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Cuba Part 2: Havana
April 13, 2017
Havana...where do I start. The best way I can describe Havana is New York City without Times Square and Miami with South Beach. Millions of people trying to navigate their country's political system, provide for their family, and find peace with their existence. Sound familiar?

Havana was the first city I ever traveled to and FELT like an American, the capitalist blood running through my veins. I lost track of the #travelsnob moments I encountered when expected "luxuries" were not afforded to me. No amount of research on the island can truly prepare you for the perils of communism. Once they are in your face (lack of jobs, no true upward mobility, etc.) you start to analyze your place in the world, and how the perils of America (there are many) compare globally. Like I said, it was a deeply reflective trip.

Stepping off my soapbox...

We spent three nights in Havana, with a four night trip to Trinidad between the second and third night. I think three days is more than enough time to see all the sights of the city, especially if you want to venture to the beach or other cities.

Lodging: We opted to stay in an Airbnb for several reasons. 1.) Booking hotels as an American is not impossible but currently require a third party and a bit of faith that it is getting handled. Airbnb allowed us to book with ease and not break the bank on our accommodations. Given the length of our trip (seven nights), we went the conservative route with our selections. We stayed in two different Airbnb places while in Havana and, ironically, I am almost certain both were not run by actual Cuban natives. Each Airbnb included breakfast for $5 CUC, the standard price even though the latter accommodation's breakfast was MUCH better. A link to both places is below.

  • Old Havana: There are a lot of places in Havana that I wanted to see, but didn't care to actual spend time and/or money exploring. Many of the sights of Old Havana fall into that category. The Museum of Fine Arts, The Capital Building, and several monuments are located in Old Havana all in a walkable distance from one another. Regardless of where you are staying, we stayed in the Vedado neighborhood, a taxi can easily take you to Old Havana for no more than 10 CUC.
  • El Malecón and Morro Castle: Not technically in Old Havana, this street boarding the coast (El Malecón) and Morro Castle (A traditional Spanish fort) were both places we drove past rather than dwell at. However, they are not as trafficked as Old Havana and could provide a great change of pace.
  • Museum of the Revolution: This was one of the few places in Havana I really wanted to spend some time exploring, and we did the last day before we flew out. It was worth the wait. The narrative of the revolution on display in the museum is one we will NEVER get in America. I think it is a must-see!
  • Other Points of Interest: Havana University, Havana Cathedral, Jose Marti Memorial, Plaza Vieja, Gran Teatro, Castillo de la Fuerza - all great places to see - time permitting.
First Havana Airbnb
Second Havana Airbnb

Food: Overall, I was disappointed with how hard it was to find really good food in Havana. Much of the food we ate was good, but not write home about great! Government-run restaurants are just not all that appealing. The lack of "competition" isn't exactly the best thing for the culinary arts profession. Also, the lack of internet makes restaurant hunting very difficult. My suggestion would be to deeply research where you want to eat, try to make reservations, and write down the names AND addresses of the places you have researched. We had a list of names, but with no addresses, and difficult taxi drivers, we didn't make it to many of the places on our list. However, learn from our mistakes! Here is my list as a starting place:
  • El Cocinero (reservation required)
  • Los Naranjos (reservation required)
  • Dona Eutemia
  • La Chucheria
  • Restaurante Santy Pescador
  • La Barraca in Hotel Nacional
  • Atelier
  • La Guarida Miramar (reservation required)
From the above list - our favorite was Los Naranjos. We actually went twice because it was across the street from our second Airbnb. The food was great, the drinks were the best we had our entire time in Cuba, and the service was second to none.

Getting Around: We mostly used taxis and walking to get around Havana. The main attractions are stroller friendly, especially if you do not plan on entering many of the museums and buildings. We opted to use the stroller for our time in Old Havana and the baby carrier to the areas within walking distance from our Airbnb.

Part 3 will discuss how we squeezed two beach days into time in Havana. I never miss an opportunity to visit a beach and Cuba did not disappoint!
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