Cuba had been on my Caribbean bucket list for a long time. It was a no-brainer to pop over to Havana Cuba from Mexico City during my recent extended trip to this part of the world. It’s often I go to a country and fall totally in love with it for one reason or another. It’s not so often that I go to a country and fall in love with a city. It’s not that I’m not a city girl. In fact, I thrive in the hustle and bustle of a city. The sounds, the smells, the people. It’s just that often, the sensory overload is too much for me to bare in a brand-new country. More often than not, I fall in love with places outside of the city. Particularly outside of capital cities.
Cuba is an exception. For one reason or another, as soon as I stepped foot on Havana’s cobbled roads, walked the music filled streets and marveled at the super relaxed vibes, I was in love.
Havana is like no other city I’ve had the privilege to visit. Littered with colonial architecture and influenced by a colourful history, if you like your trips cultural and explorative as well as deliciously charming, then there really is no better place to visit than Havana. I could write romantic stories and captivate with soulful poems all day long about Havana. This is what the city does to me.
But for now, here’s the 5 reasons why you will probably fall in love with this crazily enchanting place too.
Havana’s Retro Charm
It’s what Havana’s famous for, right? There is something mind blowingly charming about Havana’s crumbling, colonial buildings. Hotels that smell of old cigars with chipped floor boards that were once danced upon. Bars that ooze that 50’s charm I had never directly experienced before.
There is nothing new in this city. Like any other city, tucked deeper away, there is an area that is particularly run-down but still inhabited and sad to see. Of course, after 1958 there was no means of restoring homes or public buildings and this is still extremely evident. It’s easy to imagine that all the photos you see of Havana are staged. People dancing in the street, men smoking cigars for breakfast whilst waxing their classic cars. This is not a media portrayal. The air is thick with nostalgia and the seduction is palpable.
The old cars are on every corner and provide the main form of transport. Every colour of the rainbow from Chevrolets to Pontiacs. If you flag a standard taxi even, it will be one of these. What better way to spend a warm evening than cruising around the city at sunset in a 50’s convertible? There are however a few newer cars that have been imported over recent years.
Don’t even think about ordering anything other than rum when in Havana. The home of Havana Club, rum encompasses the soul of this city. Be sure to sample the best mojito in Havana at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, said to be the place where the biggest mafia meeting ever took place.
Or, head to the quaint La Bodeguita Del Merio in old Havana. The spot where Hemingway famously drank his mojitos. As a result of this it tends to be packed with tourists, but you can grab a mojito and enjoy it outside on the street whilst soaking up the heady atmosphere. The best daiquiri in Havana is served at the iconic La Floridita. These days La Floridita is crazy touristy, but there’s some places you just have to visit, and this is one of them.
Before I arrived in Havana, I didn’t even realise that cuisine was a thing here. Back in 2010, a reform programme allowed local residents to apply for a licence which meant they could effectively turn their front rooms into businesses.
These places are often not visible from the street and so it would be wise to get some great recommendations from the locals. Food is home cooked, menus are small, value for money is spot on and these places are bursting with traditional ambiance.
Meals usually come set and include beans, rice and vegetables with your choice of a delicious main. A few notable paladars include San Cristobal and Dona Eutomia. The latter being down an artist’s alley, close to Cathedral Square. The family here apparently have no formal training, but the meal I had here was probably one of the best I’ve had in my life.
Believe me when I say, Havana comes alive at night. It is one of those cities that doesn’t sleep. The streets flourish with people and music echoes from the bars below and the homes up high. Bars and hotels across the city have live bands and the locals salsa all night long. Cabarets are also huge here, the iconic Club Tropicana being the original and most breath-taking.
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I have never been to a country where Wi-Fi is so limited! In order to access it you need to purchase a card which equates to about a dollar an hour, and even once you buy the card, there’s no guarantee you’ll be logging on. Notably this leads to a really chill atmosphere throughout Havana.
One where people talk over dinner, share stories whilst sipping on mojitos and don’t walk into people on the street because they’re too busy staring at their phones. Music, art and dance are at the centre of life in Havana so roam the streets to admire the abundance of vibrant street art.
Then join in with pave side evening salsa dancing and rumba parties and get transported to another decade by the beats of authentic jazz filling the streets. Linger over a good meal, laugh over a daiquiri. Havana is beautiful. It is timeless and resilient, and the people reflect this through their warmth and passion for life.
Daily life in Havana is not rushed or busy and this is exactly how you should spend your time here, to fall in love with this magical city just like I did.
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Planning a trip to Cuba? Check out our Cuba Travel Guide
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