A Walking Tour Helped us Fall in Love with Old Havana | Review

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.

Old Havana Walking Tour

This might look like a nondescript pathway, but it’s actually one of a kind in Havana. Find out why on the tour.

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.

Old Havana Walking Tour

The four plazas that will be covered on the Old Havana Walking Tour.

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.

Old Havana Walking Tour

The magnificent Cathedral de San Cristobal

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.

Old Havana Walking Tour

Old Havana Walking Tour

There’s a very specific tango to be done with El Cabellero de Paris.

The walking tour lasted for about two and a half hours, but Yanet made sure that her company and stories lasted way longer. While the walking tour was about history, architecture and culture, our lunch at a cafe was about understanding life in Havana from a local’s perspective. For the next hour and half, we were given a rare peek into contemporary Cuban society, ranging from their feelings towards western culture and President Obama’s historic visit to Yanet’s hopes and aspirations for her son.  It also provided a glimpse into her earlier years as a translator with Cuban Air, her dreams of visiting the world partially fulfilled through the air lounges of the different cities her job took her to, and her family’s attempt to keep in touch with her brother, whose migration to Miami was in itself a story of heartbreak and aspiration.

Old Havana Walking Tour

A beautiful reminder that our best experiences while travelling are always related to the friendships we forge.

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!

ETSY Explores were guests of Cuban Adventures and Havana Adventures. However, all opinions remain ours and are completely unbiased.

This article first appeared in ETSY Explores.

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20 Comments:

  1. Walking tours look like a fabulous way to explore a city and really get the most out of the experience. I’m sure you remember all the little details too – down to the culture difference of punctuality in Cuba! Locals tell the best stories 🙂
    lily kate
    jolihouse.com

    • Hey Lily! They really are a fabulous way to know the city, and helped us understand Havana so much better even though we’d been walking around ourselves two days prior to the tour. I would highly recommend this one (:

  2. I have to bookmark this for when I go to Havana! ♥ Lovely article! Sometimes, we do need a different perspective to get to fall in love with a place 🙂

    • Thanks Andreea (: Sometimes, that different perspective is what makes all the difference! When are you planning to go to Havana?

  3. What an amazing experience! I would love to see Havana like this!

  4. Pingback: Afro-Cuban Religion Tour in Havana | Review

  5. I’ve always wanted to try a walking tour. I almost joined one when my husband and I went to New Orleans a few years ago. We would’ve benefitted from having a tour guide who knows more about the city and the history of the places we visited.

  6. This looks like a fantastic way to explore the city and your guide sounds amazing! I love walking tours, you can learn so much about the city from its streets!

  7. I love that this walking tour still offered a glimpse to their modern society today. Even if it was a historic tour, it’s always great to learn the changes over a city’s past and the development today.

  8. Yanet sounds like a fantastic guide, truly interested in sharing about her home and culture. Walking tours are a great way to explore a place, especially when you first arrive. Seems like you had an excellent experience!

  9. Walking tours are actually one of my favourites when discovering new cities. It gives you such a good sense of a place, maybe one day I will make it to Cuba too 🙂

  10. I love walking tours. You get to see so much more that way. Having a great host like you had also helps 🙂

  11. I would love to visit. Seems like little by little everyone is going. Great tour something to keep in mind whenever I get there.

  12. So happy to hear that a walking tour helped you fall in love with Havana! It’s one of my favorite cities. Great post and photos, thanks for sharing 🙂

  13. That looks like a cool tour to do! I will definitely do this when coming to Havana. Great review!

  14. Looks beautiful! Great Post 🙂

  15. I’m going to Cuba in a couple of weeks and this tour is just what I’m looking for!

  16. Seems like an awesome tour which I would love to do when in Havana! How many days would you recommend are enough for exploring Havana?

    • Yes, I would highly recommend it because it helped me understand Havana so much better (: I think 3 days is just nice. 4 if you wanna go more in depth!

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