Whether it’s the heady perfume of cigar smoulder, the strum of a busker or the burr of a 1950’s car engine, sensation en masse can be traced to the cobbled streets of Old Havana. Anyone who has visited in recent years will attest that the historic flair of La Havana Vieja remains unharmed, in spite of the quarter being ravaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the city yields a clamour of over 3000 brightly balconied buildings jostling for the attention of passers-by, and is a place of architectural paradigm. Cathedral Square is home to the ornate and exceptional Catedral de San Cristóbal. In spite of its baroque style, the church is curiously exceptional for its asymmetry. The equally elaborate Grand Theatre of Cuba is home to the Cuban National Ballet, a company characterised by their highly emotional, precise performances and recognised as world leaders, and well worth an evening outing.
One of Old Havana’s greatest claims to fame is its connection with the writer Ernest Hemingway, whose love for Cuba kept him resident there for over two decades. He frequented el Floridita bar, and there indulged his favourite tipple, the Daiquiri. Voted one of the best bars in the world, today El Floridita serves seafood and history, and in Hemingway’s place at the bar a sculpture leans in eternal anticipation of a frosted rum and lime.
To travel around the city, it’s advisable to grab a taxi. Most are charming 50s Chevys, but for a cheap and quirky alternative, coco taxis zip around Havana’s centre, and resemble three wheeled, luminous eggs. After a day’s sightseeing, settle down for the night in a Casa Particular. Casas range from tiny pastel-painted townhouses to white-pillared villas, and usually entail staying with a Cuban family for a few days. This way, it can cost as little as 20 USD a night to stay in Havana. Many companies offer a meet and greet at the airport, rooms which have been upgraded to meet industry standard and state licensed properties. This is a great way to help a Cuban family, gain a much closer understanding of Cuban life than in a commercial resort and guarantee cheap holidays in Cuba!