Business Insider recently sent three reporters on a wild trip to Havana to experience the surreal time warp of this island-nation.
Instead of booking rooms in one of the state-run hotels, we decided to stay in a three-bedroom “casa particular,” a traditional Cuban home we found through Airbnb, which recently started offering accommodations in Havana.
Our apartment was a few steps from Havana’s main drag “La Rampa,” the infamous Habana Libre hotel, and the Malecón’s seaside views.
We’ll have lots of stories about our adventures on the island, which you’ll be able to find here.
We booked a 7-day stay at 'Diana's luxury apartment in the heart of Havana' for a grand total of $840. The listing was accurate for the most part, but it would have been nice to know that there was a serious issue with the water -- we didn't have any, most days.
Bienvenidos a nuestra casa aquí en Habana, Cuba! This is what our living room looked like: We had two wooden rocking chairs, a glass table, and a bookcase. Most of the furniture in our apartment, including the Marilyn Monroe canvas, was from IKEA.
Our bookcase was stocked with plenty of Russian and communist literature, but since we had things to do we didn't sit down with all five volumes of 'Lenin.'
... and had a view of the infamous Habana Libre hotel, where Fidel Castro ran the country during the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
The second bedroom had two twin beds pushed together, a small light above the bed, and a large wooden armoire.
For whatever reason, the windows (and closets) in the bedrooms were nailed shut so we couldn't get any natural light into the rooms during the day.
However, we could have cared less about not having light in our bedrooms since we both had working air-conditioners to combat the 90-degree weather.
The apartment had two large bathrooms (which was crucial considering all three of us got food poisoning the second day into our trip). This is the larger bathroom.
The tile and fixtures looked nice but in terms of functionality, the bidet didn't work, and since the water supply was so poor, the toilet tank would not fill with water forcing us to haggle with the toilet every time we had to flush.
I loved the tile work in my bathroom, much nicer than my own bathroom in New York City, but again, I barely had running water and I used that large glass vase on the countertop to manually fill the toilet tank for every flush.
Like our bathrooms, a lot of furniture in the apartment looked great but was also broken. As you can see from the video, the shelves in this cabinet are all slanted and the doors aren't attached. I kept all my stuff in my backpack the entire trip anyway.
The biggest problem with our apartment was rarely having running water. All of our water was stored in two plastic blue tanks on a makeshift shelf above our patio. We noticed that there were some pipes and wires that jutted out from the top of the container -- we don't know what those were for.
The only way to get the water to work was to manually adjust three metal levers below the tanks. The lever with the blue ribbon had to be in the opposite direction of the other two levers and if that didn't work, we did the opposite of whatever we just did. Our housekeeper said there wasn't really a system, you just had to play around with it (would have been nice to know ahead of time).
Our long open-air hallway was one of the best features of the apartment because it gave us a ton of light and a consistent breeze into our rooms.
However, whenever it rained (which was everyday during our trip), water poured in through the decorative wrought iron. We still loved hearing the storm though.
At the end of the hallway, was our huge kitchen, dining area and patio. We only used the fridge in our kitchen since we weren't supplied with any pots or pans to cook anything. Here's a quick pan around our kitchen.
We loved our patio and frequently left the gorgeous wrought iron door open to catch a nice draft through the apartment. Here's a video of our view.
The listing noted that the apartment came with a washing machine so we each brought a small backpack of clothes thinking we could wash them during our trip. We found our washing machine on our patio.
It was dirty, unplugged, and had missing pipes so even after a week of walking around in Havana's 90-degree weather and not having clean running water most days, we didn't bother messing around with the washing machine.
All in all, we heard from other tourists in Cuba that the state-run government hotels weren't much better anyway. We were happy to have a place to hang our hat while we toured Havana.
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