Travelling back in time to sunny Havana

Jacqueline Karam on the vintage car tour
Jacqueline Karam on the vintage car tour

CUBA is a small vibrant island, a mere 165km south of the tip of Florida.

A friend and I were planning a month-long trip to the US, and decided to have a break from the cold and spend a week in sunny Havana in January.

The weather is perfect at this time of year – we had 26-29C days with low humidity and nothing but a small drizzle of rain one evening.

Arriving at Havana Airport, we felt immediately as if we’d travelled back in time as well as over the Caribbean Sea.

Our hotel had organised a car to come pick us up from the airport, a ‘50s blue and white Chevrolet.

Old buildings in Havana

We had been advised to change all the money we’d need at the airport and to bring Euro or Canadian Dollars, rather than US dollars to exchange.

They have two currencies in Cuba, one for locals (CUP) and one for tourists (CUC).

We stayed in the aptly named, Revolution Boutique Hotel, in old Havana.

Our host, Esperanza, was able to book us taxis, tours and give restaurant recommendations when needed.

This came in handy as internet connection is very limited.

Food was a highlight of the holiday.

It was not just the delicious dishes made with fresh, local ingredients, but the whole experience of sitting down for lunch or dinner.

One of our favourite spots to eat was NAO Bar Paladar, situated in a narrow lane between the Plaza de Armas and the waterside.

The first time we visited for lunch, we were charmed by the friendly staff, beautiful, well priced food and live salsa band.

We sat for hours, sipping on strong, well-made mojitos and daiquiris, listening to music that harked back to my early introduction to Cuban music.

Band performing at a local café

One sunny morning we booked ourselves a two hour tour of Havana in a vintage car (40CUC per hour).

We were thrilled to see a 1959 Chevy Impala convertible awaiting us.

Our first stop was the giant Christ of Havana statue that overlooks Old Havana from across the water.

We then cruised along the Malecon, the long coastal esplanade, to some of the eastern neighbourhoods of Havana.

We also drove through leafy Fifth Avenue, lined by enormous mansions which were abandoned by their American owners after the revolution.

Another highlight was our trip to the beach.

We had been told that Santa Maria beach was the best beach near Havana.

We caught a tourist bus from the Capital Centre (5CUC return ticket).

I expected a hotel on the beach or some type of establishment but all there was just a beach shack and bar, with numerous deckchairs and umbrellas.

It was everything you’d expect from a Caribbean beach: white sand, azure water and coconut trees.

As the week came to an end I felt a little sad.

I had fallen in love with Cuba.