Top 7 things to do in Havana – a first timer’s guide.
Havana is one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s literally as if you have time traveled to the sixties! The whole area is designed with beautiful old school architecture, that’s bursting with colour, vintage american cars roaming around and local talents showing off their artistic side in any chance they get, on every corner of the city. It’s magical!
This is not your classic ‘What to do in Havana’ list with all the monuments, tourist attractions and so forth. This post is about the things I’ve done in Havana that completely made my trip worth remembering!
One: Roam the streets for hidden gems
Devote a day to just roam around the UNESCO world heritage site *drumroll please* yup, La Habana Vieja. Just do yourself a favour, get lost and experience the culture first-handedly (is this even a word?). The city isn’t that big, so you probably won’t get super duper lost. This way, you’ll get the chance to see things that one can’t plan, i.e. a random Cuba salsa dancer straight up picking you up to dance in the middle of the street. Make sure to visit the old town’s ‘must-see’s’ such as the Plaza de Cathedral, the Plaza Vieja and Plaza de San Fransisco to increase your chances of something bizarre happening. ‘Tots worth it.
I’ve mentioned in another post here that the food in Cuba… wasn’t what I would call, um “the F-ing best I’ve ever had”. However, I’ve had the pleasure to visit a few of the most well-known restaurants *mmhm* in Havana, and these two are a definite winner: L’atelier and San Cristobal. You’ll get to see that these restaurants aren’t your typical going-to-the-restaurant-stuffing-you-face sitch. First of all, the restaurant owners are providing their actual houses as their restaurant. A.K.A. ‘Paladar’s’. Fun fact: Families privately own these and are often ran by self employees, as opposed to all the rest of the state-owned restaurants, and have only become legal in 1993.
L’atelier is this cute rooftop restaurant, surrounded by fairy lights that even has a local talent performing for visitors while they dine (#fancygurl). San Cristobal is a more hip and funky decorated restaurant that even Obama and Queen Bee dined at (#okurrr). In both cases, I had the Cuban specialty, lobster and it was delicious! My personal favourite was San Cristobal though, they really know how to make you feel at home (pun intended) and their plantain fries are ahh-mazing. Oh, and one last thing! If you ever come across locals selling fresh coconut ice-cream, water or plain coco meat, do a B a favour and try it. It’s to die for.
Devote a night to enjoy a cabaret show, it is one of Cuban’s delights after all! We chose Havana’s Tropicana cabaret show and it was a helluva night. Firstly, hosts will give you cigars and drinks upon entering the venue, which in my book, issa pretty sweet deal. Everything is included in the price and you get to enjoy an hour and a half worth of people dancing, singing and performing short musical plays with the most over-the-top and ridiculously amazing costumes! Ten out of ten from me!
Four: Buena Vista Social Club
This was probably the highlight of my trip. Buena Vista Social Club is a famous club in Havana where performers sing live all night long. This club is really popular, especially since a majority of the famous songs you already know such as ‘Guantanamera’ are widely sang by club members. The club has live performances by amazing local talents, however the majority of the original members have sadly passed away. That does not stop the show as the new members are still fantastic and it is definitely worth experiencing.
You’ll find an abundance of local shops to purchase souvenirs from in Old Town Havana. However, if you’re looking for a concentrated area with very Cuban shops, look no further than San Jose market. If you’re like me, and you just cannot for the life of you have some self-control then definitely devote an afternoon (or even a whole day b*sh, aint no one judging here). Locals sell all sorts of Cuban things, from art, handbags, cigars to even furniture! It’s like the Cuban version of Target, but better.
Six: Taxi Ride
Ok, like every basic B out there, I’m just going to come out and say that this is a must. One should not go to Cuba and not rent a vintage, american, colourful car to explore the city. Being the person that I am, I wanted a convertible pink car so I can cruise in style. The good thing is that there’s so many different coloured cars that you will definitely find one for you. Tell your driver to take you to the very old town of Havana a.k.a. ‘The Ghetto’ to see some real culture.
Seven: Cigar Factory
Being the cigar capital of like the world, devoting an afternoon to visit a cigar factory is another must. Here’s some intel: firstly, factory owners prohibit visitors from recording anything within these factories. Furthermore, different brands use different leaves to make their own product, but most of them are all made in the same factories and not in their own factory. That’s all apart from Cohiba of course which by the way, you’re not allowed to visit. There are plenty of these factories, finding one should not be difficult. Here’s some choices.
Thank you for reading this and I hope you enjoyed my post on Havana, Cuba! For more details on what to know before going there and what you should know once you’re there, feel free to check out my other blog posts!