My first day walking around Habana Vieja (Old Havana), was one of my most enjoyable days of my life. It was like stepping back in time to the 1950’s and despite 50 years of withering neglect, it had so much character and while I knew I’d see some fabulous old cars, I had no idea there’d be so many. Many of them had been restored, with bright, shiny, new paint, new motors and these made up the greater Taxi service. Hiring one and being seen taking a drive along the ‘sea-hugging’ Malecon, seemed to be ‘The thing to do’ (especially if it’s a ‘polka-dot’ convertible).
Throughout the streets, the neglected 16th Century Spanish colonial architecture of the buildings, with peeling pastel paint, made for ‘picture perfect’ photographs and gave Old Havana a special charm and atmosphere of its own. Some have undergone restoration, but I loved the back streets, where the buildings were in a natural state of disrepair, bundles of tangled electric wires hung from poles, and the locals carried on their day to day life, as if tourism didn’t exist.
This socialist country felt very ‘lay-back’ wherever I went and the locals friendly with a happy demeanor, despite being scarred by two independence wars, a revolution and a US trade embargo. The pace of life is slow, with tasks still being done manually (no microwaves or dishwashes here). The locals flock to parks and plaza’s now, even taking their own chairs, to connect to the now-available wifi, with very expensive access cards that they’ve had to wait in long queues to buy. How long it will remain this way, is anyone’s guess. I did miss my social media connection, but enjoyed absorbing life around me for a change.
There is much to see and do in Havana Vieja. Apart from just strolling around enjoying the ambiance, there are many museums, art, cafes/bars, many with live music and Salsa dancing, Forts, Cathedrals, pretty parks and a walk along El Malecón, (at sunset was beautiful), is a must do.
Tourists are well catered for, with modern hotels, or more commonplace are ‘Casas Particulares.’ There are many cafes/bars and restaurants (but no supermarkets). My suggestion. If you like Rum, order a Pina Colada or Mojito. Many places give you the bottle to put in the amount of Rum you desire (if not, just ask for a top up).
If you are planning a trip to Cuba, just arrive with an open mind and prepare for a long, slow seduction. I loved it and really hope to see it again one day!!!