My trip to Cuba was prepared in a few days. So I went there a little blindly without knowing exactly what I am going to find. I only knew that in Cuba I would visit Havana and Varadero. I had purchased a travel package that included three nights in Havana and four nights in Varadero.
After nineteen hours of flight, we arrived at the Havana Airport around 9:00 PM local time. From the airport, with incredible heat and humidity, we took the bus that would take us to our hotel. The first thing that caught my attention in this first contact with Havana was that the streets were very dark. There were very few street lights and to be around 10:00 pm it was quite deserted.
We arrive 30 minutes later to the hotel. It is a complex of two hotels. The best thing about the hotel is without a doubt the buffet breakfast and the location. It is in the middle of Vedado just next to 23rd street where all the nightlife of Havana concentrates. It is a very limited, basic hotel to sleep in and nothing else.
Between one thing and another when we settled into the room and we went out to find a restaurant for a dinner. But it was all closed so the only thing we could have had were some sandwiches that we had in our backpacks.
We got up early and went to the imposing hotel with a lot of history. Here personalities of the likes of Winston Churchill, Wall Disney, Frank Sinatra or Ava Gardner, among others, stayed. The photographs of some of these characters hang in their fantastic corridors. Among the people who had been waiting amongst the heat, we gave up the idea of changing money in this hotel.
We went back to the hotel where we had stayed with our guide. Our trip to Cuba was, as I have indicated, a trip prepared in a few days. So we decided to hire a Cuban boy who guided us to the most important places in Old Havana. From the hotel, we take a shared taxi to go to Old Havana. These taxis are the typical American cars of the movies.
Previously we had to negotiate the price of the trip and not pay more than 5 Cuban pesos. This time the guide had to pay for it because we had not changed yet. If you want to take a shared taxi you should also negotiate the price. A trick is to say to the taxi driver that is what you paid in the previous taxi.
We begin our visit to Old Havana in the Capitol, an imposing building inspired by the US Capitol that was originally built to house the Congress of the Republic of Cuba. Unfortunately, it was under construction and we could not visit it inside.
Right next to the Capitol is the Gran Teatro de La Habana, a spectacular building that housed the old Galician Centre. On the same sidewalk is the oldest hotel in Havana, where the Cuban independentist members met and where part of the revolution was set up. Right next to it is another hotel, with a cafeteria on its interior patio that had air conditioning. It is something that in Cuba is appreciated enough.
We move along the Paseo del Prado until we reach the Malecon. On this beautiful walk, there were Habaneros who came to us and asked us for our name. After telling them the name they surrounded us and they sang a song afterward to ask for money or a gift. We were struck by the propaganda machinery of the government with a multitude of Cuban flags hanging on the facades of the buildings.
The Malecon was, without doubt, one of the great disappointments of the trip. We expected it totally different. What we found was a paved avenue and a cement walk with a very little charm that gave off a suffocating heat. We walk to Plaza 13 de Marzo, the Castillo San Salvador de la Punta and the Havana Tunnel, and the Statue of Maximo Gomez.
In this area, we also find the remains of the old wall, the Museum of the Revolution and the Granma Memorial located on Avenida Belgica and Zulueta. We did not visit this museum because it was not advisable in many Cuba travel guides. We tried to change some money in a hotel located in Avenida Zulueta but it was not possible.
Finally, we were able to change into a Cadeca (house of change) that is located in Calle Obispo, one of the most commercial and busy streets of the city. We exchange for CUC (convertible dollars). You should keep in mind that in Cuba you can pay in Cuban pesos or CUC.
Beware of scam attempts, as they will try to exchange CUC or for Cuban pesos in the street and these have no validity. The only validity of these Cuban pesos is for small purchases in stalls or for taxis. In stores where you can pay in pesos, it will be inscribed and it will be cheaper than paying in CUC.
We change enough for the expenses and we keep 25 CUC per person, since it is the amount that they charge when leaving the country. Before Obispo Street, we passed through the Bacardi Building located at Avenida Belgica. In the Calle Obispo is the hotel where the writer Ernest Hemingway lived. This street ends at the Plaza de Armas, a beautiful square where the Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales is located.
Here the first authority of Havana and the famous Templete resided, which is the place where the city was founded. In the ceiba that is at the entrance to the temple was the place where the first mass of Havana was held. The tradition says that you have to throw a coin, circle the ceiba three times and make a wish. The square is full of vegetation with the impressive Castillo de la Real Fuerza on one of its sides.
From Plaza de Armas we go to the Plaza de la Catedral, undoubtedly the most authentic square in Havana. In this square, we could see the typical Cuban women, with headdress, their long multicolored skirts and a cigar in their mouths. In this square is the Cathedral of Havana, a building of the eighteenth century.
It is in baroque style and two side asymmetrical bell towers, where Columbus was buried. In one of the sides of the square, there is a cafeteria with a spectacular interior patio. We go up to the second floor and from its balconies, we see fantastic views of the cathedral.
After the visit to this square, we march to the well-known Bodeguita del Medio winery which is located in Empedrado. This is the place where the writer Ernest Hemingway took the famous Cuban mojitos. The bodeguita is very small and it is full of tourists so to get a seat in it was quite an odyssey.
Our guide spoke with one of the waiters to let us access the dining area. This area was closed because it was not lunch time. The dining room caught our attention because it was a very picturesque place, with the walls full of signatures of the visitors and in which there were hung pictures of illustrious visitors.
Due to the heat, what I did not want was alcohol, but well, it was what I was playing! We ordered a mojito with a high price to be in Havana, and the truth is that we did not like anything! The mojito is made with rum and that rum is too strong for us. In this place, as in the rest of the streets of Havana, we had to be careful with the attempts of a ripoff.
We were approached by an older man with a white cap, the typical Havanese. He asked our names and after a while, he appeared with a poetry on paper and a CD recorded by him, with the intention of selling it. We told the good man that we were not interested and we gave him an occasional CUC for the poetry. However, the man was not happy enough and practically threw the paper in our faces.
We take Calle Mercaderes a totally restored road where the great colonial houses of Havana are located. In front of one of these colonial houses, we could see a very curious mural that represents the same facade of the colonial house but with characters of the time. Something that caught our attention is that one of these bourgeois characters was black, something very strange in those years.
In this street, we also find the delicious chocolate museum, with an irresistible smell as we pass through its door. In addition, we also see a very curious hotel that emulates a convent. Walking along Mercaderes street we reach the Plaza Vieja, a beautiful square completely restored. Here we see the Camera Obscura and many cafes, restaurants and breweries where you can drink beers while listening to the performance of a brass band.
In the middle of the square is a peculiar sculpture of a girl mounted on a rooster. It is a modernist sculpture that does not stick much with the environment of the rest of Havana. From the Old Square, we go to the Plaza de San Francisco, a square that gets its name from the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis located in it.
This square is very important because here is the dock where the boats come loaded with tourists. It is the third oldest square in Havana. In its center is the Fountain of the Lions, made of white marble. Right next to the church, there is the sculpture of the so-called El Caballero de Paris, a well-known character in the 1950s.
This Gentleman of Paris wandered the streets talking about various topics in a very polite way. Tradition says that you have to touch your beard and make a wish. On one side of the square, at the door of the trade market, as in the Plaza Vieja, there is a modernist sculpture.
After this visit, we went to eat at the restaurant, right in front of the Capitol, at Paseo del Prado. It is a very busy restaurant, where you usually have to wait for a table. The kitchen is very good and the price is very cheap. In the same building there are several restaurants. After the meal, we went to take the famous daiquiri in Calle Obispo, one of the places preferred by Hemingway.
The daiquiri was better than the mojito from Bodeguita del Medio but it was just as expensive. In the part of the bar where the famous writer sat, there is a sculpture of him. Once we finished our daiquiri, we wandered until we reached the Avenida Del Puerto. There between the Sol and Santa Clara streets is the Orthodox Church of Our Lady of Kazan.
It is interesting to find a church with these characteristics in Cuba, but we must bear in mind that one of the main commercial partners of Cuba is Russia. Just in front of this church, we take a ferry to Casablanca. The ferry was a scrap, where we had to stand and squat, everything without air conditioning.
The security measures to ride on the ferry were high. Casablanca is the area that is just in front of Old Havana. From there we climb some long stairs, after taking an energy drink, to the spectacular Christ of Havana. This beautiful Christ is very similar to the Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro. It is a sculpture of 20 meters high on a base of 3 meters, which was sculpted in Italy and blessed by Pope Pius XII.
This sculpture was commissioned by Batista, and fifteen days after its inauguration, Fidel Castro entered Havana. The Christ rises an imposing 51 meters above the sea and can be seen from many points of the city. From this point we see spectacular views of Havana.
Right next to the Christ of Havana, there is the Institute for the detection of Hurricanes, with an ugly sculpture in its front yard.
From here we walked on a road that passed near a barracks. Right next to this road we could see diverse military machinery, but the police forbade us to take photos. The road took us to the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, the largest military building, and the impregnable Morro Castle where the cannon fire ceremony takes place. In La Cabana Che Guevara lived for a few months and where objects such as the stretcher that moved his body are found.
At this point, we negotiated with a taxi driver the rate to our hotel. We took the Havana tunnel and we arrived at the hotel after saying goodbye to our guide. We rested a while and went out to dinner, at a restaurant in Vedado. We arrived around 9:30 pm but it no longer allowed more customers because the restaurant at night becomes a showroom, so you have to go very early.
We moved for dinner at a place on 23rd Street. We take some fish with Tu Kola, the Cuban Coca-Cola but much sweeter and with much less gas. In spite of everything that can be thought of in Cuba, Coca-Cola is also drunk, although imported from Mexico. Nonetheless, it is still an American brand. Dining in this place was cheap, but the good thing is that there was a group entertaining the staff.
After dinner, we stroll along the busy Calle 23, the nightclub street of Havana. Many young people were walking down the street. What most caught our attention is that hundreds of people were betting between the end of this street, the area known as the Rampa and the Malecon. These people were just there to chat for a while and watch people go by.
They did not do anything else. Young girls and boys approached us offering us company. Sometimes they approached us in a disguised way, engaging in a very normal conversation. Others proposed directly to us. Something that must be taken into account is the scams. Although Cuba is a very safe country, the needs of the population are high. Therefore there are many Cubans who are dedicated to deceiving tourists.
On Calle 23 we were also able to visit the mythical Coppelia ice cream shop. Another incongruity that left us very surprised was that in Cuba we see posters of Hollywood movies. Films like Batman were projected in their cinemas. It is something that even the same guide could not explain. The government was against everything American but nevertheless allowed the exhibition of Yankee movies.
Even though Calle 23 is the city's nightclub, there was not a large number of locals. For a drink, without having to enter a club we had to go to the nearby hotel. The terrace of this hotel is a joy, with live music, and spectacular views of the Malecon and the city. Later we decided to go to a club but its price seemed exorbitant.
We get up early to enjoy the hotel's wonderful buffet breakfast. Today we were going to see freely the rest of Havana, without the need to hire a guide. Our first intention was to visit the cemetery and the Plaza de la Revolucion. We started walking down Calle 23 in the opposite direction of the Malecon. In this street there is a Cadeca, where we changed money again.
The 23rd street seemed to have no end. This street is a big avenue very similar to the typical American avenues of the movies. There are totally decadent buildings like the rest of Havana dotted with Cuban flags and images of Che Guevara. In the heat, it was very difficult to travel through this huge street to get to the cemetery.
When we finally arrived, we could not enter because a man, seeing that we were tourists told us that we had to pay for entry. It was something that we refused and so much walking did not help us. From the cemetery, we started the march towards the Plaza de la Revolucion. Due to the impressive heat, we were about to faint, and the worst thing is that not a single taxi passed.
After arriving at the Plaza de la Revolucion, we find an immense esplanade, without a single shade in which to take shelter from the sun. In this square is the colossal Jose Marti Memorial, the well-known landmark of the with the mural of Che and another with the mural of Camilo Cienfuegos a Cuban independence hero.
In the Plaza de la Revolucion we negotiated the price of a taxi to go to Old Havana. The ride in these small vehicles was fun, and we had a great time! Also, as they are open, the breeze is welcome. The transport in Havana do not have air conditioning, so taxis start with an advantage.
We arrived in about ten minutes to Old Havana. We alighted near the Capitol and from there we dedicated ourselves to wander. It is just at that moment, without a guide and without visiting tourist spots we begin to feel the pulse of the city of Havana. It is a city totally decadent but with a certain charm, with the facades of buildings completely deteriorated. There are clothes hanging on clotheslines that hung from the windows.
There are fruit stands in the street. There are boots hanging from the electricity wires. It means that it is a point of sale for any illegal substance. There are kids playing football in the streets. It a city with a characteristic smell that is not very pleasant. It is a city in which its people simply come over to chat for a while. Remember not everyone comes to you with that friendly intention.
We entered an art gallery and we stopped to listen to the brass bands. We also had a beer in the Plaza Vieja. After fleeing from the heat, we enjoyed a delicious fruit juice on the interior terrace of the hotel. To eat we returned to the one of the previous days. To eat you can also opt for Paladares, non-state houses converted into small family restaurants that are usually cheaper than state restaurants.
When we finish we walk along the Paseo del Prado until we reach Malecon. From there we decided to walk to our hotel, something that of course did not happen. It was three in the afternoon and on Malecon there was not a shadow. The soles of the shoes were almost melting. We decided to take a taxi again to our hotel.
Once at the hotel, we rested for a while and left early for dinner. Around 8:30 pm we arrived at a one that was very cheap. After dinner, we returned to the hotel to have some mojitos. Before entering a nightclub, we went for a walk along the Malecon. Like the night before, we were approached by girls and guys.
We ended the night in a nightclub on Calle 23. I do not remember the name very well. Inside, the Cuban girls and boys danced in a way that I have ever seen in my life. Without a doubt, the Cubans carry the dance in their veins.
We got up early because the bus had to pick us up at the hotel door. We were 15 minutes before the indicated time, but the bus was delayed a little over an hour. When it finally arrived, we set out on our way to Varadero. On the way, we could see the government propaganda in numerous murals that dotted the road. There were Cuban flags and images of Che or phrases like Long live the Revolution!
The road that took us to Varadero must have been one of the main roads in the country, but it had little traffic. Every few kilometers there was a police patrol. There are very young boys and girls who gave the impression of being just over 18 years old. Something very interesting is that because the car park in Cuba is very old, every few kilometers we found a broken down vehicle on the side of the road.
About twenty minutes from Varadero and very close to the city of Matanzas is the Yumuri Valley. Over this passes the highest bridge in Cuba of 110 meters. The bus slowed down so that we could see the views and take a few photographs.
We cross the city of Matanzas and shortly after we arrive at Varadero, we see an immense tongue of sand in which a small city and dozens of hotels are located. Most of them are the property of the government but managed by hotel companies. The bus left us at the door of our hotel, a small complex, with a large central pool, a beach bar, a buffet, another Italian and bungalow type rooms. It is a four-star hotel whose quality is in line with the price we pay for it.
But others do not sell anything and only try to scam the tourist despite the efforts of the staff of hotel security for driving them away. These days we devote ourselves to rest, play some sports, eat and drink. Although I did this very little because due to the ice of the drinks. One piece of advice that you must abide by is to not drink water that is not bottled.
We took a bus on the road and we approached the city. These buses usually pick up tourists for a few CUC. In the city, we visit the many craft and souvenir markets, as well as its beaches. Hundreds of Cubans bathed in the waters of these beaches, some of them wearing shirts.
Varadero reminded me a lot of Cancun. The tongue of sand with a multitude of hotels followed one after the other, with beaches of crystal clear water and white sands. It is not at all comparable with the paradisiacal beaches of the Dominican Republic or the Cayo Coco. So if you are looking for lavish tropical beaches you will not find them in Varadero. Another point against the beaches of Varadero is that many people walk around the shore selling hats, handkerchiefs, and dresses.
In addition, Cancun has a point in its favor that is not there in Varadero. It is a great city with a lively nightlife something that Varadero lacks, or at least does not reach the level of Cancun. Halfway down the road, we made a stop at a bar where some delicious pineapples were poured.
We made the trip to Cayo Blanco. This excursion consists of a catamaran ride with a very limited free bar. The alcohol that was served was not of known brands. This trip was too long since we had to put up with a group of Hooligans who drank all the alcohol that was on the catamaran.
The first stop was made in a dolphinarium. In groups of about fifteen people, we went into the water. The dolphin passed by our side to be played, in addition to giving us kisses and pirouettes. It was an entire experience! Cuba is one of the cheapest places to bathe with these nice animals.
After the dolphinarium, the next stop was at some corals to snorkel. It was fun but we had very little time, only about twenty minutes. Finally, we arrived at Cayo Blanco, a place with authentic paradisiacal beaches where we could eat lobster, and in which we were around an hour and a half. After the visit to Cayo, we returned to Varadero.
We waited for the bus that would take us to the airport of Havana. It arrived an hour and a half later. That day it was raining, so it took us two and a half hours to get to the airport. Once at the airport we had to wait for a very long line of one and a half hours to check in.
After checking in, we get into another queue to pay the tax of 25 CUC. After that we accessed the boarding gates passing first a documentation control of approximately one hour. Finally, we pass the typical control that must be passed in all airports. Total between one thing and another, since we left the hotel until we got on the plane it takes about 6 hours.
After nineteen hours of flight, I believe that we have beaches that have nothing to envy to those of the Caribbean. However, I had a huge curiosity to know Cuba and its people. Without a doubt, Cuba is different! It is curious to see the propaganda campaign of the government to try to control the population, something that is almost impossible in a country that receives millions of tourists a year.
An example is the one that our guide told us. There is a belief that is instilled in schools is that health is only free in Cuba and not in the rest of the world. In spite of everything, I expected more police control and greater isolation of the population. It is a society very open to issues such as abortion or homosexuality, a society in which modern music was heard, American cinema was seen or coca cola or red bull was drunk.
It is a society aware of many of the news that happens in the world despite not having internet. Havana, without being a beautiful city is an absolutely decadent city. I think it is a city that you have to know at least once in your life. It is a stagnant city in the past, totally atypical, whose inhabitants enjoy rapport. And even though you may have some bad experiences you cannot miss this wonderful city.
As for Varadero, it is a beach region full of hotels that the only thing that it can offer is sun and not very paradisiacal beaches. If you are looking for this type of beach I would go to authentic paradisiacal beaches not very crowded, with fine white sand and turquoise waters.