Top 10 List – Havana, Cuba – Things I’ve Learned about this Historic City

Skyline from above, the city skyline of Havana, Cuba as seen from above by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World.
“City Skyline, Havana, Cuba,” by Carol Schiraldi, 2024

The laundry is done, the suitcases unpacked and ready for my next adventure, and now it’s time for me to share the top 10 things I’ve learned about Havana, Cuba. Here we go:

10. Paperwork and permission – If you are from the United States, you need special permission to visit Cuba, due to an existing embargo between the US and Cuba. In order to visit, you have to get permission from the US to let you go (you have to give a reason) and you have to get a visa from Cuba in order to arrive. My travel included getting permission as I booked my ticket and then getting a visa at the airport in Houston before boarding the plane. I was missing one of the papers when I arrived in Cuba but thankfully was assisted in Cuban customs in order to get my paperwork in order for my visit. It’s not too bad really, just follow instructions and fill in the necessary forms as needed.

9. The Old Town – Old Havana/Havana Vieja is the center of the city. It’s the original city and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the historic architecture there. For most of my time, I stayed in Old Havana but I did venture out a little bit beyond the four plazas and antique city walls that make up Old Havana.

8. The Plazas – there are several plazas in Old Havana which make for excellent people watching. They also have great restaurants and shops, several have museums and other point of interest. You could really just visit the plazas to get great photos and have a wonderful time.

7. The Malecon – Havana is a harbor town and the Malecon (promenade) runs along the seawall. It’s much more than a walk in Havana, rather it’s like the center of town, the main promenade that cuts through the heart of the city. Havana has a rich history of sailing and it’s known as a nautical city, a place where pirates once roamed. Now tourists can leave tracks and shop for trinkets in the same local haunts but the Malecon is a harbor seawall that serves as the heart of this sailor’s town.

6. The Food – One of my surprises was the food in Havana. I was expecting the food to be spicy and more akin to Mexican food. Cuban food is unique and it’s more like what you might find in the Caribbean instead of in Mexico. During my time there, I enjoyed paella, fish, pizza, and croquettes. We fell in love with the croquettes and kept ordering them, they were the food of the trip, but honestly all of the food was really tasty in Havana. Such a treat to enjoy and so many great restaurants, everything from small local places to larger hotels that also offered big meals. Yum!

5. The Cigars – can you visit Cuba without thinking of the cigar? Cuba is famous for the Cuban cigar, yes, but it’s also a way of life in Havana. The humble cigar is embraced by the locals and it is really elevated to an art form of sorts. In Cuba, they take their cigars seriously and rightfully so, as they have a rich history of fine cigars. I loved the cigar culture there and embraced it during my stay, even though I do not smoke myself.

4. The Rooftop Decks – Who knew Havana was home to so many rooftop decks? It’s a thing in Havana, let me tell you, it’s a thing. They are fabulous. Viewing the sunset from the perch on a rooftop deck is a wonderful experience, one not to be missed should you visit Havana. Often, you get a view of the entire city, you can see the old cars going by, and you can spy on your friends, as you are afforded a wonderful view of the Malecon. Bring your ID, as many hotels require it, and enjoy a cool drink atop a rooftop deck at sunset to enjoy a unique view of Havana.

3. The Old Cars – The vintage cars of Havana are legendary, many date back to the 1950’s. Most are American, you can spot a smattering of Chevrolet, Fords, and the like all in different colors, many convertibles tootling about the narrow streets of Old Havana. In modern times, you can take a ride in a convertible and enjoy a tour of the city from the back seat in style. We did this on our journey and it was so much fun. I recommend enjoying an old fashioned ride in style should you find yourself in Havana.

2. The Cocktails – Something I learned on my journey is that Havana is the birthplace of three popular cocktails. Being the historic haunt of pirates, it’s no surprise that rum drinks rule the roost in Havana but I was surprised to find that three drinks were first poured within the storied walls of the harbor town. The daiquiri, the mojito and the Cuba libre (rum and Coke) all hail from Cuba. During my visit, I enjoyed one of each and all were quite the treat. (You can read more about my bucket list experience enjoying a Cuba Libre in Old Havana here.) There are several other drinks from Cuba too, like the Negroni, and the Cubans are no strangers to a good pina colada either. Cheers!

  1. The People – The people of Cuba are so special. The country has such a rich history and the people have endured hard times and good times, revolution and prosperity. The people of Cuba really make the place special, as the culture really comes to life. You can spot it in things like the music, the dancing, the food, or even little things like the good morning smile you get walking down the streets of Old Havana. You can view some of my portraits from Cuba here if you want to check out some of the wonderful people I met along my travels through Havana.

A couple of runners up for me include the courtyards – there were so many wonderful private courtyards in Old Havana, and they made for such great photos – and the parks. Havana has some wonderful neighborhood parks that the locals really enjoy. The spirit of Hemingway is alive in Old Havana in places like La Floridita so this was also an important part of my travels and worthy of a mention.

To answer the pressing question: would I go back to Havana again? Yes, for sure! Not even the pirates could keep me away from this fabulous harbor town.

Until next time…

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