Havana takes the word “vintage” to a new level. It’s a city stuck somewhere in time with its old weathered architecture, colorful classic cars and beautiful people with smiles that fill the many vibrant streets. It's almost like someone pressed the "pause" button back in the 1950s and everything stood still or maybe it just been flowing to the rhythm of Guantanamera by Celia Cruz. My family and I just spent 4 days in Havana, and I am sharing a few details here of our trip. Please comment below if you have any questions and I will be happy to answer them for you.
It was extremely difficult for me as a photographer not wanting to capture it all. Every inch of every wall of every street of every corner of every door of every car was a photo opportunity. I felt like a sugar addict inside of the most delicious and colorful candy store in the world!
Havana is a very unique city and a place like nowhere else in the world. If you take the streets of Rome, mix it with architecture of Seville, splash in the colors of Cinque Terre and the weathered old city of Damascus, it can give you an idea of how it is.
Why we visited Havana:
One of the main reasons that my family and I decided to visit Havana, was to learn about the Cuban culture. As parents, we like to teach our kids that life experiences are far more important than material things. We want to show them how people live outside of the “bubble” we call home, so they can grow with a new vision of the world and appreciate other cultures. We made sure that almost everything we did or reserved was done through privately owned local businesses which directly supported the Cuban people. We wanted our experience to be true and raw, so instead of staying at a fancy hotel, we rented a small apartment in the old city (Havana Vieja).
One of the best decisions I’ve made was to hire a professional photographer in Havana to capture our family. Another way to support local/privately owned businesses and the Cuban people directly. As a photographer myself, it’s always hard for me to be in the photo so this was perfect! I contacted Julio Alvite while I was in the states to set up a time and date that worked for both of us.
Julio was such a pleasure to work with. He was very professional, creative and passionate about his work which was very evident in his photography. We talked about the colors in the city and how the sun shines through the tall colorful buildings and how the contrast in the photos is so different compared to other places…as if Havana has its own God made photo filter. Julio has become a friend to our family and we can’t wait to see him and have dinner with his family on our next visit. If you are planning to visit Havana, make sure to contact him.
Julio Alvite - Fotografía de Bodas
Studio: 537 830 1682 Mobile: 535 243 5754
Here are a few pictures from our photoshoot with Julio:
You may notice La Bodeguita del Medio bar in some of the pictures. This place became famous due to Ernest Hemingway (the famous writer). He used to come to this bar to have mojitos and write some of his books.
We strayed in Old Havana, in a small little apartment located next to the Spanish embassy. The location was perfection! It was walking distance to everything we wanted to see and learn about. We found this place via Airbnb which is available in Havana now. Our host, Marisol was very sweet and made sure we had everything we needed daily. We even had a fresh homemade breakfast cooked for us by Kayla the house manager. The apartment had a WiFi router which is very rare in Cuba, so we felt good to stay connected with our family back home.
Teléfono:(+53) 8638932 Celular:(+53) 52814272
Address: Genios #57 e/ Morro y Zulueta, Habana Vieja. La Habana Cuba
WiFi is available at all major hotels and sporadically throughout the city at public hotspos. Once you have WiFi access, you will still have to buy an internet card called ETECSA. Those are sold by 1 hour or 5 hours. Cost is about 1 cuc per hour. Luckily our apartment had a router so we were able to connect from home in the evening. SnapChat doesn't work but I was able to use Whatsapp to call my parents.
What to bring:
Havana is a place that shouldn’t be rushed… so take it slow and try to enjoy it for what it is. Everything seems to go just a little slower…or maybe a lot slower! We noticed that right away as we arrived in the airport. It took about an hour to get our bags, another 45 mins at the money exchange.
Bring cash as credit cards and debit cards issued by US banks are not an option in Cuba.
Exchange Rate: 1 CUC = 1 USD
Keep in mind that there is a 10% fee for exchange of US dollars to CUC. We heard some people bring Euros instead of dollars so they don’t have to pay the fee.
Replace the word luxurious with modest and humble. What is considered 5 stars in Cuba, is more like a 3 star in the states. The city is very old and some areas are dirty…So make sure to set your expectations before making your trip.
Due to the embargo, Cuba lacks many resources. Things are not available at the local store as in the States. So, bring everything you need and don’t count on finding it there. Your medicine, shampoo, wipes, hair gel etc…
Where to eat:
La Guarida - 418 Concordia, La Habana, Cuba. www.laguarida.com
Most elegant restaurant in Havana. Great food and service. Beautiful outdoor seating. Known to host many famous celebrities like Beyonce, and husband Jay-Z, Naomi Campbel, Jack Nicholson, Natalie Portman, Robert Dinero, Benicio del Toro, Steven Spielberg, Javier Bardem and many more.
Make reservations at least a month in advance.
El Chanchullero - Bernaza y El Cristo, 457 A bajos Teniente Rey, La Habana, Cuba. www.el-chanchullero.com
One the best food we've had! Great place to try local dishes and have a frozen mojito. There is usually a line to get in. It's that good!
Paladar Doña Eutimia - Callejon del Chorro # 60-C | Plaza de la Catedral, Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba www.donaeutimia.restaurantwebexperts.com
Located in the Cathedral Plaza. Great food and yummy frozen mojitos! Must make reservation far in advance.
Cafe Escorial - Mercaderes No 317 Plaza Vieja | Old Havana, Havana, Cuba
Located in Plaza Vieja. Great place to people watch and enjoy a delicious cup of Cuban coffee.
What to do:
Walk - Havana is a city that deserves all your attention. Try to spend most of your days and evenings getting lost in its vibrant streets. Discover Cuban life that is not found in the tourist areas. I have never felt more safe walking with my kids in an unknown place as I did in Havana!
Visit the Beautiful Squares - They are all within walking distance to one another . Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza San Francisco de Asis and Plaza de Armas.
Book a Vintage Car Tour - It's about an hour tour inside of a 1950s convertible car. The cost is 35 CUC . Your driver will take you to the many historic sights of Havana including Plaza de la Revolucion where you will see murals of revolutionaries Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.
Malecón Ocean Drive - It's a very popular hang out spot to watch the vintage cars pass by while enjoying the ocean view. Make sure to stop at Maximo Bar for a yummy mojito while enjoying the view.
The Cuban people are just amazing. They don't have much maternal things but that doesn't stop them from smiling and being happy. Almost everyone greeted us with the biggest smile especially when they knew we are from US.
It's also facilitating how creative they are in reusing things. Nothing goes to waste and it gets used over and over. Old sewing machines used as tables and mouse traps used as a check holder. I especially like the picture of the old man sharpening knifes in the street.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Cuba, I highly recommend the Netflix documentary THE CUBA LIBRE STORY.
Havana is one of the most beautiful and heartwarming places I have ever visited and I can't wait to go back. I hope you get to visit this magical place one day.
My heart is in Havana.
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