Apologies for the long silence, I was in Cuba for a couple weeks and crazy busy trying to get everything together beforehand. This is the first of several posts about Cuba and traveling advice.
If you have several days in Havana (Habana as it’s called in Spanish), I would highly recommend the following itinerary for one of your half days. It’s a nice leisurely tour with as much or as little walking as you like.
Start at Casa Miglis in Central Havana (Centro Habana) for lunch (on Lealtad, between Animas and Lagunas. Hours are noon-midnight). This Swedish-Cuban fusion place is one of the priciest meals you will find in Cuba (entrees are around $15), but the food is excellent (drinks are only so-so), the service attentive, the decor whimsical, the setting atmospheric, and it’s a wonderful fun lunch that will fuel you for the rest of the day. Casa Miglis is set in a few blocks from the Malecon (the walk that runs along the sea), in one of the more run-down areas of the downtown. Don’t be alarmed – we never felt unsafe or threatened anywhere, even as a solo female. Casa Miglis has their own intranet you can peruse while you wait for your food and catch up on the owner’s former life in the entertainment industry.
If you don’t want to walk, after lunch go back to the Malecon and grab a taxi to the Partagas cigar factory next to the capitol in Central Park (Parque Central – about $3).
If you want to walk off your lunch, stroll over to Avenida de Italia (the street is also known as Galiano) and make a left (away from the Malecon) and stroll deeper into the heart of Centro Habana. This area has many shops for the locals and so it’s a great chance to see some local department stores and watch daily life unfold. Be aware that when going into shops and department stores, many do not allow bags or backpacks (small purses are ok) and you will be required to check your bag with a ‘guardabolsos’ outside – you may need an ID to do this. We took turns leaving one person outside with the bags. Photos inside shops are usually prohibited. If you buy anything, be sure you have the receipt handy until you leave the building – your bagged purchase and receipt may be inspected several times before you leave the shop.
Continue on to Chinatown (El Barrio Chino)(make a left onto Calle Zanja and stay on it as it turns into Calle Dagones) – note the gate that spans Calle Dragones at Calle Amistad. While the once large and thriving Chinese community has all but disappeared (emigration and assimilation), the ornate gate entrance to the area and many themed shops and restaurants stand as testament to their legacy.
Go through the gate and continue on to the Partagas cigar factory at the corner of Calle Industria and Calle Dragones. While the factory has been closed for restoration for some years (with no scheduled reopening date), it’s a great place to start your walk around the capitol building. Continue down Calle Industria away from the park that stands diagonally opposite Partagas (the Parque de la Fraternidad). The beautiful capital building is also partially obscured with scaffolding for it’s own restoration but is still open and functioning. Ringing it are beautiful buildings like the Gran Teatro de La Habana and the Cinema Payret, Cuba’s first motion picture theater, and many shops and hotels. I love the old ruined building next to the Gran Teatro and hope they restore it too – it looks gorgeous.
Continue around the capitol until you get back to the other side of the park from where you started. Diagonally in front and to your left is the elegant Hotel Saratoga which offers a lovely rooftop terrace bar and commanding views over most of the city. The drinks are not great, but it’s a nice place to end your tour, relax, unwind, and enjoy the views before continuing on with your evening.