Havana, a city of contrasts
The moment I noticed how close Cancun is from Cuba, I wanted to make a citytrip to La Habana. Do forget to find a boat bringing you to the other site. At night, I went down the airport to check the possibilities. The only option is the airline Cubana, which is fully booked most of the time… Luckely one of the guards new someone of Cubana who arranged some tickets for the next day! While dropping off Pablo the Beetle for some repair at the VW agency, she came down to hand over the tickets and get the payment (310 US dollar, damn monopoly!) Waiting for an houre at the check-in together with dozens of luggage of the ‘mulas’. Passengers taking goods to import: flatscreens, clothes, toilet paper, antennes,… A trip to Cuba seemed already a bigger adventure than Mexico!
I booked online 2 hotels to gain more experience in these 4 days. This tip I can advise everybody! The Kohly hotel is clean and includes a decent breakfast, only the restaurant and little shop are expensive. I liked the most that it’s far from the city centre. Well you end up paying too much money for a cab to the hotel (7 CUC – 6 EUR). But you see a totally different part of the city! It’s great to get overwhelmed by the dozens of old cars being used as taxi. Or see the local stores, hardly offering a few packages of sugar… The other hotel, Saint Johns, is a big dissapointment. It’s a bit closer to the centre, so I could get there by walking 1 hour and enjoying more parts of the city. But I can’t bear the crappy eggs, poor bread and lack of other food for breakfast! The room is too crappy to mention!
I got the advice to just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. Being with a lack of money, I grabbed the idea. And after 3 days walking I keep on stonned by the contrast… One building is turned into a fancy restaurant, and right next to it other building is about to collapse. But still there live people, having their laundry drying in the window. Locals queue in the big line to get a slimy pizza as snack, while tourists pay one street further 8 CUC (7 EUR) for a fancy dish. These great old cars, that makes the city so famous, are cramped with passengers that share the cost. And next to it a brand new Mercedes stops at the traffic light. You can see these old fashioned clothes in the shops. And you do start to wonder where people bought these sexy dresses!!! I expected the old cars and buildings. But I never imagened they do have expensive hotels, art galleries, cars, Nestle icecream, Heineken and even the real (imported) Coca-Cola!
As a tourist you can get anything! If you pay enough… They do charge up to 2,5 CUC (1,75 EUR) for 25cl Coca-Cola, 5 times more than the national ‘TuKola’. And you can take a tour to experience the Cuban Cigars, if you hand over 41 CUC (36 EUR)! And be ready to pay about 10 CUC (8 EUR) to take a Cuban cigar as souvenir! Or get poor by paying 50 CUC per person to watch a concert in the style of Buena Vista Social Club! You can save a lot of money if you leave these touristic side behind. Here are some do’s and dont’s:
– Walk around in the centre. Walk slowly and open your ears when you see a live group playing at a bar!
– Put away your expensive belongings and head in the small streets behind.
– Take a quick look at the shops of the musea (Cigar factory nearby Palacio Nacional – Club Havana in the Old Havana)
– Buy a fancy Cuban cocktail at the bar of Hotel Nacional (4 CUC – 23-La Rampa, neighbourhood Vedado)
– Take a swim at Hotel Nacional and order the best hamburger in town (15 CUC entrance)
– Watch a movie at a local cinema and have some ‘rositas’, a funny name for popcorn! (2 CUC – I had bad luck of having all the cinema’s closed at Street 23)
– Exchange your money in the airport or one of the expensive hotels (you don’t want to be queueing at the local banks!)
– Enjoy a refined meal for a good deal at restaurant Europa (5 CUC main dish – Street)
– Take a look at local art at Taller Experimental D Grafica and see their view on the city and Cuba (free entrance – in the corner of the square Plaza de la Catedral)
– Eat at the restaurant A Prado y Neptuno, on the corner one block North of Palacio Nacional. They charge twice the money for an imported Coca-Cola, while they didn’t ask you if you wanted to local version. They let you pay for unwanted bread and their bathroom is not free and unclean! At the end your bill doubles. There are better places downtown to enjoy La Habana!
– Pay for a taxi at the airport to get to the centre (25 CUC – 22 EUR). But well, you have to because there is no other way to get away!
To finalize the trip, they make you pay 25 CUC (22 EUR) airport tax on top of the regular taxes you already paid. For some countries it’s common. But being from Europe, it just seems like another attempt to rip of the tourists and make some Cubans rich… The infrastructure and life of the Cubans would look much better if they used these tax for the community!