I am going to try and stay home for more than a couple of weeks and see if I can’t catch up on all my travels… so we will likely be bouncing around the globe as I try to tempt you to explore the world…
Thanks to the internet, globalization and the Americans’ incredible moxie at selling a glamourized version of the American lifestyle to the rest of the world, it’s tough to find places that feel truly unique, let alone part of an entirely different era. Cuba is one of those incredibly rare and special places.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, there is a little internet in Cuba and you will see smart phones and computers but you will also see chalkboards and people lounging on the sidewalk outside fancy hotels (was guessing they might be using the hotel wi-fi).
If you don’t want to leave your overly engaged modern lifestyle at home, you can stay at the Hotel Parque Central. Apparently it has the best internet in Cuba and the lobby was constantly full of people on smartphones, tablets and computers and it looked very 2016 despite the colonial architecture. It’s a great hotel in an excellent setting for being a tourist in Havana and I would highly recommend it.
I would also recommend leaving your electronic devices at the hotel, making sure your shoes are comfortable and embracing the past. It’s not every day you get to go back to 1960 without a time machine.
I tried to explain “trending” to some young guys that I met at my favourite restaurant in Havana. There is no question Cuba is the hottest travel ticket right now and that’s how it got bumped up the list to 2016. You don’t need to panic quite yet though. It will not turn into Las Vegas 2.0 by next year.
There is no question change is underfoot and that something has to give. What will be interesting is how it all unfolds. I knew a little about Cuban history before I arrived but learned a lot more during my week in Havana. It is a fascinating place. I hadn’t appreciated before I arrived how old Havana was and that it was a strategically important and impressive city during colonial times. It’s certainly a place deeply scarred by the evils of imperialism. It’s also marked by the promise of an incredible revolution.
What they have built in Cuba is totally unique. Not everything works and it’s not an ideal system but there is definitely merit to some of the choices they have made, which is why change will come but I hope it will come with a Cuban flavour.
I did a lot during my six days in Havana so there is much more to tell. The one thing I wished I had done differently was research! There are entrepreneurial green shoots in Havana but capitalism is very much in its infancy. It’s fascinating. There is very little advertising or marketing. It’s hard to tell who is running an establishment and almost all the independent restaurants are on an upper level and not very obvious to the uninitiated.
I did buy a Moon guide by Christopher P. Baker, which was very helpful. I wish I had done more advance planning. I was a little too arrogant. I have travelled so much and always seem to find cool stuff to do on the fly that I have stopped being well prepared for arrival.
Certainly, it’s good to be ready to be spontaneous. Some of the best moments in Havana happened that way. But I found the restaurant because Christopher recommended it.
I’ve read a lot of Graham Greene so I am sure I read Our Man in Havana at some point in my youth but I am going to read it again now that I have
experienced the city. Whether you are a literary fan or not, the Hotel Sevilla is worth a visit. It was built in 1908 and based on the Alhambra in Spain. It was the first luxury hotel in Havana. What makes it unique is the Moorish architecture. There is a band playing in the lobby bar most of the time so sip a Mojito and soak in the atmosphere.
Another worthwhile history lesson is the Hotel Inglaterra. It is the oldest hotel in Havana. I tried both dinner and a drink on the outdoor patio. I would recommend having dinner in a Paladare but drinks are cheap ($3 USD for a mojito) and the band was excellent.
Cuba isn’t going to change overnight… but it IS going to change. The climate is great. The people are warm and friendly. The country is full of incredible history and architecture. And there are gorgeous beaches if the rest is of no interest. You don’t need to book your ticket tomorrow. But you SHOULD go. Don’t wait too long. A place without a McDonalds or a Starbucks? That is something worth seeing 😉