Building up to my trip to Cuba, I was inspired by Camila Cabello’s hit song; ‘Havana’, which was rapidly climbing up the charts. By the time I boarded the Virgin Atlantic flight at Gatwick en-route to Havana; the tune and the lyrics – “My heart is in Havana; Havana, ooh na-na” – were so engrained, that I found myself repeatedly playing the catchy tune in my mind.
Getting to Havana
Virgin Atlantic operates three weekly flights to Havana in season and two out of season from London’s Gatwick Airport. The flying time is around 10 hours, so if your budget stretches or it’s a special occasion, I would recommend upgrading to premium economy. Apart from the additional comfort the upgrade offers you onboard the aircraft, it also gets you into the marvellous Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Gatwick Airport. Such a great way to start off a journey.
Arriving in Havana
Havana’s, Jose Marti’s International Airport was my introduction into this vibrant, colourful and exciting country. Once inside the terminal building and through immigration, I felt I was going to enjoy this Cuba Holiday. Talk about stepping back in time, it was as if, time has stood still.
During the transfer from the airport to our Havana hotel I was mesmerised by the sights, sounds and the hustle and bustle of this intriguing city. All around there were classic American cars in various states of repair.
Travelling past the locals going about their daily lives, they seemed to be so relaxed, chatting, smiling and interacting with each other. What a ‘far cry’ from my home town, London, where everyone’s in a hurry, deliberately trying to avoid eye contact with others; ‘like ships passing in the night’.
The Cuban charm had started to work its magic. I just knew I was going to love Havana.
My Havana Hotel
We were staying at the Melia Habana Hotel, our base for the next four days. I was surprised to discover a large, modern hotel with almost four hundred bedrooms with excellent facilities and services. The welcome cocktail on arrival was a lovely touch.
We were allocated a room on ‘The Level’ which is an executive floor with access to a private lounge on the floor, which was fantastic. The large room was clean, well-equipped and had a good-sized balcony.
The hotel facilities and services are amazing with multiple food and beverage outlets, a fitness centre and meeting room facilities, oh yes, and an awesome cigar lounge. The hotel boasts the largest swimming pool in Cuba. I must say Melia Habana makes for a comfortable stay.
The Melia Habana is in a suburb called Miramar, just 8 miles east of Havana’s old town. It takes around 20 minutes by taxi to Old Havana.
Cuba uses two currencies. The locals use the Cuban Peso and tourists the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). During my trip the exchange rate was 1.30 to the GBP. You can change money at the local banks, the airport and most hotels as long as you have your passport with you.
The main hotels however do accept credit cards. However, don’t rely on using your credit card. While some establishments will accept credit card payments, most of shops and restaurants do not.
What to do in Havana
Havana is a large city, home to almost 2.5 million inhabitants. There is lots to see and in this awesome city.
When I first strayed into Old Havana I must have resembled a meercat who had just arrived in a new neighbourhood. You don’t know what to look at next, it’s mesmerizing, everything is so unique and interesting; the sounds, the people – their actions, their demeanour – the buildings, the vehicles, the whole kit and caboodle is just amazing.
I am going to list some the highlights I enjoyed while I was in Havana, but there is lots more to see and do in this vibrant city and I will publish a post with more details about Havana’s sights and attractions.
Some of Havana Highlights
La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) – This is the most awesome area. I would recommend staying in or close by Old Havana so everything is in walking distance. Great restaurants, pubs and splendid architectural gems to explore, just so much history.
Plaza de la Revolucion – The iconic bronze wire sculpture of Che Guevara adorns the Ministry of the Interior building while that of Camilo Cienfuegos adorns the Ministry of Information and Communication alongside it. The Jose Marti memorial stands tall in the square with his statue at the base.
Castillo del Morro – This 16th century fortress is really cool. The views looking back over Havana are spectacular.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba – Wow this is the most awesome hotel. The reception is just amazing. Check out everything from the floor to the ceiling. The hotel is like a living museum, the bar is packed with memorabilia. We had an amazing lunch at La Barraca, located in the gardens of the hotel with a spectacular ocean view and the entrance to the bay of Havana.
Cathedral de San Cristobal – Amazing 18th century architecture with a Cuban Baroque façade and two large bell towers.
Havana’s indoor Arts Market – This market is definitely worth visiting, yes, it’s aimed at tourists, but it’s chilled and there are some great mementos to be had.
The Malecon – This seafront promenade is popular with locals and tourists alike. It’s awesome to stroll along here in the evening. Sunset is nice with stunning views out to sea. A stroll along the four-mile Malecon at night is so entertaining.
If you like modern cities, shopping centres, classy shops packed with branded merchandise, amusements parks and the like; then Cuba is not for you.
Just like Camila Cabello’s best seller, ‘Havana’, hit number one on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’; Havana too has become my number one destination.
Havana is a ‘must do’ destination; awesome, unique and intriguing. My heart too is in Havana, ooh na-na.
A Cuba Holiday is ooh, so Awesome.