Because of the decades-long US embargo in Cuba, no US-made cars have entered Cuba since 1960. This means that visitors can experience a real-life car museum of American classic cars in Cuba. Learn more about the 1950s vehicles that fill the streets of Havana from Talek in this week’s Everyday Postcard.
With seven continents, nearly 200 countries, and more than 7.5 billion people in the world, there is a lot to experience. The world is so vast and amazing that even the most avid traveler with a large bank account couldn’t truly do it justice in one lifetime!
Through the Everyday Postcard series, one of the world’s everyday wanderers shares postcard-worthy photos and real-life travel experiences to bring a piece of the big wide world to you.
A frequent traveler to Havana, Talek describes it as a beautiful, fascinating city with history and culture. She’s visited the city as a solo female traveler, with her husband, and with groups. In fact, she even leads tours to Havana. She finds it to be a safe city full of friendly people. After recently touring Havana, Cuba in a classic American car, Talek dashed off this Everyday Postcard:
Check out these classic American cars in Havana. Most of these vehicles date back to the 1950s and the owners maintain them like precious jewels (although all the engines are rebuilt).
Cuba has a wide range of transportation options from classic American car taxis to horse-drawn carriages. The juxtaposition of classic cars against colonial architecture is one of the many things about Havana that fascinate me.
Meet Talek Nantes
Based in New York City, Talek is an author, digital content creator, and founder of the blog, Travels with Talek. Her personal and professional background have led her to travel to over 100 countries, and her work has appeared in several travel publications. She is a passionate travel enthusiast and enjoys sharing her travel experiences with others, like her perfect Cuba itinerary.
For those who haven’t yet visited, give us an overview of Havana, Cuba
Havana is the colonial capital of Cuba. Founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1519, Havana beguiles and bewitches with its leafy patios, cobblestone streets, colonial structures and infectious music. The city grows on you the longer you linger. Its attraction lies in its natural beauty nestled next to a deep-water bay and its friendly, outgoing people.
How did you get to Havana, Cuba?
Its easy to get to Havana from most major cities in Europe, Canada, and Latin America. From the U.S. there are many direct flights from Miami, New York, Orlando and other cities.
What was your favorite moment during your visit to Havana?
That’s such a good question. I had several! One that immediately comes to mind was when I visited the cultural venue named Fabrica de Arte Cubana (Cuban Art Factory), or FAC for short, in one of Havana’s outer neighborhoods. When you enter, you get a card that is stamped depending on what you consume. At the end of the night you return the card and pay based on the stamps on your card, with no money exchanged at the FAC.
The FAC is a performance venue, art gallery, restaurant, disco, and much more, all rolled into one. These exhibits are shown in a refurbished, former cooking oil factory located in a Havana suburb. Suffice it to say you are not expecting to see something like this in Havana…or anyplace else, for that matter, because nothing else like this exists anywhere on earth. You can wander around the exhibits, with a mojito in hand, stopping at whatever attracts you.
Other memorable moments include seeing the interior of the refurbished capitol building, enjoying a jazz performance at the hottest jazz club in town, and wandering the streets of the colonial Old Town.
How did you get around Havana?
Traveling around Havana is quite easy. One option is yellow government-run taxis, which most tourists use. This transportation option is expensive but reliable.
Coco taxis, a motorcycle with a round yellow top, are another alternative. These are cheaper but can only take two people at a time.
Bicitaxis are bicycles with a little cart attached, like a rickshaw. These are only about $2.00 (US) a ride, but they only travel within the Old Town and can only take two people.
Colectivos, or collective taxis, are a good option for travel within the city. These are old cars that travel busy routes back and forth, but only stay on the same route. These are incredibly cheap at about $0.20 (US) per ride. However, they won’t take you door-to-door, and you must share the car with others.
The last option is the bus system. The buses in Havana are overcrowded. They are also not air conditioned, and in Havana in the summer, that can be an issue. However, the buses are so cheap they may as well be free.
One of the best parts of travel is experiencing the local flavors. What was your favorite meal in Cuba?
Typical Cuban food includes chicken, rice, beans, fried plantains, shredded beef and fish. The range of restaurants is wide, from hole-in-the-wall vendors selling rice and beans in a box called cajita to sit-down meals in white tablecloth restaurants.
The best restaurants to eat at are paladares, or private enterprise establishments run by the newly minted Cuban entrepreneurial class. A very good meal in Havana can be had for about $15-20 (US). Most government-run establishments are not places that would appeal to visitors, but the prices are exceptionally low. Meals to avoid include those in high-end hotels as they tend to be high-priced and not as good as the paladares.
Did you learn any local expressions in Cuba?
The Cuban language can be very colorful. Some classic idiomatic expressions are literally translated to:
- “You are finishing” meaning you are doing very well.
- “He stretched his leg” meaning he died.
- “He eats feces” meaning he is a fool.
- “He is eating a cable” meaning he is bored.
- “What a board!” meaning how daring!
- “Crazier than a goat” meaning he’s nuts.
- “She is built on ball bearings” meaning she is well shaped.
Then I’ll try not to stretch my leg when I visit! What are some of the sights that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Havana?
The four plazas in the Old Town, or Old Havana, are important to see when you visit Havana. They are Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Armas, and Plaza de la Catedral. Other major sites are Cathedral Square, the FAC mentioned above, Old Havana, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the capitol building.
You’ll also want to take in the city’s wonderful Art Deco buildings, Paseo del Prado (the beautiful tree-lined avenue from the city center to the seawall), and last but not at all least, the seawall known as the Malecon. I also recommend the Floridita bar and Bodeguita del Medio, two bars made famous by writer Ernest Hemingway. And speaking of Hemingway, don’t miss Finca Vijia, his former home.
What was the weather like when you visited Havana?
Havana is hot, hot, hot in the summer with temperatures reaching up to the high 90s. It’s also quite humid in Havana since the city is on an island and sits on a bay. The winter months have temperatures as low as the low 60s, but its generally a very pleasant low 70s. However, the winter is the rainy season. While there can be big downpours, the rainstorms only last for a few minutes. Then the sun comes out and the air smalls fresh and clean!
What else should folks be sure to do when they visit Havana?
The most enjoyable activity in Havana is dancing. If you don’t know how to salsa, don’t worry, someone will teach you! Other fun activities include wandering the streets, enjoying the colonial architecture, and buying little snacks from the local vendors.
Did you meet any of the locals? What were they like?
Cubans are nothing if not friendly. They will be happy to help you with directions. They are curious about you, where you’re from, and they will readily share information about themselves. Do your best to learn a few phrases in the local language, Spanish, before you go. Not only will this be appreciated by the locals, but they will use the conversation to also practice their English with you.
What’s one thing travelers can’t forget to pack when they visit Havana?
Many everyday products are not readily available in Cuba. Make sure to bring all all of the basics — like sunscreen, camera accessories, feminine hygiene products, and other personal care products — because it may not be easy to find and purchase them in Cuba.