You should visit Havana (Cuba) city – a sunny paradise.
Going back in my mind to my trip to Cuba now after two years I can’t stop admiring the vivid pictures and emotional memories that remained after the trip.
That is how it met us.
Cuba is a “holiday that is always with you”. There is no better way to say it. Although I have to say at once, we had only a sting of the evening and the next day to get to know Havana, so I can only talk about what was in plain sight, there was no time to dig deep into it and analyze it.
I hope to have another opportunity to immerse myself in the joyful atmosphere of Liberty Island someday.
Leaving Moscow in the morning, taking into account the change of time zones and the afternoon at the hotel, we decided that we can not waste the evening in vain, and in accordance with the sightseeing plan must take a walk on the Malecon – in Spanish speaking, the promenade.
In fact, we got out of the cab on La Rampa Avenue. The cab driver claimed it was like Moscow’s Arbat, one of the city’s main attractions. To be honest, we did not feel it, there was nothing to photograph. Maybe we have not “tasted” it from the road, from fatigue? But no. Once again the next day in this area, still not imbued with the solemnity of the street.
Another thing – the Malecon, where this very La Rampa rests. Spacious, majestic, winds for about 7 km along Old Havana, Vedado and Marimar.
On the parapet – couples in love, on the sidewalk until dark, small Cubans play “tag”. And did you recognize? – in “classics,” drawn not with chalk but with some kind of graphite. Greetings from the USSR! I have not seen such a thing here for a long time.
The embankment, to protect the city from the waves of the Atlantic Ocean raging from time to time, was built for 50 years, from the beginning of the XIX century to 1857! We admired the sunset over the ocean.
We headed in the direction of the lighthouse of Fort Castillo del Moro, one of the symbols of Havana. It got dark quickly.
The next day we, already accompanied by a Russian-speaking guide, returned to the Old Town, having visited several places of interest before walking around the Malecon.
1. Plaza de la Revolucion. A place of immense proportions. Empty, without people or cars. A single double decker tourist bus is creeping by. There are rallies and demonstrations on the square, Fidel set a record here for the duration of an address to the people – 7 hours, if not more. The tall tower (109 meters), built in 1958, is a memorial to José Martí, the poet and fighter for the country’s independence. I wish I had time to take the elevator up to the observation deck. On the ends of the houses facing the square are portraits of revolutionary leaders – Che Guevara and Camillo Cienfuegos.
2. The store of a cigar factory. Here we were invited to a tasting of the very same cigars and rum. From all the offered drinks I liked most of all the so-called “women’s” rum – Legendario, which I took home with me. We also tried cigars, but since we are non-smokers, we didn’t feel any special romance.
The guide said if we tasted good, we would see “green men in Havana avatar. We didn’t get much tasting – we only saw lianas. By the way, the lianas there are amazing, the tree branches give a lot of offshoots from the increased humidity, these offshoots go down and sprout roots – a green wall is formed.
You can see different palms there – “pregnant” and “bearded”.
Miramar is “the neighborhood by the sea. “Like your Rublevka,” said the guide. A fashionable neighborhood with mansions twined with greenery. After the victory of the Cuban Revolution, the mansions were nationalized and given to “respectable citizens.” The cars in the yards of the mansions also speak of the high status of those who live there. But more about that later.
4. Not far from Miramar, on Fifth Avenue, is the Russian Embassy, one of the tallest buildings in Havana. Even in anticipation of the trip it was interesting to look at this structure, whose shape resembles the hilt of a sword stuck in the ground.
“If you look around Havana at a glance, it’s a paradise, a real paradise. Under a palm tree on a stalk Flamingos stand, Colorio blooms all over Vedado. “Some things have changed in nearly a hundred years. Vedado, as far as I understood it, is Fifth Avenue, I haven’t seen flamingos, and no one could tell me much about the colorio.
5. La Cabaña Hill with the statue of Jesus Christ. At the time of our visit, the 20-meter statue, which was erected more than 50 years ago, was being restored. The story of its creation is a love story. The statue of Carrara marble was commissioned by the wife of the Cuban president in gratitude for her husband’s recovery from an injury. Unlike similar statues, Jesus is depicted unusually, not with outstretched arms, but blessing Havana.
From the platform the city is as plain as the palm of his hand. A view of the Vedado.
And a panorama of Old Havana.
At the entrance to the hill there is an unusual-looking, cobblestone checkpoint. I do not remember, maybe the driver of our bus paid some kind of bribe to enter.
6. The tunnel under the De Entrada Canal is more than 700 meters long – the famous Havana tunnel. Like many attractions here, it too was built in 1958. It connects the eastern part of Havana with the old part of Havana. The entrance to the tunnel is beautiful, called the “orchid” for its distant resemblance to the shape of the flower.
Back in Old Havana through the tunnel, we took a closer look at the sights of the Malecon.
The American Embassy and the Vedado neighborhood (business center). The U.S. Embassy is not functioning due to tense political relations. Next to the embassy building is an anti-imperialist podium where, according to the guide, “concerts used to be held until very late in the day, keeping the embassy staff busy”; the podium still bears the inscription “Patria o muerte! Venceremos!” – “Motherland or death! We will win!” There is also a monument to General Calisto Garcia, the hero of the struggle for independence, pointing his hand toward the embassy – “the enemy is there!”
Nearby is one of the tallest buildings in Havana, the 24-story National Hospital with a nearby monument to the national hero, liberation army general Antonio Maceo. During his 10 years of service he carried out more than 500 military operations. The Cubans, respecting him for his steadfastness and courage, lovingly dubbed him the “bronze titan” and erected a monument to him on the promenade.
Not very far away is a monument to his friend and comrade-in-arms, Maximo Gomez. He had worked his way up from private to general of the Liberation Army and had also fought in the Spanish-American War. The monument was unveiled in 1936.
The Edificio Focsa, built in 1956 and reminiscent in some ways of the Arbat “books,” catches one’s eye. The 39 floors (121 meters in height) and the 4-level parking lot for half a thousand cars opened a new page in Havana’s urban development.
Past the remarkable buildings,
…all over the Malecon..,
we made our way to the Souvenir Market, an inviting place to buy souvenirs. Next to the market is a real steam locomotive with a real wagon. Well-preserved!
At the market we tried coconut milk for the first time. Frankly speaking – not my thing! And pina colada, one of the most popular cocktails in Cuba, the basis of which is coconut milk, I did not like.
The market had souvenirs for every taste – magnets, cigars, rum, lace, musical instruments, baseball bats, carnival costumes, paintings and crafts. Prices for paintings by Cuban painters, they say, are much lower than in the stores. And lots and lots of colorful license plates as souvenirs.
I brought such funny “habaneros” to my colleagues))
On Marti Alley, named after the already mentioned Jose Marti, you can see a lot of cars, both American and Soviet. A photo with a well-preserved American car is the main income of the happy owners of these cars.
In general, until 2011 it was impossible to buy a car in Cuba. It was given only as a prize for outstanding service to doctors, teachers, artists, members of the government, it was inherited by descendants. The car was looked after almost better than a member of the family. And, of course, dry climate and absence of ugly reagents contribute to preservation of the car in wonderful and serviceable condition. There are not many modern cars in Havana, they started appearing not so long ago.
Having been admonished by the guide (“you can stop a car with a blue license plate, worse – with yellow, and quite inadmissible – with maroon”), we knew what the difference between the cars, looking at the color of its license plate. Government cars have blue plates, private cars have yellow plates, military cars have green plates, rental cars have maroon plates, diplomatic plates are black, private cars have white plates.
On Marty’s Alley is the Capitol, designed in the likeness of Washington’s, and both are likely to resemble St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican. The building is enormous (almost 100 meters high), and can be seen from almost everywhere. At the time of our visit it was under restoration.
At a brisk pace we ran through the “Arms Square” full of second-hand and other things, mostly souvenirs – paintings, ceramics, etc.
Just pictures of the colonial buildings we passed.
Another square is the Plaza de la Catedral, which has existed since the founding of the city. It’s another name is Swamp square, because of the swamps that were there in the XVIII century. Funny, isn’t it? Moscow also has Bolotnaya. The Cathedral (or the Cathedral of St. Christopher) located on this square used to hold the relics of Christopher Columbus. There are museums and galleries in the houses on the square’s perimeter.
The next square is Plaza de San Francisco (Plaza de San Francisco de Asis) with the buildings of the old customs house and the former stock exchange. To be honest, I listened attentively to the sights of this square because of the appearance of a colorful, pushy lady of deep-beyond-the-balzac age, who began to extort money for a photo with a kiss, saying that it was her job.
Somewhere nearby is Ophisios Street, considered one of the most beautiful in Old Havana. There are tons of sights and museums here. If fate strikes here again – I’ll definitely pass by, at least on some. Numismatics Museum, Arab Museum, the Monastery and the Basilica of St. Francis, the house-museum of Alejandro Humboldt. In the Antique Car Museum, open from the street, you can see cars in perfect condition, some of them about 200 years old. There’s even a Che Guevara car – a green Chevrolet Bel Air. On the right side of the collage is a cute policewoman, exhausted from her work and hiding in the shade, and a creepy monk, with whom everyone takes pictures, despite his unsightly appearance.
A glimpse, while riding the bus, of the Museum of the Revolution with the Granma yacht, in which Fidel and Che and his comrades arrived to carry out the coup d’état.
After completing the obligatory program and saying goodbye to the guide, we decided not to go to the hotel, and take another walk through such unusual and unfamiliar streets. Few pictures for last.
We saw a church with Nicholas the Wonderworker embroidered with rugs and live kittens trying to ring the bell.
I was struck by the electric wiring in one of the houses – a huge pile of wires, it looks frightening. The streets, restored for tourists, and the streets, located away from the tourist trails, are very different in appearance.
I was amused by the carriage, as if from a Western.
Unlike stacked in the usual boxes, the bananas were simply piled in the back of the truck.
In the cafeteria, under the sign with the name of the cocktail – Guarapa – a juicer. It squeezes the juice from the sugar cane if you spin the wheel on the left. Add lime, ice, and rum, and the Cuban Viagra is ready!
After waiting in the cafe for a brief tropical downpour, we went back to the hotel, spending the rest of our free time looking at such a Havana.
Summary. We really liked the Cuba we saw, and Havana in particular. A positive friendly country. Medicine, kindergartens, secondary and vocational education are free here. People here are kind and happy, sometimes they try to take advantage of tourists, but this is a characteristic of all resorts, in my opinion. Both guides we met were educated in the Soviet Union, specifically in Odessa. There are palm trees, blue clear skies, an insanely beautiful ocean, and an indescribable feeling of pleasure! I recommend it!
Rest in Cuba: all the things you need to know for the tourist
A good climate, the ability to swim all year round and luxurious hotels – these are not all the reasons why Russians choose to vacation in Cuba. We have collected interesting information about Freedom Island that you should know before you go there.
Not surprisingly, holidays in Cuba are preferred over many other resorts. Russians don’t need a visa, it is warm all year round, you can always swim in the clearest Caribbean Sea, the beaches are stunningly beautiful, locals welcome tourists, and as a bonus – delicious rum and cigars.
Surfing is popular in Cuba. Photo: unsplash.com
Cuba is not too hot due to the high humidity and sea breeze. During the summer season, it rains, which surfers love so much – because it’s the perfect weather for conquering the waves. For non-surfers, winter and early spring are the perfect time to travel to Cuba.
Cuba is not called the Island of Freedom for nothing – here you can enjoy life to the fullest, eat delicious food and drink famous cocktails, stroll among the colonial architecture and sunbathe on the beaches. You can also go fishing, take diving lessons, go skydiving and yachting. Cuba is also wonderful to walk through a pineapple plantation, a tobacco factory and visit a crocodile farm.
In Cuba, you can find entertainment for all tastes. Photo: unsplash.com
All-inclusive vacationers will appreciate its popularity in Cuba: hotels on the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts offer unlimited meals 24/7, which is much more profitable than eating in city restaurants and cafes.
Can I fly to Cuba now?
Despite the pandemic, you can fly to Cuba, but so far only to the islands of Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria. Of course, this does not mean that it is forbidden to travel within the country. For example, by renting a car you can arrange a trip to the capital. That is, if you are willing to spend on the road about six hours.
So far, only two islands are open in Cuba – Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria. Photo: unsplash.com
Like everywhere else in the world, Cuba has strict security measures in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus infection. You do not need to take a test to fly out of Moscow, but all tourists are required to do it on the spot. There is a plus – at the airport in Cuba a swab is taken free of charge, though, provided that you have flown on a tour and bought insurance. You will be able to pay for it upon arrival; it costs $30.
How long does it take to fly from Moscow and how much would the tickets cost?
On average a flight from Moscow to the capital of Cuba – Havana takes 12 hours. During the popular tourist months of December, January and March the ticket prices are the highest and reach over 100 thousand rubles. So it is best to fly to Cuba from May to October. During this time, tickets to Havana cost just over 30 thousand rubles. The price of tickets will depend on the selected airline. We recommend booking them in advance – preferably three months before your trip.
Three most popular resorts in Cuba among Russians
- The first place of interest to Russian tourists is Varadero, which is quite logical. It is an hour drive from Havana, where all travelers around the country arrive. Incredible beaches stretching for 25 kilometers, luxurious five-star hotels, all kinds of entertainment – both sea and party, the Museum of Rum – that’s what goes to Varadero.
- The second most popular resort among Russians is Cayo Coco. Pristine nature, as if untouched by civilization, a national park where you can be a climber and rock climber for a while, flamingos walking around everywhere, the cleanest beaches, local spas and fitness centers will make your stay in Cayo Coco unforgettable.
- On the third line of our ranking is Cayo Largo. Tourists love this resort for its beautiful nature, snow-white sand, and clear water, under which you can see the rich marine world. The hotels are like individual small towns, which will be fun for both adults and children.
Features of Cuba’s beaches
Holidays in Cuba is difficult to imagine without visiting the famous beaches, which are spread over hundreds of kilometers. The most popular are located in the Varadero area, but there are always crowded, so a quiet holiday can be forgotten. For solitude is better to choose wild unequipped beaches, but do not forget about their quality. The most beautiful beach in Cuba is Playa Sirena on Cayo Largo. There is a pool with dolphins that you can play with.
The beach Playa Sirena is a true “paradise”. Photo: wikimedia.org
The most comfortable way to get around the resorts of Cuba is to take a special tourist cab, which can be ordered by phone or at the hotel reception. For example, tourist buses ply in Varadero. Tickets are valid all day, regardless of the number of trips. Intercity buses can also take you to any resort in the republic.
In Cuba, you can rent a chic retro car. Photo: unsplash.com. Author: michele spinnato
If you do not like public transport, you can rent a car. True, if you are over 21 years old and have an international driver’s license. Important: when renting a car you need to pay a deposit of 150 to 300 kukas.
What and where can I eat in Cuba?
To put a tick in your personal check-list titled “I tasted the national Cuban cuisine,” you should definitely try the local deep-fried dishes, pork or chicken with spices and vegetables, famous in Cuba sandwich with ham, roasted pork and cheese, and guava marmalade. If you want something exotic, you can easily find turtle eggs, crocodile meat, lobsters and crabs in the republic.
Meat and fish dishes with plenty of spices are popular in Cuba. Photo: unsplash.com. Author: Ting Tian
It’s best to eat either at all-inclusive hotels, as we discussed earlier, or at local pizzerias. The establishments serve Cuban pizza, which is not at all like the Italian pizza and is a yeast flatbread with toppings of sauce and cheese. And right on the street, you can buy inexpensive avocados and mangoes in special carts. Of the budget options for eating out are the local cafeterias, where they cook kahitas. This is pork with congri rice and fried banana.
In Cuba, there are also homemade restaurants with simple and understandable food for tourists – fruit, bread with jam and butter, freshly squeezed juice and eggs. For lunch, they serve a soup or salad and a main course of meat or fish with a side of rice.
Currency in Cuba
In Cuba there are two currencies – convertible peso which a tourist can pay everywhere and national – an ordinary peso. It is used only by Cubans. There are not many ATMs in Cuba, so it is better to have cash. We advise to exchange your currency for a convertible peso (also called a “kuk”). It is tied to the dollar, so you can easily find your way around prices. But it is better to go to the country with euros to avoid 3% commission and 10% fine of the total amount.
Cuba has two currencies – pesos and cookies. Photo: pixabay.com
It is most convenient to change money in special exchange offices Cadeca, which are also available at the airport. We advise you to check the change and count the money, because in Cuban banks tourists are often cheated, and the change from precious coupons are given in ordinary pesos.
Cookies can be used for paying in hotels, restaurants, museums, and tourist stores. With the same with conventional pesos you can save in street cafes or on public transport. For residents of Cuba, who pay in local currency, everything is much cheaper.
What language Cubans speak
Going on a trip to Cuba, you should not expect to know English everywhere. Cubans mostly speak Spanish, or rather a Cuban dialect. With rare exceptions, you can hear English speech, and even more rarely Russian. In Russian speak only guides for Russian tourists.
Cubans mostly speak Spanish, with a dialect. Photo by Ricardo IV Tamayo, unsplash.com
Tips for tourists wishing to go to Cuba
- Cuba can’t boast quality electricity, plugs and outlets. So take an adapter, plug and tee so you can charge multiple gadgets at once.
- Hygiene products: shampoo, shower gel and sunscreen are better to bring – so you can save a lot of money.
- Before you travel, get the best internet tariff in roaming. It will be cheaper than the Cuban Wi-Fi, and more convenient when you need the navigator on your phone. Tourists are not sold local SIM cards, this should also be taken into account.
- Cubans are not punctual. If you are told that you get to the right place in five minutes, multiply the time by two, and do not count on the fact that the store or restaurant will open at 9 am sharp, and the tour – at a strictly scheduled hour.
- Rum and cigars are better to buy in specialized stores – there you will not run into a fake and get a check, which you will definitely be asked at the customs.
Important! It is allowed to take out of the country no more than 100 cigars and three bottles of rum 0.75 liters. Otherwise, you may encounter problems at customs.
Cigars are part of Cuban national culture. Photo by Joris Visser, unsplash.com
“Be sure to take mosquito repellent! There are a lot of them here, and they are much smaller than the Russian. They do not buzz, and you will not feel the bite, but then the skin itches terribly!” – Advises a Russian woman, who recently arrived from Cuba.
Journalist, copywriter at migrantumir.com (2020-2021) . Culture and peculiarities of life in different countries – that’s what really fascinates me. I dream to see the whole world and tell about it in an interesting way.