A perfect night in Havana

So, I’m back from Cuba. Wow, just wow!!! Without a doubt, it was an epic trip in every way. For the past two weeks, I have been constantly inundated with a flux of emotions and experiences that have left me positively overwhelmed.

Cuba is all that I expected it to be, and so much more. It’s a happy, rewarding place for a traveler, just as I thought it would be when I shared my perspective on traveling to Cuba for the first time. I’ve traveled through twelve provinces and some ten cities with Insight Cuba, in which I had countless encounters with locals. After filling a notebook and my memory card with more than 2,000 pictures and videos, I need some time to let the dust settle, and gather my thoughts.

However, before I get into the nitty gritty of things, I wanted to share one of my favorite nights of my journey through the Caribbean island, that started off in Havana, at the Melia Cohiba Hotel. You can also take it as a Havana by night guide.

Malecon Melia Cohiba

My first thought walking into my suite on the sixteenth floor, looking down at the famous Malecón, was to want to walk up and down the charming esplanade that stretches for seven kilometres (five miles) along Havana’s coast. The Malecón is best described as Havana’s soul, a place of tradition that starts from Old Havana and goes up to Vedado neighborhood. This is where the Habaneros stroll their afternoons admiring the various architectural styles along the way, enjoy the sunset or secretly hope to be splattered by the furious waves that occasionally surpass the longstanding seawall.

The Malecón, along with Old Havana, is also what tourists want to see first. I wasn’t any different. This was one tourist trap I was willing to fall into. The trip would eventually take us to some of the most remote areas Cuba has kept under its belt, but to begin with, I wanted to devour Havana, with all its blatant complexities and beguilling contrasts.

I knew just walking down the sea boulevard wouldn’t fully satisfy me. I wanted to cruise it in an old Cuban car, with wind blowing in my hair and that distinct feeling to have suddenly stepped in a bygone era.

Cuban car_4

I put on my favorite dress fit for the occasion, and requested a convertible, red Gran Car (a state-owned vintage American car). Instead, I got a pink 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. Needless to say, I was equally charmed.

Driving a Cuban car

As soon as I saw it and I hopped on the driver’s seat, I knew I was born in the wrong era.

Chevrolet 1957 Bel Air Cuba

There was something about the interior, the vintage look and feel that made me gush incessantly. I felt right at home and surprisingly comfortable in a decades old vehicle. The car drove quite well and was in a great condition.

The Cuban driver was as courteous as can be. He took me up and down the boulevard, and around town, and stopped by the Malecón’s westernmost point, by the now-called 1830 Restaurant.

Cuban car on the Malecon Havana Cuban car_2 Cuban car_5El Malecon Havana 1830 Restaurant

Dating back to the 19th century, the open-air restaurant offers al fresco dining with spectacular views to Havana’s coastline. I had reservations somewhere else, but it sure was a magical location to stop and take some pictures!

Cuban car_6 Cuban carCuban car_3

By the time the impromptu photo session came to an end, I was starving. It was 10 PM and I was one hour late for my dinner reservation at one of Havana’s most coveted paladares. The term of paladares came about few years ago, when families were finally allowed to run a restaurant in their own homes, a great alternative for visitors to state-run restaurants, and a great way for Cubans to run a family-business. Sadly, no Cuban can ever afford to eat at paladares, unless they earn in CUCs, the currency that is used for tourists, the equivalent in dollars.

La Esperanza paladar interior HavanaInside La Esperanza paladar Havana

As soon as I arrived at La Esperanza, I knew this was no ordinary Cuban home. It was stunning. I was immediately taken by the decor. Not ostentatious in its display, but filled with meaning, precious memories and vintage haunts.

La Esperanza paladar Havana

The backyard was particularly charming, away from the prying eyes of the main living room, surrounded by greenery, but with large enough openings to the indoor. I was delightfully impressed to get the best table, although an hour late. 

The owner, Hubert, apart from being incredibly funny and considerate, was concerned with anything not being to my liking. Those who know me well know I’m a slow eater, but poor Hubert must have thought I don’t like the food. I did.

La Esperanza paladar dishes Havana

In fact the octopus appetizer with shaved parmesan was delicious, as was the grilled eggplant with cheese. But the lobster dish really topped it all. As I was eating, I couldn’t help not feel guilty of what a Cuban student had told me not even two hours before. “We certainly don’t eat lobster every day.”

In a hilarious turn of events, Hubert, I and a third person hopped into a taxi. After a long day of cooking in his home’s kitchen and serving other people, Hubert was in a rush to get somewhere. I, on the other hand, was going to Casa de la Musica in Miramar, a happening party spot in Havana. We parted ways, hoping we would meet again one day.

Casa de la Musica Havana

I don’t even remember what time it was, close to 1 or 2 AM, but suffice it to say it was a short stay at Casa de la Musica. I chose instead to go back to the Malecón and watch the waves crashing into the walls. It was pitch dark, so it was a starry, perfect end of the night; just me, the stars, and my favorite Cuban song.

De Alto Cedro voy para Marcan
Llego a Cueto, voy para Mayar

El cario que te tengo
No te lo puedo negar
Se me sale la babita
Yo no lo puedo evitar

Cuando Juanica y Chan Chan
En el mar cernan arena
Como sacuda el jibe
A Chan Chan le daba pena

Limpia el camino de paja
Que yo me quiero sentar
En aqul tronco que veo
Y as no puedo llegar

De alto Cedro voy para Marcan
Lleg a Cueto voy para Mayar

 

Disclaimer: My trip to Cuba was sponsored by Insight Cuba, the leading provider of legal people-to-people travel to Cuba.  Insight Cuba was the first to bring Americans to Cuba under this provision initiated in 2000. This is my first post in a series of articles, highlighting my time on the Undiscovered Cuba tour. As usual, all opinions are mine. Pero por supuesto!

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  • dewtraveller

    I am enjoying your Cuba trip update a lot! I love how vintage the country looks and how lovely the places and food are!

    • monicasuma

      Thank you! It truly is a very special place in the world!

  • thirdeyemom

    Lovely post Monica!

    • monicasuma

      Thanks, Nicole!

  • Lucy Dodsworth

    I’m fascinated by Cuba and just love the vintage style and the old cars (my dad has a couple of 1940s/1950s cars so have grown up around them!)

    • monicasuma

      Me too! Oh, that must have been great to have grown up surrounded by all those vintage cars.

  • Agness

    You had a great experience in Cuba I must admit. Love the dress. It perfectly suits the car and Havana scenery. Was your suite located on 16th floor? Wow, the view must have been amazing!

    • monicasuma

      Thank you, Agness! I did, yes! Thank you, one of my favorite dresses for that exact reason. Yup, 16th floor. View was indeed amazing, pretty surreal I’ll admit, to see all of Havana from there. Stay tuned, many more stories to come 🙂

  • Great article and beautiful pictures ! Car, food , house, everything is amazing

    • monicasuma

      Thank you so much, so glad to hear you enjoyed!

  • Lazy Travelers

    ahhh we would soo love to go to havana! very excited to read more about your trip 🙂

    • monicasuma

      Thank you, ladies! I think you would love it as much as I did!

  • @mrsoaroundworld

    I have been to Havana 4 times in the past and it always got my heart. It has been over 6 years since my last visit and I would love to go back. Thanks for bringing back the memories

    • monicasuma

      Wow, 4 times! You’ll definitely find a lot has changed. Towards the better, I think. My pleasure!

  • I went in January and I’m still really missing it, what a city! 🙂

    • monicasuma

      It is, indeed! So then I should expect few months from now to still be feeling major withdrawls, right? Sigh.

  • lola

    i’d love to go to Cuba some day. you know that pink car is just my speed. gorgeous photos cannot wait for the rest of your articles.

    • monicasuma

      I know, this is with special dedication for you Lola! 🙂 Thank you!

  • Lazy Travelers

    this is everything i thought havana would be and more! you definitely picked the right dress for your night out too! xo, the wino

    • monicasuma

      Thank you! I know, I felt like the dress screamed Cuba! 🙂

  • Wije Kottahachchi

    Hey Monica

    This is an amazing experience you had in Cuba.I love your posts.Architecture,food,people,old vintage American cars
    and to top it all you are dressed so very chic~all the time in what looks like an exhausting travel itinerary

    Wije

    • monicasuma

      Thank you, Wije!

  • Fantastic shots with that classic car Monica. I am glad that you had such a good time there.

    • monicasuma

      Thank you so much!

  • Corinne Vail

    I have wanted to go to Havana for ages…might have to do the People to People thing.

    • monicasuma

      I can’t guarantee that everyone will have a fantastic group or would enjoy it, but for me, it couldn’t have been better. And 20 people from out group agreed, all different backgrounds, ages, etc.

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