No matter what you’ve read in the news or seen in documentaries, nothing can prepare you for Havana, Cuba. Get ready to take in incredible sites, experience a colourful 1950s-fuelled culture and disconnect from the rest of the world. Cecilia Yee reports.
1 Get lost in Habana Vieja
UNESCO World Heritage Site Habana Vieja, the atmospheric old town, is the most visited spot in the city. Walk through its streets and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a time warp – the country was largely cut off from the outside world from 1959 (after the Cuban Revolution) to 2014, when former US President Barack Obama reopened international relations. In any given alley, you’ll find old ladies people-watching from crumbing Spanish-colonial balconies, kids playing soccer, dogs barking and bands playing.
2 Drink Hemingway-approved Mojitos
Cubans take their rum seriously, and you’ll be offered a Mojito or Cuba Libre (Rum and Coke) just about everywhere you go. Why not follow in Ernest Hemingway’s footsteps, and check out two of his favourite bars – La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio.
3 Visit Habana Catedral
Dominated by two asymmetrical towers and framed by an ornate coral facade, Habana Catedral is a fine example of Baroque architecture. In the grandiose, light-filled interior, you’ll spot many paintings and frescoes you recognise – copies of original works found in cathedrals and museums worldwided.
4 Dance salsa on the street
You won’t have to look far for free entertainment during your stay in Havana – simply follow the music until you reach a crowd of locals showing off their dancing skills. Find a partner and dance to the lively reggaeton (Latin- Caribbean music). Afraid you have two left feet? Just let the rhythm lead you.
5 Stay at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba
No trip to Havana is complete without a nostalgic stay at Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Opened in 1930, when the country was a prime travel destination for the world’s elite, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando and even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were among its early clientele. While the hotel no longer carries the clout it once did, its Art Deco interior still oozes old-world glamour.
6 Flag down a vintage taxi
Havana is awash with colourful, classic cars, which the locals use to ferry tourists from point to point. This makes for a fabulous taxi ride but be sure to buckle up – these vehicles are 1950s-vintage and Cubans drive fast.
7 Stroll along the Malecon
Stretching 8 kilometres along the coast from the mouth of Havana Harbour, the Malecón is the city’s most soulful boulevard, where the locals come to meet, greet, date and debate. Visit in the early evening, when the sunset casts an orange glow over the bay, before spilling over the sea wall and illuminating all the action.
8 Play chess with the locals
As you stroll through Habana Vieja, vendors try to sell you pre-1960s books, musicians serenade you, kids play and Latino music blares. On every street corner, you’ll find groups of men playing chess or dominos – get chatting and they’re more than likely to invite you to a game.
9 Brush up on your Cuban history
Visit the Museo de la Revolución for exhibits devoted to the Cuban Revolution that saw the advent of communist rule. Formerly the Presidential Palace, the museum provides a good introduction to Cuban history, past and present. The Granma Memorial, close by, houses the yacht that transported 82 revolutionaries (including the Castro brothers and Che Guevara) from Mexico to Cuba in November 1956.
10 Party the night away
Cubans love to party, and Havana’s bars, tango houses and nightclubs stay open into the early hours. Vedado, in the Central Business District, has every kind of dance venue you could dream of, and you’re guaranteed a good time, whether you are into salsa and Latino, R&B, hip-hop or rock.
Flight Centre Hong Kong specialises in tailor-made travel experiences, the widest choice of airfares and unique products, and 24-hour emergency assistance. To book your getaway, call 2830 2776, visit www.flightcentre.com. hk, or drop by the retail stores in Central, Happy Valley or Wanchai. For a local consultation, call Flight Centre’s DB-based rep Natalie Flyazhenkova on 2829 2006.Tags: travel, havana, things to do, escapes, vacation