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Central America Habana (Cuba)

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A city founded by a Spanish conqueror Diego Velázquez used to be one of the most beautiful and richest cities in the entire America. Now Havana is falling apart. It is a fascinating combination of ruins and renovated colonial buildings, trees growing from the old facades, churches, monumental wooden doors, fontains, patios and palm trees stretching towards the blue sky. In the small streets half-naked kids play football, on “Malecón” when the sun comes down guys play guitars and share a bottle of rum. Havana is a splurge, Havana is poverty, Havana is a beautiful contrast of these two. If you want to go, hurry up. Havana will change soon, foreign investors are peaking in with a lot of interest.

What here: Probably the most interesting part is the historical center. Check out the little streets and then visit Havana´s beautiful squares: Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas (with a big second hand book market… Che Guevara fans will get very happy), Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza Vieja. The historical Capitol building is worth a visit and you can admire (or rent) one of the gorgeous vets that stand in lines in front of it. Should you look for life music, bars, restaurants, shops (even thought there are not many), then go to calle Obispo. Take a cab and visit the fortress El Morro, tobacco factory Partagás, Cabaret Tropicana or the “now museum used to be house” of Hemingway (about 20 minutes drive).

Where to stay: The choice of “casas particulars” ( in Havana is limited, but there are many hotels, mostly reconstructed historical buildings. You can book through: or
One of those I would like to recommend is a place called Los Frailes (It used to be a cloister, the best rooms are the suites with balcony):

How to get here: By air. Most big international airlines fly to Havana (except for the American ones that pretend this place does not exist :). Havana airport is old, abandoned and without much service amenities. Taxis that will take you to the city center (20 – 25 CUC) wait in front of the main hall. Beware that Cubans are very warm and friendly people but thanks to the lack of motivation during the political regime, the service in the shops (and other places) could be very different then what you are used to. Basically you are lucky if they don´t ignore you.

Money exchange: At the moment (June 2011) there are two currencies in Cuba, CUC for tourists and Cuban pesos for Cubans (1 CUC = 24 pesos). Hotels, buses, car rentals and restaurants charge in CUC, small street shops and stands can charge you in pesos. Thanks to “American embargo” it is way better to exchange Euros than American Dollars (1 Euro = 1,35 CUC). Atms are few and usually out of service, Cubans prefer cash (that is true even for car rentals!).