Like I said in my earlier post about Cuba, I am not sure where to even begin. We loved everything about Cuba, and especially Havana. From the Casa, we stayed at, to the museums, and the people we met. When people ask about the city, I first ask them “what do you think it is going to be like?” Their answer is always, “I don’t know poor, and dirty, not safe.” Havana is the complete opposite. This is where I say, “you need to keep in mind that Cuba has been receiving tourists forever, just not Americans.”
Havana is a vibrant city that alive and should not be missed. It is rather large, and there is Old Havana and New Havana. It is poor, and most of the streets are dirty and dusty, and the buildings are falling apart, but that is half of the charm. There are also new and fancy buildings and hotels with sparkly charm. There are beautiful parks located throughout the city; these are gathering spots where locals sit, catch up, play games and hang out. The music is not to be missed, and it is everywhere. If you say, you did not hear good music when in Cuba, your ears were closed as was your mind and heart. The people are kind, warm and generous. There is so much history everywhere, form the class cars, to museums to the historical relations that we all know about Cuba.
Sleeping – We stayed with Brian at his lovely Casa Particular The Havana Dreams. The location cannot be beaten as we could literally walk to any part of Old Havana within minutes. There is a bank located just around the corner where we exchanged our money and only paid a $5.00 fee, as well there is a post office. The rooms are spotless and simply decorated. We stayed in room 4 as well as 1; both were lovely, but we really liked room 1 as it has a great balcony. The people watching is fantastic from above. As well, each room has a refrigerator filled with water, soda, and beer for a small fee. The rooftop deck was where we enjoyed a full breakfast, cooked to order every morning as well we loved having a cold beer during sunset. Be sure to ask Brian to show you how to get fresh bread as well as these great salty crackers to go with your beer. I cannot recommend Havana Dreams enough.
Eats and drinks-here are a few of our favorite places that we ate at. One thing we did learn is that you need reservations at most places. You can do it on your own before arriving or ask the place you are staying at to help you.
O’Reilly 304 – trendy hot spot located in Old Havana. We ate there our first night and were not disappointed. We both opted for fresh grilled white fish that came with an abundance of vegetables (eggplant, onions, peppers, etc..) that were also grilled. The fresh cucumber juice was so refreshing and hit the spot. We were there during the mourning of Castro, so they were not serving alcohol, but we heard their cocktails are outstanding.
La Guarida – we saw this restaurant on a travel show before we even planned on going to Cuba, and it been tucked away in our minds as a must for Havana. We knew we had to go, and are thrilled that we did. You do need a reservation, which we booked before arriving in Cuba. Don’t try walking in for a table, we saw a couple people get turned away. Go early for a drink on the roof top bar as the view as well as the daiquiris are very good. The space is in an old decaying building that has some great street art and a beautiful dining room – we were seated on the small, romantic terrace for our meal. The menu changes depending on what they have available. That evening we enjoyed lobster as well as a steak, ceviche appetizers, a lovely bottle of Italian wine and a chocolate flan. Definitely would go back! Dinner with drinks and a bottle of wine was about $100 US total.
Ivan Chef Justo – Brian at Havana dreams told us about the suckling pig which is a national dish in Cuba and should not be missed. You will need a reservation. The restaurant is located in the Havana Vieja on a second-floor building. Half the charm is the guy who sits down below, asks for your name and then walks you up! This area of Havana Vieja is very quaint and worth walking around afterward as there are some great little bars to tuck into as well as some cute shops. Ask for a table on the roof top deck if the weather is nice. You want to have the suckling pig as it is amazing. The portions are rather large, and we could have shared, especially since we ordered some appetizers as well: ceviche and a grilled octopus salad. Dinner with a bottle of wine was about $100 US total.
El Chanchullero – we had lunch here and was not disappointed. Very hip and chic atmosphere, filled with mostly locals, so you knew the food will be good. It is served tapas style, but our group was so hungry after shooting all day that one one shared. I had a great pork sandwich and icy cold beer for less than $7 US total. I had wished we discovered this place earlier as we would have welcomed another meal there.
El Dandy – we stopped in here for a cold beverage one afternoon, and I have to say we were not disappointed. Definitely, the best Cuba Libre we had in Havana as the generous pour of rum was a nice touch in a cold coke! The food also looked great, but we did not have a chance to go back.
Cafe de Paris – we were in Havana during the mourning of Fidel, so there was no alcohol or music for the first three days we were there. On our last day there the streets came alive. We enjoyed a few rum drinks and enjoyed music in the streets. That night we wandered around listening to fantastic music before slipping into this Cafe. Not only was the music vivacious, and everyone was dancing, but the rum daiquiris were the best we had!
Bar Floridita – you cannot go to Havana without having the ever famous Papa Hemingway and sitting next to Hemingway himself. We snuck in here for a couple drinks with all the tourists in Havana, the afternoon mourning ended. It was fun, lively and the drinks were good; but, it is a bit of a tourist trap. That being said go early or else you have to fight the crowds.
Sites – there is so much to see in Havana, even if you only wander the streets alone. The people watching, the music and the food is enough to keep you busy. There are over 900 museums in Havana alone, as well the arts and ballet are flourishing. Since we only had a short amount of time there, we decided to only focus on a couple museums as well as a classic car tour (which we highly recommend).
Classic Car Tour – We spent four hours with Ramon and Omar and were not disappointed. We expressed that we wanted to see more of Havana than just the tourist highlights. They took us all over to all the hot spots as well as through local neighborhoods. Not only was the scenery incredible but they were both very knowledge. Cannot recommend them enough! They can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org or Brian at Havana Dreams can help you book if you stay with him.
Museum National de Bellas Artes – One very hot Sunday afternoon we ducked into this beautiful museum and spent a couple hours wandering around, enjoying beautiful local and historical art. The building is absolutely stunning as is the international art collection.
Museum de la Revolution – if you want to history lesson from a Cuban perspective this is a great place to go. We spent three hours there, wandering around, and learned so much from a non-American side of history. It was fascinating and we cannot recommend enough. It is air conditioned as well so a great place to escape for a couple hours from the heat.
Plaza de Armas – there are many plazas located throughout Havana and each one is completely different. The locals gather here to enjoy a coffee, sit and catch up and people watch. Some have shops or museums to wander around in, and others are more of a gathering place. We really enjoyed Plaza de Armas as it was a little bit of both; plus the book and art sales scattered around the plaza was amazing. We picked up some really wonderful books on Cuba that we would not have been able to find at home.
Shopping – we are not big shoppers, instead more wanderers and we would rather spend money on experiences or food. There were not many shops in Havana that sold more than the usual trinkets that you will find throughout Cuba. We did buy some art from local street artists and felt that was worth more than little gadgets that we would not use at home. I have read an article that mentions some shops that I would like to check out next time we go, but we did not get a chance this trip.
Ballet – we want to take in a show, it is supposed to be amazing.
Daiquiris – we are on the hunt for the perfect one and going to hit some of these new to us spots