment. You will fall in love with this dreamy vintage city
· Havana is a city straight out of movies
· Havana will transport you back in time as if you have landed here through a time machine and not a plane
· Havana has everything to offer from cultural heritage buildings to bars to salsa dancing and beautiful beaches at a short distance
· This city is bounded with music and colour, making it so exceptional
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