Old Havana Walking Tour with Cuban Adventures
I have a confession.
Unlike most first-time visitors to Havana, I didn’t fall in love with this city. Far from it. Havana felt like a city stuck in its past, obsessed with its revolution.
So when the hour hand struck twelve, and Yanet was nowhere to be found, I muttered “Cuban time” under my breath. I had to remind myself of the need to understand that punctuality is not a virtue that is keenly observed in this country. It happened a few days ago at Playa Giron, where we waited half an hour for our bus ride to the dive site, and just yesterday, when the taxi that our Airbnb host called for us never quite arrived. A few minutes later, from an unintended glimpse at the corner of my eye, I spotted Yanet looking out from the balcony. I could have so easily missed her if I was less observant, but that was a timely reminder of how Cuba rolls – unconventionally laid back at its very core, not always on time, but yet delivers in its own way.
For an English speaking traveler who spoke and understood close to no Spanish, Yanet was a welcome respite from all the “que“, “si” and “por favor” that I’d been parroting for the past few days. Originally from Camaguey, she came to Havana with her infant son fifteen years ago to provide a better quality of life for her aging grandma, and being a city guide provided this English major with some money and enough time for her family.
Our tour started with an overview of our afternoon walk in Old Havana. It evolved around the rich cultural heritage that anchored the construction of the four plazas in the old city – Plaza de la Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza Vieja. Through a blend of personal stories and free-flowing conversations, we began to understand more about the sights and sounds of old Havana. At the Cathedral of Havana, Yanet taught us the features of Baroque-style architecture, recounted the history behind the indigenous people’s conversion to Catholicism and shared how the city had prepared itself for Pope Francis’s visit last year.
A few minutes later, in front of what seemed to be a bewildering mural of 67 individuals, our enthusiastic guide shared with us that the facade of the Casa del Marques de Arcos bought together important people whose lives and work influenced local culture during the 19th century. Fast forward to the wood parquet that adorned the west side of Plaza de Armas. Yanet (who by now seemed to have the answer to everything Havana-related) explained to us that it was a representation of the power that the governor’s wife had over the city. Our awestruck selves barely had time to recover before we were introduced to El Caballero de Paris, the legendary street wanderer of Havana who, despite his mental illness, was much loved by the locals for his wise words.
Over the course of our time with Yanet, it became evident that the Cuba we were looking at was not stuck in history, but in its most significant state of transition. I found those initial inhibitions slipping away, and in their place, a burgeoning curiosity towards this fascinating city.
When the hour hand struck four, we wished that we could stay with Yanet for a little longer. After the customary exchange of contact numbers, saying farewell to her felt like saying goodbye to a friend you’ve known for a really long time. Perhaps that’s what true hospitality does to you – it connects lives from different cultures, results in a reluctance to walk away from a treasure trove of stories, and breeds a stubborn determination that we will return to this beautiful city again.
Details of Old Havana Walking Tour
Cost of Tour: USD 63
Duration: 3.5 hours
Meeting Point: La Gargola Guesthouse, 82 Calle Cuba, between Cuarteles and Chacon streets. Check if the guide is on the second floor if you don’t see her on the first!
Includes: A delicious lunch and drink
Have you been on amazing walking tours that really made a difference to your experience in a city? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below!
This article first appeared in ETSY Explores.
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