Visit Havana like a U.S. president

Posted: 23-Apr-16 11:53

Private meetings and state dinners were just a couple of the privileges exclusive to President Obama during his first official visit to Cuba. However, the president was also entertained in some very public and affordable ways. From dining out to local entertainment, even average holidaymakers can tour Havana like the president.

Visit Havana like a U.S. president

Travellers don’t have to be as wealthy as Hollywood stars or as high-profile as President Obama to tour Havana in style. In fact, a writer for Travel + Leisure attests that most visitors can see and do some of the very same things the U.S. President did, while sticking to a budget.

Writer Kelly Phillips Badal laid out her theory, claiming that most of the time the president spent in Cuba was in public. The first low-budget activity was a baseball game, which he attended with Cuban President Raul Castro. While the writer makes the point that few tourists venture out far enough from Old Havana to reach the stadium, it’s affordable, and less than 15 minutes from downtown and the old historic centre (so not far from the main tourist hotspots at all!).

She says a ticket for the same seat that President Obama occupied costs between $0.75-$3. She adds that snacks are modestly priced too, including TuKola, Cuba’s national cola drink, and churros with dipping sauce. One thing the author says is different between American and Cuban baseball is the scoreboard. Instead of R-H-E (runs-hits-errors) the scoreboard reads C-H-E (carreras-hits-errors), but also Badal claims, a subtle inference to Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary hero.

For her next example, the author references the Obamas meal at San Cristobal. This private, family-run restaurant, a.k.a "paladar", is the same dining venue that Americans Jay Z and Beyonce visited in 2013. Here, the author says, the Obamas dined on vegetables, pork and sirloin steak. Badal says that paladares, in general, are better places to interact with locals and try out creative cuisine than state-run restaurants. The author also recommends Atelier in Vedado for its Cuban-Continental flavoured food and the iconic La Guarida, at home in the old mansion where Oscar-nominated Cuban film Strawberry & Chocolate was set.

While Badal admits average Americans should not expect chanting crowds like the Obamas experienced while strolling the streets of Old Havana, the location is definitely worth visiting on foot (she makes emphasis on this last part). She recommends, like the Obamas, to visit Plaza de Armas, Havana’s oldest square, plus to take a stroll through the antiques and second-hand books market, open every day but Sunday.

While President Obama examined a rarely viewed portrait of Abraham Lincoln (specifically brought out for him to see) at the Museo de la Ciudad, found inside the stunning Palacio de los Capitanes Generales; average visitors can look forward to seeing the statue of Christopher Columbus, artillery pieces and horse-drawn carriages.

The Obamas, accompanied by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, also toured the centric Plaza de la Catedral and its baroque cathedral, inside which all visitors can admire paintings, frescoes and sculptures. Not very far from this square, at the Gran Teatro de la Habana, the author claims Obama was applauded for his speech proclaiming:

"I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.”

She mentions this as a worthy location for enjoying a performance by the prestigious Cuban ballet company, an art film or the opera.

Finally, the writer mentions the Melia Habana Hotel, where Obamas’ entourage stayed (the Obama family actually stayed in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in the upscale Cubanacan neighnourhood). More like a resort than the majority of other hotels in the city, it includes a sauna, Havana’s largest swimming pool and Wi-Fi for $1 per hour.

She acknowledges, though, there are other notable hotels that have attracted American celebrities in the past, such as the flagship Hotel Nacional de Cuba and the chic boutique Hotel Saratoga. She also recommends the unique experience of staying in a casa particular to absorb more of the local folklore.


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