When you go to Havana, you’ll most likely spend most of your time in Habana Vieja. That’s the Old Town. This is where you’ll find the beautiful old Spanish colonial buildings and cobblestone squares. But if you have the time, you should explore other parts of the city as well.
On my first full day in the city I tried to stay mostly away from Habana Vieja, saving the Old Town for the next day. Instead, I concentrated on walking around Vedado, the New Town. In Vedado is the Necropolis Cristobal Colon (the huge Christopher Columbus Cemetery that I called Cemetario de Colon in my previous post – I’ve seen it labeled as either one) and Plaza de la Revolucion. The Malecon -the seaside street – runs alongside Vedado, and this is also the district where many of the museums are located.
My plan for both days is Havana was that I didn’t really have a plan. I just wanted to walk around and get lost as much as possible. I definitely got lost! (More than once on the second day) It was glorious…
Getting lost in Havana is one of my favorite activities. I love big cities, but sometimes, when they’re unfamiliar, it can be easy to stumble upon a neighborhood that is not very welcoming or perhaps even a bit dangerous. I really don’t think those exist in Havana. There are no slums here, no shanty towns, no homeless people, no drugged out youth looking for spare change. The biggest annoyance are the guys yelling from across the street asking “where you from?”, but even though I did feel like I was getting too much attention at times, I had to remind myself that this is what you get when you stick out as a foreigner. And can you really be upset at people who call you “beautiful lady”? All the cat calls in Cuba seemed to be rather respectful too. Attention? Yes. But nothing crude or creepy.
From the cemetery I walked over to Plaza de la Revolucion. This is the beautiful, huge square, where all the rallies take place. This is where Fidel gave most of his marathon speeches, this is where the parades stream to. On my bucket list is May Day in Cuba, on Plaza de la Revolucion.
In the middle of the Plaza is the Jose Marti Memorial. The huge monument dominates the plaza and is a great photo opportunity. Jose Marti was a Cuban poet, a thinker and a patriot. He wrote many beautiful and heartbreaking lines about the Cuban spirit and the need for independence. This was back in the late 1800’s when Cuba was trying to free itself from the dominance of Spain and shoo the USA away. I’m not sure that the United States has a Jose Marti equivalent. I’m confident that we don’t. None of the founding fathers seems to have the same hold on our identity. I don’t think that even Abraham Lincoln can be compared to the reverence of Jose Marti. But similarly to Abraham Lincoln, Marti died a sad and tragic death. More of a poet than a fighter, he nonetheless wanted to fight for Cuba’s independence and died in the first battle that he fought in.
Right beneath the monument, next to the statue, there is a Jose Marti museum. I paid the admission and walked around for a bit, enjoying the AC and learning more about the Cuban hero.
After Plaza de la Revolucion I was making my way towards the water. There are nice, wide boulevards in this part of town, lots of statues and highrises.
I eventually ended up on the Malecon. The Malecon is a beautiful esplanade that hugs the edge between the city and the coast. It stretches for 5 miles and makes for a very scenic walk.
Malecon comes alive especially at night. Apparently this is THE meeting spot for young lovers and groups of friends. You’ll be pressed to find a spot to sit on along the five mile wall once the sun goes down!
But even during the day this is still a good place to take a stroll, go fishing or just sit down and relax by the water. The waves will often come crushing against the walls, over the walls and if you’re looking for a quick splash down and relief from the heat, this is the place to be.
As lovely and cooling as walking along the Malecon was, I eventually made my way back into the city.
Admittedly, I am a big fan of street art. There is so much of it in Havana! I know I only skimmed the surface when I walked only a small fraction of its streets, but I was having so much fun discovering so many great and inspiring pieces.
Slowly, I was making my way from Vedado to Habana Vieja.
Eventually, I came to a commercial district where I found an outdoor “cafe”, i.e. an excellent spot to have a beer.
So I grabbed a mid-afternoon cerveza and caught up on my journaling.
After the cafe stop, I continued on my way, trying my best to get lost again. I could’ve stopped and had a fresh coconut, but I passed, worried I wouldn’t be able to find a bathroom at a convenient time. Not too many public restrooms in Havana. My strategy was to go into a cafe and buy something, so that I could use their bathroom. I tried a supermarket once too, but they didn’t have a public restroom either. Anyways, that’s always a serious consideration when out and about, exploring a strange city.
I stumbled upon a commercial street that sold lots of souvenirs and CD’s, but my goal for the day was not to buy anything. I was planning on going back the next day to buy all the souvenirs that I’d be taking back home. This proved to be a mistake. I really was lost and the next day, even though I tried finding this street again, I failed.
There might be lots of tourists in Havana these days, but tourist shops really aren’t as common as you’d think. So if you spot something you like, get it right there and then. Chances are you won’t see it again.
I eventually made it to Habana Vieja. It was then time to turn around and head back to Vedado, to meet my travel mates at Hotel Nacional. More on that in the next installment.