Where the Old and the New Collide

Welcome to Old Havana, a mix of colonial Cuba and today’s tourism.

The buildings are reminiscent of a time when Spain controlled the island and its economy. Now, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the narrow streets are filled with tourists looking to experience Old Havana and vendors looking to capitalize on the growing industry. The famous San José Market offers tourists a one stop shop for any souvenir you can imagine, from anything cigar related to Cuban art.

Much like the original layout of the city, the streets of Old Havana empty into five large plazas filled with restaurants, museums, and shops. The district is marked by cobblestone roads as tourists mix with locals. I highly recommend taking at least an afternoon to wander the streets and stop in at places that catch your eye. El Chanchullero, literally a hole in the wall restaurant, served the best ropa vieja I had while in Cuba. 

If you are interested in the history of the island, I highly recommend stopping by the Cuban Art Museum and Revolution Museum. The art museum takes visitors through Cuban history through art starting with colonial times through the Revolution to present day. The Revolution Museum, meanwhile, was interesting for different reasons. The state-run museum presented a rather one-sided view of the events leading up to and during the Revolution of 1959. At many times, the museum felt more like a forum for propaganda rather than fact.

This barely touches on what Habana Vieja has to offer visitors. I highly recommend the Chocolate Museum. Have an idea of what you would like to see and do before going as it can be overwhelming to make a choice. It is also easy to get hung up on Habana Vieja and forget that it is only a small part of the city. 

"Taxi, miss?"

One of the first questions people asked me when I returned from Cuba was, “So did you see any of those cars from the 1950’s?”

IMG_4615.jpg

I decided to study abroad in Cuba for a number of reasons. The deciding factor was the timing of my visit. Cuba and the United States recently re-opened diplomatic relations between the two governments. Our last day in Cuba, July 20, was the one year anniversary of the relationship. There has been a lot of talk about how the island will change now that the two governments are talking. A lot of the literature I read before traveling talked about how Cuba was seemingly frozen in time. Hence the American cars from before the revolution and embargo. 

The cars were everywhere, some barely hanging on by the duct tape holding the mirror on. The cars were in all conditions of wear. Some cars had been upgraded to include an automatic transmission and air conditioning. Others had a rotting floorboard and doors that barely stayed shut. No matter the condition, we always got to where we needed to be.

Taxis were fairly cheap, especially if you were willing to negotiate with the driver. Because we were tourists, and they immediately knew that, we had to work to get the price we wanted. If you ever find yourself in Havana, don’t let the driver take you to Habana Vieja for more than 5 CUC.