This is a guest post by Claudia Tavani, a former human rights lawyer and academic from Cagliari, Sardinia. After devoting her life to the protection of cultural identity, in November 2013 Claudia decided to give in to her biggest passion and started traveling around Latin America, hardly stopping since. Blogging came as a natural consequence and Claudia keeps friends and family updated on her site, My Adventures Across The World.
The capital of Cuba, Havana, much like rest of the island nation, is packed with things to do but can be quite expensive for travelers on a tight budget. Given that the United States and Cuba have recently restored diplomatic relations, even more of you might be planning your next trip to the Caribbean’s largest island. Here’s how to start off and explore plenty of things to do in Havana, without spending much more than calories.
First Stop: Verdado
I started my walking tour at the Vedado, because that was where my casa particular (homestay) was located. Verdado is a gorgeous area packed with big colonial homes and beautiful gardens. It actually is considered the greenest area of Havana, as it is so full of trees. I found it very relaxing as it is a very quiet area: there isn’t much traffic. Most people who visit Havana for the first time actually opt to stay in Havana Vieja, but I prefer Verdado as I found it has lots of character and it is not nearly as touristic.
Next: On To Plaza de la Revolución
I don’t mind walking, so from the Vedado I walked several blocks to Plaza de la Revolución. This is a huge square often used for political rallies and gatherings and from where political figures address Cubans. The Plaza hosts the memorial to José Martí, one of the heroes of the Cuban revolution. On the opposite side, there is a huge mural of Ernesto Che Guevara, which his famous motto “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until Victory, Always) painted right below. The image of Camilo Cienfuegos, another one of the heroes of the revolution, has been added on the nearby telecommunications building. I don’t this this square is a perfect example of beauty – quite the opposite in fact. Buildings around it are grey and somewhat oppressive. Yet, I appreciate the political and historical significance of the place.
Third In Line: The Magnificent Capitol Building
Plaza de la Revolución is well out of the centre of Havana, so I bartered a taxi to get to the city center and continue my walking tour. Here, I headed to the Capitolio, which used to be the seat of the government until the Cuban revolution and is now home of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. During the time of my visit, the Capitol building was under being restored, but I could still appreciate the magnificence of the building and its surroundings.
Fourth Stop: Museo de la Revolución
From the Capitol Building, I crossed the small Parque Central and walked along Avenida de las Misiones, and headed to the Museo de la Revolución. If there is one museum that should be visited in Havana, this is the one. I admit I am not a huge fan of museums. However, as a former human rights lawyer I have always had a special interest for the Cuban revolution and the Museo de la Revolución – which is located in the former presidential palace – is perfect to get a better understanding of the history of the country. The collection is huge and there is a lot to read but it was definitely worth my time and the (small) entrance fee.
Around The Corner: Havana Vieja
The Museo de la Revolución is really close to Havana Vieja, which was my fifth stop on my personal tour of Havana. A stroll in Havana Vieja took me to the beautiful Plaza de la Catedral (and, not far from it, to La Bodeguita del Medio, where I admit I splurged on a mojito, just to feel a bit Hemingway-like!). Then on to Plaza de Armas where I browsed through the book market before ending up in Plaza Vieja. Even if I did not go inside every single building or museum, it was lovely to walk around and take in the beautiful surroundings.
Snapping: Vintage Cars
Vintage cars are everywhere in Havana, and indeed I snapped pictures of them all around town. While some cars simply looked old to me, I have to say that some were simply gorgeous, shiny and perfectly restored. I stopped at the traffic light at some point and all the cars waiting to pass were vintage ones. I had a lot of fun in spotting them – they are so unique to Cuba, unseen anywhere else, and beautiful to see.
Ending Up On The Malecon
On my way back to Vedado, I walked along the Malecon. Havana’s waterfront is where Havaneros go in the late afternoon to enjoy the fresh ocean breeze, to flirt and gossip. Along the Malecon, I took a detour to visit the Callejón de Hamel, which has some interesting street art, and finally stopped at Hotel Nacional for a sunset cocktail. I guess what impressed me the most when I walked along the Malecon was the smell of the sea, which to me is so familiar and refreshing! The overall atmosphere was very relaxing and very… Cuban!
Have you been to Havana? Do you have any further tips on places to see on a low budget?