We liked Paladar Vistamar so much we had lunch there to enjoy the seaview and get more of the great seafood. I also cured my curiosity regarding a drink called the Mary Pickford that I had seen on every Cuban menu. It turned out to be an Bay Breeze made with rum, but the name made it way more interesting.
After a short rest, we headed back into Old Havana for a night tour which was all about immersion in Havana nightlife. Unlike the walking tour earlier in the day, this was a little lackluster with a couple of exceptions. It's important to note here that Havana is EXTREMELY safe and we could have wandered around on our own without issue. There are also, plenty of bars and clubs so you can stumble into whatever you fancy. We visited 2 historical sites, el Bodega del Medio and The Floridita (made famous because it's the inventor of the original daiquiri and was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway).
We also enjoyed live music at Kilómetro Zero and some very tasty high end mojitos. What was really cool about the night tour is our guides took us off the beaten path when we requested to find a club with American style dj's. That led is to Sara's which is in the Vedaro neighborhood of Havana. It felt like any Miami nightclub that you've ever been in where the goal is to see and be seen. It was also the first place that had a full American bar with more than the delicious Cuban rum that had been the drink of choice thus far. After hanging there for a bit, our guides fulfilled my request to stop by the infamous Plaza de la Revolución. I highly recommend seeing this site at night if possible because the lights make it even more magnificent. I was a little worried about taking pictures in the wee hours of the night, but again, Cuba is very safe and the security guard didn't seem to think I was a threat.
The next day we headed to the beach! While Cuba boasts beautiful beaches, most are not in Havana and the closest sand beach is Playa Santa Maria which is about a 30ish minute drive from Old Havana. Transportation was about $25 each way, but very much worth it when I dipped my toes in that hot sand. Renting chairs was $2 CUC per person and there was a small restaurant for drinks and food. As with all of the cocktails in Cuba, no drink was over $4 so downing mojitos and piña coladas while absorbing the hot Cuban rays was a steal.
So visiting Cuba right now is all the rage because access and has been denied for so long and because everyone wants to see it in its original glory (read: before Starbucks and KFC break ground) and after 4 days here, I've never been so happy to be part of a trend.
On our last night in Cuba, I wanted to check out the quirky Fabrica del Arte which is a self proclaimed art museum nightclub. Transportation to the club was about $8 CUC from Miramar as the club is located in Veradero. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like this place with all of the activity going on. In one venue, there was a stage performance, video presentation and art show happening simultaneously. For the reasonable $4 CUC admission, it is quite the must see venue in Havana. There is a restaurant on site, but reservations are needed. However light snacks can be purchased throughout the venue. The place is like a maze with interesting things happening all throughout and the chance to party until the wee hours of the morning. Also interesting is that all of your purchases are captured via a card and you pay at the end of the night. If you "lose" the card you have to pay $30 CUC, so depending on the size of your party and what you order keep this in mind.
Our first full day started with a traditional Cuban breakfast at our condo prepared by our stellar caretakers. Then we hopped in our first classic auto to take us into Old Havana. When people say that going to Old Havana is like being transported back in time, they aren't joking. It is such an oxymoron in that it's slow and fast in parallel. Hustle and bustle happens all around you, but the scenery could be out of any 50s classic film.
We prearranged a walking tour via Cuban Adventures
which gave us 3.5 hours of Cuban history as we walked through the four major plazas in Old Havana. The tour guide was awesome at telling the written and unwritten history of Cuba. All of the landmarks were rich with history, but my personal favorite was the Spanish Fortress because the International Book Festival was happening at the time. Calle Obispo was also exciting with most of the major tourist shopping activity occurring there. After lunch at the Arte Pub, which is a nice cafe with a lot of British influence, we were on our own until our night tour.
Heading back to condo, we were able to take ride in a 1947 convertible and enjoyed the sea breeze as we cruised the ever famous Malceon. Transportation to and from Old Havana was around $15-$20 CUC each way depending on the type of car you request.
After being held up at Customs and exploring the beautiful condo, we opted for dinner at a local Paladar Vistamar and headed to bed early. If your travels bring you close to Miramar, this restaurant is a must try. The seafood specialties are fresh caught and grilled in house. It was a little pricy for Cuba ($22/plate for lobster, shrimp and fish), but definitely worth every penny.
We opted to stay in Havana for 4 days to really immerse ourselves in the city and while there's plenty more that could have been done, I felt like I took away everything I needed.
Once we landed in Havana, clearing customs was painless for me, but my travel partner (the excellent photographer who provided all of these snaps you're hopefully enjoying) got stopped for having a wireless microphone. We never quite figured out why, but it appeared to be a pain for all of the customs agents to fill out the paperwork. It also detained us at the airport for 2 hours, so note to self, no wireless mics.
I had previously arranged transportation via Havaning and after finally leaving customs, we were on our way. I exchanged money at the airport which seemed to be the most efficient way to do things. I converted to Euros ahead of time to save the 10% USD conversion fee that is charged on all USD transactions.
Our taxi ride was uneventful, and we arrived at our prearranged AirBNB* without any issue. I opted to stay in Miramar which is a suburb of Havana and the big bonus was being right on the ocean. 100 yards from on me of the best diving sites in all of Havana. It's a rocky beach so no sunbathing, but absolutely breathtaking to look at. Transportation from the airport to Miramar was $30 CUC.
Before You Leave...
First, do your research before you arrive. What's really unique about Cuba is how different the experience can be based on your preferences. Looking for glitz and glamorous nightlife, check. Want to explore lush natural forests, you can. Want to lounge at a luxury resort, it's yours. Decide what type of vacation you're looking for and do all of your research before you leave. When you don't have access to Google, it gets real quickly.
To get into the country you have to travel under one of the 12 approved categories which is pretty simple and I was not questioned once. You also have to buy a tourist card which is $30-$50 (you can get it through your airline) and that and your boarding pass will serve as your mandated medical insurance once you're in Cuba. Don't buy separate medical insurance, though there will be people trying to sell it, especially if you're traveling with a person to person tour.
Our last morning was spent staring out at the glorious seaside and having a great breakfast. Leaving paradise is never easy and the beauty of Cuba along with the culture and people made this especially difficult.
I highly recommend you visit Cuba if you are able to do so