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“Helping the children”
Review of Old Havana

Old Havana
Ranked #1 of 266 things to do in Havana
Certificate of Excellence
More attraction details
Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: Bohemian, rhythmically Latin, certainly picturesque and, above all, charming.
Reviewed 1 March 2012

Participated in taking medical supplies to children that needed wheelchairs and various things not available in he States

Thank sundiata42
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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6,723 - 6,727 of 16,106 reviews

Reviewed 29 February 2012

Old Havana is like a postcard. It's beautiful, safe, easy to find your way around, must be visited if you go to Cuba. There's very little money here but Cuba is trying hard to look after the place and make the most of it.

Thank AliceW33
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 29 February 2012

Recently returned from Friendly Planet's Discover Havana Tour. The whole trip was amazing! if you are looking for a Cuban vacation I would highly recommend using friendly planet for the best price and customer service.

http://www.friendlyplanet.com/vacation-packages/caribbean/cuba.html

2  Thank Adam P
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 29 February 2012

Very interesting, just take comfortable shoes- the streets are cobble stone in most areas!

1  Thank stylist27
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 28 February 2012

At the end of January my wife and I and another couple took advantage of a Transat deal for Cuba and spent 3 days at the Parque Central Hotel in Havana and 4 days at the Iberostar Laguna Azul in Varadero. This offer included a full, serve yourself, breakfast at the hotel and all meals at the resort in Varadero. This was our second trip to Cuba. Everything went smoothly. We left Montreal around 15h00 and arrived at the in Havana airport around 19h00. A Transat representative met us outside the terminal and we were driven to the Parque Central Hotel in Old Havana arriving around 21h30.

For those wishing to spend a bit of time visiting Havana, this is a perfect solution. You get the opportunity to take in what Havana has to offer and get to do it at a leisurely pace as opposed to a quick one day catch it all visit to Old Havana, as offered by most of the resorts on the Varadero strip. Note that a bus ride from Varadero to Havana is approximately 2 hours one way. For some this offer may be good enough but a couple of days in Havana is worth it.

On our first morning there, we met our Transat representative to get a lay of the land and find out what was available. In the morning we took a walk around our hotel and took in the sites of the various buildings close to the hotel such as the Capitol, the National Theatre, Hotel Inglaterra, etc. As for getting pestered, you WILL be asked if you are interested in a one hour cruise in a well-kept 1950s American car (there are quite a few available), or a horse drawn buggy ride, or a pedal bike buggy ride, or a photo op with a Cuban or two dressed in period clothing and the odd beggar thrown in. As a seasoned tourist you should be expecting this. If this is your first time, then I’m afraid you’ll have to get used to it. In most cases this is their livelihood. Cuban people are very polite. A simple smile and a no thank you will go a far way. The trick is to keep walking at a slow pace and smile. There are a lot of us tourists out there and they will not waste their time if you are not interested. ¸

After our walk we toured the hotel itself. The lobby is very beautiful with a double round staircase that leads to the fumoir (cigar lounge complete with very old rhum) on the second floor. At night, you can tap your fingers and follow the beat of live music. Dancing is allowed! Another warning: music is prevalent in hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars, on the streets, etc. Musicians will pedal their music CDs. This is your opportunity, usually for 10CUC per CD, to bring back some local Cuban music and support the local talent. Try the canapés at the hotel, they are great. The roof of the hotel offers a 360 view of Havana. It is worth visiting during the day and at night. The other plus is that the pool is also on the roof of the hotel, complete with towel service, waiters and a bar.

In the afternoon we took advantage of a 5 hour private tour of Havana in a mini-van complete with chauffeur and a tour guide, organised by our Transat representative earlier in the morning. This is a great way to visit the major sites of Old Havana such as Castillo de Los Très Reyes Del Morro, Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabana and Castillo de la Real Fuerza, fortifications that once guarded Havana Harbour’s entrance, La Plaza Vieja with its boutiques, Plaza de la Cathédrale and the 136 year old cathedral, Necropolis Cristobal Colon (similar to Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery), Plaza de la Revolution and the José Marti memorial monument. The tour included a visit to the Havana Club rhum museum, including a free sample of the rhum, and a mid-afternoon lunch with beer at the El Aljibe restaurant, famous for its chicken. The tour cost 86CUC per couple.

After a bit of RnR at the hotel (pool, beer, snooze) we decided to venture out on our own to sample the mojitos at the Bodeguita Del Medio in Old Havana, as recommend by our tour guide. They (the mojitos) met all our expectations. Before leaving the hotel, one has to decide whether to walk or take a cab. At night the streets are not well lit and this fact can influence your decision. We walked. At first we felt somewhat uncomfortable but we were never hassled, approached nor did we get long stares. The streets are safe. Again the advice is to be polite, nod and salute the passer buys, don’t wear flashy jewelry, etc. and if you’re not adventurous the cab rides are cheap (5CUC from the hotel to the bar).

Now, a little note on Bodeguita Del Medio. This used to be one of Ernest Hemmingway’s hang out. It is a small restaurant on Emperado street that serves creole food. At the front there is a small, make that tiny, bar that can accommodate no more 25 people (counting the 5 man guitar playing band). There are pictures of Ernest with Fidel and other dignitaries and a framed piece of paper with the following statement written long hand: My mojito at Bodeguita Del Medio, my daiquiri at La Floridita Hotel, signed by Ernest himself. We were lucky enough to arrive early and lay claim to the 4 last bar stools. The music was provided by a group called Quinteto Los Galanas. Ordering is easy. Simply raise your hand and extend your fingers. The barman automatically assumes you want another mojito (or two, or three…). It’s like ordering drafts at the local Irish pub! It would not have required much insistence for us to stay till closing time but being out of our element we decided to walk back to the hotel, have a nightcap there and call it a night. By the way, speaking Spanish is a plus but not a necessity as quite a few Cubans speak English and most are eager to converse with you, especially after a few mojitos.

Havana is full of museums (art, perfume, stamps, ceramics, music). If you’re a history buff, the Museo de la Revolucion is a must. Our second day there we spent the morning at Havana’s Museum of Modern art. The museum has a collection of paintings dating back to the Spanish occupation right up to the contemporary artists. Our afternoon was spent walking the streets of Old Havana, window shopping, etc. We had lunch on a side street just outside a bakery shop. We got 4 beers and 4 ham and cheese sandwiches on homemade bread for a total of 20 CUC, quite a bargain. Got back to the hotel around 4PM for more RnR before heading out for supper.

The highlight of the day was supper at the San Cristobal Paladar. Trip Advisor rates this restaurant as the most popular restaurant on the list of Havana restaurants (at least it did when I researched where to eat in Havana). Don’t get me wrong, the hotel restaurants are great but paladars (family restaurants) have opened up the last couple of years and some are worth a visit. The San Cristobal is at 469 San Rafael, about 6 blocks west of the Parque Central Hotel and is worth the visit. Reservations are required and the hotel customer service desk was able to secure us a table. You’re in for a treat. We walked there from the hotel and were 5-10 minutes late. When we got there the maître D was already waiting for us (or so it seems). We were escorted to a private dining room and the first thing that knocks you off your feet is the décor. The walls are fully decorated with vintage photos, ornaments, plaques, artefacts, paintings, etc. Armoires filled with old dishes and glasses hug the walls while large vases with dried flowers and old chandeliers complete the decor. The table is set for a king with more glasses, cups, silverware that one knows what to do with (I know…start on the outside and work your way in). It’s like visiting your eccentric old grandmother that has been living in the same house that her parents once lived in. The menu is in Spanish only but your maître-D will patiently translate. Our had a very thick Spanish accent and we made him repeat his explanations quite a few times. He apologized and we quickly told him that it was us who apologized, his English being 100% better than our Spanish. We had a four course meal, starting with an entrée, soup, main course, desert and coffee. My wive had langouste (lobster) and I had sea bass. We were then treated to a complementary glass of rhum and cigars were offered. Cuban cigars are reputedly the best in the world but we nevertheless declined the cigar offer but we gladly accepted the rhum. Carlos Cristobal Marquez, the chef and owner, came around for a chat and even came to wave us good night when it was time to leave. The evening cost us (2 couples)a total of 200CUC and included before dinner drinks(daiquiris and martinis) and a bottle of wine. By the way, the food was excellent and the service exceptional.

Our last morning there, we packed our bags and spent the morning at the pool. We checked out around noon and went to the lobby to wait for our ride to Varadero, also organised by Transat. We left Havana around 14h00. Everything went according to plan. Transat is to be complemented. The Parque Central Hotel was great. The rooms were clean, the food was good and the staff was very accommodating. The hotel is well situated and is close to most of what Old Havana has to offer. We did not go to the Tropicana Club because we did not think that is was worth 160 CUC per couple to see a two hour show even if tradition demands it.

Hydrojoe

5  Thank hydrojoe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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