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There is no place in the world like Cuba. From its classic cars to its colonial architecture, it’s a landscape that is completely unique. But with so much to do it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s a list of the most unique experiences to have in Cuba that you don’t want to miss.
Peppering the streets of Cuba are colorful classic cars that would make car collectors drool. In other countries these classics could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but in Cuba they provide everyday transportation. So how did this become the case?
It started with the U.S. Embargo in the 1960s and a Cuban ban on buying foreign cars. The effect was Cuba’s transportation industry became stuck in these ’50s and ’60s. Cubans couldn’t access new cars, so the same classic cars were passed through generations and restored through necessity.
Cuba’s automobile history becomes even more incredible when you learn that trade sanctions extended to car parts as well. Cuban car owners have to make their own parts or construct out-of the-box solutions. Ask a Cuban to see under the hood of their car and many will show off their latest mechanical invention.
Cuba’s classic cars provide more than a photo opportunity. They represent generations of struggle, and the Cuban ingenuity it took to keep life rolling.
El Malecon is Havana’s most famous street. It runs parallel to the ocean passing Old Town Havana, Morro Castle, and many of Havana’s other iconic landmarks.
El Malecon is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Visitors can expect to see kids jumping into the ocean or couples sitting along the seafront. Sunset is a perfect time to walk the water’s edge—it allows visitors to take a break from the sun’s heat, and the lighting is perfect for taking photos.
Morro Castle was built in 1589 to protect Havana from raiding pirates. It’s one of the oldest structures in Havana, and the “9 o’clock cannon shot” is one of Havana’s oldest traditions.
Since the inception of the city, guards at Morro Castle fired the castle cannon at 9 p.m. sharp. The tradition began as a way to alert residents that the city walls were closing and that it was time to go home and take refuge. Today, the stone wall that once surrounded the city has long since disappeared, but the tradition of the 9 o’clock cannon shot continues.
Each night people flood into Morro Castle to watch guards in colonial uniform march in and fire the canon. It’s heavily attended by locals and tourists alike. There’s a saying that you’re not Cuban unless you’ve watched the cannon fire at least once.
Cuba’s restaurant culture is extremely unique. For decades it was illegal to own a restaurant in communist Cuba. A small exception in the 1990s, however, allowed people to sell food out of their own homes. In Cuba, these small home-based restaurants are called paladares, and they offer some of the best Cuban food in the country.
Eating in a paladar is like eating a home-cooked meal with family. The tables are normally set up in the family’s living room and the food is as authentic as you can get. Some paladares may feel like traditional restaurants, and many of the island’s most gourmet menus are served from people’s personal homes.
Most of Havana’s iconic buildings and museums are located just a short distance from each other. This neighborhood is called Old town, or Havana Vieja. Every street in Havana Vieja looks like a postcard. The streets are lined with colorful, colonial buildings that are cracked and crumbling from a lack of maintenance. The streets are lined with classic cars and vendors selling homemade goods.
Havana Vieja is the heart of the city. Visitors can take walking tours to learn about Havana’s complex history, or visit one of the many museums. For people who enjoy photography, it’s a dream. The colors are astounding and you’re sure to leave with many vibrant images.
Hotel National is one of Cuba’s most historic buildings, which has housed everyone from mobsters, and movie stars to Cuban revolutionaries. It’s also known for serving up a great mojito.
So if you’d like to take a night to relax, head to the bar on the hotel lawn. While you’re drinking your mojito you can watch the peacocks or listen to the live music. There is also an excellent view of El Malecon and the ocean—it’s an experience that is quintessentially Cuban.