In the last few years, Cuba has become an old hand at the tourist trade, so the track is pretty well beaten. I would encourage you to break loose from your tour group or all-inclusive resort and check out some of these sights and activities. Your guide may show you some of these, but in my view the average tourist experience is becoming ever sanitised in Havana and the fun is in finding things for yourself.
What Havana does best…..
Music – on every street corner and blaring from every car. If you want to buy some, there’s a good record shop beside the Casa de la Musica on Av de Italia (Centro)
Salsa, son, rumba y reggaeton – Cubans are fantastic dancers. If you have the chance, avoid the tourist shows and see them enjoying themselves in a club. The Casa de la Música has live bands most nights, and often has matinee shows at the weekend (Av de Italia)
- Cigars – Every street corner has a guy offering cheap knock-off cigars. If you are really interested, best buy them from a more reputable supplier!!
- Make do and mend – there’s nothing much in the shops and the cars are virtually sellotaped together, but life goes on!
- Rum cocktails – you can’t leave Havana without becoming acquainted with the Cuba Libre, Mojito and Daiquiri!
My top tourist attractions:
- Placa de la Revolución – Soviet scale revolutionary fervour. Check out the murals of the revolutionary heros on the ends of the ministry buildings
- Malecon – take a stroll along Havana’s sea front and try to avoid the spray from the waves as they crash on the sea wall.
- Plaza de la cathedral – beautiful square perfect for a coffee in the shade under the colonnades as you dodge the cigar-puffing tourist touts.
- Plaza vieja – called Old Square, but actually the most recently restored and therefore new looking! Behind the square around the streets Sol and Santa Clara, you can buy local artists’ work.
- Edificio Bacardi – a beautiful Art Deco building that wouldn’t look out of place in new York and serves as a final reminder of the power of the now exiled Bacardi dynasty.
- El Floridita – Obispo No 557. Hemingway’s fave hang out and all the more expensive for it, but worth it for the daiquiris and live music.
- Monserrate Bar – Obrapia No 401. A few doors down from the Floridita, half the price and with a good mix of tourists and locals. Live music most nights.
- Hotel Nacional – Best views and best mojitos from the terrace at the back, and plenty of old Havana history.
And while we’re on the topic of drinking… Here’s an intro to rum cocktails:
- Cuba Libre – rum and coke with a big squeeze of lime. Sweet and sugary.
- Mojito – white rum with lime juice, soda water and fresh mint. Long and refreshing.
- Daiquiri – rum, sugar and fruit juice with crushed ice. Like an alcoholic slush puppy.
Eating in Havana:
No-one goes to Cuba for the food, but here are a few exceptions to the monotony that I found!
- Paladar Doña Blanquita
It’s worth trying a paladar – you are literally eating in someone’s front room. This one is on Prado, down near the Malecon and has a more varied menu than I found in 4 star hotels. Fresh, local produce prepared in the local style. Sit in amongst the kitsch ornaments in the front room, or on the terrace overlooking the boulevard. Paseo de Marti No 158, Between Colón & Refugio.
- Restaurante El Patio
I didn’t eat here, but it was a great stopping off point in Plaza de la Cathedral for a fresh lemon juice while you rest your tired tourist feet! San Ignacio No 54.
- El Medina
If the constant diet of pork with rice and beans gets too much, this Middle Eastern mezze restaurant is a gem. The courtyard is tranquil, the food is great, and the Moorish architecture reminds you just how huge the Spanish colonial world once was. Oficios No 12 between Obrapía and Obispo.
© Lynn Sheppard