While doing my research on the flight to Cuba, I planned out several walking routes that would, combined, give us a pretty good Havana tour. Then, of course, we arrived, and the heat and humidity made the thought of walking for any length of time sound absolutely awful.
So, on our second day in Havana, we took one of the big double deck buses gaudily proclaiming to offer a hop-on, hop-off Havana tour. We did not hop but instead simply enjoyed sitting down with a breeze at the end of a warm day.
Of course, to get to the bus we had to walk through Havana Vieja‘s Parque Central. This impressive plaza is lined with shady benches, one of which happened to be occupied by this cutie. She is a carbon copy of pretty much every Cuban street dog we saw – small, with short hair and pointy ears. We were very tempted to bring a sister home for Lola, but somehow we managed to control ourselves.
Our bus took us along the Malecón, the seafront boulevard where people congregate to stroll, fish or just chat. The Malecón is an iconic piece of Havana, and often we would amble toward it in order to take a taxi along the coast back to our accommodation rather than taking an interior route.
But back to the bus tour. We headed east toward the neighborhood of Vedado, home to some of Havana’s nicer hotels. The most iconic of these is the Hotel Nacional, which overlooks the water from its prime position on a small bluff. Although Rodolfo and I chose to stay in less elegant lodgings, we did stop by for a drink on the terrace to enjoy the view.
Next up on our Havana tour was the FOCSA building. This funnily shaped building – it’s the one on the left – is the tallest in Cuba (don’t mind the angle of the photo which appears to indicate otherwise), and in 1956, it was a marvel of then-modern engineering. Honestly, I don’t find that particularly interesting, but it’s in the guidebooks, and it was there, so it earned itself a photo.
The United States Interests Section is more interesting than it might sound. It is technically part of the Swiss Embassy, as is the Cuban counterpart in Washington, D.C., since the US officially does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba. Crazy! The building itself is unremarkable except for all these white poles just outside the entrance. These were set up by the Cuban government and hung with black flags to block an electronic billboard on which the US was displaying anti-regime messages. During our trip, they were flagless, but my friend Andi has some great photos of both the black flags and special Cuban flags.
We had heard that the Necropolis was worth a visit, but it never quite made it onto our list of priorities. Driving by was plenty to realize that it is absolutely MASSIVE, with white marble as far as the eye can see.
By this point, we were well into Vedado. Its buildings are beautiful and colorful like those we loved in Havana Vieja, but something about the style is a little more subdued. While I would probably choose to live on Vedado’s tranquil streets, as a tourist I relished the buzz of Havana Vieja.
Our Havana tour bus made it all the way out to the neighborhood of playa, where we caught the beginning of a beautiful Caribbean sunset. Another beautiful end to another magical day exploring Cuba.
But we had one more adventure yet to come before we left Havana. Cuba’s famous rum required some attention, so we headed to the Havana Club rum museum. We learned all about the process, from sugar cane to seriously expensive aged rums. Even if you don’t care about the learning, when you go to Havana tour the museum anyway – there’s a free sample at the end, which is the perfect way to kick off cocktail hour.
Finally, after three wonderful days in Cuba’s capital city, it was time to move on. Next stop: Trinidad.
More in this series:
We’re going to…
Preparing for Cuba
Snapshots from Cuba
La Bodeguita del Medio: following Hemingway in Cuba
The heart of Havana Vieja
Communist Cuba: seeing it for ourselves
Trinidad, a colonial gem
Cuba’s best beaches
Getting adventurous in Cuba
The casa particular: where to stay in Cuba
One day in Viñales