The 7 highlights of bustling Havana.
The 7 highlights of bustling Havana.
Since 1959 a surreal world has developed on a sunny island in the Caribbean Sea. I have been sold since I set foot in Cuba at the beginning of 2012. People in particular make an indestructible impression: with a remarkable sense of self-esteem they walk through their certainly not easy life. Hospitable people, who constantly give you the feeling that you are welcome and know how to build a party anytime and anywhere.
Havana is one of my favorite places on the huge island. It is one big ruin, but the most beautiful ruin in the world. The city, where the old American cars (maquinas) are still driving around, forms an impressive film backdrop from days gone by. My seven favorite places in Havana are:
1 The roof terrace at Hotel Inglaterra
Hotel Inglaterra from 1875, located in the middle of Havana’s colonial city center, is the oldest hotel in Cuba. The roof terrace offers a magnificent view in three directions. To the right the adjacent Gran Teatro de la Habana, recently restored. Forward Parque Central, where the maquinas and Coco taxis gather, waiting for passengers. To the left, the chic Paseo de Marti extends to the Malecón, the boulevard where everyone strolled in the 19th century. The roof terrace offers a limited kitchen with friendly service from 12:00. The sun beds and jacuzzi are free to use: an oasis of peace on the roof of Havana!
2 Callejon de Hamel
In 1995, Salvador González began to turn a dilapidated back street into a colorful open-air museum. Murals, poems and welded artworks form a messy, but inspiring backdrop in which Afro-Cuban culture is central. Every spot in the street, even at high altitudes, has been tackled. Enjoy the atmosphere and take your daily portion of culture. Afro-Cuban bands make music on Sunday mornings!
3 Playa del Este por maquina
Rent a classic maquina for Hotel Inglaterra early in the afternoon and be transported in the 1950s style to the beautiful beaches to the east of Havana. The journey to Playa del Este takes around half an hour. The driver is happy to wait for you to return at the end of the afternoon. If necessary, make a stopover in Cojimar and visit La Terraza, the bar where Hemingway became friends with the fishermen and regularly engaged. Continue to the writer’s monument, which the local fishermen had made of their ship’s propellers. After all, go eat luxury food for little money in Las Brisas, before you drive back to Havana tired but satisfied. Expect, based on some negotiation, on a total amount of approximately € 40 for the car.
4 Stroll around Cementerio Cristobal Colón
On the outskirts of the beautiful Vedado residential area is the second largest cemetery in Latin America. The killing field is huge: it comprises 800,000 graves and almost 100,000 burial monuments. Walk at your leisure on the enormous gate through the dual carriageway that forms the main street. Be amazed by the dozens of people who are working with grinding machines and wire brushes to get the most beautiful marble monuments in shiny white again. And especially visit the grave of Ibrahim Ferrer Planas of the Buena Vista Social Club!
5 Enjoy an ice cream at Heladeria Coppelía
At the intersection of La Rampa and Calle L, lifebloods in the always busy city traffic of Havana, are two architectural icons from the fifties: Heladería Coppelia and Cine Yara. Together they form the beating heart of Vedado, the residential area that flourished at the time thanks to the American Mafia. Heladería Coppelia is an ice palace with an estimated at least a thousand seats. Every day there are long lines in front of the famous ice cream parlor: not a punishment for the Cubans, but a social event. In the heyday, more than fifty flavors were sold from the building in the form of a flying saucer. Nowadays there is not much choice anymore, but the ice cream is delicious and incredibly cheap. Popular with the Cubans is the ensalada, a dish with eight scoops of ice cream.
If possible, cross the road in the evening and enjoy a nice film at Cine Yara for two pesos – converted to $ 0.06!
6 Take a tour with José Herrera in his old Russian motorcycle with a sidecar
Walk from Parque Central to Calle Obispo, the long shopping street. At the beginning of Calle Obispo, José Herrera is waiting for passengers on the right-hand corner on his old Russian motorcycle with a sidecar. José, now 78 years old, once studied in Moscow. He will gladly
7 Visit El Cristo de La Habana and other monuments
Take the ferry to Casablanca and visit the huge statue of Christ that the wife of dictator Batista had made in 1958. Opposite is the villa where Ché Guevara lived, now a museum. Walk further and experience the atmosphere of Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña and the oceanfront El Morro; an afternoon full of monuments and history!
Do you also want to make a tour through Cuba? Then let local Hero Dariel help you. He is the local travel expert and knows how to put together your customized Cuba tour, even if you have your own route in mind!
Do you want to read more about Cuba?
In 2013 I brought a notebook to record everyday impressions of life in Cuba: cheerful notes that are recognizable to those who have ever been to Fidel Island. This resulted in the book “De Hanenfluisteraar”, which included all sorts of anecdotes, including an interview with an old fisherman who was friends with Ernest Hemingway in the 1960s.
De Hanenfluisteraar offers you a short, hilarious vacation in Cuba from the comfort of your armchair. Let yourself be carried away by a country that, in its current form, has a limited shelf life! For more information and some short Cuban stories www.deiningindordrecht.nl. ISBN 978-90-816772-3-3.
This story was written by guest blogger and writer Rene Kerkhoven.