by Christine Scott
After to traveling to Cuba seven times (five in the last three years), I am constantly asked for recommendations on where to go so I've compiled a list of restaurants, bars, clubs and experiences that are worth looking into while in Havana. If you're interested in an "insiders tour" to Cuba, let me know. (Christine@cultsha.com)
Newest Hotel: Gran Hotel Manzana: a swanky hotel in Parque Central in Havana Vieja in a perfect location near all of the action. Rooftop bar with pool overlooking the square. Beautiful, historic and expensive, but worth a visit.
-La Guardia: one of my fav's in an old building on the third floor, don't be scared walking up the stairs... it's a hidden gem. Update: has become crowded and expensive but worth a visit if you're willing to splurge.
-El Cocinero: an old peanut factory turned restaurant with patio. (Next door to La Fabrica del Arte, my favorite hangout, music, art, bar scene in Havana, open Thurs-Sun). Super popular now, need a reservation.
-Frente: in Havana Vieja, BEST drinks, rooftop bar/restaurant, ceviche. (same owners at 304 O'Reilly, which is also the address, across the street).
-304 O'Reilly: small fun bar, excellent cocktails and ceviche in Havana Vieja. Fun scene.
-El Litoral: Restaurant along the Malecon in Vedado. Great salad & seafood bar. Best to go at sunset
-Dona Eutimia: in the back of a courtyard in Plaza de Cathedral in Havana Vieja. A hidden gem in a gorgeous plaza.
-The Tavern: small spot on side street in Havana Vieja with great live music. In one of the plazas.
-La Imprenta: fun lunch spot, on Mercaderes in Havana Vieja in an old printing factory.
-Breakfast at Cafe Galeria, calle L between 15 y 17, if you're staying in Vedado.
-Los Mercaderes: In Havana Vieja on the second fl. Touristy but good.
-Santa Barbara: in Vedado, off calle 23 on Calle M, a small patio paladar with live music and good food.
-Laurent: Calle M, between 17 and Linea. A rooftop restaurant with a view of the area.
-Fonda La Paila: a bungalow perched atop a little hill near Havana Libre hotel. Very inexpensive, good food, reggaeton music played. (A favorite in the Vedado area)
-Casa Del Marques: on the Plaza de Catedral, great to sit on patio and watch the scene in the plaza.
-Hotel Ingleterra: en the Parque Central (near Floridita) this is a patio to sip mojitos, listen to live music and take a break from walking Havana Vieja.
-La Bodeguita del Medio: tiny bar in Havana Vieja with music 24/7. Very crowded this last trip, famous for a Hemingway hangout.. A great first stop in your Havana Vieja tour. Calle Empedrado.
-Hotel Nacional: historic hotel (suggested reading before you go "Havana Nocturnal"), sit on back patio for mojitos or go down by the waterfront patio bar, live music usually in both places.
-Hotel Capri: one block from El Nacional, great bar on rooftop overlooking city.
-Sofia restaurant: Corner of 23rd Street, one block down from El Nacional. Great place to hear music at lunch and evening, food is ok but music is always fantastic. Also an internet hotspot.
-El Floridita: a busy tourist stop but worth one visit for a daiquiri, famous for Hemingway hangout.
-Iberostar rooftop for sunset cocktails.
Beach: Santa Maria about a 1/2 hour away. Local beach, very crowded. 10 mins further is new restaurant right on the water Le Mare for lunch.
-Havana Yacht Club (recommended during the week, they don't accept non-members on weekends). A beach 20 minutes away with a bar, pool, restaurant. $15 CUCS each to get in, worth it for a break from the city crowds.
Casa de Musica (Havana Central or Miramar): 15 CUC's great salsa bands, starts around 11PM
1830: Along the Malecon in Vedado, outdoor spot along the water, sometimes there a dance show (5 CUC), always dancing. There is a local hangout next door right on the water at the fortress called La Chorrera. Great spot for drinks, especially at sunset or evening.
King Bar: local bar in Havana Vieja, dancing to salsa, reggaeton, etc.
Palermo: reggae bar in Havana Vieja, haven't been there but it was recommended to me several times.
Cabaret Las Vegas: gay bar with drag shows that start at 1AM. Fun, friendly people (mostly men) and professional cabaret singers and dancers.
Callejon de Hamel: (Sundays) Art, rumba and Afro-Cuban live music in an alley in Central Havana. Get there early, gets very crowded.
-La Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba: an amazing rumba performance by 10 piece group in the courtyard of the building on Saturdays at 5PM, free and cheap beers!
-Hemingway House: about 20 minutes outside Havana, a museum where Hemingway once lived and worked. (Just past Havana Yacht club & beach)
-Hotel Nacional: pay $18 CUCS a day for the pool (big with comfy lounges) which includes lunch and unlimited drinks. Great deal!
-Fabrica del Arte: Thurs-Fri 8PM-3AM. Industrial size space with art galleries, bars, performance space, coolest place in Havana. Be prepared for a long line if you can't get in on the VIP or artist line.
-El Ojo Del Ciclon: 501 O Reilly, a funky gallery, performance space, bar in Havana Vieja... always something different.
Viñales tobacco country. Beauty mountainous region about 2 hours from Havana. You can get a day package deal from any of the hotels or go to the bus depot and hire a driver for about $40/CUCS a person (well worth it).The Hotel Horizontes/Los Jasmines is in the mountains with a pool overlooking the valley. A restaurant in town is La Plaza, next to the church, a patio and very reasonable prix fixe meal. They are building a new boutique-ish kind of hotel called "Hotel Vinales" which will be welcome in this bustling town.
Communication: If you want a local phone, I suggest bringing an old phone (make sure there is a space for SIM card) and waiting on the telecom line (go early, you can wait 2 hours in the afternoon) and pay $40 to get a line. Great way to connect with local friends, call a taxi, make reservations, etc. Otherwise go into one of the main hotels and they can make calls for you for a small fee.
Internet: You have to buy an internet card and then go to a hotspot in order to log in. If you buy the internet card at one of the hotels, you can only use the card at that hotel, so not a good idea. Calle 23 is an internet hotspot (have a beer at Sofia) but you may not always be able to log in, sometimes it takes a long time to connect (and very frustrating).