After a two and half hour flight from Panama City, we arrived in Havana, Cuba. Cuba has forever been on my travel list and since it remained relatively closed off and preserved in a time warp, I always imagined it to be the ultimate looking glass into the the colonial past. We were told that immigration can take hours so we booked the VIP arrival services where they meet you before you go thru immigration, take you to the head of the queue for security and immigration. Then escort you to a lounge where you have a drink while they pick up your bags and clear customs and bring you outside to the office in the arrivals area to meet your guide or driver. Easy and painless for about US$25. Although truth be told, it didn’t seem that busy when we arrived. For our few days in Havana, we stayed at Hotel Saratoga in the central part of town. It is supposedly the best you can find in Cuba right now, but really nothing to write home about. We did see a new hotel down the road that was scheduled to open in March but nobody seemed to know when the actual opening date would be.
El Capitolio on the left, just down the block from Hotel Saratoga
Great Theatre of Havana
Museum of the Revolution in the background
Graffitis of Che Guevara can be seen everywhere in town.
Buzon means mailbox in Spanish so I think you can deposit letters addressed here into the open mouth on the right :)
The 16th century Plaza Vieja was where Havana’s wealthiest citizens lived and from their balconies witnessed festivals, processions, and even executions.
One of the many cafes at Plaza Vieja
Yellow Coco Taxis
View of El Capitolio or National Capitol Building from my Coco Taxi. This was the seat of the government after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and very much resembles the United States Capitol in Washington D.C.
Driving along the Malecon
Ride in a vintage Ford convertible. The green building ahead is the Hotel Saratoga where we stayed.
Posing in a vintage convertible in front of the Jose Marti Memorial at Plaza de la Revolucion where Fidel Castro delivered speeches to his people on many important occasions.
Ministry of Interior with a steel memorial of Che Guevara on its facade at Plaza de la Revolucion.
Heading towards the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba
Doesn’t this look like a scene out of an old movie?
Enjoying my vintage convertible ride thru town.
Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana at Plaza de la Catedral. Notice how the cathedral is framed by two unequal towers where the right bell tower is wider than the left and the baroque facade is contrasted with the neoclassical interior. Legend has it that the cathedral once housed the remains of Christopher Columbus before being moved back to Spain.
Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asis dominating the south side of Plaza San Francisco de Asis known for its uneven cobblestones.
Customs House for the port of Havana
Catedral de Santa Clara de Asis
Our Lady of Kazan Orthodox Cathedral
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales at Plaza de Armas
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales which was previously the official residence of the Spanish governors, now it is home to Museo de la Ciudad with exhibits of Havana’s history.
La Bodeguita del Medio, Heminway’s favorite bar for mojitos.
Waiting for our mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio
Entrance to La Guarida, one of the many paladars in town. A paladar is a private kitchen opened in someone’s home and has a limited number of seats.
La Guarida is located on the 3rd floor of a crumbling old building in central Havana.
La Guarida – nice ambience but food and drinks were really very average.
San Cristobal paladar, one of the restaurants Obama ate at during his visit.
El Morro Fortress guards the entrance to Havana bay. It was built between 1590-1630 with a chain linking it with La Punta Castle, so that in the event of an attack, the chain can be tightened to prevent enemy ships from entering the bay.
Havana is the birthplace of premium cigars and there are many cigar factories of all sizes in the city. We learned that, unlike in other cigar making countries, the cigar makers here in Havana make the entire cigar themselves. Most cigar factories in Nicaragua or Dominican Republic split the cigar making process between roller and buncher.
La Corona cigar factory
La Terraza is one of Hemingway’s favorite watering holes in Cojimar. Cojimar was the background of one of Hemingway’s most famous works, The Old Man and the Sea. The “old man” in the title is reputedly his guide Gregorio Fuentes, a Cojimar local, pictured above.
Cojimar where Hemingway frequently brought his boat to sail.
In terms of entertainment, we were brought to the Tropicana Cabaret which opened in 1939 in the gardens of the former residence of the U.S. ambassador. There are daily evening shows here under the stars of Havana’s night sky. Some people love and some people hate this Vegas style performance of showgirls, dancers, singers, acrobats, and contortionists etc. For me the 2-hour show was a bit long. Things seem to become repetitive after about 30 minutes and the dancers started to slowly become out of sync. This is definitely a tourist joint and I doubt anyone will come more than once. Having said that, the venue is impressive and one can only imagine what it was like back in the day when Nat King Cole and Benny More came to perform.
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