Havana, muy autentico!
If you’ve always wanted to go back in time, a trip to Cuba may be for you. It’s certainly always been on my list- mainly because of the architecture, music, and cars. Essentially, cruising through Havana in a vintage Chevy was the best way for me to get to know the city. And I must say, it was one of my favorite travel experiences ever.
Havana, Cuba has become one of the top places to visit ever since the possibility became available to Americans. With its unique “trapped in time” feel, Havana was recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders cities in 2015. The city attracts over a million tourists per year because of its historic charm. It’s truly a sight to see.
Classic Cars: The Only Way to Go in Havana–Truly
One thing you will notice about Havana is the parade of classic cars. These cars are a big part of what tourists find so fascinating about the old city. Can you imagine having the same family car for three generations? I’m sure if you do, it’s pretty run down or collecting dust in a garage. Not in Havana. In Havana, you maintain your car, keep it running, and feed it diesel (because it’s cheaper).
When I visited Havana, we rode in a ’52 bubblegum pink Chevy convertible decorated with daisies. My daughter, a classic car fanatic, was thrilled to be riding in one of her dream cars. She has a thing for classic Cadillacs and Chevys. The car was shiny, spotless, and the ride was smooth. I couldn’t help but wonder how this was possible. Back in the U.S., it costs thousands to restore classic cars and most people only take them out for shows. So, how could classic cars be everyday cars on this tropical island? It was as if time stood still for the people of Havana.
Why Cuba Has So Many Classic Cars
The reason behind the classic cars is because of the U.S. embargo that was put into place over 60 years ago. Many of these classic cars were bought right before the revolution. And it’s a treasure to those who lucked out as it has become many people’s source of income. Cubans are allowed to buy non-American cars but the prices are super high. Drivers have created their own type of Uber service for tourists and are able to make more money this way. The average Cuban makes up to $25 per month on average. Supplies and food are limited and costly. Tourism is where the money is. It’s common to get a driver who went to medical school in Havana because driving pays more.
Recently, the ban on foreign parts and cars was lifted. Some say the classic car fleet may be a thing of the past in due time. However, the prices of cars are not really affordable to the Cuban people. For example, a Kia Rio can cost over $40,000 in Cuba. With a $25 monthly income, how realistic a goal can buying a new car be?
Cubans Have Pride in Maintaining and Driving These Special Cars
While touring Havana, I asked the driver, Julio about his car. He was very proud of it. He kept a rag on hand and wiped down the seats for us every time we stepped in and out. When we’d return, he was always polishing his car or checking the engine. When asked about maintenance, Julio shared that the car still had its original engine. This isn’t the case for most cars on the island. After so many years of maintenance, car owners swap out parts from other cars, scrapping whatever they can find to keep cars running. He also told us that every driver was their own mechanic and that if you needed help with something, your family or friends were the ones to call for. No AAA or local auto shops; they even do their own auto body work.
When in Havana…
You MUST try all the things. Cigars, rum, ropa vieja (classic Cuban braise), Hemmingway’s favorite cocktails and more. There are so many sites to see when in Havana. We toured everything from Old Havana, Havana Central, Vedado, El Malecón (runs along the northern shore), Faustoland (a historic art zone) and so much more. One thing to keep in mind when visiting is that as tourists, we can help the people of Cuba. Choose to dine or purchase goods from places owned by local Cuban families instead of the government. Book tours through a local company, too. And spend time with a local tour guide to get to know the people and the culture.