It had been a long time coming for Cuba to be made available to American travelers; so when it did, I couldn’t resist and took a trip down to Cuba.
Like most Caribbean airports, Cuba’s airport is pretty small and outdated. As soon as you get off the plane, you walk approximately 50 yards to Customs and after clearing Customs, you’re right outside on the curb. But don’t let that damper your excitement because when you get out to neighborhoods and streets, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Before going to Cuba, quite a few people told me that I had to convert my U.S. dollars to euros, only to convert the euros to the CuC (Cuban currency). I’m here to tell you; you can take U.S. dollars to Cuba and convert them right at the airport. As soon as you walk outside to the curb, or to where you can catch a taxi, there is a money exchange window there. A conversion of $100 U.S. dollars will fetch you 90 CuC, and if you’re lucky, you may even find some guys down in Old Havana that will convert your money for you. This will definitely come in handy in a pinch and is good for building relations with the locals.
Once there, I had a local contact named Chiki pick us up at the airport. We had to walk with him outside of the airport, because there is a strange law that won’t allow him to drive into the airport; only taxis are allowed. He took us from the airport to our lodging in Old Havana, which was probably a 30- to 40-minute drive. It was a scenic drive, but nothing like what we were about to experience upon arrival in the city.
We stayed with a local family in a house about one block away from Plaza Vieja. Our lodging contact’s name was Cristina (I’ve placed her contact info below if anyone is interested in reaching out to her for lodging). She has an apartment on the 3rd floor of a building, and although the rooms she rents are not five star, they are very clean and comfortable, and most importantly, centrally located in Old Havana.
Hostal Dona Cristina
Home ph +53 7-8676373
Cell ph +53 5-2736864
We spent 4 fun-filled days in Cuba, mostly in Old Havana and surrounding areas. Remember to dress comfortably and pack a pair of good walking shoes. There is a lot of walking involved in seeing Old Havana. Most of the streets are designed for foot traffic, with a few allowing for small cars or Tuk Tuks here and there. Four of the mains plazas are:
Plaza de la Catedral
As a tourist in Old Havana, this is one of the most exciting places to visit. As elegant as its namesake, Catedral de San Cristobal is also known as the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of Immaculate Conception. It boasts some of the best architecture you’ll see in the Caribbean.
Plaza de Armas
This has been the social hub in the city for more than five centuries. Plenty of restaurants and sidewalk cafes line the square. These are some great places to escape the tropical heat of Havana. In the center of this square, you’ll find a statue of the Cuban patriot, Cespedes near the fountain.
The square has been through many changes; it is now recognized as the most vibrant gathering spot in all of Old Havana. There is a bar that serves beer, a/k/a CERVEZA, in one of the most unique beer pitchers you’ll ever see. You can always find live music in this Plaza, with people just going on about their business as they enjoy the Cuban heat, or, if you come to this Plaza at night, the cool Cuban night air.
Plaza de San Francisco
This Plaza ranks as the coolest, simply because it sits right on the water at the entrance to Old Havana. All of the buildings have been restored and mesh great with the old school cobblestone streets. There are plenty of famous buildings in this square; to name a few: Lonja del Comercio, with its awesome central dome, and the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis, with a tower that provides the most ridiculous view over Havana and the water.
Chiki took us to a restaurant located on the corner of Obispo y Obrapia called Don Pucho. When you visit Havana, you must have to check out this restaurant. Not only does it have some of the best Ropa Vieja in all of Cuba, it even has a house band that’s interactive — they will even let you get on the mic! One of the best experiences ever! Click the link below for YouTube video of this great establishment.
It’s a must to buy a few souvenirs while in Cuba, whether it be cigars, art, tee shirts or things for your home. One of the best places for souvenir shopping is the San Jose market in La Habana. Be mindful of the local guys outside who will try to get you to purchase tickets to some of the various excursions. Some are cool, but some can be a bit pushy, so remember to pack your patience.
Another great restaurant right across the street from the San Jose markets is Draquecitos; make sure when you go, ask for Raul. The place is small and quaint, but the food is absolutely fantastic. While there, ask Raul to recite some history on the 400-year old church located right across from the restaurant. Pay close attention to the images in the stained glass windows; they are images of people of color and makes for an interesting conversation piece.
Cuba has some great night life spots so when you go make sure you check out a place called Fábrica de Arte Cubano (F.A.C.)
It’s a factory that’s been converted into an awesome space. There are many different rooms and levels and art all over the place. They even have a full restaurant upstairs and a dance hall with performances downstairs in the back. Of course, as you enter, you’re greeted with a full bar and a D.J. playing all the latest hits. Definitely put this place on your “things to do list” for Havana.
There are much more to write about, but I’ll tell more of the story through pictures. Make sure you add Havana, Cuba to your travel list and go check it out. Beautiful food, beautiful people and an even more beautiful country.
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