As a Canadian I always find it interesting how fascinated most Americans are with the idea of visiting Cuba. Havana is a quick forty-minute flight from my home in the Cayman Islands so it is actually quite surprising that I have only been there twice.
While Canadians tend to visit the all-inclusive resorts that are on the beach to experience time in the sun, I do feel like they are missing out on what makes Cuba unique. Americans are much more likely to visit Havana which is a city steeped in history, a time-warp that takes you back to the 1950s.
Whatever you want to say about Cubans, the reality is they are excellent mechanics as they have managed to keep cars from the 50s and 60s on the road for all this time.
The art scene in Cuba is simply spectacular. While many art pieces feature the same paintings of the city center, and classic cars; there are many artists with intimate portraits that study the human condition.
Hands down the number one thing you should do is take a stroll and enjoy the time-warp. Spend time in Old Havana exploring the pathways while listening to the many musicians and watching the people dancing in the streets. Hop in a taxi and get a ride in a classic car from a long-forgotten era. Once back from your ride eat at a restaurant that features Cuban food as it was meant to be eaten.
The architecture is some of the finest that you will encounter in the Caribbean. This is not restored for the sake of tourism, this is how people live. Glance in open doors only to realize how few material goods the locals have. Some apartments will only have a floor mat, a wooden chair, and a mattress on the floor. Nonetheless the people seem much happier than many places in the world. It makes you wonder if our materialistic culture is making us any happier.
One thing you must realize is that you need to use caution. While everyone seems happy and this happiness can be contagious you cannot blindly trust anyone.
Taxis will attempt to take advantage of you more times than not. Ask for a quote for your destination. Once you have settled on a price you must make sure that the quote is for all passengers. A common scam is to give a quote and once they reach your destination the taxi drivers claims that the quote was per passenger. Do not fall victim to this.
If someone is wanting to be your friend right after meeting you and they want to go out for drink at a bar… stay away. The most common scam in the area is to order a round of drinks for your new friend(s)and the drinks will be 5 or 6 times the regular rate. Once you receive the bill you’ll realize the the person who invited you for a drink has vanished to collect their commission while you are stuck with the tab.
There are many things to enjoy in Havana. The cars, the architecture, the music, the food, all found in a city that is unique.
Some of the things that you should see:
- Old Havana
- Plaza Vieja (Old Square)
- Plaza de la Catedral
- Plaza de Armas
- El Morro
To get to El Morro you need to take a taxi but it is well worth the time and expense. El Morro is a castle that offers stunning views of Havana. If you climb the lighthouse you will be rewarded with even more magnificent views.
I would urge a four day stay in Havana. This will allow you to take your time without feeling rushed. Just make sure you are aware of the many taxi scams and the random strangers who are suddenly your best friend and want to go out for a friendly drink.