Travel

Travel Spotlight… Havana, Cuba

Havana, ooh na-na (ay)

4 months Discovery Channel

Also under Featured

Since the United States lifted their travel embargo in 2015, tourism in Cuba has absolutely boomed. While the largest island of the Caribbean was already a popular choice for non-Americans hoping to catch some colourful culture, cheap shopping, and pristine beaches, the influx of US citizens has bolstered the economy, meaning that everything from markets to museums have enjoyed a healthy injection of funds.

QUICK TRAVEL TO DOS

See: Climb to the top of the José Martí Memorial and enjoy panoramic views of the city.
Eat: Take in local cuisine and amazing ocean views at the rooftop restaurant: La Moneda Cubana.
Drink: Learn how Cuban rum is made on a guided tour of the famous Museo del Ron Havana Club.
History: The Church and Convent of St. Francis of Asisi will have you feeling very small – in the best way possible.
Adventure: Varadiving offer up a day off snorkelling and scuba-diving.
Shopping: Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Deposito San José is the city’s most popular open-air craft markets.
Art & Culture: Check out Ernest Hemingway’s former home, the Finca Vigia.

HISTORY

History and architecture buffs alike should head directly to the Museum of the Revolution, in the Old Havana section of the city. The stunning, massive early-20th Century building owes its decadence to the fact that it was formerly the Presidential Palace, housing ever Cuban president from the ‘20s until 1959. Nowadays it bears historical markers of an action-filled few centuries, from the Spanish colonisation in the 16th Century, to the revolutionary war of the ‘50s – and even has the very yacht that Che Guevara and Fidel Castro sailed from Mexico to Cuba to begin the revolution. There are also U-2 air plane engines, tanks used in the revolution, Guevara’s guns, and a Soviet tank to boot.

Across the road sits a more serene slice of history: National Museum Of Fine Arts, which houses a half-millennia of fine art, among more recent non-Cuban exhibitions. You’ll need to take most of the day if you want to explore both these places properly, but if you love history, art, or architecture, it’s well worth it.

HOME COOKING… AT HOME

One of the more distinctive features of Cuban dining is the emergence of Paladares, which are family-ran restaurants that operate out of people’s homes, which act as a stark contrast to the state-ran businesses that pepper the island. These restaurant were illegal until the 1990s, then subject to strict restrictions, before these rules were relaxed in 2010. The result is a unique experience that lands somewhere between a professionally-ran establishment and a cosy home-cooked dinner party in someone’s house. Not surprisingly, these are hugely popular, and a perfect counterpart to the staidness of state-controlled outlets – the idea of which puts a bad taste in the mouths of many. A lot of these are clustered together, and offer an authentic touch of Havana, and a shortcut to local knowledge – and cuisine.

SEE TO SEASIDE

The Malecón is quite a singular spot: an eight kilometre seawall which is both a popular fishing spot, and a regular hang out for locals and tourists alike. When conditions are rough, or on king tide, the wall itself can be rather dangerous — so be cautious if the weather isn’t suitable — but most of the time it’s pleasant and beautiful. An esplanade winds parallel to the wall and contains numerous restaurants, shops and other popular haunts, and the place is lit up by lamps at twilight.

The houses that line the esplanade are in various states of disrepair, but add to the otherworldly feel. Also, if you run out of money during your trip, you can do what local families have been doing for generations: toss a fishing line into the ocean and try your luck catching your own dinner. When in Havana…

VINTAGE VEHICLES

Not a specific place, per se, but a remarkably interesting feature of Havana is their obsession with vintage American automobiles from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s – the exotic nature and popularity of such highlighted by the trade bans that occurred for many decades. You’ll see a number of these marvellous machines cruising down most streets in Havana, the owners taking pride in their vehicles, often customising them, and painting them bold bright colours. It’s like a parade everywhere you look.

Posted by Nathan Jolly | Images sourced from ShutterStock