From $6 daiquiris at El Floridita, Ernest Hemingway’s favored watering hole, to the ubiquitous hustlers looking to con visitors into buying knock-off cigars, much about the Cuban capital seems geared toward separating travelers from their money.
Fortunately some of Havana’s most charming details can be experienced free of charge. Here are five great ways to explore this city stuck in time, without adding to the hefty fees charged by tour companies.
(Note: While millions of tourists visit Cuba each year from Canada, Europe and elsewhere, Washington’s 51-year-old economic embargo still prohibits most American travel to the island. However, tens of thousands of U.S. citizens are now visiting legally each year on cultural exchange trips. These so-called people-to-people tours are rigidly scheduled to comply with embargo rules, but there’s almost always a little free time to go off on your own, and some of these attractions may also be part of official itineraries.)
Started in 1900 during the U.S. occupation and completed in 1958 under strongman Fulgencio Batista, the Malecon, or seawall, stretches 4 miles (6 kilometers) from old town to the Almendares River. There’s no bad time of day for a stroll along what’s known as “the great sofa,” Havana’s 24/7 center of social activity. At dawn, fishermen dip lines into the gentle waves as the city rouses itself from slumber. In the afternoon, when the sunlight seems impossibly bright – don’t forget the sunblock! – kids keep cool by somersaulting into the water.
But the Malecon truly comes alive in the evening when thousands gather to laugh and sip rum, and canoodling couples form romantic silhouettes against the crimson sky. Weekends at 23rd Street and Malecon have a real party atmosphere; for a more mellow experience and the best sunsets in town, pull up some concrete where Paseo Boulevard meets the Florida Straits…
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