Havana, Cuba

Jer and I have just returned from Cuba, a place we’ve both wanted to go for quite some time. Now that Cuba has somewhat opened up to American visitors, we decided now was the time (I’ll write another post all about how we got there, the visa process, and everything else about the actual boring logistics). We were already in south Florida, so it was fairly easy to go the 90 miles down to Cuba.

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We flew into Havana, and took a taxi to our casa particulares, which is a private room in a home, similar to a bed and breakfast. We’d been told this was the best way to experience the authentic Havana vibe. The sweetest couple ran the house, and we had a huge breakfast spread every morning, including hot and silky Cuban coffee and ice cold guava juice.

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Fueled by excessive caffeine, we spent the days wandering around Havana. It was SO hot, I mean, just stifling. I can understand why people take siestas, it’s just too hot to do anything else.

So, first impression, I was somewhat in shock over Havana. I had seen images of the classic cars, palm trees, and charming streets. What I got was… not that. I was very surprised at how run down and dirty most of the city of Havana actually is. There were a few blocks that were the vibrant city I’d seen portrayed, but overall, I was disappointed.

It’s painful to see, beacause the slivers of how wonderful it used to be back in the 1950s were still there. Yes, there were run down buildings all over the place, but there were also wonderful little pieces of color. It’s hard to tell in the second photo below, but this building with her yellow and blue tiles was my favorite, the exterior was so pretty.

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Both Jer and I agreed our favorite thing about Cuba were the classic cars. They were everywhere! And of course, I was partial to the pink convertibles.

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To battle the insane heat, we went over to the Museo de la Revolucion, which is a museum dedicated to the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara (the absolute, undisputed hero of Cuba), and housed in the beautiful, but crumbling, former Presidential Palace.

It turned out not to have A/C, but all the windows were open and the building itself had incredible detail, so I took it as a win.

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It seemed the place to be in Havana was in the parks around El Capitolio, and strolling down the Paseo de MartΓ­, both day and night. Several of the biggest and nicest hotels are in this area, and there’s a spot where tons of classic cars line up to offer taxi rides. This is a GREAT spot for people watching!

When I was taking some pictures of the flowers outside the Capitol, the sweetest Cuban man came up, plucked one of the flowers, handed it to me, and walked off. I waited until he was out of sight, and stuck the flower back in the soil, but the gesture was adorable. The vast majority of the Cuban people we met were truly so kind. (Although I did have a can of beer thrown at me by a woman on the sidewalk when I didn’t give her money, but thankfully she had terrible aim.)

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I’d heard from a friend of a friend who’d just come back from Havana that I’d be disappoined in the food. However, I found that not to be the case. We exclusively went to paladares, which are restaurants that are privately owned, as opposed to the government owned restaurants that are notoriously disgusting.

Our two favorites were Casa Miglis and La Guarida. Casa Miglis is the brainchild of a Swedish chef who moved to Havana, and their food was wonderful. They also had the most charming jazz duo who performed for dinner. I bought their CD then had to think long and hard whether I even own a mode of playing a CD anymore.

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La Guarida was the restaurant I had most been looking forward to, as it’s the one you see everyone who’s been to Havana post to Instagram. Which would include the king and queen of life: Beyonce and Jay-Z. SOLD. 

But, it didn’t hurt that their food was SO SO good, and they are on the 3rd floor of one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen. I had some of the best tuna tartare of my life and left full and happy. (If you go, reservations are mandatory. Any of the hotels or casas can call for you.)

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And finally, you KNOW we couldn’t leave Cuba without some cigars!

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I hesitated a bit in writing this post, because I know so many people who said they had a wonderful time in Havana and other parts of Cuba. Plus, if you’re going or want to go in the future, I want you to make your own decisions. I’m not going to tell you all the nasty things I saw on the street, because maybe that was just a one off? Or maybe, in the words of Hemingway, “Some places were not so good, but maybe we were not so good when we were in them.” There are so many things that could affect your trip, and I wouldn’t want to hinder that.

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Now that I’m a few days out from returning back to the States, I’ve started to wonder if I should give Cuba another chance in the future. I mean, I never even left Havana, and it’s a big island with plenty more to discover, including beaches that locals and travelers alike claim to be some of the most beautiful in the world. 

Perhaps one day, I’ll get back to Cuba and we’ll see what happens then…

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