One of the Caribbean’s largest islands and also known as the Pearl of the Antilles, Cuba may not seem like the usual holiday spots but it is, however, very much a must visit destination. It is alive with history; vintage classic cars cruise the ancient streets and the revolutions are still fresh memories for the locals.
The historic Old Havana is bursting with pastel coloured buildings with beautiful palazzo’s and fantastic rooftop bars overlooking the city are definitely worth experiencing. Not to mention this is where they filmed the Fast and the Furious 8 drag race scene and have some of the best cigars in the world.
Here is my selection of best attractions:
1. Explore the streets of Old Havana
This district is in the heart of the capital of Cuba and is hands down one of the most authentic and down to earth places in the Americas. This UNESCO city has eye-catching architecture, with rows of peeling decorative townhouses and Andalusian-style arcades lining the streets. You’ll find live jazz bands playing on the corners, gorgeous historical churches and neo-classical places.
If you look close enough you will find hidden tequila cantinas and soukous rumba bars which are so much fun to visit and plenty of cigar shops to load up on to take home. You have to visit Plaza De Armas and Plaza de la Catedral as well as the urban canals with bulwarks and cannon holes’ courtesy of the 17th and 18th centuries.
2. Cruise around in a classic car
Possibly one of the most touristy things to do in Havana, but, you honestly have to take a spin in one of those famous 1950’s cars – it would be scandalous not to. You can pre-book a tour if like online, or you can get right into the middle of the many drivers fighting to sell you tours and get your haggling on like a pro.
Once you have established your price, hop in, feel the wind in your hair, cruise around the iconic and historical attractions and generally feel like a rock star in your own vibrant classic car. You will get to sites such as the streets of Vedado to Havana forest, along the Malecón and to Revolution Sqaure.
3. Plaza de la Revolucion
You can’t visit Cuba or Havana without visiting the iconic Plaza de la Revolucion which features the freedom fighter Che Guevara monument and getting a photo with you in front of it. The vintage car tours usually swing by here so it’s a great way to kill two birds with one stone.
Surrounded by 11 acres, the square was conceived by the French Urbanist Jean Claude Frostier and built on the Loma de Los Catalanes Hill during the Batista era. In 2009, Che’s mural gained a friend. A portrait of Camilo Cienfuegos was installed on the adjacent Telecommunications Building with the words ‘Va Bien, Fidel’ featured below it.
4. Have a drink with Hemmingway
If you are a big fan of your classic Literature authors then you it may fascinate you to know that the American novelist, Ernest Hemmingway, was a huge fan of Havana and he used to frequent many of its bars and hotels. So, what better way to spend your time than going on a bar crawl of his favourite spots such as La Bodeguita del Medio and my favourite, La Floridita.
Although this bar is not one he actually visited, it is extremely fun, with live jazz as soon as you walk through the door, eccentric bar tenders and some of the most delicious cocktails I have ever tasted. My favourite part? The full-sized statue of Hemmingway, sat at the end of the bar, looking very content and thoughtful.
5. Stroll along the famous Malecón
Most notably known for the opening of the action packed Fast and Furious 8 where Vin Diesel races through the ancient streets and then along the Malecón and with an explosive ending. Most of the vintage car tours will drive you along here, however, I really suggest taking a stroll to get a good feel for its past. With 8km of seawall, the locals joke that it is the longest bench in the world, and they aren’t wrong.
It starts from La Habana (AKA Old Havana) and runs all the way to Vedado, with plenty of ocean, historical monuments and interesting locals along the way. After a day strolling among the crumbling colonial buildings and dusty streets you will be thankful for space the breath that this city ocean provides.
6. Sample the local food
Cuba has a delicious mix of Native American, Spanish, African, and other Caribbean influences, but even so, there is some truth to the rumours that Cuban food is slightly bland. It's not a destination to visit specifically for the food, but it’s well worth checking out the local restaurants.
From high-end restaurants to private homes to street food, the food in Cuba is surprisingly diverse and plentiful. Look out for the little restaurants run by locals and tuck into some surprisingly good and cheap cuisines.
7. Tour a cigar factory
You can’t not visit Cuba and check out how the legendary Cuban cigars are made at one of the local factories. Even if you’re not a smoker yourself, seeing the process in action is a great way to get a little closer to the culture of the country, especially when for years’ Cuban cigars have been one of the major items that people from abroad connect to the country.
There are a couple of options as to where to get this experience, and you’ll definitely want to book in advance. The cigars you’ll find at factory shops will certainly be more expensive than what you’ll find on the street, but you can depend on their quality being top-notch.
8. Find a secret spot in Havana
La Guardia, is actually a well-known restaurant in Havana to the locals, but isn’t well known to tourists so makes it the perfect place for photo opportunities. While the locals visit the restaurant itself, I was actually attracted to its entrance which consists of a beautiful marble staircase on the first floor.
It is honestly like something out of a 1940’s film noir, with a decapitated statue at the bottom of the grand but dilapidated staircase and balcony which looks out over the city’s streets. Be sure to take your camera because you will want to take some creative photos here.
Be sure to check out my website Take The Leap Travel for more information and travel advice as well as my Instagram @explorewithlee and @taketheleaptravel.
Inspired to visit Havana? Find your ticket with budgetair.co.uk
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