On page 169 of My Seductive Cuba, author Chen Lizra introduces six walking tours that are a great way to meet, or to reconnect with Havana on foot. Chen has visited many times and often leads tours to Cuba but when she’s not on hand you’ll find her book a very useful tool as a basis for discovery.
Chen would be the first to encourage each of us to discover our own ‘seductive’ experiences in Havana and that was consistent with my self-propelled tour. Because my T-3 bus dropped me at Parque Central, I started with Tour #3 that begins at the Hemingway-famous Floridita and then strolls down Calle Obispo into the heart of Old Havana. Along Obispo I stopped at a couple of bars with bands that my virtual tour guide would certainly have enjoyed. She has doubtless seen dozens – you can’t miss on Obispo!
This article is not aimed to recreate the walks in Chen’s book but rather to pay tribute to the author’s sensibility. The routes she lays out (with useful little maps included) are all I needed to go exploring. The book identifies some must-sees and explains their interest, but mostly it gets you in the mood for finding your own highlights. Those kids with the bunny ears celebrating Easter were not in Chen’s book, but they were playing on one of the streets somewhere on the map for Tour#3. Combining the spots in the book with the ones you discover while strolling is the perfect approach.
One place Tour #3 took me that Chen did highly recommend was the Taberna brew pub that wraps up Tour #3 on page 177. From there, I went straight into Tour #4 (that one includes another famous Hemingway drinking spot, La Bodeguita del Medio) , then #5 (it takes you to a sunset on the Malecón) and #6 (that one goes by the incredibly impressive Hotel Nacional de Cuba). The following day I rounded out the set by doing Tours #1 (along Prado) and #2 (to the landmark Capitolio and the posh hotels of the Parque Central.) There are really no significant secrets on these tours – just a fine narration and more importantly the book’s approach to looking around and taking in both the historic and everyday sites of the capital. If you’ve just arrived or simply want to discover more than you might see out of a bus window, walking these tours is a deeper plunge into the Havana lifestyle; Chen will help you see Cuba like a Habanero. Havana is by far the largest city in the Caribbean and undoubtedly its most fascinating.
There are a number of well-written guides to the country that contain excellent insight and information, but as we wrote previously (here) My Seductive Cuba is a very personal travel book that includes both factual information and extensive personal impressions. Walking through Havana, you will certainly develop your own personal impressions. This is no cookie-cutter tourist town.
There are a great many opportunities to enjoy sun and surf on the many tropical beaches of the Caribbean, but there certainly is only one Havana. Bring your most comfortable shoes, sunscreen and your own sense of discovery. You’ll have an urban adventure that is as unique as Havana is itself.