There are definitely a few myths about Havana that just are not true. Havana is not about Hemingway, Che Guevara, cigars and people dancing in the streets. Indeed Che Guevara’s face is almost everywhere, indeed you can hear the salsa rhythms wherever you go, and yes almost everyone smokes cigars but this might also be the most touristy side of Havana.
There is also the ‘real’ side of Havana. And there is something extraordinary about it; Havana is a big contradiction. You somehow hate it and love it at the same time. Maybe this is because Havana itself is full of economic, cultural and architectural contradictions.
Buildings and cars can be so colourful on the outside but dark on the inside. Houses look so stunning but so abandoned at the same time. Prosperity coexists with high levels of poverty. And soviet influences are obvious but Cubans continue to believe in the American Dream.
Don’t let yourself get annoyed with people constantly trying to sell you something – and when I say constantly I mean it!
And don’t get upset if you struggle mingling with locals; it is not easy to find places where both locals and tourists hang out together but keep trying – try choosing places without entrance fees or places that are not expensive, that locals can also afford.
Having a local guide could help understanding how locals think or live.
If you like black beans or beef then you might love Havana! And if you are a lobster lover then Havana is definitely the right place to be. However I was surprised to know that locals are not really allowed to consume lobsters! Eat at ‘Havana 61’ where you can enjoy the best Ropa Vieja –one of Cuba’s famous dishes – and the best Frituras de malanga, another famous national vegetable dish served with honey and garlic.
Find a room away from the hassle of the city centre and definitely try to avoid big hotel chains – they just don’t worth the money! Choose a casa particular - my favourite is La Rosa de Ortega! Definitely buy some cigars – make sure they are the originals! And if you have the time definitely travel outside Havana and explore the rest of Cuba.
I could keep writing and writing about Havana but I won’t. Because, if there is one thing you should do before travelling to Havana, that is having no expectations.
Forget what you have heard or read about this city. Just go there and keep an open mind because Havana is a strange combination of the past and the present. And I am really curious to know what Havana’s future will eventually be…maybe that’s a why I should go back to Havana one day!