72h guide | havana | cuba - stepping back in time
'finding solace without internet & smart phones'
cuba is one of those places that is on many a travellers list but for some reason they never reach and the capital havana has to be one of the most magical cities that i have ever been to, let me explain... when you first arrive at havana airport it's like like have been transported to a bygone era of brightly coloured cars & even more colourful people. It can be quite overwhelming but make sure to take a few seconds to catch your breath & make your way to the old city i used cuba direct for my transfer from the airport to the hotel as the atm machines tend be out of order & the queue for the currency exchange can take over an hour.
stepping off the flight in september i was immediately struck by the humidity of this island it was hot i mean really hot...
from the moment you land you start your journey back in time to the 1930s the airport seems to have stood still in time for at least the last 50 years. when i arrive to a new country sometimes i get this gut feeling that it's going to be an amazing place i had it in cape town & i had it this time too.
on my sort ride in the taxi from the airport to old havana i noticed that there was hardly any cars and the cars i did see where mostly the old american ford's, pontiacts & chevy's that are now mostly run as tourist taxies. I later found out that cuba is in a severe fuel crisis & with only a weekly deliver from Venezuela due to the new restrictions placed by trump it was having a severe effect on the number of cars & public buses in the road. it was a super eerie experience travelling around the capital in a country of over 11 million people and seeing only a few cars but i suppose on the positive side it was one of the easiest cities for me to breath in due to the lack of car pollution.
now later we will get onto things to do but i just wanted to give you a feeling of the city as its like no other. just imagine a city where you see no cell phones.. can't, right? well, that's havana this place has super limited access to both cell service & wifi. both tourist & locals alike need to cue at the local telecommunications office to buy a one-hour wifi pass that can be used in the numerous areas around the city, yes it's only a one hour card for around a ($1).
arriving into old havana i was staying at what had to be one of the coolest new boutique hotels anywhere in the world it was so impressive that they were able to create such a beautiful hotel at residencia santa clara. this hotel was basically hand-built from the ground up by a local artisan, from the chairs to the fixtures. everything has been made by hand with painstaking accuracy. this small boutique hotel located right in the old town close to the ferry terminal is perfectly placed to explore the magic of old havana.
i stayed in the superior plus room that wad, in essence, the penthouse of the hotel as it was located on the top floor complete with its own veranda overlooking the local area, the sunset from here was breathtaking. the room its self was super spacious with hand made furniture & cool artwork adorning the walls. air conditioning was a welcome bonus due to the humidity during my time in the city it was intense. The bar serves some great cocktails & the daily included cuban breakfast made a great start to the day. they staff here i have to say are wonderful with perfect english.
things to do
there are truly so many things to do but since i had only a few days i decided to skip a few things & do the major attractions. also to explore some more interesting places getting to know the people & culture of the city.
free walking tour - it has become a staple of my travel experiences when arriving in a new city. i recommend taking one on the first possible opportunity as you will get you're bearings around the city. I actually took two different tours with this company as the first was so good. The old city tour took us around the unesco area & onto the other side of the bay it was super informative & gave me an insight into the culture & history of this extraordinary place.
the next day i took the central havana tour now this is where you see the true culture & life of the people as most of them live there & while it does not have the architecture of the old city it does have it charm especially since some of the best restaurants & bars are located in the area.
malecón - is a pedestrian coastal walkway that takes you from old havana to central havana around the bay it's a beautiful scenic walk especially for those who love to see the classic cars go by. i got some amazing shots here during sunset the colours reflecting off the colonial buildings made for some epic photos.
across the bay casablanca - a 5 cent boat ride across the bay gets you to this local area where many of the working of old havana commute from daily. over this side, you will find the christ of havana & the castillo both amazing places to visit, the christ has wonderful views overlooking the bay of old havana from an elevated position.
old havana - last but not least is why i came here. old havana is truly a place of wonder from an outsiders perspective. as there is limited access to the internet & mobile service people here actually sit & chat with each other.
i saw kids playing marbles in the streets, old women shouting from balcony to balcony to get their friends attention it was like i had been transported back in time. It was so refreshing to explore a place where everyone was not on their phones it made me realise i need to use mine less & enjoy the sights & sounds around me.
now you cannot come to havana without having a few of the local cuba libre cocktails & getting up on the dance floor to try out your salsa skills. havana night scene especially the salsa clubs have to be some of the coolest venues in the world. the old decaying buildings with fauna growing from the cracks make for a setting that you could not find anywhere else in the world.
where to eat
so many places to eat here from the street stalls to the fancy restaurants. here are my favourite places to eat for each meal.
breakfast | lo de monik - this was certainly the most well-designed place in terms of modern-day aesthetics with its pastel-coloured walls & cool bartenders for me this was the place to come in the morning as they served a great set breakfast with eggs, fresh fruit, juice and coffee all for around ($5).
lunch | street pizza - what the locals eat. this place had a huge queue outside most of the day. mini pizzas for less than a dollar each its a cheap way to fill up for the day before setting out to explore again.
dinner | san cristòbal - the most famous restaurant in the city. presidents to dictators have dinned here. it's an eclectic mix of decor & good local food, the only place to come in the evening. just make sure to make a booking a few weeks in advance.
to sum up
i can honestly say that this city in truly the most intriguing place that i have visited to date. the lack of mobile phones & internet here has made sure that the culture & traditions are at the forefront of society. people here seemed happy & where always laughing & smileing i truly think we can learn from a place like this. there is a benefit to not having access to social media & internet at all time. here people chat & look after each other its like a big family.
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country travel tips
atm: not reliable at all make sure to bring cash
sim card: not available. chat and meet some locals :)
transport: use the public transport, super cheap.
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here