Emily: When I learned about America’s more relaxed policy towards travel to Cuba, I jumped at the opportunity!
Cuba has a lot to offer. My friends and I were drawn to the classic cars, the Art Deco architecture, and, of course, the friendly people! We also love music and dance, which is one of Cuba’s specialties! Rick Steves recently produced an excellent video on Cuba that’s fun and informative.
The US and Cuba reached an agreement for direct flights. Flight availability to Cuba from various US airports and search engines is ALWAYS changing, so be sure to try multiple search engines and cities, if possible. Readers have reported that some flights to Cuba from the US may be opening up. When I went to Cuba in December 2015, flights were not scheduled yet. My friends and I flew via Cancun, and continued our journey to Havana.
Note: Regulations surrounding US travel to Cuba are always changing, so make sure you check the current rules before planning your trip. There are limited opportunities to use miles & points, but you can save some money. I’ll show you how later in this series!
My travel partners included many of the same friends who accompanied me to Croatia!
Robbie (pink hair) is a professional dance instructor who teaches salsa, kizomba, and bachata. Sarita is also a dance teacher, as well as a graphic designer. Gissell teaches fitness classes and loves rock climbing.
On this trip, I went with 3 new friends – Diana, a local art teacher, Chelsea, who manages a hostel, and Antonio, who works in IT design. Traveling as a group of 7 was fun, but definitely challenging at times! We had a great time together, and can’t wait to return!
Viva Cuba! Trip Report Index:
- Part 1 – Viva Cuba! – Introduction & Planning
- Part 2 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Visa Requirements
- Part 3 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Cash Planning
- Part 4 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Internet
- Part 5 – Viva Cuba! – Flights to Cuba
- Part 6 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Stay & How to Book
- Part 7 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Stay: Casa Particular Overview
- Part 8 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Eat
- Part 9 – Viva Cuba! – The Best (Cheap) Food & Drink Options
- Part 10 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do in Havana: Part 1
- Part 11 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do in Havana: Part 2
- Part 12 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do – Day Beach Trips from Havana
- Part 13 – Viva Cuba! – Return Flights to the US
- Part 14 – Viva Cuba! – Conclusion & Blog Giveaway
It’s Easy to Spend All Day Exploring Havana!
This post will cover some of my favorite activities in Havana, including:
- Seeking Out Cuba’s Architecture
- Dancing in the Capital
- Going to the Necropolis
Seek Out Cuba’s Architecture
Cuba is known for its architecture. They even offer free architecture tours, so my friends and I decided to try one free tour, given at the Hotel National.
The tour was interesting because I learned about the history of the tiles on the floor and the history of its famous guests.
There’s also a beautiful back patio with a gorgeous view of Key West.
My friends and I had a drink at the bar outside and bought a fast food lunch.
You can easily get a taxi from out front, but be warned – they will be expensive! If you want to save money, walk out to the main road to disassociate yourself from the expensive hotel. That way the drivers won’t think your pockets are deeper than they actually are!
Everywhere you go, there are beautiful buildings. I loved that they were old and had character.
Even the brightly painted Colonial buildings were a feast for the eyes!
Other architecture tours you can go on include tours given by the travel agency of the City Historian’s office. The tours include:
- Conservation: A tour of Old Havana’s social projects, including a nursing home and a needlecraft cooperative financed through tourist money
- The Magic of Art Deco: A tour of Havana’s best art deco architecture
- Art & Color: A tour of art galleries, learn about Cuban painters, and visit a museum.
- Religion: A tour of Havana’s restored churches and an introduction to Santeria, including a visit to the suburb.
The tours range from 10 CUC to 24 CUC, and can be booked at any Habaguanex Hotel. The ticket sales go towards funding restoration projects throughout the city.
Cuba is also known for its long history of music and dance. We ran across a dance studio, and thought our visit would be a great opportunity to take a dance class!
We took a Cuban salsa class. The instructors were excellent, and very patient!
After our class, we showed them some kizomba. They were very eager to learn!
After our class, our dance teachers took us to a place called La Casa de Musica. There are multiple events each day, and we went for their earlier event, which started around 7:00 pm.
Because the earlier event is cheaper, more locals go. The quality of dancing is much better than the later event filled with tourists!
The music was great! And there were SO many good dancers.
After the party, we went to a nearby restaurant. We posed for a picture with the lead singer! He was very friendly.
I love getting to know the locals and hearing more about their lives. To me, this was the most important part of visiting Cuba and the most rewarding.
If you’re interested in taking more dance (or percussion!) classes, check out the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba. They teach classes in son, salsa, rumba, mambo, cha-cha-cha, and lots more!
Visiting the Necropolis
One afternoon, we decided to go to the Christopher Columbus Necropolis (or cemetery). It is famous because of its opulent gravestones.
Also called Colon Cemetery, it is known as one of the great historical cemeteries of the world! It is one of the most important in Latin America because of its historical and architectural significance.
The graves were extravagant, and the emotions displayed of the statues were very touching.
The level of detail in the sculptures reminded me of the work of famous European sculptors I’ve seen.
The most famous monument was La Milagrosa.
Here’s the legend of La Milagrosa: A woman named Doña Amelia died during childbirth age 23. Her child died, too. She was buried with her child placed at her feet.
The legend goes, when the grave was opened much later, the child was in his mothers arms. Her husband, José Vicente, went to the cemetery every afternoon and struck the gravestone with a bronze knocker.
Many, many people visit La Milagrosa to request things for their children, or about love affairs.
The ritual has remained the same since ancient times. Visitors will tap the grave with knockers, just like Amelia’s husband. Visitors then leave walking backwards, never turning their backs to the statue of Amelia.
There’s plenty to do in the city of Havana. Admiring the architecture is still near the top of the list! Make sure you check out the Hotel Nacional at least once.
Cuban culture is also drenched with dance and music outlets. It’s easy to connect with people you’ve never met. Music and dance transcend any language barrier! There are tons of music and dance events around town. Check your guidebook or ask locals for details.
I also recommend visiting Colon Cemetery. The graves are beautiful and very touching. Many statues convey deep sadness, but some are filled with hope.