A Day in Havana, Part II: What we did

When we boarded the ship, we found out that the tour we had originally purchased, called “Hemingway’s Havana,” was cancelled and we would have to find an alternate tour. Although we were disappointed, the tour we chose as its replacement, “Old Havana City Sightseeing,” was a more than suitable replacement.

The buses we boarded for the roughly 3-hour tour were very nice – comfortable, cool, and with a more than serviceable bathroom. It even had toilet paper! (We were reminded frequently that this is not usually the case in Cuba.)

Our tour gave us a great introduction to Havana. We stopped at a cemetery, at a cigar store, at the Christ of Havana statue, and at a local crafts market. It was a nice combination of riding around (in the air-conditioned comfort of the bus) and walking around to take pictures and learn more about Havana and Cuba.

We finished the tour around 1:30 pm, which left us plenty of time, before our 7:30 all aboard call, in which we could explore the area around the port. We started by walking away from the port down a narrow street. We wound up stopping at a restaurant about two or three blocks away where I had Ropa Vieja, a traditional Cuban dish (being from North Carolina, I described it as “Cuban BBQ”), and the hubby had garlic shrimp. We tried one of the local beers, Bucanero. (In researching this blog I found some fascinating background on Cuba’s national beers here.)

Emboldened by our beers, we started walking further into Havana. It was then that I learned one of the best pieces of advice I can give to people visiting Havana – follow your ears. We heard some fantastic Cuban music coming out of a tiny bar and decided to go in and check it out. We had some rum drinks – a daiquiri for me, a mojito for him – and danced to the music as best we could in the available space (not much).

We walked on and found ourselves in the Plaza Vieja, a lively square where we stayed a bit to watch some street performers. I had decided that I wanted to take us to the “Museo del Ron” (Museum of Rum), and so we walked a route based on the map we’d been given. (Better PDF versions to come, but for now you can view the maps below.)

We had been told that you can change foreign currency for CUCs at hotels, and given that we were getting low on cash, I decided we should do this. We stopped at a hotel and asked about changing our pounds for Cuban currency. The desk clerk agreed to do this, but she said somewhat apologetically that she wouldn’t be able to give us as good an exchange rate. To me, that was fine – at that part of the day, it was pretty much a convenience fee. I exchanged 100 pounds for 110 CUCs.

It turned out that the so-called “rum museum” was really an attraction created by the local rum, Havana Club. It took up several buildings and featured a pretty little courtyard with a small bar where you could buy rum drinks. We tried a couple and even had a drink made with rum and freshly squeezed sugarcane juice! We were getting ready to leave when we heard a band playing in the complex’s bar, where they served all of the Havana Club products. We were convinced to stay for another drink and some more fun Cuban music. We stayed until the band finished its set and walked on.

Once we made it to the end of the day, I was longing for the A/C on that cool tour bus. Although most have plenty of ceiling fans, there’s little air conditioning in the bars and restaurants in Old Havana. My advice is to dress in cool clothing and just be prepared to be hot and sweaty – try not to let it bother you. I can guarantee you’re not the only one.

After we left the Havana Club/Museo del Ron, we thought we might head straight back to the ship. But we passed by a restaurant with an invitingly breezy patio and decided to have a seat. Turns out we were at a Harley Davidson motorcycle bar! I believe the place was called Café Ciclo but unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, and to be honest I had had a LOT of rum at this point. Some fun decor made this an easily identifiable place on the same street as the Museo del Ron:

{{pictures to come}}

We had a snack and a big bottle of water, and I tried the other local beer (Cristal), while we cooled off and prepared to head back to the ship.

My day in Havana definitely left me wanting more. I can’t wait to come back on a cruise with an overnight stop or even fly in for a couple of days. Soon!