Once the travel ban to Cuba had been lifted, we knew we wanted to get there before things really started to change. I had been waiting for commercial flights from the United States to start when I came upon a reasonably priced flight from Tijuana. Making the decision even easier was the CBX bridge that would take you right into the airport. We booked our flights to go over Toby’s 40th birthday (coinciding with Labor Day weekend). Broken up between the beginning and of our trip, we had about two full days in Havana which for us was the right amount of time.
Where To Stay
While there are a number of hotels in Havana, we opted to go the Airbnb route. This seemed to be the recommended way to go, so we didn’t even check out hotel prices – although we heard they were quite expensive for the quality.
Vedado – The first part of the trip we stayed at an Airbnb in Vedado. A 5-10 CUC (if you’re not familiar, 1 CUC = 1 USD) taxi ride to Havana Vieja, it had more of a local neighborhood feel rather than being in the middle of lots of tourist spots. This sounded to us but we actually found ourselves just spending extra money taking taxis to Havana Vieja numerous times during our stay – besides one dinner we had in Havana Vieja. Our Airbnb offered to make us breakfast for 5 CUC each morning and all we had to do was let them know what time – eggs, bread, fruit, fresh juice and Cuban coffee – all you need to get the day going.
Havana Vieja – also known as Old Havana. This was the more touristy part of town – filled with lots of plazas, museums, restaurants, bars, government buildings, and the hotels. While yes, a little more touristy, when we stayed here the night before heading back to the states it made it so much simpler to pop in and out of our Airbnb during the day. We stayed at Casa Colonial Del 1715 for 30 CUC, and another 5 CUC per person for breakfast.
My recommendation – perhaps if we had spent a longer time in Havana I would have had more time to appreciate staying in Vedado, but with such short stays it definitely seemed a bit more convenient to stay in Havana Vieja.
Where To Eat
We hadn’t heard anything all that amazing about the food in Cuba so we arrived with low expectations. While some meals weren’t the best – there were a few in Havana that I’d definitely recommend checking out!
El Idilio – this restaurant is located in Vedado in more of a quiet neighborhood. I doubt we would have stumbled upon it had I not heard about it prior to going. The Ropa Vieja was very good, as was their lobster special and the Aguacate Relleno con Camarones (shrimp in a giant avocado). Good prices and was walking distance to where we stayed in Vedado.
Lamparilla Tapas y Cervezas – we stumbled upon this little bar/restaurant as it was a block from our Airbnb in Havana Vieja. It looked much more modern than many of the other bars and restaurants we had come across – we found out it was funded by foreign money. We didn’t up having time to have a real meal there – but the drinks were good, the service was fantastic and the chicken croquettes we had were delicious. If you go you have to ask for Damary – she was our favorite waitress!
Other restaurants that were on our list that we didn’t make it to included Dona Eutimia in Havana Vieja (they were closed until October 1), La Guarida in Central Havana and Cafe Laurent and Atelier, both in Vedado.
Where to Drink & Dance
While neither of us are big rum drinkers, it’s tough to go to Cuba and not enjoy some mojitos and daquiris while listening to live music and watching salsa dancing.
La Floridita – one of Hemingway’s favorite bars and known for their Daquiris, this is definitely a touristy spot, but we decided to pop in anyway. We grabbed seats at the bars, enjoyed a few frozen cocktails, listened to live music and watched a few people salsa dance. While we didn’t need to go back a second time, it was definitely worth stopping in for a drink.
Cafe Paris – a nice little bar in old Havana with cheap drinks and live music.
Rooftop Bar at Hotel Ambos Mundos – climb the five floors (or take the elevator – it was broken when we visited) to the rooftop bar of this pink hotel. Nice views and a relaxing atmosphere, it was a perfect mid-afternoon stop. Most of the rooftop is covered so you get a break from the hot sun as well as protection from any rain.
Bodeguita del medio – another tourist hot spot, we checked out this tiny bar from the outside. It was packed to the brim with people so we never made it inside. It claims to be the birthplace of the mojito.
Sloppy Joe’s – yet another tourist spot, located right off Parque Central, we stopped here for a beverage and some air conditioning before our classic car tour. The bar was recently renovated but still keeps some old charm and is filled with photos of celebrities who have visited throughout the years. As a few others I have mentioned, this was a popular Hemingway spot.
Fabrica de Arte Cubano – located in Vedado, this space was part art gallery, performance center, cocktail bar and snack shack all rolled into one. It is only open Thursday through Sunday, so the last day of our trip was the only day we could check it out. Very unfortunately it started pouring that evening so they shut down the venue for the evening and we didn’t get to experience what so many say is one of the best bars in Cuba. I highly recommend checking it out if you can (and letting us know what you thought!)
What To Do
Havana Vieja – we spent a good amount of our time just wandering around the streets of Havana Vieja – stopped in different plazas, grabbing a bite or a drink here and there, taking it all in. There is a rum museum as well as a cigar factory you can take tours of (we heard this was cool but forgot you need to book this through a hotel the day prior so we ended up just buying some cigars instead).
The Malecon – more walking! The Malecon is a roadway and seawall that runs for about 5 miles along the coast of Havana. If you take a Classic Car tour you’ll probably drive down part of it, but it was nice to be able to wander along the coast for a bit at our own pace.
Classic Car Tour – make your way to Parque Central (right next door to Havana Vieja) and the classic cars will be lining up waiting for you to choose them. We paid 30 CUC for an hour tour that took us to a variety of stops – they have longer tours as well and will be happy to show you a map of everything you’ll see along the way. Not all of the drivers speak English that well so that’s something to be aware of. You can also book these tours through a hotel or website but it’ll probably be a bit more expensive.
Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro – it reminded us a bit of the fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico, so on our last morning in Havana we decided to head over and check it out. You have to go through a tunnel to get there, so I don’t believe there are any other options other than taking a taxi (or driving yourself or going on an organized tour). We wandered around, took some photos, climbed to the top of the lighthouse and that was about it. You paid an entrance fee to just get on the grounds and then another fee if you wanted to go inside the fortress. Altogether I think it was about 10 CUC per person. Depending on your level of interest in fortresses, I don’t think this is a must-do, but it was cool to check out nevertheless.