The late British novelist Sue Townsend wrote a series of travel diaries, and in them she described how much fun it can be to get lost while on holiday. She enjoyed going for a walk, getting a bit lost, and discovering a new city with no preconceived schedule. The only planning she did was to write down the name of her hotel (since it’s surprisingly easy to forget such a thing). There is something glorious about travelling this way, as it allows you explore a city on foot in a rather random way. Some cities are better for walking than others, and Havana’s Old Town is an excellent place for a stroll, whether it’s random or on a planned route. There are a few guidelines for taking a walk through Old Havana which should make your wanderings all the more enjoyable.
Look Before You Leap
Cars drive on the right hand side of the road in Cuba. If you happen to come from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, or any other country that drives on the left, remember to look in the correct direction when checking for traffic before crossing the street. You probably want to admire those gorgeous old cars that rule the roads in Havana, but being run over by one is no doubt getting a little closer than you planned.
Jaywalking: Just Don’t
Pedestrians need to exercise caution in Havana. It’s not a place where people often rush and yet it can often be this way on the streets. Many drivers will go a little too quickly for comfort, particularly on major streets. It’s not such a problem on smaller and narrow streets, as the car is not able to achieve much speed. Regardless of whether you’re planning to cross a small road or a major thoroughfare, please be careful and only cross at the designated points. Jaywalking is not something you should try in Cuba.
A Leisurely Pace
It’s the largest city in Cuba, and yet by global standards, Havana is not so large. If you had the time and the inclination, you could walk across the entire city in an afternoon. But hey, you’re on holiday, and not on some Cuban endurance test. A walking tour through Havana’s Old Town allows you to see the best of the city on foot at a very leisurely pace. The layout of the streets lend themselves well to walking, since cars are not allowed into many parts of the Old Town. You could ride a bike, but even this can be frustrating as you would need to get off and walk the bike through certain crowded portions of the district. Trust us, all you need for a sensational walking tour in Old Havana is a pair of comfortable shoes.
Shoes and Shadows
You will do a lot of walking (there’s a seemingly never ending succession of side streets and alleyways to explore), so you might end up doing more walking than you originally thought. This is not the time to break in a new pair of high heels, or any kind of new shoes (no matter how chic they might be), since you would probably prefer that your feet aren’t shredded by the end of the day. It can get extremely hot during the day, so please ensure that you drink plenty of water. A sun hat can also be a good idea. The narrow alleyways of the Old Town provide a lot of shadows, so this at least offers some respite from the heat.
You will encounter some men (and they are almost always men) who will try to prevent you from walking. Don’t let them! OK, maybe you’ll want to let them later in the day. The streets of Old Havana that are open to cars are crammed with taxi drivers, touting for business. This is particularly prevalent on the side streets around Calle Obispo. It gets a little annoying to be asked if you need a taxi every two or three steps, but you very quickly get used to ignoring them. If you have a guide book or are on an arranged walking tour, you don’t need a taxi. In many cases, a taxi will actually slow you down! Still, if you don’t want to walk back to your hotel, it can be heavenly to slide into the back of a taxi after a long day of walking. Hopefully you followed Sue Townsend’s lead and wrote down the name of the place where you’re staying…