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  • Writer's pictureGypsy Trail

Havana: The Heart of Cuba

Havana was not what I expected, but was an awesome trip. I know a lot of people think you can't visit or it may not be safe, but you 100% can and should! When you get to the airport, it is like stepping back in time and that is what you can expect from all of Havana. It gives off an old school vibe but with some new school areas.


We stayed in an airbnb in the city center of Central Havana and could see the entire city from our rooftop balcony. I suggest staying in this area because it is pretty central to everything and nothing is too far of a walk.


Let's start with a few pieces of critical information:

  1. You can only use cash, they will not accept american credit cards, so come with enough money for your trip and extra for just in case.

  2. Do not convert your money, they take USD everywhere and the exchange rate is not good.

  3. There are 12 options to choose some to get a vista. Choose Support for the Cuban People. More Info.

  4. You will need to get a tourist card/visa. I highly suggest doing this ahead of time using this link, but you can also do it at the airport depending on where you are flying out of.

  5. Upon arrival be prepared to tell immigration what you are doing there to support the Cuban people just in case they ask. We were not, but they expect you to have 6 hours of each day planned.

  6. Lastly, be prepared when you leave they will ask if you took any rum or cigars. Our bags were not checked we just had to say no. The locals do tell you its fine to bring back like 5 cigars that wouldn't be stopped, but that is definitely up to you if you want to risk it or not.

Now onto the good stuff!




Old Car Tour (Get the Convertible)



So this was the first thing we did when we landed in Havana, which I highly suggest doing! Why not get picked up in an old school car and not have to worry about transportation for about the same price as a taxi. Our photographer Fabio and driver Youndry were fantastic, I highly recommend using HC Tours Havana!!!


They showed us around Old Havana, New Havana and Central Havana; it is a huge city and this lets you get an idea of what areas you want to see more of. Not to mention, they take you out to see Fustarlandia which is an experience in itself and the hidden gem of El Bosque de La Habana (The Forest).


Fusterlandia



This vibrant and whimsical neighborhood in Havana has been transformed into a mosaic wonderland by the artist José Fuster, who still spends his days here designing new mosaics. It's a whirlwind of colors where almost every surface is covered with intricate tile work and sculptures, reflecting Fuster's playful and eclectic style.


Walking through Fusterlandia is like stepping into a kaleidoscope. There are so many vibrant colors and designs. You have to make sure to check out this spot, especially if you love art!


Bosque de la Habana



This hidden gem in the middle of the city is also known as Havana's Magic Forest. The park is completely surrounded by lush greenery and has a river running through it. It was very calming and peaceful to walk through, you would never know there is a big city surrounding it. Also, you get to see all the old school colorful cars because many tour companies bring people here for photoshoots. Who wouldn't want this as their background?!?


The Tropicana Show



The Tropicana Show is a staple of Havana that celebrates the Cuban culture. The open-air cabaret is surrounded by lush gardens and hosts extravagant performances. It is more than just a night out, it's a one of a kind experience and is intoxicating; the skill of these dancers is next level. Not to mention, the awesome costumes!


When you book the tickets there are a few options, try to pick one that has seats closer to the stage, it will definitely be worth it! Also, fair warning, be prepared to be picked to go up on stage at the end of their performance to join and learn the dances.


Explore the city! Walk around and get immersed in the culture the city has to offer! Havana is split into three different ares within the city, Old Havana (Habana Vieja), Central Havana (Centro Habana) and New Havana (Vedado).


The historic heart of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old Havana features cobblestone streets lined with beautifully restored colonial buildings, charming plazas like Plaza Vieja, and iconic landmarks such as the Cathedral of Havana and the Castillo de la Real Fuerza.

In between Old Havana and New Havana, this area is a mix of residential areas, bustling streets, and commercial activity. It's known for the lively Malecón seawall and the vibrant street life and local markets.

A more modern and affluent district, having wide avenues, leafy streets, and a mix of residential and commercial areas. It's home to cultural institutions, hotels, nightlife spots, the famous Plaza de la Revolución, and the iconic Hotel Nacional de Cuba. New Havana offers a different vibe from the historic charm of Old Havana, with a more new school feel.which are


Plaza de la Catedral



Admire the stunning baroque Cathedral of Havana (Catedral de San Cristóbal) and soak in the ambiance of this picturesque square surrounded by historic buildings. It is a captivating blend of colonial architecture, cultural vibrancy, and historical significance.


As you stroll through Plaza, cobblestone streets lead to colorful colonial-era buildings. The square is not only a visual delight but also a hub of cultural events and performances, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking a genuine taste of Havana's rich heritage.



Plaza Vieja



Wander around this lively square and enjoy all of the vibrant pastel colorful buildings. This is the heart of the city and its vibrant energy goes long into the night when the square comes alive with the glow of soft lights and street performers creating a magical ambiance. Not to mention, the architecture of these buildings is amazing.


Also, be sure to check out the sculptures throughout the area and the square's centerpiece, the Fuente de Los Leones (Lions Fountain) which was originally purchased at New York's World Fair.



El Capitolio



Whether is is day or night, sunny or rainy, this is a beautiful building that is right in the heart of city. It is modeled after the Capitol in Washington D.C and the bronze dome is visible from all over the city. While we did not go inside the museum, there is supposed to be an amazing panoramic view of the city and if it is anything like the view from out rooftop, you do not want to miss out!


Right by the Capitol is the Parque Central where the locals gather and show off/sell their artwork. It is also a great area to see the old classic cars lining up. However, if you want to take a picture with them, know it is going to cost you a couple dollars,but will be worth it!



Museum of the Revolution



Explore Cuba's revolutionary history through artifacts, exhibits, and displays showcasing the country's struggle for independence. While we were not able to go inside the museum, we were still able to explore the exhibits across the street. It was very cool being able to see all the military hardware, including tanks and aircrafts.



Fortresses and Castles 



Discover the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, which are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as the Castillo de Los Tres Reyes Del Morro, which all date back to the 16th century.


The Castillo de la Real Fuerza is nestled in the heart of old Havana and is one of the oldest stone fort in the Americas. The inside if full of artifacts, maps, and exhibits that show the rich maritime and military history of Havana. Also, the view from the fort is awesome, it overlooks the harbor and Old Havana.


The Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta played an important role in safeguarding the city from maritime invasions, pirates, and colonial threats. Unfortunately, the castle was not open to explore when we were there, but it was still great to be able to walk around and see the statue and cannon.


The Castillo de Los Tres Reyes Del Morro is at the entrance of the Havana Bay and is home to the worlds longest hand rolled cigar, which is 90 meters long. The fort itself is surrounded by a series of walls, moats, and watchtowers, as well as a lighthouse at the top, adding a touch of romance to the historical setting. There is also a nightly cannon ceremony at sunset, where soldiers reenact the age-old tradition of firing a cannon to signal the closing of the city gates. If you plan to attend this, be prepared to be there early and stay for a while.



Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes


Immerse yourself in Cuban art and international collections within this museum which is split into two buildings, the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Palacio del Centro Asturiano, one dedicated to Cuban art and the other to international art. In between the two buildings is a "sculpture garden."



The Malecón



The Malecón is a must-visit in Old Havana. Take a stroll along the seaside and see fantastic views of the ocean, especially during sunset. You wont want to miss out on experiencing the local culture and witness the lively atmosphere, especially at night. This is where all the locals go to hangout. While it spans along the coastline, the Malecón area in Vedado is particularly vibrant, offering stunning ocean views and a place for locals to gather, especially during the evenings


Parque Central and Gran Teatro de La Habana

 


Admire the architecture of the Gran Teatro, it is even more beautiful at night all lit up. Also, on the other side of the park there are bars, which makes this a bustling area.



Plaza de la Revolución



Visit this iconic square dominated by the towering José Martí Memorial where many significant events and concerts have been hosted. This venue allows political statements and cultural expressions to intertwine. On the buildings around the memorial, there are political murals and statements, including one on the Ministry of the Interior building with an image of the famous Che Guevara, who had a big impact on the Cuban Revolution. This is also the location where Fidel Castro used to have rallies and give speeches.


El Floridita



You have to stop in at Hemingway's favorite bar while here! He has his own drink named after him and it is delicious. Not to mention, the atmosphere and live music are top notch, I can see why he loved it so much.



Paladares



Be sure to check out a local paladar (family-run restaurants) which were privately-owned restaurants in peoples homes back in the day. We went to La Guarida, which did not disappoint! You would never know it is a restaurant when walking by. It looks like a normal building, which is from the 20th century, but when you head upstairs you find a fantastic restaurant. There is also an outdoor patio area that has a great view of the city.



Statutes and Arwork



Be sure to wander around the city and check out all the statues and murals around town.


Classic Cars



Make sure to ride in one of Havana's vintage American cars from the 1950s, it is a must do! Also, as you wander around town you will come across soo many fun colored cars, don't be afraid to get tall the pictures.


Lastly, if you have some extra time, just outside of the city are some beaches you can go relax on!

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