My Heart is in Havana.
Is it just a coincidence that Camila Cabello’s song “Havana” came out in time for our long-awaited trip to Cuba?
I’d been dreaming of visiting Cuba since a photographer friend showed me photos he’d taken there. It may have been my American upbringing, but for some reason, Cuba was never on my must-travel list until I was a young adult in Toronto. I’ve known so many Canadians who’ve traveled to Cuba and have spoken highly of it. And what’s not to love? The people are warm, the country is safe, and it’s basically a tropical island with vintage cars zipping around. Of course, that description doesn’t even scratch the surface of a country so rich in history.
Our stay in Cuba was very pleasant. (Minus the difficulty tracking down decent vegan food. It was pasta, fruit and fried veggies the whole week for us!) And although our hotel was in Varadero, we planned to spend at least one day in Havana.
Our ride for the day was a lime green 1957 Ford Fairlane 500. Ok, it’s not a Cadillac. But I could care less, this car made made the trip even more special. I hope you enjoy coming along with us on this fun and carefree adventure!
From Veradero to Havana in a Classic Car
Our first stop is a look-out point on the coast. And my, there’s a lot to take in! So much of Cuba is untouched forest. It has been spared the over-development of many tourist areas and certainly still has that wildness factor. Even though it’s December, the sun is shining bright and the temperature is warm. (Meanwhile, back in Toronto, there’s a snowstorm.)
I still dream of these breath-taking views! Just look at that landscape.
Back to the car! Two hours in, and we still had a long way to go to get to Havana. But the journey is more than enjoyable. We pass ocean views, ancient Russian oil rigs, banana groves, and at least 50 candy-coloured classic cars on the way.
And yes, even the inside of the car is green! The pom-pom bag seemed appropriate for the fun we were having.
After hours of driving along the lush coastline, Havana is in sight. The buildings squeeze the roads tighter and tighter. We round a narrow corner and drive past some cruise ships sparkling in the sun. They tower over the humble, crumbling buildings by the docks. Our guide asks us if we’ve ever been on one and what are they like. We both tell her no, we’ve never been on a cruise ship. She laughs and says “Oh I was hoping you’d know! No Cuban can afford to go on one! And when they first arrived, we’d never seen anything like it… People came in big crowds just to stare at them. They looked like alien ships to us.” It became clear just how isolated Cuba had become from the rest of the world. It was something I “knew” but not something I fully understood until I spent time there.
Suddenly, the buildings and tour buses part to reveal a massive cobblestone square. Old Havana in all it’s glory rolls into view, like a sprawling movie set. It looks too beautiful to be real!
Tassel Skirt: Vintage find
Pom Pom Purse: Aldo
Moon Necklace: Altar Ego – Save 15% with code thepurist
Tennis Shoes: Keds
There is so much to see and do! Everywhere we go there is a buzz of energy. Many of the buildings are ancient and full of history. Some are in dire need of repair. Others are stuck with one foot in the old world and one stepping into modern architecture.
We are dropped off at Old Havana Square and visit several tourist-focused destinations, like cathedrals, shops, and public parks. This area of the city is maintained very well. Down each narrow street are buildings in white, pastel yellow, pink, blue and sea-foam green.
This eclectic shop is one of the world’s oldest perfumeries! They mix their formulas onsight. And you can sample the various scents from these large, super vintage glass jars.
We left Old Havana with some sadness in our hearts. Not just because the city is so captivating, but also because of the stark contrast between those that live here and those that visit. Everyone we encountered was wearing big smiles on their faces and seemed very happy. However, the further we ventured from the tourist areas, the clearer it was that the average Cuban didn’t enjoy any of the luxuries offered to us tourists.
While eating at a higher-end restaurant nested somewhere in the inner city, our guides were not allowed to sit in the same area as us. They were also given different, more modest menus to eat from. And those classic cars? Real Cubans don’t drive them. Those are reserved for taxi services and diplomats. The average Cuban family can only dream of owning a modest car if it’s passed down from another family member. Imports are an illegal luxury when it comes to any type of technology. Hence why very few of the cars driven here were manufactured after 1960.
An Interesting History
Cuba is rich in social, cultural, and political history. It truly is unique! Zipping around the city in a vintage car or seeing police in 1950’s style uniforms gives the illusion that time stands still here. The mesmerizing spell is only broken when you hear American pop music drifting out of open car windows or bustling bars. As the sun sets, we dodge the discoteks playing top 40 music and get cozy in a small bar playing authentic Cuban music. I hear enough Justin Beiber at home, thanks 🙄
The Cuban people that live here have me completely smitten. Their optimism in the face of hard times is both inspiring and extremely humbling. I’m so glad that I had the chance to step into their culture, if only for a short period of time.
Off the Beaten Path
Our time in Havana isn’t over yet! But I didn’t want this post to become too long. After mingling with fellow tourists and seeing the “squeaky-clean” image of Old Havana, we wanted to see what the rest of Havana was like. During this second part of our trip, we venture off the beaten path and into the wilder areas.
Be sure to check out Havana: Part II, where we visit the super trippy Fusterlandia!