The Weekend Travelogue: Havana

By Andrew Wong,

La HabanaCuba’s capital is everything you’ve seen of lollipop classic cars, crumbling building façades and smiling folk breaking out into soulful Afro-Cubano ballads.

Moreover, this isn’t a place to visit only on a day trip from Varadero while in Cuba. This is the reason why you should come to Cuba. Raw and authentically friendly, Havana will win your heart at every turn.

La Rampa Viva Cuba mural Andrew Wong havana

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Drop Off Your Bags

Now in a post-US embargo era, tourism in Havana and the rest of Cuba is entering a new age. Hotels are getting a refresh with big names coming to town including the city’s newest five-star the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana.

Hotel Terral Havana lobby high ceilings mirrors

A favourite among trivago users and Canadians alike is the Hotel Terral with a front-row seat to Havana’s waterfront avenue, the Malecón. Users rave about the reliable amenities and attentive service from English-speaking staff. Score a junior suite to make the most of your Havana nights on your private balcony.

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Get in the Cab!

Not only an opportunity to literally rub elbows (hip, knees, etc.) with local Havanans, squeezing into the back of a máquina (taxi colectivo or shared cab) is the cheapest way to get around the city — at just 48¢ a ride.

maquina taxi colectivo driver Las Terrazas Andrew Wong

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Spirited entrepreneurs run a designated loop around the city, all you need to do is a flag one down, announce the intersection of your destination and shout “aquí when you’re ready to get out. Just don’t forget your CUP (the everyday peso) and your elementary Spanish!

 

Mingle with the Artsy Elite

A force within Cuba’s visual and performing arts scene, the F.A.C. (Fábrica de Arte Cubano) is precisely the hidden spot to seek out if you’re looking to make friends with the cool kids.

Fabrica de Arte Cubano FAC Havana Installation Andrew Wong

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The converted factory space plays host to art house film screenings, slam poetry nights, contemporary art exhibitions and a range of workshops from modern ballet to cooking.

 

Shake It

Opulent outfits and killer dance moves under the canopy of a tropical rainforest — there’s no doubting the Tropicana Caberet’s nickname “The Paradise under the Stars”. Don’t let Tropicana’s appearance on most tourist itineraries turn you off, this multi-act dance spectacle is one for your scrapbook.

Pablo Trincado Tropicana statues dancing

Photo by Pablo Trincado CC BY

You’ll be dancing in your seat all night, not the least thanks to the half-bottle of Cuban rum included in the price of your ticket. ¡Buena suerte! (Good luck!)

 

Café con leche with a view

An anchor of the Vedado district where it meets the Malecón at the water, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba is hands-down the most well-known hotel in Havana. With more than 85 years of history under its belt, the Hotel has welcomed no shortage of celebrities (Churchill, Sinatra, Gardner, to name a few).

Havana Hotel Nacional gardens Andrew Wong

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Non-guests are invited to take a café con leche out back among the agave plants with a cerulean backdrop of the Straits of Florida (just 171 km short of Key West).

 

Movie set magic

Set in what could otherwise be assumed to be a condemned building in Centro Habana, La Guarida is one of the city’s top restaurants sporting a speakeasy cachet to match.

La Guarida building Tony Hisgett

Photo by Tony Hisgett CC BY

Earning its cred as a filming location for Fresa y Chocolate, the restaurant’s dishes go beyond two ingredient pairings like Suckling Pig served with an orange-honey reduction and oxtail surrounded by saffron risotto.

 

Old-fashioned organic breakfast

When the bread and butter of the breakfast buffet tire you out, feast on the full palette of fruits and vegetables at the local agroprecuario markets.

Havana market agroprecuario Vedado Andrew Wong

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Sourced from small private farms, monstrously meaty avocados and succulent mamey (with papaya-like flesh) are sure bets. The agroprecuarios at the corner of Calles 19 & B and on Infanta are local favourites.

 

The art of lining up

Though it could easily be mistaken for a public park at the corner of Avenida 23 and Calle L, the Coppelia ice cream parlour is perhaps the most delicious thing to come out of a state-run business. Set amongst the trees, the only indication of a sweet, chilled snack is the orderly queuing system in place.

¿Ultimo?*
*what is said when you first arrive at the end of the line to confirm that you’re most recent one to join the queue

Take a seat at the bar under the modernist flying saucer building (Havana Disneyland, is that you?) and dive into your ice cream ensalada (salad) of chocolate, strawberry, almond or whatever of the day’s stock gets scooped out for you.

Stay nearby at the… Tryp Habana Libre

 

Havana Tryp Habana Libre Dedado la Rampa exterior view old car

 

At the top of La Rampa, the Tryp Habana Libre forms a trifecta of mid-century modern buildings along with Coppelia and the Cine Yara. A throwback in the fullest, dip out of the Havana heat into the soaring ceilings of this 1950s hotel lobby.As one of the tallest buildings in the Cuban capital, expect far-reaching views of Morro Castle and Old Havana.

 

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