Havana Day 1
The first morning in Havana we were greeted with a wonderful breakfast that was served to us by our apartment neighbors. At precisely 8:30am a feast arrived at our door and was nealtly set out for us to enjoy. It was delicious and nice to have a relaxing morning sipping coffee and indulging in the delightful food. One the great things when you stay is a Casa Particular is that most of the host will offer to cook meals for you. It's an easy way for them to make extra money but it's definitely a convenience to you.
After breakfast we made our way to the "Hotel National" it's a beautiful hotel that sits right on the Malecon and over looks the water. It's absolutely worth checking out if only to sit and have a piña colada while you enjoy the view of the grounds or just to walk around and get a feel for the past. Either way it was a nice start to our first full day in Havana.
Another great reason to visit the Hotel National is that you can take care of all your show bookings and exchange money if needed. The concierge lady at the hotel called the National Ballet and The Tropicana for us to make reservations and we were able to buy tickets straight from her with no extra charge. If you don't do something like that you will have to go in person to the location and book or have a local call and hopefully arrange something for you.
We spent the rest of the day strolling around old Havana and it truly is a sight to see. There is so much lingering beauty hidden under the poverty stricken buildings. And the old cars that line the streets are an odd combination yet add to the hidden beauty of Havana.
While exploring old Havana we came across an old Basilica at the Plaza de Armas that is now used as a music venue. Although the Basilica is no longer used for religious purposes it is still dressed in all its religious sacraments. At 6pm the Basilica was scheduled to host concert of classical music with a Cuban flare. So from 6-7pm we enjoyed beautiful music sitting in a very old Catholic Church.
When the musical presentation finished we strolled the roads of old Havana and stumbled upon an incredible restaurant
Lamparilla 361 e/ Aquacate y Villagas
Habana Vienna Tel: 5 2895324
The food and the drinks were both outstanding, everything we had was delicious and the drinks were beautifully decorated with fruit and presented in unique glasses. After dinner we headed to the evenings 10pm main event, also what I was the most excited about, Tropicana!!!!
Tropicana was definitely a highlight for me, I've always wanted to see it and it was in no way disappointing.The show is beautiful and although I couldn't quite understand the words of the music the dancing and costumes told the story enough to understand what was going. The costumes were incredible they changed for each song which is pretty amazing in itself. If you have the opportunity to go to the show do it, you will not be disappointed.
Things to know about Tropicana
1. You have to get there early!!! No matter which section you choose 1, 2, or 3 seats aren't assigned it's based on your party size and first come first serve. The early you arrive the better service and seats you will have. And don't be fooled row means tier, the first "row" is ground level 2nd is a step up and 3rd a bit higher.
2. Upon arrival you will receive cigars as a welcome gift so bring a cutters and lighter and you can smoke them during the show.
3. Technically they require you to buy a 5cuc pass to use your camera or phone but they never checked mine so if you hide it or say you don't have one you should be ok.
4. I'm not sure if there is an age requirement but there was no one topless only thonged butts. At the show I saw there was a song about how the colonial men came over and took the island women and I think it may have talked about rap due to the dance and body language.But honestly if you can't speak Spanish it will somewhat go over your head especially a child's, but again I'm not sure if there's an age requirement. It does however start at 10pm and finish at 12pm so time alone may limit a child's age.
Havana Day 2
We spent the day walking around the city again, we didn't plan much because we had tickets to the national ballet at 5pm so we couldn't really go to far from the city. We did stop in some street markets for souvenirs and I found the art to be a nice choice because most of it's original and represents Cuba well. It's also light because they just roll the canvas up which makes it easy to pack.
We also stopped back by the Hotel National to exchange more money, our host could only exchange USD and some of had Canadian dollars hoping to get a better exchange rate. While we were at the hotel we also booked dinner reservations for the famous "La guarida". Using the Hotel concierges was seriously a Godsend, without them reservations would have been very difficult.
The national ballet is said to be 3rd in the world, although that being that I've never been to a real ballet so I had no expectations or anything to compare Cuba's with. The theater itself is stunning, even more so at night, it's one building that has been very well preserved among the dilapidated others.
When the curtain opened reveling the stage and stunning backdrops I literally gasp. I was truly taken back by how beautiful it was. And the ballet it's self was wonderfully amazing!
The whole cast was incredible and although like I said this was my first experience at a ballet I'm not sure how much better another could get. For 30cuc this was definitely a night well worth my while.
It is a very interesting and unique experience to see such a dilapidated yet exquisite home turned into a 4 story restaurant. It's also a true Paladar, meaning it's run by self-employers and not government run. And it's also a resident, so like I said it's a pretty unique experience and the food is exquisite.
Havana Day 3
For our last full day in Havana we decided that we would venture out just a little and hit one the beaches close by. We didn't go to Varadero due to the distance and time we had left in Cuba. But we did visit Mar Azul Playa del este, and for a beach 30 min from the city it was very enjoyable. The water is beautiful and the sand is soft although it's not white like what I'm use to being from the gulfcoast.
If your looking for a beach town experience, this is not it. There are a few bars near the road and a few very small restaurants along with souvenir stands. But other than those few tiny bars and a small hotel you are out of luck. I actually walked around looking for a bathroom other than the ocean and nothing other than the hotel offered me any help. But if you'd just like to go to a beach and soak up some rays then Mar Azul Playa del este is great. For 16 cuc we rented 6 chairs and 2 umbrellas for an all day rate, which I thought was pretty cheap! We also had a guy serve us drinks and food all day, we even ordered a lobster for 18cuc that came with white sweet potatoe and rice. Although I think my favorite thing offered to us was a fresh coconut, that rum was poured straight into. Even though the coconut wasn't chilled nor was the rum it tasted so delicious and refreshing because the coconut water was so perfect no ice needed.
To sum it all up!
All in all Cuba was an excellent experience! We saw a lot in the short time we were there but there was also so much that we did not see and do. I would definitely recommend Cuba as a vacation destination, but make sure you can speak some Spanish even if it's just enough to get around. Otherwise have a guide or stay in a hotel where you're surrounded by help.
Things to remember
1. Currency exchange is a pretty big deal! I read all the blogs before I left encouraging to bring different currency other than USD. But I found that even though you didn't have to pay the 10% extra charge it was a lot easier just to exchange USD. If you're staying with a host they can exchange it for you without the fee and USD is easier for them to exchange.
2. Transportation cost more than you think. It's very cool to ride in the old cars and there's no extra charge to ride in the old ones vs a new ones. If you aren't staying in the heart of old Havana you will be spending money on transportation so make sure you factor that in to the cash that you bring.
3. There is no ATM for US based debit cards, nor can you use any US credit cards so the money that you bring is the money that you have. They also prefer to exchange large new bills, you may run into trouble exchanging if you do not have them.
4. Find a hotel and use it's concierge to make reservations for dinners and shows. Your only other option is to go to the location you want booked and make the reservation in person.