Say YES Self Guided People to People Exchange in Cuba

Travel Like an Architect™ – break away from the norm – Say YES to Self Guided People to People Exchange in Cuba!  Trust yourself – take a map, some local money, a bottle of water and just go……  Go to anywhere that grabs your curiosity!  A self guided people to people exchange experience guarantees to be self fulfilling – well obviously – because the guide is YOURSELF! #duh

Learn which boxes to check on the Fathom Passenger Affidavit for Travel to Cuba form by clicking the link

With full bellies and plenty of “Rum Courage” we found ourselves back in the group at the Plaza De La Catedral – the gathering place after enjoying Lunch at La Bodeguita Del Medio, and we knew right away that we wanted to check out the La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana – and we weren’t sure if the walking tour was going in or not….. The ornate facade with it’s asymmetrical bell towers reached out and grabbed our curiosity!

Self Guided People to People Exchange in Cuba

So no time like the present to just do it!  We found our Havana Tour Guide and politely let him know that we would be breaking from the group!  They checked our names off the list so that they knew they were no longer responsible for us, and also so they had an accurate revised “head count” for the remainder of their walking day…  something we later learned was “muy importante” – a topic for a future post!  To date we have never missed the boat but we have missed the bus……

If you have followed us before you know that we LOVE to go into churches!  Rob’s father was a Lutheran Minister and Rob has always visited churches…… and will continue to do so. But from an Architecture standpoint, I am sure you will agree that most churches spend as much money as they have on their buildings, ensuring that they do not lack- luster!  So off we went….. up the stairs and in the front door!  When entering one of these Cathedrals (it matters not where they are) you always must STOP right inside – Look around, take a breath….  Appreciate what you see….  Decide what to do, where to go next….  Because of the massive quantity of masonry sheltering the space from the hot sun it was cool in there….  And as always the view is breathtaking!  How on earth did they build this stuff so long ago???  It is amazing to think about it!

The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Havana is considered one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Cuba. Or according to “Architect Rob” Rococo or “Late Baroque” originating in France as opposed to Italy….  Lighter more playful delicate and more fanciful than Baroque….   The building is mainly constructed from blocks of coral cut from sources in the Gulf of Mexico’s ocean floor. Preserved marine fossils are present in the facade.  Read more about the building’s history here  At a glance we knew we had to see what was on the inside of the dome up front – do you see the people looking strait up?

La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana

Looking around we noticed that right near the entrance there was a table with trinkets that were being sold to visitors….  and then our eyes traveled to the left, next to the table was a huge sign with a symbol intended to convey “No Shorts” on women OR men….  I was wearing a dress so was good, but Rob looked really disappointed.  He was thinking that he couldn’t go in….. In taking a closer look at the sign – I decided that what it really meant was “No shorts that are TOO short on men”.  It was clearly what was depicted on the drawing – a man wearing really short shorts with the universal “NO” symbol over it!  We looked around and saw other men wearing longer shorts who had gone in so we decided it would be ok….  Walking around the huge sign we began our clockwise path through the church.

Already forgetting about the dome, I was kinda like hum de dum….  looks like every other Cathedral we have ever walked through…  beautiful – but just like religion – the same….  The stations of the Cross were done in wood here, appearing to have been recently refurbished.  Now I am wondering, in Cuba is the Church owned by the Government?  I’ll have to find out about that…….. Comment below if you know.

We were talking to a Methodist guy on the ship….  He was seated with us one night for dinner.  He told us that he was cruising with Fathom because he was preparing to organize a mission trip to Cuba, and that he was opening Methodist Churches there.  I asked him what was wrong with Catholicism, the religion they had, because it always irritates me that religions are cross recruiting. His reply will just blow you away…  he told us that Cubans feel that the African people ruined their Catholicism with their cultural customs….  omg, now I’ve heard it all!  He feels that he is entitled to this opinion because his wife is Cuban, (I guess the non African type) so she can speak for the Cuban people.  Yeah… racism is alive and well at his Methodist Church!

When we got up to the front I saw a person almost doing a “back bend” in order to take a photo of the inside of the dome and the Chandelier, so I did it too!

Self Guided People to People Exchange in Cuba

Pretty cool – It was intended for sharing on Instagram – follow us there too for a sampling of our photography and thoughts about it 🙂

Rob shot a quick Video look around for you here:


A beautiful church like this is a great place to cool off and even relax a little – letting go of the hustle and bustle of your adventurous day…  it is always quiet and peaceful on any normal day, and the doors are often open or at least unlocked. We made our way through the front area and turning toward the entrance we spotted a beautiful stained glass window!

Self Guided People to People Exchange in Cuba

After admiring and of course photographing the stained glass window I almost tripped on a sandwich board with an arrow pointing to an outdoor courtyard – – the sign said:

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My Spanish isn’t that great but at a glance we figured out that it said we could go on a tour of the Bell Tower for $1 CUC (equal to one dollar)….  OK – lets go!  There was a little old guy sitting near the sign, we handed him 1 CUC and he handed us a ticket pointing to a door at the base of the Bell Tower inside the courtyard!    The ticket was beautifully designed and printed on newsprint!

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These are the AMAZING unique opportunities that you get when you go exploring on your own….  There was NO way that group was going up there! There simply wasn’t room…..  We went up and up and up…… via the stone spiral steps in the tower.

Self Guided People to People Exchange in Cuba

We reached a landing –  and stopped to enjoy the view

Self Guided People to People Exchange in Cuba

But only for a moment because we had not yet reached the top!!  The rest of the climb was via a narrow wood staircase with a handrail on only ONE side….  They weren’t rickety or anything so no worries about falling…  we just always notice things that in the United States would be Architectural Code Violations!  Often times we appreciate it because the U.S. goes a bit overboard ensuring safety even to the point of ruining the experience….  (our opinion).  Finally we reached the very top!!  If you look strait up into the point on the tower it looks like this!

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We often find ourselves in these places ALONE……

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A view like this makes you feel almost invisible because you know that no one knows you are watching them from above….  Feeling a bit like Quasimodo in the Disney film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” we decided to interact with the Architecture….. sort of celebrate being there at the top…..  together…..  Alone…..

Stepping out on to the roof of the Cathedral to experience the structural elements of the arches…..  I don’t know what I would do without my “Bag”!  It is so convenient, secure and lightweight to carry not to mention that it is “hands-free” so I can do anything freely!  I always pack it in our suitcase so that we have it to use when we go ashore.  Years ago I learned my lesson about buying a cheap one….  the one I have now is very durable and secure!  What do I carry in it??  Click HERE to learn more!!

Wait – I hear people coming time to straiten up!!  We were joined by a few folks – more adventurous souls….  and looking over into the courtyard we spotted Francisco, a Fathom Impact Guide that we knew from the ship!  Feeling more at home now that someone we knew was near, Rob calls out “Do you think I could ring the Bell?” and Francisco responds “Sure! Why Not?” Feeling like he had just been given permission Rob started ringing the HUGE Bells!!  There were three!  So he rang one and then the others!!  If our kids had been there they would have been running for safety!

But – No one seemed to care…..  Rob had FUN – later realizing that Francisco had simply answered Rob’s question…. Rob asked if he could and Francisco simply said – “yes I believe you can” After all “English” is his second language!

Feeling quite satisfied with our Cathedral Experience we decided to venture on…..  Where we learned that compared to the rest of Havana – this building is in Amazing Condition!  I still want to know if the Government owns it – so please comment if you know!

If you are visiting Havana soon we hope you check out the Bell Tower!  That is WHY we do these posts – to inspire you and teach you that it’s OK, it’s SAFE and it’s AMAZING!  Go ahead – break away from the group if only for a little while….  I guarantee you will find something really COOL to explore just like we did!

I found our video of the Havana Cathedral Bell Tower! Travel Like an Architect means to really immerse yourself in the Architecture. Don’t just look at it – Take in the experience that it offers you… Let it become part of who you are!


Rob and Lynn Belles are seasoned World Travelers


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