Rather then just copying my travel journal word for word or doing a post per day, I will write 3 posts in total over the next week using my travel journal as notes; 1 for Havana, 1 for Trinidad, and a last post back in Havana including a wrap up.
[2/7] We walked up to the gate in Panama City, Panama and I asked the gate agent for 2 Tourist Cards for Cuba. “Of course. $20 each.” Wow… that was easy… and cheap. The little information I was able to find about getting tourist visa’s for Cuba online has been confirmed to be true.
We landed in Havana about 10am. We had mostly Canadian dollars with us and some US dollars. The exchanges were closed (out of money?), so we were a bit stuck. A couple of Americans about to leave had some extra Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) they needed to get rid of. We agreed on a 1:1 exchange. Shortly after, the exchanges re opened and we exchanged some Canadian dollars to CUC’s as well.
Our first apartment was a second floor apartment shared with Damian, his girlfriend, and his mother. They had the back room, we had the middle suite with bathroom, they had the kitchen, we all shared the living room and balcony. The location was perfect; 2 blocks from the Malecon (waterfront) and 3-4 blocks from Old Havana. After checking in, we proceeded to spend the rest of the day and evening walking to and through Old Havana, then along the Malecon to the National Hotel for drinks.
Old Havana is stunning. Narrow cobblestone streets in the center, old abandoned buildings about to collapse next to brand new renovations, high end boutiques next to run down apartments. But it is so charming. We just wandered up and down different streets for hours; in and out of museums, stores, galleries, from plaza to plaza. We checked out Plaza De Armes which was surrounded by antique book sellers and flanked by a fort. We loved Plaza Viaje with all the school kids using it as a playground surrounded by museums, restaurants, and cafes.
We walked up the Prada from Parque Central leading to the Malecon and headed west along the water watching people sitting on the wall fishing. At times, the waves would hit the wall causing onlookers to get splashed. Thankfully, we were on the other side of the street in the shade. 🙂
We ended up at the Hotel Nacional; modeled after the Breakers in West Palm Beach. The garden of the hotel is on a bluff overlooking the Malecon and the water. We stopped at the garden bar for a Mojito and a Cuba Libre (rum & coke) with 7 year rum. So so so smooth.
After cocktails and then dinner a few blocks behind the hotel, we found Coppelia ice cream. The UFO looking building takes up most of a block within a park. There appeared to be two lines; locals and foreigners. Of course we picked the local line (duh!). For 20 cents we got a bowl of 5 scoops of vanilla and pineapple ice cream drizzled with pineapple juice and sprinkled with nuts. We got two. What a great dessert and ending to our first day.
[2/8] Having walked 10 miles the first day, we decided on a hop-on hop-off bus tour today. For the money, $10 per person for an all day ticket, it was worth it. The bus took us through residential neighborhoods as well as to key historical sites including Revolutionary Square. The other reason for us taking the bus was we could walk from Revolutionary Square to the Viazul bus office to get our tickets to Trinidad.
Always remember, when traveling, plans will change. Tickets to Trinidad for the next day were sold out. We had put that trip off a day, but decided to return as planned thus cutting our time in Trinidad short a day, but also lengthening our time in Havana by a day.
We finished our second day off walking more around Old Havana, dinner, meeting new friends, going to a cafe together and listening to a lovely man and woman on guitar singing old Spanish ballads. In the end, we still managed to walk 10 1/2 miles. 🙂
[2/9] After breakfast this morning, we (finally) bought tickets to tour a Cigar Factory in Havana. As is usual for us, we walked to the Factory, about a 45 minute walk through interesting residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of Central Havana. We stopped in China Town (yes… they have a China Town in Havana) to book another place to stay for the night since we couldn’t get to Trinidad today and needed to check out of Damian’s place. The 35-40 minute tour of the factory was very interesting. Definitely worth the $10. I had no idea how cigars were made. Our guide was very informative; she was also very loud, funny, forward, and pushy. She was a great guide. At the end of the tour she whispered to a few of us to “stay here. I have a secret to show you”. Then she said loudly to all, “that’s it! Tour is over! You may go now!!” After all the others had left, she took us into the coat closet and locked the door. (uh – oh!) She opened her purse and pulled out bags of cigars. “5 small for $40 or 1 big for $10. We get cigars every week for bonus.” Once she came around to us, the price had dropped to $30 for 5. We bought 5. 🙂
We finished off today with a 2 1/2 hour free walking tour of Havana. There was us, a guy from Poland, a guy from Turkey and his girlfriend from Austria. The guide had only been in business for 3 months. He was great. Most of the tour was him talking about the history of Cuba, history of Havana, politics, socio-economics, current trends, oh and of course a few stops at landmarks or cool local shops. We highly recommend his free walking tour. After dinner, we headed to our new apartment for a good nights sleep before our 7am bus to Trinidad.