When I think about Havana, I think about music and I can feel the vibes throughout my body. Listening to Buena Vista Social Club has a different meaning to me now. I immediately imagine myself sitting on one of the Havana’s rooftop terraces, listening to the group playing live, sipping my Mojito and looking at the beautiful chaos and colours of the town in the sunset.
I fell in love with Havana. I adore its shabby look, salsa energy, smell of cigars and people. I like the fact that actual life happens on its streets. If you planning to go there be prepare to get dirty and sweaty but also laugh a lot and move your bum in the rhythm of live music right in the middle of the street … This is Havana.
How to get there.
There is a very limited number of direct flights to Havana at the moment. From London only Virgin flies directly otherwise you need to go to Madrid or Amsterdam. We travelled with Air Canada through Toronto. Total flight hours -11.
Expect to wait very long for the luggage in Cuba – it’s the first lesson of many on how to be patient. We waited 1 hrs.
From the airport the best is to take state yellow taxi for 25 CUC$ (don’t go for more and agree the price beforehand). It takes about 30 min to the centre.
Where to stay
We stayed in Capitolio Residences (found on Airbnb and recommended by a friend). The place is run by Markus from Austria and you can be sure to find European standards there. The apartment has a beautiful view over the magnificent Captolio building and is close to the old part of town – Habana Vieja. They serve breakfast for 5 CUC. For us it was perfect. You can find more info and recommendations on his Airbnb website.
There are more and more places appearing on Airbnb just make sure you are reserving the ones with good international reviews. We can also recommend all of the hotels I mention below in ‘where to hang out..’
Below pics: 1&2. Capitolio residences, 3. Hotel Florida, 4. Hostal Conde de Villanueva, 5. Hotel Marques de Prado Armeno (we could not check it out a lot – it was reserved for a wedding party).
Where to eat
Despite a culinary revolution few years ago Cuba still stands far behind the rest of the world … but in general, there are more and more fantastic places opening. We checked out a few new ones and a few old private eateries. We can recommend:
El del Frente , address : O’reilly 303, Havana Vieja
– this is number one for us. The head chef of this place can cook very well. Everything we tried was delicious but the seafood pasta was just amazing and one of the best I have eaten in my life.
I was also impressed by very high quality cocktails and non alcoholic drinks. The lemonades served there were so good I dreamed about them later. I was also impressed by the presentation of the dishes and drinks. The restaurant is in the old town (Habana Vieja), it has a beautiful balcony and roof top terrace. Everything you need to stay happy in Havana.
O’Reilly 304, address : O’reilly 304, Havana
This place is a legend already. Everyone recommends it and it is very nice indeed. First you need to get there. Reservation is highly recommended. Very nice tapas and drinks. Interesting interiors but always crowded. Interestingly, both places El del Frente & O’Reilly 304 are run by two brothers, who also feature their own art (among other artists) as interior.
Paladar Los Mercaderes, Mercaderes 207, Havana. This is one of the remaining old private eateries. Traditional interiors but well kept. Take a table on balcony for a fantastic view over the historic street below. Good typical cuban food and nice people singing on the balcony.
Dona Eutima, Callejon del Chorro 60C, Havana. Positioned on a tiny, tiny square near the Plaza de la Catedral, it gives you a feeling of being in Italy. Nice, homemade cuban food. Dine on a table outside, followed by some romantic guitar music on Plaza de la Catedral = recipe for a good evening.
Remember that asking your host for recommendation is not always a good idea. They tend to recommend family businesses which are not always worth recommendation.
Where to hang out during heat hours
The heat in Havana can be taxing and it is better to avoid sight seeing during midday hours. However, you can check out some of the coolest patios in town. You can hide there, sip a cocktail, bite on tapas or have a coffee. We tried these places.
- Patio in Hotel Florida, Obispo 252 , Havana. Already a legend.
- Patio and roof top terrace with swimming pool in Hotel Iberostar, Parque Central, Between streets Agramonte and Paseo de Marti right next to Parque Central. Great view, drinks and water to swim!
- Hotel Ambos Mundos http://www.hotelambosmundos.info/, Obispo 153, Havana. Hemingway stayed there and wrote one of his novels. There is a great colonial lounge where they play live piano everyday plus they have a great rooftop terrace with fine view and best pina colada in town served in the pineapple.
- Hostal Conde de Villanueva, Mercaderes 202, Havana. Beautiful patio with on site restaurant, good cigar shop and peacock walking around. Great place.
- Cafe Bohemia, nice cafe with patio
Not to miss
- Street life. Stop and observe what is probably one of the last places where life happens on the street, people talk to each other and dance on the street.
- Live music and night life. Enjoy FREE live music almost everywhere and don’t forget to tip well. ( See videos on my You Tube channel)
- Architecture and interiors. Look up a lot- best architecture is above you. Also look inside every open door. It is free to visit most of the places with great interiors like galleries or old colonial hotels.
- Old times car ride. A must. Best to find on the taxi stand between Parque Central and Grand Teatro del la Habana. Negotiate hard and ask for a ride map. Best is to start a ride just before sunset, to catch the last colours of sun while passing Malecon- unforgettable.
More from Cuba in next posts.