Growing up as a daughter of hispanic immigrants you tend to live vicariously through your grandparent’s and parent’s stories of their home land. For me those stories consisted mainly of Cuba in the 1950s before the Cuban revolution. My grandmother always raved about how beautiful the island of Cuba is. Always speaking of the breathtaking beaches in Varadero, and the hustle and bustle in the city of Havana.
Getting the opportunity to visit this quaint little island only 330 miles from my hometown was exciting and enthralling to me. The days leading up to the trip I began feeling all sorts of emotions reminiscing on days when I use to spend time with my abuela (that’s grandmother in Spanish), and how excited I was to get to experience the country she and my mother were from. I can honestly say I have never felt more at home anywhere else I have visited.
While my time there was short, I found a little piece of home in this island, and got to experience for myself Havana’s Cuban culture.
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Walking out of the Sierra Maestra Terminal we were greeted with the hustle and bustle of the Havana streets. I felt I had just walked onto a 1950’s movie scene watching pre-revolutionary Ford and Chevrolet convertibles zooming past us; it was nothing like I had ever seen in my life. Making our way to Plaza de San Francisco we were greeted by our tour guide Jorge who would take us on a group tour of Havana in our very own vintage 1950’s convertible. I cannot recommend a convertible car tour of Havana enough! I would highly suggest doing this as soon as you get to the island to have a better feel for the city and idea of the distances from each major area in the city. Our two hour tour took us around the streets of Havana passing by places such as José Martí Memorial, El Capital, The Havana Forest, and Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Driving down El Malecon was probably the highlight of my whole trip getting to see how the ocean and the city life collide while hearing our tour guide talk about his life in Havana and the Cuban culture was something I’ll never forget.
-El Capitolo: Cuba’s capitol is located in the heart of Havana, and is a great place to take photos and visit this historic monument. It’s been under restoration works for years, and is set to be officially done by November 2019.
-El Malecon: Is a seawall which stretches five miles along the coast in Havana. It’s a beautiful area to drive along, or visit to watch the sunset.
-Hotel Ambos Mundos: This beautiful pre-revolution hotels is a beautiful place to stop by and take photos. It is also famously know for where Ernest Hemingway finished his book “Death in the Afternoon” in the 1930s.
-Old Havana: Is the city-center and gives you a glimpse of Havana’s past and present. It’s a beautiful place to just wander around and immerse yourself into the Havana’s culture filled with vibrant people and atmosphere.
-Plaza Vieja: Laid out in 1559, Plaza Vieja is Havana’s most architecturally eclectic square.
-Hotel Nacional de Cuba: Probably one of my favorite locations in Havana! This hotel is most famously known for it’s eclectic collection of hotel guest that have stayed here since the 1930s when the hotel originally opened. They accommodated guest such as Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, and they’re even infamous for hosting some of the mafias most elite. Pro tip: Be sure to visit the indoor bar where they showcase all the elite guest they have had, as well as the best mojito you’ve ever had! Ask for the Mafia Mojito you’ll thank me later!
-Santa Clara Battery: Located inside the Hotel Nacional property is the Santa Clara Battery with its two remaining costal guns. This where the Cuban Missile Crisis took place in 1962. During the crisis, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara set up their headquarters there to prepare the defense of Havana from aerial attack. There’s a small little museum here highly suggest to take it! The guided tour takes you through the underground tunnels of the Cueba Taganana (Taganana Cave). If you’re claustrophobic you might want to sit this one out.
-Almancenes De San Jose Market: Looking for a place to bargain for some top tier souvenirs? This is the place to go! I have to say I’ve been to so many artisan markets across the globe, and have never had such a good experience. The locals here are the friendliest I have ever came across selling beautiful handmade products. Make sure to leave a good hour or two to visit the locals love meeting tourist here!
-El Morror: Morro Castle is a fortress guarding the entrance to Havana bay you can easily spot it if you’re driving up and down El Malecon, but it is definitely more impressive when you go visit it up close.
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While researching prior to my trip on places to eat I have to admit I was a bit disappointed on the mixed reviews I had read on people’s experiences on the Cuban cuisine, growing up in Miami and with a Cuban grandmother there is nothing that excites me more than a home cooked Cuban meal, so to hear that people were disappointed with the places they visited to eat made me really dig in (no pun intended) to figure out where I could find the best Cuban meals in Havana.
As a result, I can assure you I found some mouthwatering winners with some awesome drink menus too!
-La Bodeguita Del Medio: If you're looking for an authentic Cuban meal look no further!
-El Flordita: These people are professionals at lemon and strawberry daquaris! Also for my croqueta lovers make sure to try their croquetas de bacalao.
-El Dandy: The coziest spot in all of Havana in the cutest little plaza! Ideal for a quick bite and a mojito or two.
-Cafe Habana: Looking to grab a quick breakfast before your day out in the town this is your go-to spot.
Other places with good reviews:
-El de Frenta
-Paladar Los Mercaderes
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