Thursday, August 18, 2005

Welcome to my Cuba Blog

Welcome to my Cuba Blog! A photo diary of my vacation to Cuba in May 2005. In this blog you'll find a detailed review of Playa Pesquero in Guardelavaca, Hotel Nacional in Havana and lots of photos from my sightseeing. I hope you find this useful and if you're going to Cuba soon, have a great trip!

As this is a blog, you'll find that all my posts are in reverse order. If you don't want to read all of it, just click on the links below to navigate:

Havana City Tour

We were picked up from the hotel by our tour guide first thing the next morning and begun our tour of Havana. Spending a couple of hours driving around in the mini bus, gave us a real feel for the size of the city and how the different areas fitted together. Havana is built around a harbour, with the old Colonial part of the city (la Habana Vieja) to the West of the harbour.

One of the things that you’ll notice when you are in Havana, or any other Cuban city for that matter, is the crumbling buildings. These once magnificent Spanish colonial style buildings are now falling apart and propped up with makeshift scaffolding, with paint peeling off of every wall. At the beginning of our tour we drove along tree lined wealthy residential streets, filled with two storey mansions, faded, but beautiful

Our first stop on the tour was Revolution Square. This square has been Cuba’s political-administrative and cultural centre since 1959. In the photo below you can see the Ministry of the Interior Building. The ironwork on the building is of Che Guevara, who was the first Minister of the Interior appointed by Fidel Castro.

Ministry of the Interior Building, Havana

In the next photo you can see the José-Marti Monument, which was completed in 1959 and the 109 metre high column.

Revolution Square, Havana

After a quick wander around in the scorching sunshine we got back on our air conditioned bus and headed towards la Habana Vieja – the old colonial part of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This was a beautiful part of the city and many of the buildings have been restored to their original splendor. Despite this fact, the majority of the buildings that I saw in the city were crumbling.

We walked around the colonial part of the city for a couple of hours, taking in the many fantastic Spanish style colonial buildings, grand Plazas and wandering through the cobbled streets, watching people go about their day to day life. The tour guide was very informative and explained a lot about the history and the ways of life of the Cuban people.

Square in Colonial Centre of Havana

In the photo below you can see the Opera house

Opera House, Havana

At around 11.30 our tour guide took us to a bar and recommended that we try a Mojito – a famous Cuban cocktail made from Rum (or Ron as its known in Cuba), Fresh mint and soda. We normally have a no alcohol before noon rule, but decided to make an exception in this case and ordered a Mojito each.

Mojitos in Havana

I was a bit shocked when I saw the huge quantity of Havana Club that the barman poured into my glass and expected it to taste really horrible and strong – but I was wrong. It was a very refreshing drink. I’ll definitely be having one of them again!

In the afternoon we split up from our tour guide and took a wander round the city. We started off trying to find a restaurant for some lunch. I must admit – this was a little difficult. It seemed that all the restaurants were serving the same kind of food e.g. rice, beans and meat. We settled on a restaurant with a little patio outside and had our creole style rice, beans and meat meal. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t like to have to eat out here often!

After a wander, the next stop of the day was the Capitolio building.

Capitolio Havana

This magnificent building was built in 1929 and was modelled after the Capitol building in Washington DC. Unfortunately we missed the guided English tours of the building, but went inside for a wander. Below you can see a picture of the dome, looking up from the inside of the building.

Inside the Capitolio Dome, Havana

After our visit to the Capitolio we caught a little yellow “taxi” in the shape of an egg back to the hotel and spent a couple of well earned hours relaxing by the pool.

We taxi-d it back into the centre later in the evening for dinner and again struggled to find a nice restaurant. I don’t know if we were just unlucky at finding decent restaurants or if there actually aren’t very many nice restaurants in Havana. In the end we found a Pizza place, so that kept us happy.

The following day was out final day in Cuba and we made the most of it by taking a trip to the Museum of the Revolution in the morning. The museum is held in the former palace of the dictator Batista and houses various newspaper clippings, photographs and artefacts from the revolution. It was a very interesting museum, but I struggled as the place was boiling hot with no air conditioning and the sun blazing in through all the windows. The photo below is of the museum from the outside.

Museum of the Revolution, Havana

We had intended to visit the Museo del Ron (Museum of Rum), but we were so overheated and dehydrated that we ended up going back to the hotel for a swim and chilled out for a while in preparation for our long flight home later that day.

Amazingly for the first time on our trip, the Cubana flight was on time. We had a couple of final cocktails at the hotel, then left Havana for the cool climate of Scotland.

Overall I’ve had a fantastic holiday. It’s been good to spend most of it relaxing and recharging my batteries at Playa Pesquero, but I’m also glad that I spent 3 days in Havana and saw the real Cuba.

If you have any questions about the hotels that I stayed in or the places that I visited feel free to post a question below and I’ll try my best to answer it.

You can also read more Reviews of Attractions in Havana on Tripadvisor

Arrival in Havana

After a long night with only 4 hours of sleep we decided to take it easy on our first day in Havana. We’re staying at the Hotel Nacional de Cubain the Vedado district. We got up around lunchtime, wandered round the hotel for a while, had a burger in one of the restaurants in the hotel then went out for a walk in the surrounding area. It was absolutely scorching hot outside, so walking around was a bit uncomfortable.

We walked round the lovely hotel gardens, along El Malecon (a 4 and a half mile seaside walkway in front of our hotel) and around the surrounding area. I spent some time taking photos and trying make sure that I managed to get a classic car or two in the shot. You can see a photo of the view to the old (Colonial) centre of Havana from the Malecon below. The dome that you can see in the distance is the Capitolio – a building modelled after the Capitol building in Washington DC.

Malecon, Havana

After a bit of walking we came across the famous Coppelia’s Ice Cream place. Outside Coppelia’s there was a huge queue of Cubans waiting in line (often for over an hour) to buy some ice cream for a few pesos a scoop. We had no idea what was going on or that this was actually an ice cream place, so just walked right in, only to be stopped by security guards who told us that we’d either have to join the queue or go to the tourist area where there was no queue (selling ice cream at ten times the price). I don’t think we would have been capable of standing an hour in the hot sunshine (and in my opinion no ice-cream is worth an hour long wait!) so we decided not do it the Cuban way, and opted for the tourist area instead. The ice cream was nice, but not the nicest I’ve ever had!

View from Hotel Nacional Havana

After our aimless wandering we decided to book a Havana city tour for the next day. Since we’re only here for another two full days we figured that it would be good to spend a morning being shown the sights and told about the history of Havana. We booked a four hour part bus/part walking tour at one of the tour operators in our hotel. Now that I’m writing this a couple of months later, I can’t remember the cost of the tour was but I do remember it being a pretty reasonable price.