From the bay and Habana Vieja on the east all the way to Plaza de la Revolución to the west and Malecón up north, we have explored as much of the city as we could in those 5 days. By then we got used to all the streets and navigated them with no issues. We saw the colours of the city and the beauty of its history.
We saw people sitting in front of their buildings playing dominoes with their neighbours, ran into local swindlers who sold us sob stories trying to get money out of us (click here for more scams to avoid) and met other tourists to exchange stories with. We walked down the avenue Paseo de Marti and enjoyed seeing all the big lustrous buildings, like the US embassy and big high-end hotels, mixing with the ordinary “pleb” buildings Cuban people lived in. Wherever you looked there was something to take a photo of, from street art in Habana Vieja to the beautiful promenade in the middle of the avenue, from interesting bars to just plain street views that make you stop in your tracks.
In the 6 days in Havana, we saw a couple of landmarks that we quite enjoyed:
- Aqvarivm – please note, this is not the Acuario Nacional, this is a tiny aquarium near Plaza Vieja. It is one room with quite a few different types of fish and also the living fossil manjuari. The entrance is really cheap and you can go through it in half an hour, 40 minutes so if you need a break from the heat, pop in.
- Cámara Oscura – also on Plaza Vieja. Really good way to see Havana from a high view-point with the possibility of magnifying the details like people sunbathing on their roof terraces 😀
- Museo Del Chocolate – could hardly call it a museum, more of a cafe with chocolate making paraphernalia. They do make exquisite cold chocolate drink so definitely worth a visit if you have a sweet tooth.
- Casa de Africa – a museum very close to Plaza Vieja dedicated to the African culture and its influence of the Cuban culture and way of life. It touches on slavery on the island and how the West Africans brought to the island influenced the religion (see Santeria). We were actually lucky and had a glimpse of one home altar to orishas in the casa in Havana. The entrance to the museum was free, but of course you can always give a donation.
This impressive museum deserves its own paragraph. I would say definitely a must see if visiting Havana. We left this for our last day as we knew were going to spend quite a while in there. We also wanted to visit Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes but at this point the cold that I caught on the bus trip to Viñales was taking its toll; I was burning up and had to sit down every so often so I would not collapse; I could not do another big museum. I spent the Friday trying to cure myself with lemonade and rum (Ron Collins) but apparently it did not work… And I was “a bit” hungover Saturday morning… The husband had to pack all of our things, I was dying on the bed. My point is be careful with air con on the buses!
The museum is situated in the old presidential palace (oh the sweet irony) on the main Prado avenue with a view of Malecón and the sea. This is by far the most “expensive” museum we went to in Cuba, it was 8CUC when we went in 2017 but it is worth it. The grandeur of the outside, however, cannot be seen on the inside as much. The building itself is beautiful with a big staircase taking you to the higher floors and one of the big rooms left with all the decorations on the wall (ball room photo), but the rest of the rooms were quite plain and the museum exhibits put in simple glass cases. The grand entrance was under restoration while we were there; that part will probably look gorgeous when done.
Throughout the museum, I found it entertaining listening to tourists, mostly American, being all confused with the “Cuban representation” of the Revolution as it was nowhere close to what they learned back home. Even our hosts (husband Canadian, wife Cuban) confirmed that the stories told in American schools and TVs about the Revolution are completely distorted. I was aware that things like this usually depend on who writes it (“History is written by the victors” said Mr Churchill) but I usually found them to be at least similar, especially in some key aspects.
Leaving the presidential palace through the back door, we continued towards the Granma memorial, named after the yacht that brought Fidel, Che and the other 80 revolution fighters to the island. It can be seen from the streets but can only be accessed from the museum. You can see the actual yacht here and other types of army transport, from tanks to planes; you can even touch them as seen on one of my fav photos from Cuba (featured photo).
Cuba might not be the right place for travellers who like to feel like they have everything under control but it is definitely on my list of countries I would like to visit again. Next time though it would be the south of the island, going all the way down to Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba.