Geocaching in Cuba is not for the faint of heart. How often have you tried it without using a smart phone, a GPS unit or wifi. Knowing in advance that I would not have any of these tools available meant I had to pick potential geocaches beforehand. This was a little tricky since I wasn’t exactly sure where I would be or how I was getting around. I then armed myself with dozens of pages of maps and geocache descriptions and hoped for the best. I didn’t miss out on much since there are less than 50 to be found on the entire island.
It’s really hard to believe that there is a place in the New World that goes back to 1519. Much of the area has not changed. Forts and cathedrals are in abundance and handsome colonials still line the streets. Peddlers pushing fruit carts jockey for position in the narrow streets with tourists, horse drawn carriages and pedicabs. On the first day, I was taking a personal guided walking tour and I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I had my guide lead me to the first geocache location since it happened to be in the heart of Old Havana where he was showing us the sights anyways.
GC6XWGY (El Ojo del Ciclon) is located outside an art gallery by the same name. When we arrived, the street was full of muggles who all chimed in to tell me that someone had already taken the geocache five minutes earlier. Distraught, I went into the art gallery to inquire and the owner handed it right over. My tour guide got a kick out of the whole thing especially he finally understood why we were digging around in a drain pipe.
Because this one is so centrally located, you can easily access a couple of world famous bars from here. Many of the local bars became well known because they were frequented by Ernest Hemingway. It’s quite a tribute to him that his presence is still felt so strongly here almost 60 years later. A few of blocks away is La Bodeguita del Medeo. An inscription behind the bar supposedly handwritten by Hemingway reads “My mojito in La Bodeguita. My daiquiri in El Floridita.” This teeny tiny room has just enough space for a dozen people to squeeze in and enjoy their mojitos while a live band plays in the corner. This is a perfect spot to take a breather and get some respite from the sun and heat.
El Floridita is incredibly popular with tourists because it is considered the birthplace of the frozen daiquiri and where Hemingway spent many days downing them. He had as many as 17 in one day. The daiquiris were so delicious and refreshing I had two myself. Although the place is always crowded, the turnover at the bar is pretty quick. Most people are there to have one quick drink and take a selfie. On your way out, be sure to take one yourself with the lifelike Hemingway statue sitting at the end of the bar.
If you want a break from rum, check out O’Reilly 304 only a few blocks away. I was intrigued when I read in my Fodor’s guidebook that it was worth a visit for its amazing gin cocktails. The restaurant is intimate and chic, with a more modern feel than other places I came across in Old Havana. I highly recommend the Cuban rice which came with perfectly fried eggs. The empanadillos were so incredibly cute I didn’t want to eat them. Of course the gin cocktail tasted as good as it looked.
Dulcineria Bianchini, mentioned in my guidebook as having a great chocolate soufflé, can also be found in this neighborhood. We decided to stop here for a light dinner because there was pizza on the menu. I enjoyed the dry crispy cracker crust made just the the way I like it. While the chocolate soufflé was more like a cupcake, it was still rich and decadent making the visit worthwhile.
Wander around the corner to take a stroll through the public square to admire the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Built in the 1700’s, legend has it that the remains of Christopher Columbus were once stored here. The square is a nice place to stop and enjoy the warm evenings and people watch.
On the other side of the harbor, you can find Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. A 9’clock cannon shot ceremony, a ritual that began in the 18th century, is recreated every night at the fort. A group of soldiers dressed in period military uniforms participate in a procession leading to the cannon which fires one shot at exactly 9 o’clock to alert Havana’s citizens that the city gates were closing to keep invaders out.
Old Havana has immense vibrancy for a place that is over 600 years old and gone through so much political upheaval. From its beginnings as a Spanish colony in the early 1500’s, it has been in the hands of the British, the Americans and the Russians. Yet it has had an amazing resiliency and a sense of identity and independence that is contagious. Now that the United States is easing its restrictions on travel to this country, I hope more and more of my fellow Americans will get a chance to visit and experience Cuba for themselves.