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Spanish in La Havana

How to Spend Your Downtime in La Havana

With its colourful past and recent reformation in some areas, Havana provides a spectrum of sights and activities for all. Whatever your preconceptions of Cuba, once you arrive here, possibly to take a Spanish course and one of the many emerging language schools, and spend some time in this enigmatic and enticing city I guarantee you cannot help but to fall in love with it.

Old Havana

Plaza de Armas

Despite being the product of years of privatisation and repressive ideals, Old Havana is the gem of the city. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site you can pass hours simply wandering the narrow atmospheric streets, trying out a Cuban sandwich and some rum in a traditional taberna, once frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardener and Frank Sinatra. The Old Town is brimming with cultural delights such as music venues, picturesque plazas, a plethora of Museums and a mix of Neo-Classical and Baroque architecture that will blow you away. The Plaza de Armas is the main tourist square and it is surrounded by the remains of the city's once strong fortifications, following problems with pirates and contraband in the 16th Century. Those that remain standing to this day are el Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, Castillo San Salvador de la Punta and the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña. The Old Town also plays host to the recently restored Plaza Vieja. Its colonial buildings now glisten and gleam and house attractions such as the Museum of Playing Cards, a truly unique Museum outlining the history of playing cards and the Planetarium. A short walk away you will find the Grand Theatre of La Havana. It is a truly remarkable, ornate work of Art and home to the Cuban National Ballet. It is a symbol of the luxury and wealth of 20th Century La Havana and is located on the Paseo de Martí which leads down to the shore and the pleasant 'Malecón', an 8km stretch of boardwalk that runs from Old Havana to the mouth of the Almendares River, which provides stunning views of the bay.

Museum Mad

Plaza de la Revolución

Havana wears a lot of its history on its sleeve or rather on its streets and in its Plazas. A little further out of Old Havana is the Plaza de la Revolución, where people used to gather to hear Castro's captivating speeches and which is perhaps most famous for the emblematic Che Guevara image adorning the Ministry of the Interior building, along with the National Library and the José Martí Memorial. The Mausoleum holding the body of Che Guevara can be visited easily from Havana. It is located in Santa Clara, about two and a half hours away and also has a Museum dedicated to Che's life and an eternal flame lit by Fidel Castro in his honour. However, it is certainly not necessary to go this far in order to visit a good Museum as Havana has a veritable feast of them. Whether your interests lie in the history of Cuban rum, Cuban cigars, chocolate, Ernest Hemingway, Fine Arts, Cars, dance, National History or the Cuban Revolution, there is a museum for you. The Revolutionary Museum contains the granma yacht used by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the other revolutionaries in order to reach the island of Cuba and its decor in general is decadence without limits. In both the rum and chocolate Museums you will get to taste some of Cuba's true delicacies and see the elaboration process first hand. There is also a tour of the Cigar Factory available where you can afterwards make like Fidel and purchase those quintessential Cuban cigars.

Yank Tanks

One thing that will immediately strike you about La Havana as you make your way from plaza to plaza, is the quantity of old American 'yank tanks' or antique looking cars that grace the roads. Following the 1962 American embargo against Cuba, the cars in the country seem to have paused in time. Owners could no longer purchase Coppelia new cars nor new parts, instead having to come up with new ways to fix them using household objects. Whilst there may be doubts over the roadworthiness of some of these machines, it makes for a very film-like nostalgic ambience throughout the city. You can even embrace your inner 50s film star and take a tour of Old Havana and see all of the main tourist sites and significant sites of the Revolution and dictatorship in one of these retro cars.

If you feel like getting out of the city for a while, maybe on a bit of a day trip with your Spanish school classmates, then La Havana is the ideal spot. Once you have stopped off to fuel up on ice cream from Coppelia, a Havana institution (supposedly ordered to be created by Fidel Castro in 1966, being quite partial to a scoop of ice cream or two), then you can hit one of the Havana's nearby beaches, the 'Playas del Este' or 'Beaches of the East' for some sun, sea and sugar-white sand. There are pedal boats for hire, wind surfing companies and grilled fish galore, so what are you waiting for!

Also nearby to provide you with a dose of nature are Las Terrazas, a paradise-like escape from the city with lush green fields, a fresh mountain breeze and coffee plantations, and all within an hour from the city. The area is heavily protected and any tourism is of the eco-variety, with quite a steep charge to enter the area, going towards the conservation of the zone. Rio San Juan, a gentle mountain stream runs through the hills forming waterfalls and pools as it goes and it is perfect for a refreshing dip before heading back to the buzzing Old Quarter of La Havana

Havana is a city of contrast, and a very loveable one at that. Studying at one of the Spanish schools in La Havana could be the experience of a lifetime and with so much to do and so many reasons to get out and about, you will have no excuse for not practising your Spanish skills in and around the city!