New Year’s in Havana

I woke up the next morning with a feeling of sadness, knowing it was my last day in Cuba. In less than 24 hours I was supposed to be on board of a plane, returning to the real world, in the 21st century. My time in Cuba had exceeded my expectations and thought me a very valuable lesson about human kindness. I still had a full day tough and tried to best out of it. It was after all the last day of the year!


Jose, my host from Casa Ultracell cooked me a delicious breakfast, even if it wasn’t included in the room rate. I enjoyed it on the terrace, while forcing myself to speak in Spanish. Noted: I don’t know Spanish but I come from a Latin country and I do understand easily all the other sister languages. Jose complimented my efforts and he understood most of what I was trying to say.


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I had planed many things for this day so after breakfast I walked down the hill, all the way to Hotel Nacional, where I was meeting Petra and Norbert, an Austrian couple whom I got to know in Varadero. I read in my guide book that there is a free tour of Hotel Nacional and I really wanted to see the inside of the most iconic hotel of Havana. I almost booked a room here, before finding out that it would have taken a couple hundred pounds from my pocket.

The Hotel was beautiful and our guide, a tiny old lady, was amazing. She would speak English perfectly, underlining almost each word. She worked at the hotel for all her life. She told us that when the missile crises happened, she used to look at the war ships from the hotels’ gardens. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine her, as a young lady wearing her uniform, mingling around army officers and doing her job, while the sea was crowded with military vessels.

She took us to the rooms where Frank Sinatra and Luciano stayed in when the American Mob met in Cuba for a fake concert. Sinatra and Luciano never met in public but their rooms were connected to each other with a door that now has been covered with plasterboard. It was astonishing to be in their bedrooms and hear this fascinating story.

After the tour I met with Danny, our guide, for a chat over a pizza. A real pizza, I have to mention, totally different that the ones we kept eating on the side of the road while touring the country.


In the afternoon I went back by cab to old Havana to meet Lakshmi. The journey was very funny, with a driver that at the end invited me to spend the New Year’s with him. I refused politely and then quickly got inside Casa Habana, to meet my friend. We got ready for the evening and left the casa to find Petra and Norbert, but also my new Cuban friend, Eliner. We had dinner in a very touristy place, Cafe Paris, which I don’t recommend. The food was bland and the service very poor. We waited for ages to be served and an eternity for the bill to come.

After walking around Havana, trying to find a place where to celebrate the New Year, we decided to go to one of the fancy hotels from near the Capitolio and try out luck. Unfortunately Eliner was not allowed to get into any of them and we had to say goodbye to him. I felt sorry because he has been very kind to me and introduced me to the Cuban hospitality.

The New Year found us in Plaza Vieja, listening to that amazing live band that we discovered a few days before. We were not allowed to go inside the restaurant but the massive bouncer let us watch and even joked and took photos with us. It was great! At midnight, one (!) firework was launched and everybody started to sing western songs. People joined together dancing and singing, and the whole square looked now like a massive party. All over the streets, people were throwing water from their windows, which symbolizes the fresh start of a new year, without the worries of the one that passed. In the countryside people also build a human-size doll, which represents all the bad things that happened during the past year, and they set it on fire. I didn’t see any in Havana though.


Unfortunately, after half an hour, all the bars and restaurants closed. We managed to find an open bar at one of the hotels near Piaza Vieja, to have a cocktail, but it was also deserted. So we texted Danny, who came after us and took us to his party, on a rooftop of a building in the old town. It was amazing, such a great way to start the new year!

But time passed by really fast, and before I know it, it was already 3am, the time for my taxi to pick me up for the airport. It was time to say goodbye to this beautiful welcoming country.

The way back home was very long, it took me over 48 hours since I left Havana until I reached London. I was so tired but I couldn’t sleep either. In snowy Toronto I met “my friend” from Air Canada who was so nice to me when I was denied boarding on the way to Havana. He recognized me and changed my seat to a better one, for the short connection in Frankfurt. On the transatlantic flight a woman fainted and collapsed on the floor for about half an hour, over the Atlantic. Luckily she recovered and there was no need for an emergency landing. In Milano I didn’t manage to talk to anyone from AlItalia about my luggage, but a really nice lady from the lost and found helped me and managed to track it down… in Havana. In Amsterdam, I flew back to London with KLM’s vintage airplane and I got by chance a seat by the emergency exit, which gave me so much leg space that even with my legs stretched completely, I couldn’t touch the seat in front. And then, London welcomed me back home with a cold, cold evening.

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See you soon, Cuba!

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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. New year in Cuba sounds amazing I love Latino cultures because the food and the people and dance is just amazing and everyone is so friendly

  2. Quite an adventure! I love the bit about Frank Sinatra. I’m a huge fan and I will be overwhelmed just being there I might cry!

  3. It’s too bad you had to go to the parties without Eliner, I always find those situations quite uncomfortable. I find that eating pizza around the world is like an experience all its own. Everyone does it differently! I can’t even imagine flying 48 hours right after partying! I hope your next trip is just as fun, or even better.

  4. Awesome <3 Cuba was never a place I even thought I would be interested in going to but after reading your blog article I realized it would actually be so cool. Pizza looks delicious.

    "At midnight, one (!) firework was launched and everybody started to sing western songs. People joined together dancing and singing, and the whole square looked now like a massive party. All over the streets, people were throwing water from their windows, which symbolizes the fresh start of a new year, without the worries of the one that passed. "

    Interesting tradition. I had never heard of this before 🙂

  5. It looks like, ‘save the best for last’. 🙂 It is always hard to leave a place you learnt to love and like. I can’t blame you as Cuba has been one of my top places I wanted to go. I love the lively, colorful vibe it has. 🙂

  6. Cuba sounds amazing, it’s horrible leaving a place you love expecially coming back to cold rubbish weather ,pizza looks tasty glad u had an awesome time xx

  7. Hospitality for me is really important when I travel to other places and it seems you had very great experience. TTrips like this are long last memories, that nobody forgets. You used the last day there to the maximum. 🙂

  8. It seems you have left Havana and also left your heart there. You have such an amazing experience in Cuba. That’s how we enrich our life by going and seeing the treasures of the globe.

  9. I was not aware of this tradition of throwing water from windows. Sounds fun and glad to know that you had an amazing time during your Cuba visit!

  10. Cuba looks like a lot of fun, almost all my friends are going there for vacation. I can’t wait for my turn to go.

  11. I have only heard about it and seen Cuba in movies . But the way you described it, I am almost tempted to book a ticket. I was surprised though and would love to know why Eliner not allowed inside?

    1. Unfortunately, they don’t let Cuban people into fancy hotels. Even if he was with us, they refused to let him in 🙁

  12. What a great way to end a trip! I’m sure you had a lot of fun during your stay there, I can tell by the pictures here and from the previous posts! It’s really awesome.

  13. I swear, I just read a post on Cuba a week ago. I thought I was having a deja vu while reading this post. Maybe it’s a sign I need to visit it? You sure made it seem like a great idea!

  14. What an adventure you had there in Cuba! You are lucky to have friends with you to celebrate it there. I remember the days when I was still single and I would party or hang out with friends until the wee hours of the morning. Those were the days!

  15. I would love to visit Cuba and I plan on it one day. Great ending to the trip, the pizza looks delicious. Glad that you didn’t need to emergency land as I know your a nervous flyer like me! Looking forward to seeing your next adventure 🙂

  16. Ahh.. We have been following you through all your Cuban experiences and must say it you had an awesome trip for sure. You have been exploring most of the Cuba like a local and that’s what makes the trip worth it and memorable. So whats next on the list? 😉

  17. I loved all the Cuba posts. You made me fall in love with it. It seems you had an adventure of a lifetime. If i could I would book a ticket tomorrow. x

  18. That was a great year end celebration for you. I do pity your friend that wasn’t allowed to go inside with you when you partied 🙁 but hey! Don’t be sad for leaving Cuba you have memories of it that is already part of you and you can always go back there

  19. I am always intrigued about the different New Year traditions. In your post I am glad that I have learned about the people throwing water off the windows and having the human sized doll. Glad you had a wonderful New Year in Cuba.

  20. is always at the end of the trip when u discover more the most beautiful places and you wish to stay some more isn’t it ? anyways great way to spend the new year

  21. Ooh my god the pizza it is the morning here but still pretty hungry haha ! Cuba looks like an amazing destination definitely on my bucket list !

  22. That water throwing sounds like a funny tradition 😀 Never been to Cuba but it has always fascinated me as it’s so unique. It’s always difficult and kind od sad when a holidays comes to an end.

  23. What fresher way to start the new year than in Cuba. I never took it for much of a new year’s destination…but now that I think of it, it would probably be good at just about any time of the year.

  24. I guess this is a backlog since it’s New Year. Anyway, it’s cool to know about the culture of Havana which is throwing water from windows or making a human life-size doll to burn. In our country, all the children just jump so they will grow taller. Meanwhile, everyone wears polka dots to bring in money.

  25. Ahh I can relate to this! The flight home is never as exciting as the flight out there! I love reading about traditions and other cultures and Cuba is definitely a place on my checklist!

  26. It is always sad when your journey is at the end, isn’t it? But you had a blast so it must have been really good. Didn’t know about the water throwing, though. I suppose there are different new year’s tradition in different parts of the world.

  27. Am I reading it correctly? When did this happen? I am really confused about the idea of celebrating new years in Havana. But I bet you guys really had fun!

    1. Not sure why you think celebrating New Years in Cuba is confusing. It’s a wonderful country with people who really know how to party nice.

  28. Great to know that you’re going back. It’s always sad to leave a place you love. I saw and read your articles about Cuba and I can tell you had good times. Cherish that!

  29. What is good always ends fast. But glad that you had such a great time in Cuba. It’s definitely one of my top destinations on my wish list 🙂

  30. I’ve read elsewhere that one of the customs of a latin country is to burn life size dolls or effigies to bade goodbye to the bad lucks of the previous year. But the pouring of water is something new to me, but the symbolism makes sense.

  31. I’m curious about their pizza, what’s the difference? And I don’t know that throwing water is a way to welcome the new year. They probably have a very nice and colorful culture.

  32. Beautiful stories of Habana and the beautiful souls you meet in your travails. A trip to Cuba seems like getting on a time machine! I’ve been meaning to see my best friend (who lives in Habana) soon. Hopefully next year!

  33. I have been to Cuba few years back. I loved evwry moment of it. Sadly, even though I have been there I didn’t knew abiut the tradition of throwing water on Windows. That must have been so much fun. Sounds super cool!!!

  34. Land of best Cigars on world. Hope next year I will go there. It looks like dream: Driving from Havana airport to hotel in old American Old-timer and smoking Montecristo Petit.

  35. I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba because I’ve seen a lot of beautiful reviews about it. And ohh their Pizza look so delicious!! Hope you have a great time there!!

  36. I really felt you had a nice time in Cuba because you have the feeling of not leaving the place. I hope you’ll have more chance to visit the place soon. Just think that you’re lucky enough because you get to tour in Cuba unlike me. Lol. You can discover more adventures in different places soon. Hopefully you can visit Philippines if you had the opportunity.

  37. It sounds like you had a great guide at the hotel Nacional. It’s always amazing when you can get information first hand. I can imagine it must have been awesome to be in the rooms of Frank Sinatra and Luciano! Luckily there wasn’t an emergency landing needed for the woman who fainted!

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