One of the most amazing cities that we have visited in our travels is Havana, Cuba. Full of culture, beautiful architecture and a very rich history, this is a definite must-see on any traveler’s bucket list!
Cuba is located in the Caribbean Sea, south of the Bahamas and north of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. It is the largest island by land mass in the Caribbean and the second largest by population, with over 11 million inhabitants. It is a relatively poor country but has a very high literacy rate and life expectancy due to its marxist/leninist rule of extreme socialism, where health care and education are provided to its citizens. Its government controls the labor force and most of the country is state-run, with wages and prices strictly enforced by the government. In order for the government to maintain control, Cuba has a dual currency system, where local wages are paid in “Cuban pesos”, while the tourist economy uses “convertible pesos” to control the money supply and ensure that no local Cuban can take advantage of tourism and bypass the principles of socialism to earn more than others. In fact, Cuban households are given a ration book that entitles the household to a monthly supply of food and other staples, which are provided at nominal cost. The government also controls what is allowed to be sold to consumers — in fact, up until just years ago, Cubans weren’t even permitted to purchase certain types of electronics. It’s quite sad to hear the stories of the many poor Cubans who aren’t allowed to leave the island and have very basic living conditions due to the marxist rule.
Although Cuba is well known for its beautiful beaches, one of things that should be on every off-the-beaten-path tourist’s list of things to do is to visit the city of Havana. Havana is the capital of the country, located in the north west of the island, with a population of over 2 million people. Old Havana, the historic center of the city, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But, what to do in Havana, Cuba?
We visited the city for just a day…just enough time to get a feel for this very historic and beautiful city. Here is what we did:
1. Visit El Morro –
The Morro Castle is a beautiful architectural fortress that stands at the entrance to Havana Bay. It was built in the late 1500s when Cuba was under Spanish control. Although we spent less than an hour here walking around, you could spend a half day or full day here walking the grounds and learning about the deep history of the nation.
2. Visit (but don’t stay!) Hotel Ambos Mundos –
Get a little bit of history here by visiting the Hotel Ambos Mundos, the place where writer Ernest Hemingway lived when he first came to Cuba in the early 1930s. He lived in Room 511, which is now a dedicated “museum” to Hemingway.
Have a drink here and daydream back in time to the old days of Hemingway…but don’t stay here. We’ve heard that it is a very basic accommodation that isn’t worth the overnight visit!
3. Learn About Che Guevara –
Ernesto Che Guevara was an Argentinian Marxist revolutionary who played a major role in the Cuban revolution. In 1956, he joined the Castro brothers and entered Cuba with the intention of creating a revolution and overtaking the government. Their group was successful by 1959 when the government of Cuba was overthrown.
Throughout the historic sites of Old Havana, there are many reminders of the revolution. There are also many monuments and museums that have been set up to remember Che’s influence. We visited one in the Morro complex.
Che Guevara’s body is buried in Santa Clara, Cuba and there is a mausoleum that tourists can visit there.
4. Stroll the Streets of Old Havana –
There is so much to see when just walking around the streets of Old Havana. It is almost like a walk back in time to the 1960s. There are old cars that have been kept in impeccable condition from the 50s and 60s. Even a pharmacy that we ventured into had old wood shelving and looked like it was stuck back in time! The hundred year old “Floridita” restaurant and bar, a place frequented by Ernest Hemingway, still stands the passage of time.
Our day trip through the city of Havana, Cuba was definitely one of the most memorable experiences we have had in our travels. The city is full of culture, history and beautiful architecture. A walk through Old Havana is like a trip back in time! One thing to note — Cuban cigars here were some of the most expensive we have seen! (We actually purchased Cuban cigars when we were in Spain at much more affordable prices!)
If you have been to Havana and have experiences to share, please let us know! We are looking forward to another trip back to the city and would love to hear about your recommendations.
Until the next time, abrazos from Cuba and Happy (and safe!) Travels from the Road Warrior!
Road Warrior Tips from the best travel adapter, the Road Warrior travel adapter!