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The Havana Chronicles: Old Havana

Remember how I was supposed to write up my whole Cuba experience, like, in March? Well, it’s October and I am not even halfway through! I decided to finish my documenting of Havana in this blogpost, dedicated to the old part of the town, the one that always appears in postcards and films. Next month, I’ll tell you more about travelling the inland, but I’ll hope to be more brief that I’ve been until now!

If I had to define the style of Havana, here is what comes to my mind: Musty Eclectic. I don’t even know if this word combination makes sense, but Havana sure is Eclectic and -for the most part- feels rather musty. Like that old couch at your grandma’s where you would rather not sit as a kid -and even less as a grown up. Old Havana is musty, yes, but also gorgeous, and very reminiscent of traditional European cities. Because of its colonial past, and the embargo, Old Havana is exactly as you would expect if you would leave the Madrid from 150 years ago completely untouched. It is a city in ruins, a dirty city covered by the smokes of the oil refinery. Experiencing Havana unleashed a hurricane of feelings. Of awe for its beauty, of despair for its people, of shame for my privileged situation.

In this blogpost you will find my general tips for Old Havana, followed by some photos and impressions from a few activities -and a few grumpy excerpts from my travel diary!

Tips for an awesome stay in Old Havana 

  • SLEEPING Two words: Casa Dania. The most comfortable place we stayed at during our Havana visit. It was extremely clean and had been modernized, the toilets were working perfectly (something you want to make sure of if you visit Cuba -just sayin) and the staff was super kind and attentive. Plus, it was located right in the center of the old part (Calle Obrapia) and had an amazing rooftop terrace -scroll down for pictures!

  • EATING  Cuba is definitely not a destination for foodies. I myself was sick for most of my time there, which led me to find the food rather gross, with a few exceptions. Two places we liked were: La Guarida (posh restaurant with import food in the poorest neighborhood. I felt guilty eating there, but food was very yummy) and Doña Eutimia (try Arroz Cubano -my fave!- or ropa vieja. Do not order the ham & cheese appetizer -I patiently fed it all to a street cat). We also ate at the original Sloppy Joes, where the ambient was lively but the food wasn’t special. Now, they had A-MAZING restrooms!

  • DRINKING You may have heard of popular places such as “El Floridita” and “La bodeguita”. These are of course a must-see if you are a tourist, but be aware that drinks will be overpriced for Cuban standards, and you will most likely witness quite a sad dumbshow: a place full of white tourists solely being entertained by Cubans. At least that was my impression at El Floridita. I would have preferred a place where everybody just hangs out together. My suggestion: go to El Chanchullero. The ambient was superb, the food looked delicious and the mojitos were the best, for only 2CUC! It’s also quite the hipster place. No shabby-chic here! 

  • MUSEUMS  There is one museum alone that I recommend, which is the National Museum of Fine Arts. I was so impressed by all Cuban art exposed in this museum. Unfortunately, you can’t take any pictures in there, so in order to revisit the paintings you liked themost, you will have to buy a book (we all know how expensive and heavy these usually are) or -what I did- note down the names of the artists and try to look them up later. In addition to the arts museum, there is a whole load of history museums. You can go there if you are into being indoctrinated, and into looking at a few curiosities (e.g., the holy spoon Che Guevara ate from that one time he spent a day hiding into little town X). 

  •  TIP If you can choose what credit card you take with you, always go for Visa since you can use it to withdraw money at the ATM. Mastercard and others = queuing for hours and hours at the bank 

  • WHAT TO PACK?  Cuba is a tropical country, but if you go in January -like we did- it is likely that the temperature drops a little in the evenings. A cardigan or a thin trench should always find a spot in your suitcase
  • Rooftop views on Havana

    Our place, Casa Dania, had an amazing rooftop terrace, from which you could see El Capitolio, as well as numerous buildings nearing collapse. I asked our hostel owner whether it happened often that old buildings fell apart, and she pointed out to a few spots in the near vicinity where this had happened in the last years. I guess living there must mean learning how to live with the insecurity…




    Ruins, ruins everywhere

    The pictures you see below show what impacted me most, such as this building that was on the verge of collapse. Also, what on earth was a dog doing there? How did it get there? We saw many buildings like this one, where structural elements (balconies, walls) had fallen apart, yet people were still inhabiting them. And among all this decadence and dirt, people still manage to wear clean clothes. I think it’s very important for them.




    La Guarida: a luxurious hidden gem in Havana Centro

    In a once-majestic building that from the outside looks absolutely run-down, you can find La Guarida, a posh and expensive (for Cuban standards) restaurant with lots of import products. When you are feeling sick in your stomach, believe me, you’ll be grateful. I did not take pictures in the restaurant itself. These are from the floor below, where they dried all their tablecloths.




    Parque Histórico Morro y Cabaña

    It’s a must-see. You will get a gorgeous view on the bay, and it’s quite interesting to walk around and visit the fortress (especially all the underground tunnels leading to the canon positions!). They also have this shop with the largest cigar ever registered in the Guiness records. To go there, take the ferry for 2CUC, or the local (non-touristy) bus for even less. We did both, arrived by ferry and left by bus.












    Random shots through Old Havana

    As we were staying in the old part, we didn’t visit all the landmarks at once following an organized tour. Rather, we saw different things on our way to and from places. This is a mix of pictures taken around the center.






    Yep, you got it, we were pretty annoyed of these guys!


    Found this lovely striking a thinking pose!


    A few diary excerpts

    As you know, I was sick and grumpy, no matter how nice (happy) my retelling of the trip sounds. I decided to share a few diary excerpts from my travel diary -which I wrote while I was in Cuba.

    At our Casa

    Everything related to the household work seems to be run by Carmen, an old Cuban lady. In my opinion, too old to still work. I don’t mean to call this slavery, but… It makes me sad while at the same time I welcome her services and care. She reminds me of my grand-aunts, even though from a different culture and of a different skin color. Well, perhaps not too different a culture after all…

    At El Floridita

    The bar felt like The Shining, with that “old times” barman dressed with a red uniform. There was some live music. I felt sad for the singing ladies, singing and dancing for a crowd of non-moving tourists who observed them like you observe animals in the zoo. In the end we purchased a CD for 10 CUC, for we were too hammered to see that one coming.

    At La Guarida

    Soon, I’ll be labeling this holiday “50 shades of chicken”


    Soon, I’ll be back with our experiences travelling the inland! Drop my a comment if you have questions about Havana, and in general about travelling in Western Cuba!

    Much love,

    ♥ Ingrid ♥


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