A Vintage Car City Tour of Havana, Cuba

It is only a matter of weeks now till I venture to the Caribbean to embark (mind the pun) upon my first ever cruise. I may detest the cruise experience. I may find myself a convert. Right now, my main concern is how to avoid the weight gain that invariably seems to accompany a cruise experience (a first world problem if ever there was one!)luxury all-inclusive resort Varadero

What perturbs me though is the way I find myself referring to it as a first trip to the Caribbean. Because it isn’t. I went to the Caribbean only last year. I kayaked (with assistance) in shallow turquoise sea water and hydrated from straw-perforated coconuts on dove-white, emulsifying sand. Why then do I keep having to remind myself I have travelled to that region?

beach volleyball royal hicacos varadero

I think it is because my perception of the Caribbean was (wrongly) conceived as a product of brochures and magazines, television adverts and honeymoon promotions. The broad term, Caribbean which encompasses so many nations and sub-cultures, had in my mind conjured up illusions of luxurious resorts, high-end hotels, yachts and celebrities and naively, rarely had I thought about it in any other capacity.

colourful car architecture Havana Cuba photos

And then, I landed in Havana, the chaotic capital of Cuba to be faced with a Caribbean I had never anticipated and one that satiated every crevice of my travel curiosity.

Havana old town Viejo architecture

First impressions of Havana

My sandals yielded minimal shelter from the blistering sun, as they met with the dusty, uneven surfaces underfoot on our first day in Havana. The crumbling, eclectic architecture exhibited a concertina of colours, mirroring whilst simultaneously contrasting with the vivid array of rainbow vintage cars meandering between coco taxis on the floor.

coco taxi Havana Cuba

And if you are unfamiliar with the term coco taxi, you can find out in this guide full of essential tips for your first trip to Cuba.

red vintage car Havana

The Vintage Cars of Havana

The congested roads were a painter’s palate of colourful vehicles, relics of an era and political regime unknown to me. I have never been one to lust over cars. I usually see them as a mode of transport from A to B and little else but something in me longed to sit inside a vintage car in a destination so renowned for them.

Why Waste Annual Leave Cuba travel blog

The cars ranged in colour from magenta to canary yellow to shamrock and makes encompassed Chevrolets and Studebakers (pre Cuba, I can’t say I had heard either of these terms!)

Why Waste Annual Leave Cuba

In any case, all of them, with their varying hues, shapes and sizes made my little silver hatchback at home seem decidedly boring, although I am not sure what the neighbours would think if they saw a giant turquoise Corvette in my driveway and I know for a fact, I would never be able to park it.

vintage car tour Havana city

A Vintage Car City Tour

Havna Cuba travel blog postCuba vintage car tour

And so, we were welcomed by both our tour guide and driver to commence our city tour of Havana and as the open top car gathered momentum, I felt the force of the much needed breeze entangling my hair before we stopped by some beautiful gardens near a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi statue Havana Cuba

As a secular nation with no official national religion, the Cubans have a tolerant approach to world religions and often celebrate the good work of inspirational figures from around the world.

Jose Marti monument Revolution Square Havana

And of course, like most nations, they also celebrate the lives of those who have been most influential in shaping their political environment and we had a chance to stroll around Plaza Revolucion to see more of these famous faces boldly towering above us.

Che Guevara Plaza Revolution Square HavanaCienfuegos picture Plaza Revolucion Havana

In many ways, Havana is quite cluttered as a city but has a busy energy, which contrasts strangely with the elongated mellow pace of life assumed by most of the locals. With crowds on most streets, certainly in the old town, it can feel difficult to find a spot to escape for a moment of peace but the Malecon, a wide stretch of highway with a waterfront promenade, is the place to find it (and the most glorious sunsets in the city.)

views from Malecon Havana Cubasunset Malecon Havana Cuba

During our tour, we cruised down the Malecon as we were shown the Hotel Nacional, an iconic hotel where Castro used to hold many of his meetings.

famous Hotel Nacional Havana CubaMalecon highway sea Havana Cuba

And of course, no visit to Havana would be complete without a visit to a cigar and rum shop or factory. As our tour was just a half day tour both on foot and in the vintage car, there was not time on this tour to go behind-the-scenes.

Santiago Cuba Rum Havana

However, if this is something that interests you, there are plenty of cigar factory tours in Havana but I would suggest booking them through official and reliable agents, as you will find countless people on the streets of Havana offering similar tours or offering cigars to tourists on the black market

Cuban cigar factory Havana

It’s funny, if I recommended a London bus city tour to someone, I wouldn’t expect them to spend the entire time staring out of the bus window at other buses and yet, on the vintage car tour, I am not sure what I found more compelling, the unmissable Havana attractions and sights we were passing or the multiple colourful vintage cars of yesteryear.

vintage car tour Havana CubaVintage car taxi tour Havana

Our tour ended in Havana Vieja, the old town area of Havana and despite it being quite touristy, it had a charm I felt drawn to. It may have been the cobblestone, pedestrianised streets with the intriguing architecture surrounding them.

beard statue Havana Viejo old town

It may have been the Cuban street foods that tempted me just a few moments before I realised we were having lunch but after the nice introduction to the area we received on this tour, we returned back several times to Havana Viejo at our own pace and to absorb, like sponges, the sights, smells and colours of this sensory goldmine of a city.

Cuban street food sweet snacks

Have you ever visited Cuba?

We were guests of The Holiday Place and Cubanacan during this vintage car tour but I am opinionated little wannabe vintage-car driver and all opinions, good or bad are entirely my own.


54 thoughts on “A Vintage Car City Tour of Havana, Cuba

  1. This was a lovely trip down memory lane for me… we absolutely LOVED our trip to Cuba! Such a country of contrasts and character, we are so glad we went when we did (also just over a year ago) before it goes through more inevitable change! I may have been a little nervous at the thought of no internet for the first couple of days but it was actually a very welcomed break from the world!
    Ps- I have three of those exact photos… 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:14 pm

      Hehehe, I totally know what you mean about the photos Connie! After I got back from Cuba, I sat there smugly thinking some really pretty colourful pictures and then saw from other friends photo albums and Instagram etc that pretty much everyone else who had been to Cuba had had the same idea for the same photos I had! I guess it must be a lot of the same photogenic parts that appeal to us all 🙂 I’m really glad too that I went last year and didn’t leave it too long. I think the whole vibe and feel of the place will probably really change dramatically in the next few years so hopefully, we got there just in the nick of time! So pleased to hear you enjoyed Cuba as much as I did too 🙂

  2. I used to go on cruises with my parents when I was younger and now i have slightly mixed feelings about them. On the one hand you get to see lots of places, but you only get a snapshot. I’m so interested to see what you think when you get back.

    Cuba really intrigues me, it looks like you’ve stepped into the fifties!
    Lots of love,
    SilverSpoon London

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:20 pm

      It’s such an intriguing place Angie, one of those destinations I just couldn’t compare to anywhere else I’d visited because it’s whole character and culture is so utterly unique! I can understand exactly what you mean about only getting a snapshot of places on a cruise and that’s actually why we were careful to pick our cruise destination for this trip, to make sure we were choosing somewhere where we were happy to island hop and just get a glimpse for now. I can’t really imagine using cruising as a method to travel to places I want to explore in depth either.

  3. Amazing, Shikha!! I’ve been wanting to visit Cuba, amongst like several other places (major travel greed), and your post makes me want to go even more. The vintage cars look absolutely awesome. Must have been a really cool experience 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:58 pm

      Thanks so much Nita! I’m sure you would love it in Cuba – so full of culture and colour, just make sure you load up your camera battery before you start snapping away at vintage cars, trust me, you’ll end up taking hundreds of pics if you do go! Not travel greedy at all – I prefer to think of it as travel “curiosity” 😀 think it’s great for us to keep dreaming about where else we want to see and explore next!

  4. Fabulous! I really want to go now, that vintage car tour sounds amazing! I must confess that I do get excited about some cars – of the vintage variety or the camper variety.
    Great photos, its so colourful: I think that’s what draws me the most.

    Enjoy your cruise! I’ve never been on one, and I’m not entirely sure they’re for me either!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 10:01 pm

      And what about vintage campers Rachel?! Hehe, sorry I couldn’t resist! I think the colours of the city are what stick in my mind the most, the colours and the life and vibe on the streets themselves. It’s one of those cities where most of the energy and goings on are actually occurring right there on the streets, outdoors. Fascinating place to walk around! 🙂

  5. How lovely Shikha! What a unique way to experience the city, so colourful! I’ve always had a fascination for vintage cars so much so that we hired one for our wedding !!! I’d love to visit Cuba one day and I’ll be sure to keep this in mind when I do 🙂

    Hope you enjoy the cruise!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 10:05 pm

      Thanks so much Upasna! I hope I enjoy it too but I figured I’d never know how I really feel about it till I go on one and experience it for myself! No way, you hired a vintage car for your wedding?! How cool is that?! Love the idea of that and in that case, you two must definitely relive those special moments in a vintage car ride in Havana if you ever go, perhaps one a similar colour to what you had at your wedding – there are literally hundreds of different types out there so I’m sure you’d find one that could bring back some memories from your special day 🙂

  6. Interesting reading. Shikha’s description has evoked a desire in me to visit the place

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 10:06 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so delighted to hear that this post has made you want to visit Cuba. I found it such a unique destination that had so much personality and flair to it so I would highly recommend it 🙂

  7. I had totally forgotten you’d visited Cuba – as you probably noticed by my Instagram comment over the weekend – doh! This post was perfect timing for me as I head to Cuba for the first time in just a few weeks, so the excitement is ramping up! Do you have any food recommendations for me? I hear it’s a bit hit n miss…

    Excited now! K x

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:25 pm

      I’m super excited for you Keri! It’s such a vibrant, colourful destination and unlike us, I think you’re going at a great time of year weather-wise. Hopefully at this time of year, it’ll be warm in a pleasant way whereas we went in July when the humidity was a real struggle! Yes, the foodie scene can be a bit hit and miss but there were some pretty decent finds – I think it’s probably just more important to do a bit of research in Havana as compared to many other cities in the world but you can still get some great food if you do. If you click on the link towards the bottom of this post where I’ve mentioned street foods, there’s a few tips there but in any case, I’ll draft you an email very shortly! Have a wonderful time and I’m so looking forward to be reliving it all by seeing all your updates and pictures when you go 🙂

  8. Oh my lord, I bet you are incredibly excited for your cruise!! I’m so jealous, but know you definitely deserve a chilled time away 🙂 Loved this Cuba post, as it’s the one place my boyfriend and I are dying to go to at some point. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re able to get there! x

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:30 pm

      Thank you so much for your sweet words Emily 🙂 I am excited and also quite intrigued, as I literally know nothing about what it’s like to go on a cruise so I’m quite intrigued about the whole concept and keeping my fingers crossed that I do end up liking it! I really hope you get to visit Cuba soon with your man Emily! It’s a great destination both for short haul or longer haul travel I think and depending on the amount of time you have and your interests, there are stunning beaches, the fabulous Havana street life and also some really stunning scenic regions like Vinales 🙂 x

  9. What a fantastic set of photos. It looks like I seriously need to place Cuba high up on my list to travel to..

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:31 pm

      Thank you so much Adam! It’s a very busy, chaotic city full of contrasts but it’s utterly fascinating so I highly recommend a visit at some point. Will be interesting to see how things start to evolve in the next few years with the Cuban/US relations relaxing slowly too.

      1. Thank you for the recommendation – now on the list (high up)

  10. Those coco taxis are very cute – I would absolutely love to visit Cuba and I have a thing for vintage cars. Would just need to brush up on my salsa dancing skills first, did you try any?

    Suze | LuxuryColumnist

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:34 pm

      Oh gosh Suze, that’s a whole other story in itself! We ended up being in Varadero at the time of an international salsa festival and seeing one of the biggest Cuban salsa bands, who have some real celebrity status out there…..this is all good and well except neither one of us has ever done salsa before and we both have 2 left feet when it comes to dancing! Basically, we were literally the only people in there (tourists and locals combined) who couldn’t salsa so instead of trying, we sat there like lemons, feeling too shy to have a go and clapping along to the music. So yes, in summary, if you’re going to go and you fancy the whole salsa seen, learn some steps first or do away with your shyness would be my advice! 🙂

  11. looks utterly brilliant! what else can I say?

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:34 pm

      Thanks so much Andy! Cuba was a fascinating destination I found, have you been yourself? Reading your blog, I’ve come to know you’ve been to most of the world so I lose track!!

  12. One of my favourite places in the world, this post has reminded me that I need to go back one day!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:35 pm

      I remember seeing some of your photos Becky and they really inspired me right before my trip! I’d love to return too. Havana is such a great city 🙂

  13. Cuba is so colorful!!! I love the cars as well. Did you have a ride?

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:38 pm

      Thanks Agness! Yes, one of the most colourful places I’ve ever visited! I didn’t drive a car myself but we went in 2 open -top vintage car rides, one was during this tour and one other time, we took a vintage car taxi simply because we couldn’t resist being in one of those cars one last time before we left!

  14. I would love to visit Cuba one day. I hope that you have a blast on your cruise! I have been on two cruises and I think that it really depends a lot on the cruise itself and where you end up going. I went on a cruise to Alaska with my husband a few years ago and I loved it because we got to go a lot of places with the ship that are either really difficult to get to, or impossible to get to without a ship. Can’t wait to read all about it!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:42 pm

      Thanks for the info Carolann! I can understand that completely and in fact, an Alaska cruise is one of the things we’ve really had on our minds, if it was the right time of year, we would have considered it this time in fact! I think we felt with a Caribbean cruise, it would be a nice easy way to island hop, as we’d already done a beach break just staying in one place earlier this year so we thought it’d be good to try a totally new style of travel to make up our minds about whether we like it or not!

  15. Shikha, I love your pictures of Cuba! It’s so close to the States and I know I should find a way to go before it really “opens” up…the colors, the food, the people…such a fascinating place.

    I hope you enjoy your cruise, I’m interested to hear what you think!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:45 pm

      Thanks so much Heather, I hope you do get to visit soon and beat the crowds as the proverbial doors open more and more in Cuba. Havana is one of those cities where you don’t actually even need to plan to see or do very much because most of it’s charm is just in walking around and taking it all in and there is SO much to take in. I’m definitely curious to see how this cruise thing will pan out, I know of people who love it, I know of people who hate it and I myself was quite cynical for a long time but figured there’s only one way to find out my own opinion 🙂

  16. Oh my gosh, Cuba looks so charming!!! This is the reason why I want to get over there before modern cars begin to infiltrate the country. It really looks like you’ve gone back several decades… Probably the closest to time travel we can get!! I love that little yellow banana car, hehe.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:49 pm

      Honestly Anna, the roads back in London looked so sterile and boring when I came back! I returned home wondering where on earth all the pinks and purples and blues and greens where on the road and why all the taxis were black cabs rather than these gorgeous bright turquoise open top beauties and cute little yellow taxis! It does feel like stepping back in time, I can’t explain how different it was to anywhere else I’ve visited, we were trying to draw comparisons and couldn’t come up with any because it’s got such a sense of individuality! I really hope it manages to retain that as much as possible in the coming years and fingers crossed, you and D get to go sometime soon!

  17. Alex didn’t even realise that Cuba was in the Caribbean until I mentioned it to him the other day! It’s an easy mistake to make though as it’s so different to any of the other islands I’ve been to. I know you’ll love the cruise though – exploring lots of different places and 24/7 food and drink. Who wouldn’t like that?!

    Glad you enjoyed the vintage car tour as much as I did. I have no desire in cars but I couldn’t stop looking at and taking pictures of all the colourful cars here either. Take me back to Havana!!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 9:56 pm

      I’m pleased it isn’t just me that forgets that it’s actually the Caribbean but you’re completely right, it’s because it’s just so different to anything we conventionally imagine when we think of the Caribbean I think. I know how much you enjoyed Havana and the vintage cars too as I remember how smiley you were next to all the colourful car pics in your post too! With your description of a cruise, I’m wondering why on earth I’ve even been doubting it – you make it sound totally wonderful and I’m hoping that’s how I’ll feel when I get on board! 🙂

  18. I’m not keen on the thought of a cruise either, will be interesting to read your blogs about it! The rest of this post made me long to visit Cuba even more 😦

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 10:11 pm

      I know lots of people who went on cruises and found it really wasn’t for them and I know lots of other people who went and totally fell in love with the concept of cruises. We were cynical for quite a long time and kept saying it wasn’t for us but I figured there was one straight forward way for me to be able to make an informed choice of my own and that was by actually giving it a go so watch this space! 🙂

  19. That pic of you in the pink dress with the car is gorgeous! I’d love to go to Cuba to experience it for myself. Those vintage cars always pull on my heart strings!

    Can’t wait to hear what you think about the cruise. 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 13, 2015 — 10:13 pm

      Aww thank you so much Char, that’s so sweet of you to say! I think you’d really enjoy Cuba and, not that I’m trying to put ideas in your head, but when we went, we saw quite a few people there with young families so perhaps you could throw bump into the deep end with a wander round the colourful streets of Havana, it’s full of loads of colourful and musical stimuli that’s bound to be good for a bubba’s new brain right?! 😀

  20. I went to Havana last year and completely fell in love with it! I’m desperate to go back, it’s just like nowhere else I’ve ever been to before! Right, now I’m off to relive my trip through my own blog posts… haha (how sad it that!?)

    C x | Lux Life

  21. I can’t wait to see what you think of going on a cruise. I’m not entirely sure that type of holiday would be for me but I can imagine it being quite relaxing and full of all sorts of delicious food! As for this vintage car tour, it looks like a delightful way of seeing Havana, although I think I would want to trade my renault clio in for something decidedly cooler and more colourful the minute I got back home! 😀

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 19, 2015 — 9:58 am

      Thanks Emma! I’m going in with an open mind but yes, my priority was a relaxingg warm end to the travel yera (with a few days in New York first to make me appreciate the warm even before!) And trust me, if I thought I had more confidence in my parking abillities, I’d have totally wanted to trade in my little silver hatchback for some more colourful vintage wheels instead!

  22. Katie@From Shores to Skylines October 28, 2015 — 1:04 pm

    I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba, even if for the food alone (checking out your post on that next)! I’ve never taken a cruise either, but I’m anxious to hear your thoughts when you get back. The limited time in each place and being on someone else’s schedule is what’s deterred me. Hopefully you have a great time!!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 2, 2015 — 9:21 pm

      Thank you Katie! Yes I wouldn’t have selected a cruise as a mode for travelling anywhere where I wanted to see in detail or see properly but we just wanted an easy going, minimal effort trip for the end of the year so I thought I’d give it a try for that purpose! Cuba is such a fascinating place – so colourful and feels like you’re stepping back in time! Highly recommend it if you get a chance to visit!

  23. I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba, it looks so different to anywhere I’ve ever been. The vintage cars are so cute! Enjoy your cruise.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) December 2, 2015 — 9:12 pm

      Thank you so much Dominique! You are absolutely right about how different Cuba is – had a completely unique feel compared to anywhere else I’ve ever been and is so intriguing. Really hope you do get a chance to visit it one day ☺

  24. Just recently I visited Havana and walked around Vedado. I saw so many tourists enjoying themselves taking a tour around the city in vintage cars.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) December 2, 2015 — 9:25 pm

      Aah so some of these photos must have looked quite familiar to you then Trinity! Did you enjoy your trip there? Such a fascinating full of contrasts! Hope you enjoyed your visit ☺

  25. I loved watching the photos of those cars, but here’s the question: Do local people really want to keep those cars? Probably they love to get new and latest models as much as we love to see those vintage ones.

    However, you must have enjoyed walking in the past there. I had this feeling once when I tried to get to some mountain pass some 30 years ago at the north of Tehran, Iran, where I live. You can’t believe that such cars transport people on the mountainous curvy roads! Today, the road is nice and those cars are gone!

    Rahman Mehraby
    Destination Iran

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) May 5, 2016 — 7:25 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment Rahman. That’s a really interesting point actually and I think you’re probably right actually – that many of the locals in Cuba probably don’t want to still be driving the vintage cars with the novelty perhaps being more for visitors. It’s amazing to hear that those kind of cars were going up the windy roads in the mountains – I’d be so nervous being in that passengers seat! :mrgreen: Thank you so much again for reading!

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