Havana was by far the highlight of the trip for us and this wonderful place blew our minds away with its atmosphere and beauty.
I had read a number of guide books and had been pretty much glued to trip advisor daily since booking the trip so we had some background knowledge and wanted to find the middle ground of still being tourists and seeing and doing the whole touristy things but also get to see a bit of the real Cuba.
Before we went we booked a tour guide through Jorge for 2 days of our stay, by doing this we hoped to get to see a bit of real Cuba but also to cut out the wasted time of us looking round endlessly for the must see places.
We stayed in Parque central Hotel which i found to be the perfect base in a perfect location. As soon as we got there we had a brief look around outside the hotel and yes there were a few people pestering for taxi's tour guides etc but we found a firm 'No Thank you' worked and we were left alone.
Our 1st day at 10am we met our tour guide who was a lovely young lady supplied by Jorge. She arrived on time and spent 5-10 minutes just discussing with us what we wanted to see and how we wanted to arrange the tour, it was really tailored to us and we got to see so much from the museums, cathedral, historic buildings etc to little back street bars and cobbled plaza's that were just great. We were shown a few good places to shop, eat and drink and made a mental note to come back and visit these places when we were exploring the city alone. One place we did go which i loved was inside a building that had like a huge observatory and telescope type thing, I’ve never seen anything like it before but we basically got to view Cuba on a dome type thing at real time so we could see what was going on at that time and it could zoom in and out, i found this fascinating! After the very hot and tired tour we had an hour or 2 in our hotel pool before our evening out. We visited a few bars for some cocktails - my husband who only normally drinks beer is now addicted to mojitos! We ate and spent the evening in Cafe Taberna where the food was not so great but we loved the entertainment which seemed to consist of a large house type band & singers and dancers ranging from teenagers to people that looked to be in their 80s but it was great fun and thourghly enjoyable. We did get a bit lost walking back to the hotel in the dark and although the streets were badly lit with poor pathways there were plenty of children, locals and dogs out in the streets and it just felt a generally safe place to be.
Day 2 we met our tour guide again and this time had a driving trip in Havana in an old American Convertible Chevy, after the previous days walking i was glad to be able to chill out in a car today! On this trip we had asked to see some of the tourist sites like the cemetery & revolution Square but we also wanted to see some real Havana life and wanted to get some pictures of back street places with the crumbling buildings & Cuban life carrying on as normal - We got just this and the car trip was the best day for me. Our favourite area ending up being Cerro? district where we got some cracking photos of in particular one long street with nothing but the old cars coming down, Cubans sat out in the street smoking cigars and listening to music and the background of the delightful buildings in the pastel colours. I can also recommend Copellia ice cream which we sat and ate in a lovely little park, it was delicious and the locals couldnt seem to get enough of it either - they were queuing up, eating their ice cream and then going into the theatre.
The other 2 days of our time in Havana were spent exploring ourselves, revisiting some of the places the tour guide had taken us to, little bit of shopping for some souvenirs, and chilling at the pool after a hot day of exploring. One day for 2 hours we just sat at the side of the road watching the world go by and taking photos, we took hundreds of photos sat there of the life just passing us by, the cars, the buildings, the people... no one approached us or hassled us , at one point my husband went to find a toilet and i was left there with a few thousand pounds worth of camera round my neck but still felt safe to be a woman on my own in this city. The photos we took that day some of which were in black and white will be framed and up in our house forever as wonderful memories.
On the other hand another couple we spoke to at the hotel had ventured outside once and were hassled that much they went back in and spent 3 days by the pool - what a waste!
The only disappointment was Club Tropicana which is over hyped and overpriced but if i hadn’t have gone i would have regretted going all that way and not going so at least i can say I’ve been there and done it but won’t be going again and in fact the return taxi from Club Tropicana gave us a chance to see Havana late at night/ early morning which was still in in full swing and the sea walls were crammed with hundreds of people enjoying themselves which was such a wonderful site to see.
All the time we were in Havana i never had the chance to pick our guide books up but when i returned and reread them i realised we had ticked every must do and must see thing listed as tourists so was thrilled that we had made the most of our time there.
We are very much a couple that feel we would never visit a place twice because there is so many other places out there in the world to see but Havana was the city that changed our opinion of that. We scratched only the surface of this vibrant city and cannot wait to return some day to see and explore the rest. By far this is the best place we have ever been but interestingly other people we met on holiday could not stand Havana and thought it was a let-down. One couple we spoke to said it was a terrible place with all old cars and buildings but to us this was the charm of going to Havana to see all these old cars and buildings!
One day we will return ...