We spent our final two days taking in Cuba’s complex history at Hotel Inglaterra where colonialism meets communism, strolling around Havana Vieja, unsuccessfully trying to avoid Calle Obispo and all the souvenir stores, feeling overwhelmed when stepping inside Hemingway’s favorite bar El Floridita and quickly stepping out again, listening to a great band at Café Paris, admiring the beautiful architecture and artworks on the buildings along the narrow streets, and having mojitos at Hotel Nacional.
Our favorite dinner may have been at Paladar Los Mercaderes – relatively expensive but great food, lovely ambiance and really nice staff!
While on the southern side of Cuba, we stayed in the little fishing village La Boca, right outside of Trinidad and 10 km from Playa Ancon. According to Lonely Planet, La Boca is “off the beaten track” but really it seemed like a quite well-established tourist destination, only for Cuban tourists. But casas particulares are popping up all over the village, seemingly targeting foreign tourists, and although many seemed open to just check in at, we found our room on Airbnb. Lively, and filled with Cubans enjoying the boardwalk and the sea, we thought La Boca was so much better than the idea of staying at some secluded hotel over at Playa Ancon or up in Trinidad.
Thee were only a few restaurants around town and they are very simple, so our hosts fixed us dinner one evening. But even as I am from a fish culture, I had some my best fish and lobster to date here!
Incredibly hot, incredibly beautiful, and well worth visiting! Here are a few pics from the 500 years old UNESCO World Heritage Site, the small town Trinidad:
As visible from the pics, although there are Cubans living in the old quarters, Trinidad is a bit of and open air museum. We almost enjoyed the drive from La Boca to Plaza Mayor equally, as it gave us a chance to see more of Cuban every ay life. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to capture that side with my camera.
On our first day in La Boca, we rented bikes through our host and set off towards Playa Ancon, allegedly Southern Cuba’s most beautiful beach. The 10 km (6.2 miles) bike ride was an experience in itself. The road, lined with Caribbean palm trees and bushes, and tons of flowers, followed the shore and had almost no traffic at all. Instead, we road through clouds of white butterflies and had to make way for small baby crabs who seemed to have a crossing over the road for a few kilometers. I’ve been to many places, but this was without doubt one of my most beautiful experiences!
We spent the rest of the day at the beach, and found a good spot at the second beach on Playa Ancon, after the main hotel/beach club, where there were fewer people and some domestic tourists as oppose to some of the other beaches that we saw. One our way back, we had dinner at a grill, where I had fresh grilled lobster. The simplest places often have the best food!
Since Andreas and I both are in constant search of the authentic side of our travel destinations (i,e. our trips are less spa environments, smoothies and infinity pools, and more cold showers and Soviet-style “luxury” breakfasts…), we decided to stay at airbnbs for most part of the trip. For the first part of the trip, we intentionally avoided Havana Vieja since we would be staying there our last says in Cuba. Instead, we opted for an airbnb in Vedado, in a more residential area and only a few blocks from the waterfront and with a few communist architectural masterpieces (or monstrosities?) nearby. Best of all was roof terrace that came with and our host Arin’s lovely breakfasts! (Here on airbnb) Our first day, Arin also arranged with an old-school car to take us around for a few ours. Very touristy but also a very convenient way to get an overview of the city and to see areas beyond Havana Vieja. The number one surprise was the beautiful Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba with a lush green sea of hanging trees – like stepping into a fairy tale forest!
After our drive and Swedish Midsummer lunch on the roof terrace – my first in years and solely thanks to Andreas (although the selection of snaps on the table ended up being more for decoration that actual intake) – we spent the rest of the afternoon in Havana Vieja and had dinner at a Le Bodegita Del Medio (allegedly a favorite of Hemingway’s) upon the recommendations from my manager! And yes, we did write our names on the wall!
It always starts with a dream. Then maybe a text. My dream of visiting Cuba likely developed sometime in my teens, with Hemingway and other books and movies from the first part of the 20th century, only to eventually end up on my bucket list of travel destination within reach as Cuba increasingly opened up to tourism over the past decades. The only thing holding me back was that I really wanted to see it with someone, for no other reason than that I wanted to share my impressions and this experience, and Cuba was not on the top of the bucket list of my regular travel companions. Or so I thought until I sent off a text to Andreas back in April to let him know that I was on my way to Stockholm and as a side note dropped a question about Cuba.
Me: “Also wondering if you’d be up for seeing Cuba, before it gets invaded by Starbucks and Mac Donald’s?”
Andreas: YES! Let’s plan when we meet!
Easy as that!
Reminders of Cuba’s history all over Havana
I am home after nine days in Cuba! It’s been wonderful. Surprisingly, I was able to roam with my cell phone in most places so I’ve up dated my IG @asagiertz along the way, but unfortunately, my blog app wouldn’t upload photos instead so I couldn’t post from there. But I’ve been writing along the way, so here we go!