Car And Watch Spotting In Havana Starring A Cartier Santos Dumont And Beautiful Old-Timer Cars
On his wrist was Cartier’s first wristwatch, simultaneously the world’s first pilot’s watch. This timepiece was created in 1904 especially for Santos-Dumont by his good friend Louis Cartier after he had previously complained to the jeweler how difficult it was for him to check his pocket watch during flight.
So I couldn’t think of a better watch to take on a trip to Cuba than my own trusty Cartier Santos Dumont as I’d be flying 7,500 kilometers across the ocean.
I was heading for Havana, a city that has been high on my travel list for years.
I thought it better to get to Cuba now before the international fast food chains and fashion stores get a chance to put down roots and spoil the beautiful facades in this amazing, pure, and historical city.
If you have not yet been to Cuba, prepare yourself to take your time for everything. After clearing passport and customs – which, despite this being a fairly small airport, took more than two hours – I was glad when I was finally able to sit back in a vintage Dodge and head for my hotel.
Havana boasts a large range of hotels, with more and more modern boutique hotels opening up in renovated historical buildings.
For my first three days I chose one of the oldest hotels in the city and one with a famous history: Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
Opened in 1930, the architecture of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba features a mixture of Art Deco, Hispano-Moorish, and neoclassisicm. Its 457 rooms and 15 suites probably haven’t changed much since Ernest Hemmingway spent time there. It has always been “the place” to stay; Winston Churchill, Jimmy Carter, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, and Marlon Brando were all regular guests.
Hotel Nacional is a five-star hotel with a huge garden, terraces, and a great swimming pool. To me, this is a great place to start my holiday, especially since the hotel is also a must-see spot on any sightseeing list to Havana and the experience of staying here is great.
However, it is important to note that a five-star hotel in Cuba is not the same as a five-star hotel in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. So don’t expect your mini bar to be refilled regularly, that the internet works, or that your room is even vacuumed every day.
However, I still recommend the Nacional for a night or two as the staff is generally very sweet and the seafront location is wonderful, even if there is no direct access to the Havana Harbor itself.
Havana is a city with great architecture, which makes it extremely photogenic mainly due to the absence of shop windows because there are simply very few shops.
Many buildings are very well restored and painted in light pastel colors. But there are also plenty of non-renovated areas where much work still needs to be done.
One of the major attractions of Havana is the many vintage cars driving around in the city, some of which pick up tourists for short or longer rides. Those amazing Chevrolets and Dodges often date back to 1945.
I am not a car person at all, in fact I do not even own a car. But here I was, shooting these automobiles like I was a fanatic simply because they are so irresistibly charming.
And there is much more to do in Havana: churches, museums, the place where Hemingway used to live (you can even have a drink on the rooftop here), and lots of restaurants and bars.
And when you get tired of all the activities and don’t mind taking a taxi for about 20 minutes, you can relax at a beautiful sand beach area called Playas del Este. Santa Maria was my favorite beach there.
In respect to beaches, Havana has a lot more to offer than Curaçao or Aruba. I didn’t even get around the whole island; I will be saving that for the next trip.
* With special thanks to Jonathan Stein, editor-in-chief of Hagerty Classic Cars, for help with identification of some of the automobiles I saw.
For more information on the trusty Cartier Santos Dumont, please visit www.cartier.com/en-us/collections/watches/all-watches/santos-de-cartier/santos-dumont.
Quick Facts Cartier Santos Dumont
Case: 36 x 27 mm, platinum
Movement: manually winding Caliber 021MC (base Frédéric Piguet 21P)
Limitation: 90 pieces in honor of the 90th anniversary of the Santos Dumont watch
Year of manufacture: 1996
Also published on Medium.