Second week in Cuba – Havana city break
Last week we were still on the beach in Varadero to find, but this week we continued to Havana. This is the capital and perhaps also the most famous city of Cuba. We already saw several beautiful pictures passing by of the old colorful houses and the striking vintage cars. This city was high on our bucket list to visit and now was the time.
To get from Varadero to Havana, we had to take a small road trip of about an hour and a half. The day before we had been to the local bus station (Viazul)to buy a ticket but unfortunately all the buses to Havana were already full. Our friendly taxi driver said that for 80 CUC (about 70 euros) we would be allowed to drive with him the next day. It was obviously much more expensive than the bus, but also cheaper than the normal taxi fare. We agreed.
Moments later, the same taxi driver came back with a new proposal. He would also bring two other people to Havana and together we could share the price by two. Brilliant idea! Only… Both we and the other couple had large suitcases with them and the taxi was small. Too small, it turned out the next day. To make a long story short, we eventually went separately by taxi and paid 70 euros.
Well-known hotel in Havana
During the taxi ride to our hotel in Havana, our taxi driver could not contain his enthusiasm for the hotel. He kept repeating that Hotel Nacional de Cuba is the most upscale hotel in all of Cuba and that it is very expensive. “Cerveza 3 pesos” he said to show how expensive. We did know that this hotel was described as one of the better hotels in Cuba.
But we didn’t know that it was the most striking hotel in the region and that all the locals knew it too. Apparently the Godfather is also recorded here and numerous famous heads of state, actors and artists such as Johnny Depp, Putin, Churchill and Walt Disney have already stayed here. So our expectations were quite high.
Old but beautiful
Arriving at the hotel our first impression was generally positive. The entrance hall was large and beautifully decorated. The materials were old, though, but it had a lot of charm. The staff was also well matched. As in Varadero, the check-in was manual. We have to sign all kinds of documents and if we wanted to be in the room we had to pay for it. We didn’t.
After an hour we tried it again at another desk worker and he eagerly gave us the room keys. A tip: Usually you can get to the room faster than the normal check-in hours. You just have to keep trying and especially not pay to get to your room early! Unless you want to, of course.
The more we saw of the hotel, the nicer we liked it. There were even peacocks in the hotel’s giant garden! Unfortunately, the atmosphere changed the days after. Hotel staff were curt, except if you had to pay anything. The only interaction we got with hotel staff was when ordering food or drinks. Other than that, we felt like we were being ignored. There was a strange atmosphere.
We thought that maybe it would be because some tourists don’t want contact at all and that they thought that of us too. Or the fact that Cubans used to be not allowed to speak to tourists. Hopefully this did not give a picture to the whole people of Havana.
First impression Havana
From the hotel there are several taxi options to go to the city. You can take some kind of moped, a modern car or a classic car. We chose the first option as this is the cheapest way and we found this quite adventurous. A tip: Never pay more than 10 CUC for a ride. And that’s quite a lot!
Once in the city, the heat completely overwhelmed us. We were not even 10 minutes walking or we were already craving cold drinking and shade. The first best bar gave us the refreshment we were looking for. Here we had the impression for the first time that the operators were trying to charge us too much, but we didn’t really dare to say anything about it at the time. Apparently, they don’t give a bill and pay you more than the original price afterwards.
A menu doesn’t have many restaurants or bars either. After the refreshment and a little more than an hour later in the city we didn’t feel like defying the heat anymore. We decided to go back to the hotel to seek pool cool. Our first impression of Havana was not really positive, but that must be because of the fatigue and the warmth… We thought then.
In good spirits, we went back into the city days later. Each time we were surprised by the heat. Nowhere else in the world has we had such a problem. “Swedes” we are not real but here the sweat ran off our bodies. What about the locals? They didn’t seem to be bothered. Not a drop of sweat on their foreheads to confess. It’s like they’ve become immune to these kinds of heat waves. At least we don’t. And refreshment wasn’t immediately close either.
Nevertheless, we wanted to see more of this city and we continued to look for the most beautiful places. The beautiful, old buildings and colourful houses are fascinating. Some houses are completely dilapidated and are no longer being rebuilt. Time has stood still and that’s what makes Havana so special. You can really get lost here in the warren of alleys.
Although the streets are beautiful, Havana could not conquer our hearts. The city has so much to offer, but something is missing. Or a lot. We found it difficult that sellers of shops and taxi drivers always know how to find and appeal to you, even if you are not interested and make it clear to you. Several times we looked for a spot of shade to catch your breath, but you will not be left alone.
That’s very unfortunate. We felt uncomfortable here and constantly targeted. Those beautiful pictures we saw of Havana were almost impossible to make. There were people everywhere or there were road works going on. Also local shops for some booze and refreshments were not to be found. And the prices were sky-high everywhere. In reality, it wasn’t really a dream destination like we thought beforehand.
Tour with the vintage car through Havana
Of course, you’re in Cuba to ride a vintage car. You can’t get around it. Here are so many taxi drivers offering these rides. We had booked a tour online at GetYourGuide to explore the city with a vintage car. It already started “well” in finding the right address. After half an hour of searching we were finally in the right place. The organizer immediately said we were late. Surprised, we looked at each other. Too late? Why? Our appointment was, in our opinion, at five o’clock and it was quarter to five. According to the organizer, the tour started at quarter past four and we were already half an hour late. Another strange situation. The organizer remained friendly and said it wasn’t a big deal. The driver was on hand.
Nature in nature
We were given a beautiful red convertible vintage car as a means of transport and were delighted. Also the driver was very friendly and even made a few jokes. After five minutes of driving, the driver stopped by the side of the road and took some pictures of us. It wasn’t really a special place for photos so this situation once again felt strange. Two minutes of waiting by the side of the road there were finally seven when suddenly our guide got in the car and we left back for the further tour.
We drove past the wealthy neighborhood of Havana, which in itself is not so much, through to the forest of Havana. We didn’t know Havana had a forest or forest, so that was definitely a nice surprise. The forest was a beautiful place with special trees, planting and a small river. The guide also gave time to take a few photos by car, but again this was not really a photogenic place. Maybe we are too demanding in that, but we often have a picture beforehand how we want to take certain pictures and now this was completely disappointing.
Mojito as consolation
After this visit we drove along the water to our hotel. We knew the end of the tour would be at our hotel. This is also a huge draw for tourists. Only it was now an hour later than we had left. And the original tour would take two hours. So we had lost half of our tour by coming “too late”, although we were sure we were on time.
A little disappointed from our tour, we arrived at our hotel for a “Mafia Mojito”. Luckily, this was the best mojito we’d ever had. A tip: Talk to a taxi driver yourself to do a round and stop in nice places for some nice photos. You’ll probably pay less and have more fun. Such a ride with the vintage car is definitely a must do and a unique experience. It’s part of a visit to Havana. But organized tours are not such a good idea.
General impression Havana
We understand that tourism in Havana is not yet at full speed, and that the people who live here just want to make their money. But the way is very wrong for us. We’ve often felt like we were scammed just because we’re tourists. Fixed prices for food, drinks, taxi rides and the like they don’t have here. You have to negotiate all the time and pay very close attention and that makes travelling here exhausting. Even if you only pay 6 CUC for a taxi ride, next time you have to renegotiate the price and you might suddenly pay 8 CUC when you know that 6 CUC can also be done and they earn enough. Cuba and especially Havana has a lot to offer, but their mindset needs to change slightly first. In any case, we will not be travelling there again any time soon.
What about you?
Is Havana high on your bucket list, too? We know that this is the case with many people and hope that it can conquer your heart. Have you been there yet? What’s your impression of this town? We would like to hear your opinion in our comments or on Facebook.
This week we travel to a new dream destination. Think palm trees, luxurious hotels, pearly white beaches and swimming with sharks or pigs… We’re going to the Bahamas! You’ll read all about it next week. Until then!