Vedado is a neighborhood west to Havana’s better-known districts of Old and Central Havana. If you are on a guided your, you will most likely end up there because it’s where you can find the famous Tropicana night club, together with the Hotel Nacional, one of Havana’s most prominent landmarks, or the FOCSA building (the tallest in Cuba!). But Vedado is actually much larger than that area, and extends a long way to the west. Walking through El Malecón (Havana’s famous promenade) from Hotel Nacional to the other end of Vedado takes nearly a full hour! I know that, because I had to walk that whole length while containing my urge to pee. Now that was an hour I’d rather forget. In any case, I recommend visiting the not so well-known areas of Vedado, mostly because you will rarely see tourists around, and it is nice to get a taste of life as lived by the locals.
We arrived to Vedado on December 31st. Big day! We heard from our previous hosts that Cubans celebrate the end of the year at home, by throwing house parties for family and friends. Although our host family did not really look like up for a good celebration (I must say they were a little bit strange), everybody seemed to do so in the neighborhood. We celebrated small, because we had been in Cuba for too short to have come up with a better plan, but it was lovely!
Still jetlagged, we went out to do our first exploration of the area, after spraying abundant sunscreen & DEET. We first went down to El Malecón, to see the ocean, and then we decided to get lost in the streets with the rough idea of ending up at the Necropolis. Because of Vedado’s perfect grid street plan, that wasn’t too difficult. Below you can see our first impressions: the streets, the houses, the cars, etc!
This is actually where we celebrated New Year’s eve, and where we returned every evening whilst in Vedado to have a drink and play Black Stories. They had Cuba Libres, Mojitos and Daiquiris for 2 CUC (roughly, 2 euro)! They closed at midnight though, which came as a surprise, for we had expected Cuba to be the party cradle of the Caribbean! That was the first glimpse into how rule-bound and constrained the Cuban society actually is.
Highlight: Cristobal Colon’s Necropolis
This is one of the largest cemeteries I’ve ever been to. It’s certainly impressive and if it hadn’t been for Flo we would have never visited it! Tourists must pay entrance, but it is free for locals (thankfully). While there, I saw this very old man who was heading to visit a grave with a flower and a bottle of rum, probably to celebrate the end of the year with those whom he loved but were already departed. It broke my heart 🙁
Flo and I, taking a break from the unforgiving sun.
Plaza de la Revolución: a (boring) must-see
After the Necropolis, we headed to Plaza de la Revolución. According to the guide, it was one of the landmarks that one cannot miss. I found it rather boring. Above you can see the highlight of the Plaza de la Revolución, together with a big tower, so tall that we hypothesized it had secretly been built to communicate with outer space. Apparently, one can visit the building inside and there is a museum or exhibition, but due to the fact that it was New Year’s eve, it was closed. So, it may be a good idea to check out the opening times before heading there!
After our visit to the Plaza de la Revolución began what I call The Odyssey. It was still about 4pm and we were on a mission: staying awake until midnight so that we could welcome the New Year. We decided to look for a place to kill some time before reaching our next stops: el Hotel Nacional, and the Paladar Los Amigos -recommended by our one and only guru Anthony Bourdain. We ended up in a local state-run bar, and wanted to have a taste of the local beer, only to find out they had run out of it. Guess what we got: A Heineken! We had to travel 7000km to taste our own national beer!
Indoctrination. Massively. Deliberately. Shamelessly. I will talk to you about this one day.
And here is El Hotel Nacional! Did you know it has a rooftop terrace where you can drink cocktails with the full ocean view? Unfortunately, on that evening it was book for a special NY party.
Paladar Los Amigos -or not so amigos
For dinner, we decided to go to Paladar los Amigos, one of the oldest and most popular privately-owned restaurants in Vedado. Until a couple of years ago, these places were only allowed to serve to a number of guests, but now the government grants less rigid permits. What can I say? My experience at that place was not so good. In a nutshell, I did not enjoy the food I ordered (which was the chef’s recommendation, by the way), yet I did not want to be impolite and not finish it, especially in a country where resources may not be abundant. Flo was smart enough to order Ropa Vieja, which was actually quite decent. In his regard, Los Amigos did live up to expectation! For me, it was a combination of the food, the inattentiveness of the staff, and the poor hygiene conditions of the restroom (I was in deer, DEER NEED to pee). So for me, Los Amigos were not so amigos after all. In any case, it is a very popular place among tourists, and a fun game to play is to sit there and count how many lads come in with a lonely planet guide tucked under the arm!
Next day we visited the district of Miramar, or the Beverly Hills of Havana. There is where all the embassies are located, together with a few hotels. It’s a nice place to take a walk around (some of the embassies look like palaces!) and there are also many good places to eat out! I didn’t take my camera on that day, so the pictures below were made with my phone. To eat or drink in Miramar, I recommend three places:
We ended up at Café Fortuna almost by coincidence. The place has an outside terrace from which you can see the sea and enjoy the breeze on a hot day, and the interior is really cool and quirky! The drinks were amazingly tasty: Flo had Ponche, and I had an ice coffee, happied-up with some rum! Spanish singer Joaquin Sabina’s greatest hits were playing in the background, which contributed greatly to the relaxed atmosphere.
We loved La Carboncita! The food was good, the staff attentive and the food and drinks were good! At the end of our meal they offered us a shot on the house, which in reality was a glass totally filled up with rum. Yes, and that’s exactly how I got accidentally drunk at 3pm!
Paladar El Aljibe
My very highlight from Havana! At El Aljibe they are known for their roasted chicken. I don’t have much to say except for that it was the very best chicken I enjoyed in the whole trip! Plus, it was the first time I ate fried banana. Or at least, fried banana in Cuba. It was so yum! Here is a very bad quality picture of us, tired from the whole day, fed and satisfied 🙂
In the next travel post, I will tell you all about our experience at Old Havana! Keep tuned!