La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba’s Vibrant History to Life for Kids
La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Exploring Old Havana's Cobblestone Streets
Old Havana’s cobblestone streets offer a doorway into Cuba’s vibrant history and culture. As the oldest part of Havana, it gives kids a glimpse into over 500 years of architecture, music, and stories.
Wandering down the narrow alleys reveals Spanish colonial mansions, Baroque cathedrals, and Art Deco buildings at every turn. From the pastel colors of Plaza Vieja to the stone fortresses of Plaza de Armas, Old Havana is a visual feast for little eyes. The diverse architecture reflects the many eras and influences that shaped Cuba.
For a fun lesson in history, kids can visit sites like Castillo de la Real Fuerza and El Templete. The former is a 16th century fortress with colonial exhibits. El Templete marks the original site of Havana’s founding in 1519. Interactive guides bring the exhibits to life. Kids can even don conquistador helmets and handle colonial weaponry.
Of course, no visit to Old Havana is complete without a ride in a vintage American car. These shiny 1950s vehicles cruise down the Malecón seaside drive. With the breeze in their hair, kids feel like they’ve time-traveled to the era of poodle skirts and milkshakes. Friendly local drivers are happy to pose for photos.
To experience Cuban culture, families can stop for a salsa show at Callejon de Hamel. This colorful alleyway pulses with drumbeats on Sundays. Kids can learn some basic salsa steps from performers. The rhythms get their feet tapping and hands clapping.
A highlight for many kids is visiting Ernest Hemingway’s old haunts. They can see where the famed author lived, drank daiquiris, and found literary inspiration. His former home Finca Vigía has been preserved as he left it. Kids get a kick out of spying his typewriter, bookshelves, and seashell collection.
No family visit to Old Havana is complete without sampling some local flavors. From fruity batidos to Cuban sandwiches piled high with roasted pork, the cuisine is a delicious cultural blend. Families can pull up a seat at open-air cafes to watch daily Cuban life unfold over a meal.
What else is in this post?
- La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Exploring Old Havana's Cobblestone Streets
- La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Learning Salsa Steps and Beats
- La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Touring Vintage American Cars Down the Malecón
- La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Visiting Ernest Hemingway's Old Haunts
- La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Checking Out Cigar Factories in Vuelta Abajo
- La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Marveling at Morro Castle's Mighty Fortress
- La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Spotting Mid-Century Modern Architecture Gems
- La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Sampling Cuban Cuisine's Blend of Cultures
La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Learning Salsa Steps and Beats
A highlight for many kids visiting Havana is learning some basic salsa dance steps. With its irresistible blend of rhythms, salsa pulls you onto the dance floor before you realize it. As a family, you can take beginning salsa lessons and experience Cuban culture through movement.
Salsa dance originates from Cuban Son, merged with other Latin dance styles like Mambo and Rumba. It embodies the pulsing beats of clave, conga, and other Afro-Cuban rhythms. Salsa steps syncopate these polyrhythms, with the dancer's feet striking the beats. By learning some foundational salsa moves, kids get an interactive taste of Cuba's rich musical lineage.
Consider taking a family salsa lesson at one of Havana's dance schools, like the prestigious Cuballet or Raices Profundas. Patient instructors walk students of all ages through basic steps like side steps, cross body leads, and under arm turns. More advanced students can tackle tricky spins and dips. Group lessons allow families to laugh together as you trip over your own feet.
Kids love when instructors add clapping and counting to help students internalize the beat. The patterns imprint themselves, from the "ONE-two-three, FIVE-six-seven" of son clave to the "ONE-two-three-FOUR-five-SIX" of rumba clave. Hearing their feet tap out these rhythms brings smiles to kids' faces. They realize dancing is just fancy footwork on the downbeats.
To witness salsa culture, families can stop by Callejón de Hamel on Sundays. This vibrant alleyway becomes a street party with drumming and informal dancing. Kids will delight at the carnival atmosphere, with people shimmying their shoulders and swaying their hips. When a rumbero takes your child's hands for an impromptu dance lesson, it creates a warm cross-cultural connection.
Most hotels also offer evening salsa performances and lessons. Taking a family lesson beforehand allows kids to follow along with the dazzling performers. They'll recognize spins and shines they learned just hours before. Kids beam with pride when they can clap the clave beat for accompaniment.
La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Touring Vintage American Cars Down the Malecón
Cruising down Havana's Malecón in a shiny 1950s American car is like taking a ride in a time machine. These vintage vehicles evoke the era when Cuba was a playground for wealthy Americans. For families, touring in a classic convertible offers cultural immersion and retro fun.
The Malecón is a broad seaside boulevard extending for over 4 miles along Havana's north coast. Lined with historic buildings, the seawall walkway buzzes with fishermen, locals and tourists. Vintage American sedans and coupes roll down the wide avenue, many available for hire. Families can flag one down for a joyride along the scenic Malecón.
These pre-revolution cars, nicknamed "Yank Tanks", are kept running with ingenuity and elbow grease. Their proud owners lavish attention on chrome details and candy-colored paint jobs. A ride in one feels like a trip back to the 1950s, when mobsters and Hollywood stars flocked to Havana. Kids adore these cars' quirky features like push-button shifters and bench seats.
Drivers of classic convertibles enjoy sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge. Many point out landmarks like the iconic Hotel Nacional, a mafia hotspot in its heyday. Others share anecdotes about keeping their cars roadworthy despite the US embargo on spare parts. Kids soak up these stories, peering over dashboards with curiosity.
In Old Havana, drivers often personalize tours for families. They'll swing by Hemingway's watering holes or detour through less touristy neighborhoods. Kids get a kick out of photo ops posing with these cars, feeling like mini Marilyn Monroes. The relaxed pace allows you to truly take in the tropical vibe.
Some families spring for a 2-hour Malecón tour, with stops to explore sites along the way. Others opt for a shorter 30-minute “quickie tour” up and down the Malecón. Prices range from $25-50 per hour but can be negotiated. Tipping drivers a few extra CUCs shows appreciation for their time and knowledge.
La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Visiting Ernest Hemingway's Old Haunts
No trip to Havana is complete without visiting the haunts of literary giant Ernest Hemingway. “Papa” Hemingway lived outside Havana from 1939 to 1960, where he penned classics like The Old Man and the Sea. For literature-loving families, touring Hemingway's Havana offers cultural immersion.
Kids get a kick out of seeing where Hemingway wrote, drank daiquiris, deep-sea fished, and found inspiration for his novels. Families can explore his former estate Finca Vigía, where Hemingway's library and belongings remain untouched. His typewriter sits poignantly on a bookshelf amidst 9,000 dusty volumes. Kids delight at spying Papa's knickknacks like a stuffed marlin and seashell collection. Photos are prohibited to preserve the home, but it sparks kids' imagination as they peek through windows and doors.
Another favorite stop is El Floridita bar, known as "the cradle of the daiquiri." This was one of Hemingway's regular watering holes and the site where he drank his favorite rum cocktails. Kids enjoy posing on the life-size bronze sculpture of Hemingway leaning on the bar. El Floridita feels like a time capsule back to the writer's era, with its vintage photos and tropical ambience. Families can sip creamy daiquiris just as "Papa" preferred them - blended with lime, sugar and double the rum.
For total immersion, book a room at Hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemingway lived for seven years. Room 511 is preserved just as when he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls within its walls. Kids experience literary magic sleeping in the same space where Hemingway was inspired. The hotel's rooftop restaurant serves delicious mojitos and views over Old Havana's tiled rooftops.
Hemingway fans won't want to miss Cojímar, the fishing village east of Havana where The Old Man and the Sea was set. Kids enjoy roaming the seaside settlement's sandy streets. Local fishermen gather on the village pier, reminiscing about "Papa." Kids can hop aboard a fishing boat much like Santiago's in the novel for a half-day deep sea excursion. Reeling in snapper and grouper makes the pages come alive.
La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Checking Out Cigar Factories in Vuelta Abajo
No trip to Cuba is complete without learning about its famed cigars, hand-rolled in traditional factories across the Vuelta Abajo region. For cigar aficionados, visiting these factories offers a behind-the-scenes look at a storied craft. Even families with little interest in actually smoking cigars find the production process fascinating.
The Vuelta Abajo area surrounding Pinar del Río produces Cuba's finest tobacco. The nutrient-rich soil and ideal climate impart Cuban tobacco’s signature smooth yet earthy flavor. Touring cigar factories here shows each step of the hand-making process. Kids get to see how tobacco leaves become the coveted Cohibas and Montecristos that grace humidors worldwide.
Most tours begin by demonstrating how skillful torcedores hand-roll cigars. Blending different leaves creates complex flavors. Torcedores massage leaves to release oils before precisely aligning and rolling them into perfect cylinders. Kids enjoy watching these cigar masters working their magic, enthralled by their dexterity.
Next, families visit climate-controlled aging rooms where cigars cure for one to two months. Humidity and temperature are closely monitored to bring outoptimal aromas. Kids are amazed by the stacks of boxes aging to perfection. They may even detect the earthy scent permeating the air.
The highlight for many kids is peering into the quality control room. Here, examiners meticulously inspect finished cigars, checking for flaws in construction. Only flawless cigars receive the coveted factory seal. Kids are enthralled watching cigars become certified as the cream of the tobacco crop.
Once kids witness the intensive process,they gain newfound appreciation for these luxury items. Some factories even teach kids techniques like bunching or rolling, letting them make miniature “cigars” to take home. Of course,any tobacco remains safely behind glass.
Many factories display antique tools and photographs to illustrate cigar heritage. Kids enjoy seeing how methods evolved from 19th century chavetas to modern mechanical bunches. They realize Cuba’s cigar tradition spans centuries, with families passing expertise through generations.
La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Marveling at Morro Castle's Mighty Fortress
Overlooking Havana’s harbor rises the imposing Morro Castle, a mighty fortress whose cannon barrels once guarded against pirate raids and naval attacks. This colossal citadel provides families with a glimpse into Cuba’s tumultuous history of invasion and plunder. Kids revel at exploring its maze of tunnels, dungeons, and parapets.
Constructed in 1589, Morro Castle helped defend Havana from repeated raids by French corsairs and British buccaneers. Massive walls up to 40 feet thick deterred attacks, while a 140-foot watchtower kept vigil over approaching ships. Kids feel small wandering beneath its robust fortifications built to withstand cannon fire and bombardment. Climbing to the top of the lighthouse rewards them with sweeping views across the harbor to downtown Havana.
Yet Morro Castle’s impenetrable façade was tested many times, often resulting in fierce battles. The British captured Havana in 1762 by laying siege to Morro Castle for 44 days, bombarding it with over 5,000 cannonballs. Kids can explore the castle tunnels battered by this onslaught, running their hands over pockmarked walls that withstood the intense shelling. They learn how strategically placed cannons repelled the attacks.
Despite reinforcement and expansion over the centuries, Morro Castle eventually fell to the Americans during the Spanish-American War in 1898. A plaque marks the precise spot where the USS Maine met its fate, sinking suspiciously in Havana Harbor. This ignited the war that wrested Cuba from Spanish control. Young visitors ponder how such a formidable stronghold finally buckled after 300 years protecting Havana. The fateful event reminds them that even mighty walls eventually fall.
Families can spend hours wandering the castle’s maze of chambers, barracks, and secret tunnels hand-carved from solid limestone. Musket slits afford views across the Straits of Florida where pirates once lurked. Narrow stairways climb to the upper artillery deck lined with cannons. Kids enjoy exploring the dank dungeons and sinister torture chambers. Exhibits bring the fort’s history to life through artifacts like cannonballs and colonial weaponry.
At nightfall, families should return to witness the ceremony closing the castle gates. As soldiers in 18th-century Spanish uniforms parade out, kids sense how invaders must have quaked at this daily ritual warning that Morro Castle was locked down for the night. The thunderous boom as the gates slam shut resonates through the harbor.
La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Spotting Mid-Century Modern Architecture Gems
Amid Havana’s Baroque cathedrals and Spanish Colonial structures hides another architectural treasure - gems of Mid-Century Modern design. The 1950s saw cutting-edge architecture take root in Havana before the revolution slammed on the brakes. The city remains sprinkled with futuristic buildings that look fresh off the pages of science fiction. For design-loving families, spotting Havana’s Modernist marvels offers a scavenger hunt into the Space Age era.
The most iconic example is the Habana Libre Hotel, formerly the Habana Hilton. This 25-story tower revolutionized the city skyline when it opened in 1958. The hotel’s sleek, modular architecture was ultramodern for the time. Kids love its jetsons vibe with space-age fittings like pod-shaped balconies. It was Cuba’s first luxury hotel catering to Hollywood's elite. Spotting it still towering over the old town gives kids perspective on how radical its futuristic design once was.
Another prime example of Modernism is the Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor, built in 1966. Its space-age dome structure looks straight out of The Jetsons with its concentric rings and latticed ceiling. The open-air interior creates breezy spaces, inviting families to savor creamy helados on hot days. Kids dig the fiberglass chairs in popsicle colors and funky tile patterns that encapsulate 1960s style. The copper spires make this parlor resemble a cross between a spaceship and a mosque.
The FOCSA residential skyscraper built in 1956 is another architectural stunner. Its two towers linked by a center block create an unusual "H" shape. The glass-walled penthouse boasts panoramic vistas, a precursor to today's indoor observatory decks. FOCSA's minimalist façade remains strikingly modern against the crumbling Spanish colonials nearby. Kids get a kick out of its futuristic form that resembles NYC's UN building on stilts.
For families keen to delve deeper, Havana's Modernist style went beyond individual buildings. Cuba's post-WWII economic boom ignited urban planning on a grand scale. Entire swathes of Centro Habana and Vedado were transformed by the Modernist vision during this era. Neighborhoods sprouted glass curtain structures and Brutalist apartments evoking Le Corbusier's Radiant City. Examples include the Falla Bonet Houses and the National Schools of Art. Kids enjoy spotting their sleek lines and functional forms as architectural scavenger hunters.
La Habana Through Little Eyes: Bringing Cuba's Vibrant History to Life for Kids - Sampling Cuban Cuisine's Blend of Cultures
Cuban cuisine represents a flavorful tapestry blending Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences. For foodie families, noshing your way through Havana offers a chance to literally taste the island’s diverse cultural imprint. From hearty Spanish stews to tangy African fritters, the cuisine embodies generations of blending between colonizers, slaves, and native islanders. Tasting this fusion captures the soul of Cuba in each bite.
Begin by sampling dishes with Spanish roots like ropa vieja. This shredded beef stew simmers in a rich tomato-based criollo sauce packing a tangy citrus punch. Plantain rice and fried plantain chips offer starchy accompaniment, with beans and salad rounding out the meal. Then try lechón asado, juicy roast pork that fills the air with aroma as it cooks over open flames. Little palates crave the crispy seasoned skin as a snack. Be sure to sample pan con bistec, the Cuban take on a sandwich. Thinly-sliced palomilla steak, caramelized onions, and cheese melt between toasted Cuban bread for simple but scrumptious flavors.
Next, explore flavors stemming from African roots, like chicharrones de pollo. These crispy chunks of fried chicken offer a perfect picnic snack, with juicy meat inside the crunchy coating. For breakfast, try crunchy fritters called fufú de platano. Mashed plantains get spiced with cumin and pepper, then fried into golden rounds ideal for dipping in café con leche. Cool off in the afternoon with fruity batidos, or milkshakes whipped up with tropical fruits like guava, mamey, or passionfruit. The creaminess perfectly balances their tartness.
Afro-Cuban flavors also permeate rice dishes like moros y cristianos and congrí. Both pair white rice with savory black beans, but congrí adds sticky rice for heartiness. The beans’ richness complements the fluffy grains, capped with a fried egg for protein. For a another traditional meal, try bistec de Cuba— thinly sliced beef covered in sautéed onions. The marinade of garlic, lime, and salt infuses tangy zest. Vibrant tomato sauce kicked up with cumin ties the ingredients together.
Of course, sampling Havana’s street food offers the best bite-sized immersion into Cuban food culture. Grab pastelitos hot from the bakery, with guava paste and coconut shavings stuffed into flakey dough. Try light puffs of fried dough called churros, rolled in cinnamon sugar that leaves lips dusted. Order a Cristal beer and savor croquettes de jamón, crunchy fritters filled with molten ham and cheese. Made fresh daily, these became street food staples across Cuba.