Alright, so I have given you tips on what you should know before going to Cuba, how to travel there as an American, and even stereotypes of Cuba; but what did I DO in Cuba?! A lot! If interested in going to Cuba as an American, you typically need to have an itinerary planned out/go on a tour – so we had lots of things scheduled. One thing instantly stuck out to us as a must do – a classic car tour.
Yes, a classic car tour is very “touristy” but COME ON! When am I ever going to be in Cuba again and have the opportunity to ride in a old convertible; wind blowing my hair. And boy, did I dress for the part. I came out with big sunglasses and a scarf wrapped around my head. I was going to live this moment, no matter what!
We didn’t set this up prior to coming to Havana, as we heard this was one of the easiest thing to arrange once in Cuba (you, know the whole no internet thing). Our AirBnB host arranged for us to be picked up an this is where we met Andy. He is a local Cuban with a passion for dancing, photography, and helping tourists! His English was perfect, he was funny, and extremely knowledgeable. He asked us what we had planned, and when we discussed the car tour he told us not to worry, and he had us covered. And boy, did he deliver.
We arrived later in the evening on Friday, so the gals and I went to dinner and planned for an early morning pick-up from Andy. We thought we could do a tour at night, but as they can take around 4 hours and in the winter the sun sets early, it wasn’t advisable. At 9am the next day, Andy showed up with two stunning convertibles and very nice Cuban drivers. These cars were in b-e-a-utiful shape compared to some of the others. One of the drivers told us this had been his father’s car that was passed down and he gutted it a bit and made sure it was in pristine condition. Other drivers don’t care or it is too expensive for the upkeep, so some of that taxis we took reeked of gasoline and had lumpy, falling apart seats. But, hey that is part of the experience!
First Stop: Jaimantas
We were staying in the Vedado neighborhood, home to many casas particulares, and headed through the neighborhood and near the water. It was fascinating to see the juxtaposition of buildings falling apart, newer homes, and remnants of a soviet-union like era that influenced Cuba. Our first stop on the classic car tour was to the neighborhood of Jaimantas. Jaimantas is home to a famous Cuban artist known as Fuster Fuster is known for his bold colors, tiles and scultping work, among many things. He has been given the nickname ‘Picasso of the Caribbean’ for good reason. He started first on his home and building it through his artwork and it soon spread throughout several blocks in Jaimantas. It is now called Fusterlandia.
I seriously could write a blog on Fusterlandia itself! It was absolutely unreal walking through the gardens, near the pool, around the streets and seeing the mosaic tiles and sculptures throughout. We even SAW Fuster himself as he was walking around and talking to some tourists. My colleague Christie and I were instantly reminded of Gaudi from Barcelona, which we discussed as we climbed back into our classic car.
Second Stop: Parque Almendares
Our next stop was Parque Almendares. Seriously, Havan has it all – city, sea, and jungle (well…forest!). I felt like I was finally living my childhood dream and stepping through the Secret Garden when we arrived to Almendares. It looked like it had been untouched, however many tourists and locals visit here daily. We didn’t venture too far, but apparently the park has an amphitheater, a playground, and even statues of dinosaurs! (Why, I don’t know!)
One alarming thing I noticed was I stepped on something and upon reviewing I saw it was a bone. I had flashbacks of the Killing Fields in Cambodia and started to panic. Luckily, the history behind this isn’t as dark – Parque Almendares is a sacred Santaria site. Santaria is religion of Caribbean origin and a truly fascinating one at that. Followers give offerings and sacrifices here, which explained some of the dolls and bones we saw. More Cubans practice it than numbers reflect, as for awhile many had to hide their affiliation. However, it is becoming more open as time progresses.
Third Stop: Plaza de la Revolucion
We hit the road again, after a short delay as our classic car got stalled and died…twice, to Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolucion). It was in this square that I realized how big Havana truly is. It reminded me a bit of Tienanmen Square in Beijing, China, as it was large, a tad ominous, and serious stuff had gone down here. This is where Fidel Castro used to address the Cuban people, as well as two popes. The square consists of a 350+ foot statue to Jose Marti, who helped lead the uprising against the Spanish in 1895, the Palace of the Revolution which seats the government (for now, it is moving), several other government buildings, and the National Library.
Right across from the memorial to Jose Marti are the office of the Ministries of Communictations and Interior. They are hard to miss due to the large steel memorials on the front of the buildings. They are sculptures of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienguefos – two heroes of the Cuban Revolution.
Fourth Stop: Christ of Havana
Our last stop of the classic car tour was visiting the Christ of Havana. We had no idea this is where we actually were visiting, as the statue sits on top of a hill near the military school. We thought were were brought here for the stunning views of Havana, not the fact that there is a gigantic sculpture representing Jesus of Nazareth. Andy gave us a bit of history about Havana and pointed out sites and neighboring towns. The statue is actually located in a suburb of Havana on La Cabaña hill. While it may be no Christ the Redeemer, it is still pretty impressive an the views of Havana from this hill are awesome! I can only imagine it on a day that wasn’t so cloudy.
Alas, after this our classic car tour was over, but not before cruising down the streets near Old Havana, as car tours cannot do tours inside Old Havana. We also went along the famous Malecón which is five miles of roadway and seawall along the coast. It is a place to hang out during the day and night and ends in the Vedado neighborhood where we were staying.
Overall, it was SUCH a fun day and one of my favorite moments in Cuba. Sure, it was touristy as heck – every place we went had a row of classic cars and visitors like us, but isn’t it fun to do stuff like this some times?! I am all for being a tourist – just not an annoying one 🙂 From what I gathered this is pretty much the common spots most tours take, so now you know!