Havana oh na na, half of my heart is in Havana oh na na! I finally went to Havana, and even though I didn’t find my brooding mystery man (who took half my heart), I did manage to take some amazing pictures and drink a mojito at Ernest Hemingway’s former hangout. My experience in Havana, much like my experience in Varadero was very different from what I had originally imagined. Like most things in life, nothing went according to plan and in the end, I was left with only half a taste of what I felt this city had to offer.
Our original plan was to drive from Varadero to spend a night and roughly a day and a half in Havana. This would give us enough time to explore the streets, take tons of photos for Instagram, and enjoy the city at our own pace. We opted to stay in a casa particular for a more “authentic” Cuban experience (as opposed to an Air BnB) and we took a taxi into Havana versus taking the bus. When we worked out the costs, it ended up being a bit pricier than going with the Sunwing overnight Havana tour, but we would be staying at a “better” place and experience the city on our own terms. Below is the original plan:
In total, we were looking at about 156 CUC per person.
The real nightmare began when the person facilitating the booking of the Casa, told me that I could either pay the remaining fee for the casa in euros or the equivalent in CUC. I sent an email a few days prior asking him to clarify what he meant and to give me the specific in CUC. He did not respond till after we left for Havana. Which meant that we were without the internet connection and had no way of communicating with anyone. As a result, we decided to bring 84 CUC (the remainder was 84 EUR). Keep in mind that euros are stronger than CUC.
It took around 40 minutes to find the casa (located in Old Havana) because no one knew where it was. When we finally pulled up to the casa it was in a decrepit area of town with torn down buildings, shady alleyways and there were a group of men just milling about. It looked nothing like the photos. We climbed up a set of stairs in the dark (no functioning lights) and knocked on the door. A lady greeted us and immediately asked us for our passports and began taking down our passport information. That was my first mistake. They say they need the information for “administrative purposes” but this isn’t true. She then asked me to pay 100 CUC.
This is where the second part of the nightmare began. They were charging us more than what we originally thought. The status of the casa was okay, albeit very very small with no air conditioning at all. I also did not get good vibes from the ladies at the casa and didn’t feel like our belongings would be safe. I began to argue that this wasn’t the agreed upon price. CUC’s are not worth more than euros, and they were overcharging us. To make a long story short, we decide to leave and our taxi driver came back and took us on the tour of the city. Two things saved me that day, first my ability to speak Spanish and second, my gut instinct. Always remember to trust your instincts!
Overall here is my Havana Travel Guide with recommendations for tourists wanting to visit Havana, based on my whole experience:
There are tons of things to photograph and see in Havana. Lot’s of photos are misleading and make it seem like no one is around but trust me the streets are pretty busy with locals and tourists alike. Sometimes you will be approached by people who ask for money, or offer tours or offer photos in exchange for some CUCs. This is all part of the experience of traveling to third world countries. Here is an article that gives more information on Old Havana, if you’re curious for more tips! Another great link here shows you all the great cultural centers and museums to check out!
Since we only had a few hours to spare in Havana, we focused on Old Havana and the four principle plazas. Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza Vieja- The Old Square, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Armas. In those few hours we also checked out the following:
And now without further ado, here are all my photos from our trip to Havana. Even though it was super short, I still enjoyed what little time I had there. I hope I can go back one day to spend some more time exploring all the nooks and crannies!