All things considered, Havana is possibly the best city I have ever visited. It is for certain in my top 5.
It is like the best Spanish cities moulded into one – the edgy old town of Cadiz, the oceanside promenade and Art Deco of Barcelona, the majestic buildings of Madrid, the music & dance of Seville, the cuisine of Valencia, the bars of Bilbao, the fortifications of Malaga, the multiculturalism of Granada, the covered colonnades of Santiago de Compostela.
Havana has three distinct central districts – Vedado, New Havana & Old Havana. The common denominator is the 8 km prom that runs beside the crashing waves of the Caribbean.
This is one of the great iconic ocean roads – an elongated Ocean Drive without the lycra-clad poseurs or 70 year-old ladies sporting 40 year-old faces.
Vedado is where we stayed for our first two nights in the highly recommended Casavana. Our very large double was on the 11th floor affording splendid views of the ocean, rooftops and roads arranged in grids and stocked with American classic motors.
Fuelled by a spectacular breakfast we went strolling on day one. Along Avenida de los Présidentes to Revolution Square with the Jose Marti Monument (sadly the tower was shut) and on to the vast Christabel Colon (Christopher Columbus) cemetery with its ostentatious graves.
Having survived our first dilapidated Lada taxi experience and after a reviving pasta and coke at an excellent restaurant, we headed for our first close up taste of Malecon.
And you could taste it literally as the waves smacked against the rocks and the wind gusted, combining to deliver salt deposits onto your lips. It was never stormy on that sunny January day, but definitely invigorating and most certainly not conducive to maintaining a stylish hair arrangement or staying connected to your hat!
The pelicans and cormorants seemed to be faring far better than the humans in the fishing stakes. We lingered for a good while to take in the pelicans hovering above the frothing surf, before dive-bombing an unsuspecting fish for a briny sushi meal.
Every now and again a party of giggling schoolgirls or unwitting tourists got a real soaking as the waves whipped up into a particular frenzy. Hilarious to watch and thrilling at first for the victims until they then realised the reality that that they were cold & wet and far away from salvation.
Where the Malecon falls a little short compared with Ocean Drive is in the eating & drinking stakes. We however found a decent outside bar just back from the ocean, but still in view of the blue waters and hungry birds. They only served Sol Beer or Mojitos, but sometimes limited choice is very good.
After refreshments we slipped back a street or two to take in real Havana. Crumbling mansions, once the domain of Cuba’s well-heeled and now buildings of mass occupation as evidenced by all the al fresco laundry drying out. No wonder everybody smelt of salt!
It was here that locals hung out, unfettered by tourism and just going about their daily lives. Trading, playing, grooming, smoking, gossiping, gazing, laughing, singing, waiting, sauntering, nursing and most of all chilling.
It is the people that are the soul of a city and something Disney or Vegas can never replicate. In Cuba in general and Havana in particular, the locals are particularly colourful in dress, manner and culture. I will let the pictures do the talking.
After a wonderful hour or so wandering & photographing, it was time to return to the Malecon for sunset. The open-topped Cadillacs were doing a roaring trade – that was an option for another day for us.
We finished our day with rum cocktails and lobster in a restaurant on the cusp of Vedado & New Havana, a perfect end to a brilliant day.
In bed by 9, the next day promised a whole lot more adventure……………