Havana – The first glimpses

The clock was past 9 when I opened my eyes and found myself in my small room with high ceilings, hearing the sound of the rain playing on the balcony outside, together with women’s voices talking in Spanish. I looked around me and saw my backpack on the couch, untouched. I must have been so tired after the flight that as soon as I got into the room, I crashed on the bed and fallen asleep.


Prepare your trip to Cuba with the Lonely Planet guides. Click on the photos see the more details:

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I was in Cuba. For real. I got out of bed, got dressed, and open the door. My room was the last one, at the second floor, alongside a narrow balcony that was crossing the whole patio. I’ve made my way to the main building and stepped inside, only to discover a beautiful lounge decorated with vintage chairs alongside a table, two big chandeliers hanging on the ceiling and a tall mirror. The walls were covered in what I assumed to be paintings made by Cuban artists. The rest of the space was decorated with tropical plants. The big windows were opened and the freshly rain smell was filling in the room.


It took me another hour until I managed to sort out the misunderstanding from the night before, regarding my booking. The casa was divided in two and I got mixed up between them. But all was good in the end, and I found myself in the kitchen, having a well deserved breakfast, talking in Spanish with the owner who was apologizing for the mix up.

Now, with my stomach full, I was ready for my next goal: get some Cuban money. I read in my Lonely Planet that the only place where you can legally exchange money are state owned the Cadeca’s. And I have also read that during the weekend is the worst time to go because of the big queues. And today it was Saturday… I asked the owner of the casa where the nearest Cadeca was. “Take a right after two blocks and then walk for more three blocks”, he said. Now, if you are like me, and come from Europe, counting blocks might be a difficult task. I managed to get lost. Havana’s old center is formed out of colonial houses alongside narrow streets, with beautiful colored squares in between. The first thing that I noticed it was that I felt very warm. It was definitely not jeans weather. Havana is a hot destination in the Caribbean so keep this in mind when you pack for Cuba.


It was almost lunchtime and the streets were full with locals rushing around and children playing. Finally I found the Cadeca, after retracing my steps and figuring out how to count blocks. The queue was huge, but I had no choice but stay and wait. Near me, a couple of young Cubans were making churros: he was making the dough while she was taking them out of the oil and sprinkle them with sugar. The air around us was smelling like vanilla.

As soon as I managed to exchange some pesos, I returned and bought a cone of churros, then headed back towards the casa. The jet lag was saying its word and I needed to rest before start to embrace Cuba for real. On the way back however I stopped at a shop to buy a bottle of water. You have to know that shops in Cuba are totally different than what you are used to. They only sell a few products, and all are in CUC – the touristic currency. I waited for my turn and when it finally came, I asked in my broken Spanish combined with Italian for a bottle of water. The price was 1 CUC, pretty expensive if you think about it. And just as I received it, a guy behind me said something to me. I didn’t understand so I walked away. But as I was standing in front of the shop, trying to get the bottle inside my backpack, he came out and smiled. I told him I didn’t understand what he said, so he repeated (in Spanish, of course): “You can find cheap water at the corner pizza shops, don’t buy from the shop as it’s very expensive). I said “thank you” and went back towards the casa, where, as soon as I finished my churros, I went straight to bed.


When I woke up again it was already evening. I didn’t want to spend the whole day sleeping so I decided to have an evening walk. I’ve put on the skirt and the shirt I bought in Canada and headed of towards the Malecon, the romantic waterfront of Havana. But instead heading towards the water, I ended up at the Capitolio. The rain was on and off so I walked around the big square, admiring the beautiful architecture of the buildings around Parque Central: The National Theater, Hotel Inglattera and Hotel Parque Central.

Ā I looked at the map again and headed back. Again, I seemed to have taken the wrong turn. A young man saw me struggling with the map (it’s something very unusual for me so I blame the jet lag) and asked me if I was lost.

“I just want to go towards the sea”.

“Oh, you have to go to the opposite direction. The sea is that way”, he said, pointing to the road behind me.

By this point I couldn’t have been more amazed of my lack of sense of directions. Havana i s surrounded by the sea, how can I oversee it so badly? I thank the man and turned around, walking slowly on the street behind me. Suddenly, I could hear music and laughter and as I approached, I realised I just arrived in front of the famous Bodeguita del Medio. A band was singing classic Cuban songs inside, while people were sipping Mojitos and dancing in the street.

Across the street, in the Piazza, three children were playing football. In front of the cathedral the nativity scene was set up. In the middle, on Jesus’s wreath bed, a dog was shivering at every wind blast, while sleeping.

I continued my walk towards the Malecon, making sure I am on the right path now. As I was preparing to cross the street, I’ve noticed a familiar face on the other side, in the bus station. I didn’t make a connection until I actually got in front of him, the guy from the shop. He was so happy to see me again that he let his bus go and invite me to go for a Cuban coffee at a restaurant near by. I wanted to say no, thinking of all the scams Lonely Planet was talking about but what the hell, it was just a coffee, and I really needed one even if it was 8PM by now. So I said yes.

We crossed the street back towards the old town and entered this beautiful decorated restaurant, which looked very fancy. He ordered two coffees and we started to talk, him in Spanish, me in half Italian, half the Spanish I remembered from the Mexican novellas I used to watch while I was a kid. He didn’t know any English, which assured me he was actually a nice person just happy to see me again, and not a scammer. He told me he was an electrician and at lunch time, when we met in the shop, he was in his break from repairing some cables in the old town. He asked me what I wanted to see and I said that I wanted to go to see the Malecon.

That’s when he laughed and said that because of the high wind Malecon is not a great place to be right now. But I insisted and he said sure, why not. But first, he needed to give a bag with food to one of his friends. I said ok. We headed towards the Malecon and as soon as we got there I realised why he suggested to avoid it. Malecon is the seafront esplanade that stretched for 5 miles along the coast of Havana. When there is wind, the road closes because of the high waves that crash on top of it. However, it was already raining, and I was loving the show the sea was putting on.

The house of Eliner’s friend was on the Malecon. I followed him inside one of the buildings, climbing the narrow stairs towards the second floor, where he opened a door towards a patio, just like my casa had. His friend and his wife warmly welcomed me inside their tiny home, where they lived together with three dogs. I was immediately served with coffee, while Eliner laughed that I don’t take sugar with it. In Cuba, you have to put at least two teaspoons of sugar in your espresso, otherwise you are not Cuban. I couldn’t believe that it was less than 24 hours since I was in Cuba and already I was introduced to the real local life.


After the short visit, Eliner wanted to show me Old Havana, and even if my energy levels were very low, I said yes. We spent the next two hours just walking around and listening to his stories. I could only understand about half of what he was saying, but it everything was so fascinating. He told me about the history of the places that we were passing by, about the life in Cuba, about the people.

We decided to meet the next day too, after he finished work, to show me some more of the city.

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Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.


  1. Funny, you should have listened to the local who knows the local area best. It was nice though that someone pointed you to where the sea is, and yes, you do have a terrible sense of direction. LOL!

    There is something about Cuba, isn’t it? I had been trying to figure it out, and now I think I did. It’s the colors. The typical colors inside and on the streets. It is unique and light and seem so … classic.

    1. I blame it on the jet lag. My sense of directions is usually very good, I don’t even need a map most of the times šŸ™‚

  2. LOL, indeed you have a terrible sense of direction and locals know their town better than anyone else. Never benn to Cuba but I can tell it’s really quite nice.

    1. I really don’t have a terrible sense of direction. I am very good at walking around without maps and finding my way very easily. But after a 48 hours trip to get from Europe to Cuba, I was a bit disorientated.

  3. It’s rare that I get to read a travel story about Cuba. And whenever I do, I feel curious about it just like when I read your story. I agree stress and fatigue can make you a bit disoriented. I admire your guts dear. Hope I can visit Cuba too someday and I will definitely remember your story!

  4. I love the way you write! When you described your room in the second paragraph, I could almost imagine being there! Have you thought of becoming a writer? Like writing novels and things like that? I think you’d be great at it! On another note, I’m also terrible with directions, so don’t worry too much about it šŸ™‚ At least you’re brave enough to explore and ask when needed!

  5. I completely understand you when you said to can’t count blocks because SAME. New part of my city is divided in blocks and they confuse me a lot. Anyway, i love how colorful Cuba is and atmosphere on your pics. I’m glad you came across a nice local, i think it’s the best way to really get to know the place. I’m jealous, i really want to visit Cuba haha. Have fun and can’t wait to read more posts about it!

  6. I am not surprised hun you had such a chaotic journey on the way over so we are all bound to make mistakes when we are tired. Still at least you made it although even water is expensive which is very strange.

  7. LOL, adore this story of your journey – definitely good to listen closely to the locals who know best. I am so proud of you for venturing out at night on your own. The trip sounds amazing! XO

    Anna || A Lily Love Affair

  8. It’s great that you made it into an awesome trip full of exploration even though you were a bit tired from the plane ride. It’s funny that the first thought after getting the pesos was to grab churros! (that would have been my first thought too lol).

  9. Such an adventure you’ve been doing. And you’ve been alone the whole time? On two occasions , I’ve seen stories about strangers helping out tourists. Yours was the 2nd time and good thing Eliner was such a friendly guy.

    I got curious what the couple with the three dogs look liked. They sounded really friendly basing from your story.

  10. I was entranced by every detail that you wrote! It was amazing and beautiful. I felt like I was with you – jet lag and all. I loved seeing it through your eyes and seeing the culture!

  11. I can’t believe you are doing this trip alone. I feel like you would learn so much about yourself and what to do in situations you didn’t really wish you were in. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, I’ve never read about anybody going to Cuba before and I found this very enlightening!

  12. It’s so funny that they say that you go back in time in Cuba. But if you look at the cars and the old fashioned way of living, it certainly looks like that. Must be amazing to experience this country. I would love to go to Cuba once. And what a wind on the video! Amazing to see natures power!

  13. Trust me, you tend to explore and discover a place more if you wander off without a sense of direction. Of course help is necessary, but that comes only at the point of time when you are completely frustrated wandering about without a destination šŸ™‚ And from the place’s point of view, cuba looks a little bit different than how it has been described to me. However there is something that i’m always expecting out of this place, but never get it. Maybe the movies exaggerated more on cuba šŸ˜€

    1. This was just the beginning. In my future posts your expectations will be exceeded, Cuba is so much more than seen in the movies and I have some amazing pictures to show it šŸ˜€

  14. Cuba has always fascinated me especially Havana. I would of been lost trying to find that Cadeca as I’m not used to blocks either, so you did well to find it & get around town a bit on your own before (accidentally) meeting Eliner. i would of been wary of a stranger approaching but he did give you a great tip earlier on and a coffee is a great place to turn a stranger into a friend. Seeing Old Havana with a local – wow! You can’t beat that.

  15. We have never been to Cuba but would love to adventure there. You had an amazing experience. I love the way you’ve written this! You are very talented! It takes a lot of courage to do something like this!

  16. Thanks for recounting your story of events! I’d be afraid of going to a place like Cuba and being constantly ripped off, like you were with the water. :/

  17. I really love your adventures and your writing style is amazing! There is nothing better than explore the city with a local! Iā€™d love to go to Cuba one day and Old Havana inspires me a lot! Pinned this post for the future!

  18. I enjoyed reading your blog, the way you give a detailed description of your experience. I must say you were lucky enough to meet a nice local who could show you around the city in the way no guides or internet could show you.

  19. I loved reading your post, it felt like I was reading a novel of a girl getting lost in Havana. Sounds like you had a great trip, full of adventure, but then again I think those are the best kind of trip.

  20. I have always dreamt about visiting Cuba. I know, that sounds strange, but I think Cuba is a “magical” place. I really don’t know how I got that impression, but your story really confirm that Cuba is a beautiful place with “character” and friendly people. I would not dare to travel alone, I have to admit, I admire you for that. šŸ™‚

  21. There is a saying , can’t put it right together now , but means …who travels has got a lot to tell … cherish these adventures , they will make the best memories later in life . I know some people from Cuba and many friends have been and told me about . I know , how friendly these people are , your photos show poor this country is and still people seem to be happy and positive , and willing to help others .

  22. I would of been lost too but I speak spanish so it would of been easier (maybe). It looks like you had a great time. I love how the hotel looks. Nothing fancy but more homely which I love.

  23. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Cuba from friends and family who have been there and it’s definitely on my list of must-visit places! I feel like the food would be amazing!

  24. I’m fascinated by Cuba! It seems like such a step back in time. Old school cars, colourful old buildings – it looks great. Glad you met such a lovely local šŸ™‚

  25. Cuba looks like a fantastic place to visit. Getting lost is inevitable especially in a new place, and getting tired is part of the struggle, but that’s all part of the fun. Glad that you were able to explore Cuba. Nicely written story.

  26. your story made me laugh a bit . I also have the talent to go in the opposite direction *laugh. Cuba is a fantastic destination lot of fun and lots to explore

  27. Cuba looks like a great place to visit. Here in my country we just got the OK to visit Cuba after a couple decades of not being able to travel there for leisure. It looks very much from the past, and I love old cars, old buildings and old living lifestyle. It was awesome that you were able to visit Cuba.

  28. Cuba has always been a place that I wanted to go, there is something special about this place. Unique and different from places I use to see and stay at. I’m very jealous that you had this wonderful experience šŸ™‚

  29. I have never been to Havana yet. Heard of it quite often but from your post, I really feel I should visit the place at least once in my life.

  30. All that artwork! Love that they use local artwork on the walls. I love all those buildings. I have never been to Cuba but it is definitely on the travel bucket list.

  31. Amazing that you were able to meet with a local who was able to introduce you to local life so quickly. I enjoyed our walk on the malecon when we were in Cuba. But, it was in the middle of the day and there was definitely no wind.

  32. I’m so jealous! I really can’t wait to go to Cuba, especially now that it’s a little easier for us Americans. It looks like such an amazing place and I want to get there while it’s still “frozen in time”. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  33. So, frustrating to get mixed around and not know your way. Been there! It’s frightening. Glad you found someone who could help you. Cuba looks lovely and I agree with an earlier commenter. The colors are so pretty and classic!

  34. What an adventure! It is nice that you were able to make a friend with a local resident. The locals are always the best one to ask about anything when you are visiting somewhere new. Eliner sounded like he was a very friendly and nice guy.

  35. There are plenty of good hearted, tourist friendly locals. And I’m glad you’re able to connect to one, and have your 1st (or 2nd?) day in Havana more meaningful.

    Do you have a picture of Malecon, say at sunrise or sunset? I would like to see one. An image of sunset or sunrise by the bay has a calming effect.

  36. I would be terrified to travel on my own! You are very brave, and I admire you! It looks like it was a great trip. Not many people share about Cuba travels, but this is a great story!

  37. Being lost in a place you’ve never been is quite an adventure! I love how you described every single details that you are seeing around you. Happy adventure to you! I hope your map will help you more next time! šŸ™‚

  38. I would love to go to Cuba. I’m amazed that you had a poor sense of orientation. Is not what I gather from your other posts. Jet lag? Well, I wish I could blame jet lag but to be honest I’m just bad at orientation.
    Have you ever been in Argentina or Venezuela?

  39. I am also directionally challenged when I am jetlagged! Glad you had a great time but wish you had not mentioned the churros… I want one now!

  40. It was probably jet lag that caught you up. Lol! It was also a good thing that a local was able to introduce you into the place, talked about a little history, and didn’t get you scammed. šŸ™‚

  41. Eliner sounds like a lovely guy! It’s always great to be shown around by someone local because you kind of get the best of both worlds – seeing something through the eyes of a tourist, and the eyes of someone who lives with it daily. x

  42. I know I commented already but I just wanted to congratulate you after seeing your status so well done for getting paid work by the Cuban travel touristy. Your series are brilliant so well deserved!

  43. I have always wanted to visit Cuba and this has made me even more certain that one day we will go there! Having a local show you the place is definitely the best way to see the sights, sounds fab!

  44. I’ve never been to Cuba but I recently went to Little Havana in Miami so I can imagine what you’re talking about. It’s funny how I lose my sense of direction in a foreign country easily as well – glad you found a way and that it wasn’t bad that you got lost. I remember walking lost in Nassau (bahamas) and I was so scared walking through those deserted streets! Pics look great and glad you had fun.

    Alina from The Fairytale Pretty Picture

  45. You gave me a picture of cuba beyond cigars. Would really want to visit this place. Sometime soon with my family.

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