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Havana, Cuba 72-Hour Vacation

¡Viva La Habana!
It's Hot and It's Happening
By Christopher Baker


A must: a daiquiri at El Floridita

One of the most captivating cities in the world, La Habana—Havana—enthralls. Founded in 1519 by conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuella, this remarkable city of 2.2 million, wears its history on its sleeve. A remarkable restoration has resurrected Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the colonial core, brim-full of castles, cathedrals and cobbled plazas. Further out, 1950s autos from the heyday of pre-revolutionary sin rumble down lively boulevards lined with more modern buildings in a fascinating amalgam of styles. Dramatic monuments and museums honor Cuba's Communist Revolution. Ernest Hemingway's ghost still sips mojitos at his favorite bars. And the Latin nightlife, hot enough to cook the pork, is off the hook! You could spend a month here and still be captivated, but three days is better than none at all.

DAY 1

El Capitolio
El Capitolio

Spend your day in Cuba wisely: this splendid city throbs with history, art, culture, food and shopping. For lodging we recommend the Hotel Florida. This Colonial-period gem rises from the main street in Habana Vieja and offers gracious digs just steps from all the main plazas. Another good option is Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway wrote some of his masterpieces, or the elegant The Hotel Parque Central, a more upscale option with great restaurants and an unbeatable position on Parque Central. Four grand, refurbished hotels (Hotel Plaza, Hotel Parque Central, Hotel Inglaterra, and Hotel Telegrafo) line the north and west sides of Parque Central, which also boasts one of Cubas preeminent museums, its finest theater and other major attractions nearby. Parque Central is also the social hub of Havana.

Memorial Jose Marti, Plaza de la Revolucion
Memorial Jose Marti, Plaza de la Revolucion

Start your tour by getting an overview of the city. There's no better way than riding upstairs on the Habanabustour—a London-style open-air double-decker bus introduced in 2008. Catch the bus at its beginning point on the west side of Parque Central. You'll see the main sights of Habana Vieja. Then switch bus routes to visit the 20th-century Vedado district, with all the highlights laid out below, including the Soviet-era Palacio de la Revolución and the majestic Hotel Nacional rising over the Malecon seafront boulevard. The Soviet-era Palacio de la Revolución is actually the Cuban government's primary building. It's where Raúl (and formerly Fidel) Castro has his office. Originally named the Palace of Justice, this gargantuan structure is naturally off-limits to visitors. Across the street on the north side is the Ministerio del Interior, bearing a five-story-tall likeness of Che Guevara, wearing his trademark beret with five-pointed star. It is purportedly the most frequently photographed site in all of Havana.

Back at Parque Central, you can have lunch on the outdoor patio of the Hotel Inglaterra—a grand hotel with a fascinating Mughal-themed restaurant. Afterwards, stroll south to the Gran Teatro, with its incredible baroque exterior. You can take a guided tour before continuing the stone's throw south to the Capitolio—the former Congress building modeled after the American capitol in Washington D.C. Be sure to explore inside, glittering with ornate marble hallways.

Then head north to stroll the Prado—the marble, pedestrian walkway leading down to the Malecón. Artists display their work, selling all styles of Cuban paintings for very good prices. Share the tree-lined space with children taking art classes, chess and checker-players and kids on skateboards. At Hotel Sevilla, a Moorish-style property at Calle Trocadero, the Mary Pickford cocktail was invented; it's also a good place for a mid-afternoon mojito.

Edificio Bacardi
Edificio Bacardi

Then walk one block east to Calle Agramonte, Follow this street south one block to the Museo de la Revolución, fronted by a Soviet tank that Fidel supposedly used during the Bay of Pigs. The museum is in the former Presidential Palace. Although this museum is open daily, most museums are closed on Mondays and most charge a nominal fee. Be sure to explore the courtyard to the rear of the museum, where the Granma Memorial displays the boat that Castro and his revolutionaries used in 1958 to return from Mexico. Then, one block south, visit the Cuban section of the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Fines Arts Museum, displaying Cuba's finest artwork spanning five centuries. Your entrance ticket is also good for entry to the international section of the museum, two blocks further south, in the old Centro Asturiano palace, on the east side of Parque Central. It displays ancient Roman and Greek treasures, plus art pieces spanning the Great Masters of Europe and the Americas. Linking the museums is Calle Monserrate. En route, you'll pass by the Edificio Bacardi, a drop-dead gorgeous, 1929 coral limestone and pink granite Art Deco building that was once Bacardi Rum Company headquarters and also Havana's first skyscraper.

End your day with a daiquiri at El Floridita, a 1930s art deco bar and restaurant. Legend has it that the daiquiri was invented here, for Hemingway. So revered was the man that his barstool is protected by a chain barrier and a lifesize bronze figure of the famous author, shown tippling at the bar, was erected. Your daiquir will be about the most expensive cocktail in Havana.

Continue to Day 2

MORE HAVANA INFORMATION

Large Jesus Statue looking over Havana


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