Havana. Even before the Camila Cabello song came out last fall that put it in the forefront of our minds, the city has held a bit of a mystic caché to Americans. This is certainly partially due to its inaccessibility, as we often want what we can’t have. As previously mentioned, there were no commercial flights from the USA to Cuba between 1961 and 2016, and it was only since 2014 that we could go at all without having to go to extraordinary measures to get there and back.
Once you arrive in Havana, your first thought will be that you had no idea that airplanes were also time machines. The old semi-dilapidated buildings, cobblestoned streets, and of course, the cars. It’s a city that exudes charm, life, and vibrancy. One of my favorite quotes from Lonely Planet on Havana was “If you’ve spent more than 10 minutes in Havana and have not yet heard any live music, you’re hanging out in the wrong places.” And true this is. Within 3 minutes of walking out the door of my AirBnB, I heard an impromptu concert right on the Malecón, Havana’s waterfront. And indeed, you’d be hard pressed to walk for more than 5-10 minutes anywhere in Central Havana or Old Havana without hearing live music coming from almost any bar, restaurant or even street corner.
Havana is a city to walk. Walk every street and alleyway. See it all. Soak it in. The smells, the sounds, the ambiance, the history. You never know what interesting building, car, or street mural you’ll see. It’s also a city of museums, with dozens of amazing ones to see on a rainy day, or if you’re a history buff. But if you only will visit one museum, make it the Museo de la Revolución. Located right along El Prado (build to resemble Las Ramblas in Barcelona), the museum chronicles the political history of Cuba, from the rise of the revolutionary movement, to the revolution itself, all the way through the Cold War in the 1980s. It is chalk full pro-Cuba propaganda deifying the three heroes of the revolution: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos. Given what we are taught here in the United States, I found it extremely interesting to see how they look at the history from their perspective, much like how I felt after visiting the Ho Chi Minh museum in Hanoi, Vietnam last year.
It’s also a city of amazing food and world class restaurants of all kinds. Every meal and mojito was better than the next, trying new and familiar Cuban dishes every day. If you only have one dinner in Havana, go to Paladar San Cristobal. It’s in an old, ornately-decorated house. Barack Obama, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and many other celebrities have eaten here over the years. It’s as good as any 5-star restaurant you could find in New York or San Francisco, but at 1/5 of the price.
People around the world speak of Havana in a similar manner as they speak of Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, or Buenos Aires. And after spending 5 days there, I can certainly understand why, as it is absolutely deserving of all of its accolades. If you get a chance, go. Go now while you still can, and go now while it’s still a blast from the past.
Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel