Havana, ooh na-na

Published March 1, 2017

I am OBSESSED with Havana. There is so much soul to this city and is really unlike any place I’ve ever been before.

I knew this was a special place from the minute we arrived.  We spent the day bar hopping amongst Havana’s trendiest spots.  Daiquirí Limón from El Floridita,  Mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio , more mojitos at El Dandy. That night we hailed a 1950s Chevy to take us to dinner and drove down the Malecón with the wild sea spray crashing along the wall and spanish music blaring from the speakers. A long dinner on the terrace of El Cocinero restaurant with delicious Carribean lobster was followed by a few hours at Fabrica D’Arte listening to Cuban musicians and enjoying amazing artwork.

Even if you only have 2-3 days for a vacation, it’s worth it for a quick trip down to Havana. Below you’ll find some tips for a trip to Havana, and be sure to check out this post that has more advice on traveling to Cuba.

Old Havana

We spent most of our time in Old Havana – with cab rides to Vieja & Vedado to go to various restaurants & explore other parts of Havana.

I would definitely recommend finding an Airbnb or staying in a hotel around Old Havana area. Anything around or East of El Capitolio.

Old Havana alone is worthy of 2-3 days of exploration. We were there for 1 ½ days at the beginning of our trip and I thought I had seen so much but the last 1 ½ days of our trip we returned to Havana and saw entirely new plazas and amazing architecture we hadn’t seen the first time around.

Things to do

We honestly winged it and didn’t have too much of an agenda for Havana – here are some of the highlights.

Malecón at Sunset – The best spot in my opinion was around the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta. You can chill out here for  hours amongst tourists and locals an d will often here musicians playing as the sun sets.  Another spot is  at the Hotel Nacional where you can enjoy drinks from the bar while admiring the sunset.

Rent a Convertible – There are always a ton of drivers hanging out around the Parque Central. We grabbed a few beers and had a fun afternoon! Don’t expect to get too much history or cultural information from all of the drivers. Some are better than others in being able to communicate the history and local culture.

Havana Art Market – You can find tons of souvenirs and art at the Art Market located close to the cruise ship ports in Havana. It’s a huge warehouse selling any kind of cheap souvenir you could want. I wasn’t loving too much of the artwork, I felt a lot of it was kind of generic – but for a country that doesn’t have a lot in the way of shopping, this is a place where you can definitely buy a lot of stuff.

Other Shopping – There are not many shopping opportunities in Cuba – there just aren’t a lot of material things to buy. That being said, you can find small tourist shops scattered around Old Havana. You can also find a fair amount of spots to buy Cigars & Rum – although the latter you’re better off buying after you go through security at the airport.

Walking Tour of Old Havana – One regret was that I wish I had pre-planned a good walking tour of Old Havana before I arrived. I thought it would be easy to find when there but it actually wasn’t. It’s still incredibly fun to walk around the various streets and plazas that make up Old Havana without any specific agenda.

Restaurants & Bars

The ambiance of Havana bars & restaurants is incredible. That being said, I wouldn’t say the drinks & food was the best I’ve ever had. Even though we were eating at some of the best restaurants, it felt like the quality of ingredients was not as fresh as what you would find outside of Cuba. This isn’t surprising for a country that is extremely lacking in resources and you have to be appreciative of the fact that you’re getting food that’s not even accessible to many Cuban citizens.

 

A few tips

  • Try to make reservations by emailing restaurants weeks in advance of your arrival in Cuba. You won’t always receive a response – but it’s worth a shot. Many of the top restaurants don’t take walk ins.
  • In all Cuban restaurants – expect a VERY long meal and a 45 minute wait for the check.
  • Street snacks and late night food spots are hard to find. Don’t expect any quick eat spots. And bring power bars to get you by in case you’re taking a long road trip/have to wait an hour + to get into a restaurant on your list.
  • Eating well in Cuba is very affordable. I don’t think any of our best dinners were over 50 CUC ($50) each with drinks.

 

Restaurants

El CocineroProbably the best meal we had in Cuba. Great terrace right next to Fabrica D’Arte which means if you ask your waiter, they can probably get you in without the line.

El Chanchullero  – has a mix of dive bar vibes and top-quality food. Great lunch spot but there’s usually a line out the door so go early!

Atelier – Has a great outdoor patio, fun decor.

La Guarida, San Cristobal, Dona Eutimia, Restaurante Paladar Cafe Laurent Habana were all on my list but unfortunately couldn’t make it to these dinner spots!

Bars

Here are a few of the classic bars – although I recommend just wandering around old Habana and stop at any spot that looks welcoming!

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