Thursday Travels: Havana, Cuba

As I mentioned in last week’s post on Varadero, the real highlight of our visit to Cuba was the day trip we took to its enchanting capital, Havana. While booking our holiday, we had initially looked into dividing our time between Havana and Varadero, but it proved to be too complicated and expensive, so we went for the more straightforward option of spending the week in Varadero.

Nevertheless, we got a real feel for Havana during our day there, and it definitely was the highlight of our entire vacation. It is by no means a city of creature comforts (you can forget about shopping, and finding a decent restaurant/cafe is difficult), but what it lacks in the kind of things we take for granted in other parts of the world, it makes up for in sheer visual stimulation. I think “haunting” is how I would best describe Havana. It is by no means a feel-good kind of place (I mean, it’s not a feel-bad kind of place, but, given its troubled history, there is a bittersweet kind of energy in the air. I mean, you are in a Communist country after all). Given that we visited back in February however, shortly after Obama announced the overhaul in US policy towards Cuba, there was a real sense that this was a place on the brink of huge change.


{View at a stop midway between Varadero and Havana. The drive took about 3-ish hours.}


{The San Francisco de Asis Square, home to the touring Buddy Bear Exhibition when we visited (hand-painted bears from 150+ countries)}


{Of course we had to seek out the Irish one ;)}


{The 18th century Havana Cathedral}








{We stopped off at an atmospheric little outdoor cafe for cappuccinos and Cuban-style hot chocolate (it was this straight-up, unsweetened cocoa mixture with sugar served on the side for you to stir in yourself. Surprisingly delicious!}




{Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle and hope — Cuba and Ireland}







{As a colour fiend, I was in my element in Havana 😉 This striking salmon-pink building is the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernest Hemingway lived during his time in Cuba}


{The interior of another hotel — spot the Cuban flag! Havana’s buildings are stunning, both inside and out, but there is a real sort of decaying grandeur going on; most are in pretty poor condition}




{The Castillo de Real Fuerza — the oldest fortress in the Americas; built in the 16th century to defend against pirate attacks}



{Revolution Square/Plaza de la Revolución, featuring the man himself, Che Guevara.}


{Fidel Castro (who, by the way, is alive and well and just celebrated his 89th birthday)}


{José Martí Memorial}

Stay tuned for next week’s Thursday Travels post, where I’ll be sharing our little observations of Cuba and its people in greater depth…


Thursday Travels: Varadero, Cuba

This past February we went on a family holiday to Cuba, spending the bulk of our time in the resort town of Varadero, with a day trip to Havana (which, as you’ll see in next week’s Thursday Travels, was the highlight of our visit).

We went for an all-inclusive (pretty much the only way to go in Varadero), which was an…interesting experience. I’d never stayed at an AI before so had nothing to compare it with, but Claudia, who has been to a few in Mexico, said the standard was definitely not as high in Varadero. All I know is that I probably had the worst food week of my life while there (and that’s saying something, as I’m the kind of girl who actually likes airplane food and is a big fan of theme park cuisine). The buffet consisted of stodgy, mystery-meat stews, extremely dodgy looking fish, tasteless bread, and sickly sweet desserts, while the food at the “themed” restaurants that you had to book in advance (Italian, Chinese, Mexican) wasn’t that much better. But hey, I guess it was a bit of a blessing in disguise — this was an all-you-can-eat after all, and had the food actually been good, I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze into my bikini 😉

Food aside though, the rest of our stay was fun; largely spent on the beach or by the pool of course! The weather while we were there was pretty pleasant for the most part (high 20s), though some days were pretty chilly and breezy, and the beach would be off limits because the water was so choppy.




{Totally candid, definitely didn't beg Claudia to take a covert picture of me reading ;)}

{Totally candid, definitely didn’t beg Claudia to take a covert picture of me reading ;)}


Apart from our beach excursions, we did do other things in Varadero…


{…like hop on the “Blue Train” to the Plaza America…}


{…a shopping mall…of sorts}



{Its offerings sadly didn’t tempt us, however}



{FYI this is basically what we existed on during our stay. Also, FANTA!!! I don’t think I’d had a can of Fanta since maybe Ireland circa 1992, but it’s alive and well in Cuba}




While Vardero largely consists of dozens of big beachside resorts, there is a sort of town…and one day we decided to get the bus in (it was maybe a 20-minute ride) and investigate.



{A Beatles-themed restaurant in the heart of Varadero. Because gringos love the Beatles!}

One of our favourite things to do was wander down the side streets, admiring the city’s dogs. Pretty much every house we passed in Cuba had a resident dog keeping watch on the roof– so cute!


{Sometimes they’d be so tiny and silent (see above) that it would almost become a game of finding the dog…}


{…but there would always be one…somewhere}



{Those “cocotaxis” (so-named because they resemble a coconut) are everywhere in Cuba}

And then we somehow wound up in what may be the creepiest park I’ve ever ventured into (the Parque Josone if you’re interested)…


{I mean, it wasn’t thaaaaat creepy…}


{…but this abandoned mini-golf section *did* send a shiver down my spine}



{Chao, Varadero! You were…an experience ;)}