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mistybleu Havana - A travel report by Amanda
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Havana,  Cuba - flag Cuba -  Ciudad de La Habana
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mistybleu's travel reports

A burst of energy in Havana

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Havana is eclectic; a mixture of old and new, colonial and modern, vintage and nonclassic, beach and city, Spanish and Caribbean - all mixed up into a melting pot which is Cuba.

Back in time
Back in time
Like most people I wanted to experience Cuba before it changed too much and I think I achieved that; actually I think I may have been there at the turning point. As on the 25th November Fidel Castro passed away and even though he was no longer the president, he still had a voice through his brother Raul who leads the country. Cuba is now on the cusp of change.

• I found the city quite safe. Not sure if it was because all the locals kept on telling me that, but I felt comfortable being out late.

• As a tourist hiring a taxi is probably the norm; traveling between Vedado in new Havana and La Habana Vieja - old Havana costs around CUC$15; with the US dollar pegged at 1:1 the costs can really mount up. However like most of the English Caribbean, public transport is mainly based on route taxis or mini vans (buses) which is the cheapest way to get around. However the trick is to understand the route in which they run.

• A good level of Spanish is recommended to travel around however I had a lot of experiences where the locals spoke English far better than my Spanish which allowed me to communicate and get things done, especially in the tourist areas.

• My major bug bear was not having wifi or internet access, the locals complain just as much at the tourists. So instead of visiting an internet café I had to go to a hotel, I found Hotel Inglaterra fairly cheap at CUC$2 per hour.

• The most confusing thing about cash in Cuba is that they have two currencies in circulation, CUC (Cuban peso convertible) and CUP (Cuban peso). The CUC is generally used by tourists and for imported goods, government employees and local foods are sold in CUP. It is mucho confusing, I had to make sure that my change was always in CUC after paying for something.

• I was told to make sure I changed money at the airport. But I was also able to change money in Terminal Sierra Maestra;but what was a shocker though, was that they charged 12.5% to exchange US dollars.

Favourite spots:
El Capitolio
El Capitolio
Parque Central is cool, not for the park itself, but because I accessed to so many difference things.

El Capitolio is a copy of the Capitol building in America. When I visited it was being renovated, but it was still special to see.

Hotel Inglaterra, the site of my first impromptu sounds of Havana, when the band started to play, people just started dancing; I enjoyed the excitement it was riveting. Plus cheap access to the internet.

From here I picked up a vintage car ride in an open top 1950s American vehicle. I just chose the one I liked for an hour city tour from around CUC$24-40.

The Bacardi building is also near, as well as the cigar factory where you can pick up your Cohiba’s for your close friends or the Montecristo for not so close friends. This was my intro to Cuban cigars – a real eye opener.

I also got the bus to Santa Maria a beach district about 40 minutes outside of Havana.

Either way, I met so many cool locals to strike up a conversation.

What's really great:
The beaches
The beaches
I would like to visit Havana in ten years to see how it has changed. As of now I so enjoyed walking around and talking to the people. I had so many very interesting taxi ride chatting about the political situation, the good and bad things about Cuba.

Most people really see this time as a turning point and would welcome some foreign investment to help modernize the country.

I’m not into cars too much, but going to Cuba I was taken aback with the care that they have placed on maintaining their American vehicles. Some drivers boasts of having the original engines which meant nothing me but I could really understand the passion.

I also loved the beaches. I didn’t go to the resorts which is about 2 hour drive outside of Havana, but the beach I ended up at was great. No real facilitates but lovely golden sand and blue sea. Perfect.

Casa Lilia
Casa Lilia
When travelling usually I stay in a hotel, but you really don’t get to experience the heart of the people. So for Cuba I would recommend anyone to try the casa particulars (private houses), but choose wisely. Initially I wanted to stay in old Havana, but I just liked the pictures and feel of Casa Lilian which I chose.

Vedado is about 9km from La Habana Vieja - old Havana, but it was really worth it. Located on Calle 23 between 2 y 4, it was really close to Revolution square and a short ride from the Malecon.

The house is a colonial styled building occupying the upper two floors. The flat roof was perfect for just chilling and offered interesting view of the area. It does have a sea view from up there but realistically it isn’t that close.

The rooms are basic but had en-suite and air-con; it had really high ceilings with a certain charm. I could only imagine how it looked in its heyday.

Hotel Inglaterra
Hotel Inglaterra
The origins of salsa is traced to Latin America and some of the best clubs can be found in Havana. After taking salsa lesson for over three years, I was desperate to try it out in a club.

I can’t seem to remember the name of the venue but it was really cool. I was going to the cigar factory and some locals showed me to a club. The vibes was great with a dj punctuated with a live band. But it’s funny as all over the city you can find a band playing and people dancing. That was the great thing of being in La Habana.

Cafe Lamparilla
Cafe Lamparilla
My favourite eatery was a place called Dime which was located just across the road from my casa. They sold their food in CUP so it was far cheaper than any other place I ate in in Havana. I even met some German tourists who was eating there for the same reason. It was basic food, black beans and rice, chicken, sweet potato and salad for under £2 but really tasty.

Another economical place to eat was Café Lamparilla just off San Francisco de Asis Square. I got a main with two sides, desert and a cup of coffee for CUC$7 (chicken) and CUC$9 (prawns). The atmosphere was really nice; I dined alfresco and it was just a pleasant evening. I visited when the country was in mourning so initially it was quite quiet but, eventually loads of people turned up and I had a really nice evening.

Other recommendations:
A rainy day in Dunn's River Falls
A rainy day in Dunn's River Falls
It only takes an hour to fly between Cuba and Jamaica, yet there is a vast difference in culture.

Flights go into Montego Bay can be convenient; I had a choice of an hour and 30 minutes to either Negril or Ocho Rios for Dunn’s River Falls. I chose to go to the falls for US$20 entrance fee, plus extra for a locker (US$7 refundable) beach shoes (US$10). The beach is cool and its worth enjoying as once you go back up you never tend to come back down after climbing the falls.

It isn’t too difficult to climb and I’m sure there is a guy who gets up early morning and scraps of all the moss from the rocks.

Published on Sunday December 18th, 2016

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