I spent a week in Havana, Cuba with my boyfriend. We had an incredible time full of experiences we never expected: meeting Ernest Hemingway’s grandson while sitting in a hot tub, seeing Rihanna posing in a moving vehicle while doing a photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair, and having Buena Vista Social Club (in its current arrangement) play a free show at our hotel. Read on for my favourite spots and top tips.
Literally Just Wander Around With Your Camera
We didn’t go to Cuba for the beach. In fact, we didn’t even see a beach. The idea was to just be in Havana. You can very easily spend a week just walking through the city streets, never crossing a threshold, and have a great time. It’s the kind of city where you can point your camera in any direction and find something worth capturing. The city is SERIOUSLY photogenic. We were lucky to also be there during the Biennale, which meant art of all kinds filling the streets. Wandering is always near the top of my list no matter where I’m visiting, but in Havana it’s especially rewarding. Every turn in the street brings another statuesque building, antique car, food or flower cart, or other staple of Cuban life you’ll want to snap a photo of.
Drive Around In Old Cars As Much As Possible
Just pay the money. You can take old cars as taxis or hire them for a longer tour. We rode in a ’53 Chevy, a ’57 Ford, and a ’57 Pontiac, but my favourite was a Barbie pink ’54 Ford Mercury we hired to drive us around the city. Make sure you ask to cruise along the Malecón!
Poke Around Hotel Habana Libre
I absolutely LOVED the historic Hotel Habana Libre because it’s virtually unchanged since the 1950s and is truly a step back in time. It’s not decorated that way, it is that way. Explore the main floor lobby, bar, and pool and try to sneak up to one of the top floors for a sky view of the Malecón. We had an amazing vantage point from what appeared to be a storage room.
Visit Hotel Nacional de Cuba
There’s a lot of history here and it’s definitely worth taking a look around the main floor where you can read about all the famous and infamous people who spent time there. This is a nice way to take a break on your walk along the Malecón.
Eat At Paladars
By far the best place to eat in Cuba is at a Paladar, which is basically a family-run business usually located inside someone’s home. All of the meals we had at Paladars were wonderful. There was one, however, that not only served delicious food but also made the best memory: Porto Habana. Located in a tall 1958 apartment building, it wasn’t necessarily the easiest to find. We took an elevator up to the eleventh floor and the doors opened onto a tiny space with a door on the left and a door on the right. I knocked on the door and a nice man named Alejandro answered. He warmly invited us in, even though we didn’t have a reservation. The ‘restaurant’ part of the home was mainly located on the balcony with a gorgeous view of the water and surrounding buildings. I had the chicken in orange sauce and Marc had the ropa vieja, both served with salad, rice, and beans. I definitely recommend this place if you’re heading to Havana. Be sure to end with a creamy café con leche.
Walk the Malecón
Stroll along the Malecón, a 5 mile esplanade that gives you a great view of the water, fishermen, musicians, and old cars driving by. The unstoppable sea breeze is scented with saltwater and there’s a levity you feel as you walk by people lounging on the sea wall.
Make A Trip To Museo Hemingway
Don’t miss visiting Hemingway’s former home which has been left as it was when he lived there. You can ogle his record collection and see the stack of books he kept beside the toilet as bathroom reading.
Have A Mojito At Hotel Ambos Mundos
The rooftop terrace here is a perfect place to stop for a mojito and enjoy the city view. You can also see the corner room where Hemingway stayed. Nearby is a lovely courtyard area home to a small market with stalls of old books, paintings, and curiosities.
Have you been to Cuba? If not, would you like to go? I did a blog post on trip planning if you’re making travel plans.