A day in Old Havana

Old Havana is the heart of the original capital city of Cuba. It is an exciting area of tiny narrow streets where characterful architecture sits side by side with desperate decay and the area is deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site.

The old quarter is fairly compact, so is easy to get around on foot, although it is a warm walk in the Caribbean heat. We started at the Plaza Vieja, and no sooner had we begun we had encountered Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Plaza Vieja (or Old Square) is a quiet and leafy square with several stalls set up selling second hand books. Most of the books were about the revolution and their covers wore the world-famous faces. The vendors lurked in shady corners. Their smiles seemed to say ‘Good luck finding a book on anything else.’

Books for sale on Plaza Vieja, Havana, Cuba

We walked along a narrow street with tall buildings on either side, passing a colourful and slightly manic looking old lady sitting to one side and smoking the biggest cigar we’d ever seen. We came to the Ambos Mundos, the hotel that Ernest Hemmingway had called home for a period. We admired the old 1930’s elevator, the wall of images of Hemmingway and decided it was time for our first mojito of the day. Hey, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere. We thought that Hemmingway’s hotel was bound to have the best mojitos. We were wrong. We were disappointed with the gritty, sharp tasting and frankly nasty mojitos served here with a grubby twig in the glass as a stirrer.

El Catedral de San Christabal de la Habana was our next stop. It is the old cathedral and proudly dominates the Plaza de la catedral, which is an open sunny square which a few restaurants open onto. The square was lively and sunny. The buildings here were draped in lush magenta bougainvillea and it seemed a perfect spot for lunch.

After lunch in the luxury of air conditioning we wandered amongst street vendors down by the waterfront taking in all the arts and crafts made locally. Paintings were on sale, as well as jewellery made from seeds and carved wood, leather goods and clothes. 

Street market, Havana, Cuba

The stalls were set out in long strips though and there was no breeze so we thought another mojito was in order. With a bit of help from the guidebook and a lot of luck, we found our way to another of Hemingway’s favourite haunts, El Bodeguito del Mundo. We poked our noses in but it was spilling over with tourists and looked very dark and poky inside, so we decided to keep with the Hemmingway theme and go in search of El Floridita bar, which was close by. El Floridita has a long airy-feeling bar and a bronze life-size figure of Hemmingway sitting at the far end. They also had the best mojitos in Havana, in our humble opinions. 


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