Second week in Cuba – Havana city trip
Second week in Cuba
Last week we were still on the beach in Varadero , but this week we went to Havana. This is the capital and perhaps the most famous city of Cuba. We already saw several beautiful photos of the old colorful houses and the famous old-timers. This city was high on our bucket list to visit and now the moment was there.
To get from Varadero to Havana, we had to make a small road trip of about an hour and a half. The day before we had gone to the local bus station ( Viazul ) to buy a ticket, but unfortunately all buses to Havana were already full. Our friendly taxi driver said that we could ride with him the next day for 80 CUC (about 70 euros). It was of course much more expensive than the bus, but also cheaper than the normal taxi price. We agreed.
Moments later, the same taxi driver returned with a new proposal. He would also bring two other people to Havana and together we could divide the price by two. Brilliant idea! Only… We and the other couple had big suitcases with us and the taxi was small. Too small, it turned out the next day. To make a long story short, we ended up going separately by taxi and paid 70 euros.
Well-known hotel in
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 fancy hotel in all of Cuba and that it is very expensive. “Cerveza 3 pesos” he said to show how expensive. We indeed knew that this hotel was described as one of the better hotels in Cuba.
But we didn’t know that it was the most notable hotel in the region and that all the locals knew it too. Apparently the Godfather was also filmed here and numerous well-known politicians, 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
When we arrived at the hotel our first impression was generally positive. The entrance hall was large and beautifully decorated. The materials were old, sure, but it had a lot of charm. The staff was also well coordinated. Check-in was done manually, just like in Varadero. We have to sign all kinds of documents and if we already wanted to go to the room we had to pay extra. We kindly refused.
After an hour we tried again with another receptionist and she eagerly gave us the room keys. A tip: Usually you can get to the room faster than the normal check-in hour. You just have to keep trying and especially don’t pay to get to your room earlier! Unless you want to of course.
The more we saw of the hotel, the more beautiful it became. There were even peacocks in the hotel’s gigantic garden! Unfortunately, the atmosphere changed the following days. Hotel employees were unfriendly unless you had to pay something. The only interaction we got with hotel employees was when ordering food or drinks. Besides these moments, we had the feeling of being ignored. There was a strange atmosphere.
We thought it might be due to the fact that some tourists don’t want any contact at all and that they thought the same about us. Or the fact that Cubans were not allowed to speak to tourists in the past. Hopefully this didn’t give the whole population of Havana a picture.
First impression Havana
From the hotel there are several taxi options to get to the city. You can take a kind of moped, a modern car or a classic car. We chose the first option as this is the cheapest way and we also found it 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 had been walking for less than 10 minutes when we were already craving cold drinks and shade. The first bar gave us the refreshment we were looking for. Here we had the first impression that the owners were charging us too much, but we didn’t really dare say anything about it at the time. Apparently it is often the case that they don’t give you an invoice and you pay more than the original price afterwards.
Many restaurants or bars do not have a menu either. After refreshment and an hour later in the city we didn’t feel like braving the heat anymore. We decided to go back to the hotel to cool down at the pool. So our first impression of Havana was not really positive, but that must be due to the fatigue and the heat… We thought at the time.
Full of good courage we went back into the city days later. Each time we were surprised by the heat. Nowhere else in the world have we had such a problem. We usually don’t really sweat that much, but in Cuba it was sweating on a whole other level! And the locals? They didn’t seem bothered by it. Not a drop of sweat on their foreheads. As if they have become immune to this kind of heatwave. We certainly don’t. And refreshment was not immediately near.
Still, we wanted to see more of this city and we continued looking for the most beautiful places. The beautiful old buildings and colorful houses are fascinating. Some houses are completely dilapidated and are no longer being rebuilt. Time has stood still and that is what makes Havana so special. You can really get lost here in the maze of alleys.
Although the streets are beautiful, Havana could not win 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 approach you, even if you are not interested and you clearly show it. Several times we looked for a spot of shade to catch our breath, but they don’t leave you alone.
That is unfortunate. We did not feel at ease here and were constantly targeted. Those beautiful pictures we saw of Havana were almost impossible to take. Everywhere people were walking or there were road works going on. There were also no local shops for some drinks and snacks. And the prices were sky high everywhere. In reality it was not really such a dream destination for us than we thought beforehand.
Tour with the old-timer through Havana
You are of course in Cuba to also drive a vintage car. You can not avoid it. Here are so many taxi drivers offering these rides. We had booked a tour online with GetYourGuide to explore the city with a vintage car. It all started “good” with finding the right address. After half an hour of searching we were finally in the right place. The organizer immediately said we were late. We looked at each other in amazement. Too late? How so? Our appointment was, we believe, at five o’clock and it was a quarter to five. According to the organizer the tour started at a quarter past four and we were already half an hour late. Another strange situation. The organizer remained friendly and said it was okay. The driver was ready.
We were given a beautiful red convertible oldtimer as a means of transport and we were delighted . The driver was also very friendly and even made a few jokes. After a five minute drive, the driver stopped by the side of the road and took some pictures of us. It wasn’t really a special place for pictures so this situation felt strange again. Two minutes of waiting by the side of the road eventually turned into seven when suddenly our guide got into the car and we left for the further tour.
We drove past the wealthy neighborhood of Havana, which isn’t super special, to the forest of Havana. We didn’t know Havana had a wood or forest, so that was definitely a nice surprise. The forest was a beautiful place with special trees, plants and a small river. The guide also gave time to take a few pictures with the car, but this was not really a photogenic place either. Maybe we are too demanding in that, but we often have an idea in advance of how we want to take certain photos and this was completely disappointing.
Mojito as comfort
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 attraction for tourists. Only now it was an hour later than we had left. And the original tour was supposed to last two hours. So we had lost half of our tour by being “late” even though 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’ve ever had. A tip: Talk to a taxi driver yourself to do a round trip and stop at beautiful places for some nice photos. You may pay less and have more fun. Such a ride with the oldtimer is definitely a must do and a unique experience. It is part of a visit to Havana. But organized tours are not a good idea.
General impression Havana
We understand that tourism in Havana is not yet fully operational, and that the people who live here simply want to earn their money. But the way is very wrong if you ask us. We have often felt that we were being ripped off just because we are tourists. They don’t have fixed prices for food, drinks and taxi rides. You have to constantly negotiate and pay close attention and that makes traveling tiring. Even if you once only paid 6 CUC for a taxi ride, the next time you have to renegotiate the price and you might suddenly pay 8 CUC while you know that it is also possible for 6 CUC. Cuba and especially Havana has a lot to offer, but their mindset needs to change slightly. We certainly won’t be traveling there again anytime soon.
This week we travel to a new dream destination. Think of palm trees, luxurious hotels, pearly white beaches and swimming with sharks or pigs… We are going to the Bahamas ! You will read all about it next week. See you then!