Must make it to Cuba before the cars disappear! This was the main thought on the minds of Hattivatti’s companions last summer when the flights and hotels were booked. The plan: four days staring at cars, buildings, and life in general in Havana and then 9 days of sea, sand, and an endless amount of food and drink at an all inclusive resort in Varadero. What could be a better way to avoid Christmas stress than leave home behind for a couple of weeks before the holiday season?
Cuba was surprisingly easy to reach from Finland, with Finnair flying direct to Varadero once a week. “Only” 12 hours in a plane, an hour getting through boarder control and baggage claim, and then a couple hours on a bus, and the Iberostar Parque Central in central Havana was reached at about one in the morning. Then straight to bed, time for sightseeing later.
The first day in Havana began bright and early with a big breakfast at the hotel: friends who had been to Havana had warned that it’s best to eat when you can get proper food, as it might not always be that easy to find tasty meals. After applying suntan lotion and finding a map, it was time to head out on the town.
The morning was spent wandering around the narrow streets and numerous plazas of Habana Vieja, the oldest part of town. The amount of people, cars, bike taxis, wooden carts, and animals swarming about in the streets combined with the humid heat was a bit overwhelming at first, but luckily a peaceful shaded terrace was soon found at El Patio in Plaza de la Cathedral. First mojitos of the trip!
Feeling refreshed, Hattivatti and friends headed on the the nearby Plaza Vieja and the terrace of La Factoria Plaza Vieja, the first and still one of the only microbreweries in Cuba. The beer wasn’t that special, but by Cuban terms it was definitely something different compared to the commonly available state-brewed lagers, Cristal and Bucanero. And when ordering for four, it was served in a high tower fitted with a tap!
After emptying the mighty beer tower, hunger was beginning to be felt. Heading back towards the hotel, a stop was made for a light lunch at El Floridita, known for its daiquiris and for being one of the famous Hemingway haunts in Havana. A bronze statue of Papa has stood at his place at the bar since 2003 to honor this most distinguished regular guest and prior to that there was a bust since 1954!
The day had been hot and humid, so it was a pleasant treat to head up to one of the two rooftop pools at the hotel for a late afternoon swim. The views across the rooftops of both old and new Havana were just gorgeous!
The evening of the first day began with dinner at Mama Inés in old Havana, one of the privately run paladares. Really taste fish of the day served with rice, beans, and mixed veggies was enjoyed seated outdoors while a troubadour played local classics. Good food and a nice atmosphere!
Old Havana came to life in a different way after dark, with music pouring out from both bars and homes and locals enjoying the cool evening hanging out in the streets. Live music was everywhere, including the rooftop terrace of La Terrazza de Compostela, where the band (which included one quite intimidating saxophonist) played an interesting style of salsa and rumba mixed with some fusion jazz. This place offered up the strongest mojitos of the day, which was not necessarily a good thing from a taste perspective. After a nightcap at the hotel’s rooftop bar, it was time to call it a night.
The second day turned out to be sunny and bright, so after breakfast the rooftop pool seemed the best place to be. A few hours of relaxing poolside with a good book and tasty drinks, the perfect way to get in proper vacation mode!
Once enough rays had been caught, some sightseeing was in order again. There is probably no better way to see a bit more of Havana than by going for a guided tour of the city in a classic car, so Hattivatti and friends piled into a beautiful orange Chevrolet and took off towards Plaza de la Revolución. On the way, Chinatown (where no Chinese now live), the giant Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón cemetery, and various other sights were seen. A stop was made at the enormous plaza, the place where Fidel Castro used to make marathon speeches to thousands of citizens yearly on May 1st. Then back towards old Havana along the Malecón, the broad esplanade by the seaside. Although this is one the most touristy things to do in Havana, it’s definitely worth doing!
By now, the buffet breakfast was a distant memory, so off to find some food! With a bit of luck, a table at O’Reilly 304 was secured despite not having a reservation. This paladar is currently renowned as “probably the trendiest and hippest eatery in Cuba” (according to Havana Insider). The food and drinks were fresh and tasty, although the ambiance was a bit hectic and the service quite slow.
For dessert, a pitcher of mojitos was enjoyed on a second story balcony overlooking Plaza Vieja while evening descended over the city. Then on to wander the streets, making stops along the way at Henky’s Bar and Hanoi (oddly named, since the place apparently has nothing to with anything Vietnamese). Finally, the evening ended with some finer rum and cigars at the rooftop bar back at the hotel. What could be more Cuban?