We had the pleasure of coordinating a trip for the lovely Kathryn Fish to Havana, Cuba last December. We were beyond excited to work with her on planning this beautiful getaway. She was kind enough to share some of her favorite parts of her trip with us. Read on for her top five must-do’s while traveling to Havana!
I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Havana, Cuba with my family in December. The country offered way more than I had anticipated. If you enjoy history, government, and/or culture, this colorful country is just the place for you. Being American, I hesitated to spend much time in this “run down” part of the world, but once I asked questions and engaged myself with locals, I began to truly understand what is behind the broken buildings and worn out people. I have compiled a list of my top five must-do things while traveling to Havana (in no particular order).
Top Five Must-Do’s in Havana, Cuba
1. Hotel Nacional
Hotel Nacional is full of rich history and dawns an impressive trophy wall densely adorned with famous people who used to visit. Stroll into the immense front doors feeling like one of the hundreds of important celebrities back in the 1950’s and take a look around. Picture guests dressed in their suits and heels strutting the halls decorated with crystal chandeliers. The pictures on the walls depict a lively location when Havana was booming with tourism and money. Now, take off those goggles and view the most prestigious and important hotel in all of Havana today, desperate for the attention from its glory days. As you awe-struckingly walk the halls of this hotel, discover the hidden side bar where mafia members would share their secrets as they sipped on mojitos, the iconic Cuban cocktail. As you prepare your taste buds for this heavenly refreshment, the bartender concocts his work of art, making sure any initial pour from a fresh bottle of rum lands on the floor, “for the saints”. Upon being served your glass of goodness, take a stroll out to the front yard and snag a seat at one of the patio tables positioned right in front of the large and intimidating cannons pointed straight at you – the perfect opportunity to overlook the Malecon and watch the vibrant cars and people stroll the streets below you. Upon finishing your adult beverage, make your way a little farther to the exact site of the famous Cuban Missile Crisis tunnels. This specific location, in 1962, is where Cuba’s missiles were pointed directly at the United States. The tunnel door is shut, but the eerie feeling of being in that exact location will leave a mark in your memory.
Ladies put on your dresses, and men put on your slacks, this is one party you definitely don’t want to miss! Tropicana has been sung about in songs and written about countless times. This tasteful cabaret is shockingly impressive and extremely professional. Upon arrival, the men are greeted with a complimentary cigar, while the ladies receive a gorgeous flower. Once seated at your table, the complimentary drinks never stop flowing. Guests are welcomed with a glass of champagne adorned with a raspberry, which is followed by a personal bottle of rum to mix with the cokes provided. You will be seated outside under a canopy of oak trees surrounded with what will soon be over a thousand of your closest friends. The show is lively, entertaining, and will capture your attention for the entire two hours. Depending on your fun factor, after the show ends, you have the choice of leaving or continuing the dance party on stage until the early morning hours.
3. Visit a Paladar
In this country where almost all businesses are owned by the government, it is a rare jewel to dine inside a family’s home that they have converted into a restaurant. Only the rich are able to have the luxury of owning a private business, and believe me, they don’t want to disappoint you. The food is fantastic, the ambiance is incredible, and it is really special, in an unusual way, when you talk to a waitress and really understand the struggle it takes to start your own business in this country.
4. Cruise in an old convertible
It feels like time traveling into the modern day Cuba where cars that flooded our streets in the 1950’s are readily used and overpopulate this country today. At the average government worker’s salary of $18 a month, purchasing a car like this is impossible. Most people driving these beautiful, fun cars around the streets have had them handed down from relatives before the revolution and make one of the highest wages in the country selling drives to tourists. I don’t think you have to be a car fanatic to be awe-struck as you walk out of the airport in Havana to see the most gorgeous and vibrantly colored Buicks, Chryslers, and Chevrolets filling the parking lot. Take a moment to soak this in: thousands of cars in wonderful condition around 70 years old, some older, still running as a daily means of income and transportation. Now, imagine not having access to American parts for your American car. Many owners are left making their own needed parts, or improvising with what they have. I dare you to sneak a peek under the hood at that cobbled together engine. Only then, do you really, truly understand the beauty of these cars.
5. Drive the back streets of Havana where tourists don’t go
Most houses were seized after the revolution and are now owned by the government. Tenants pay around $1 per month to occupy a small space. Windows are broken, paint is badly needed, and wood is rotting; there is no money to fix the problems. The people look worn out and the living conditions look rough. Wifi, TV, and air conditioners are luxuries that hardly anyone can afford. Getting a peek into the lifestyle of a local is an eye-opening experience that you can’t get from reading a travel book.
The luxurious lifestyles and money that American tourists are taking to a country where locals aren’t able to afford that standard of living could soon force change to this place that is so rich in history and culture. I wish that everyone was able to not only enjoy this wonderful country, but also to take back a little piece of history from this extremely educational experience.
We’re so happy to have Kathryn share with you about this wonderful city’s rich culture! Do you need some help planning your next getaway? Visit our travel page to learn how we can help you make some great new memories!