Havana, Cuba: Eat, See and Do
Visiting Cuba was such an amazing experience for me...and I barely even touched the surface of all this beautiful country has to offer. In my previous post, I detailed some tips that helped me prepare for my trip, as well as broke down the new restrictions for Americans visiting Cuba. If you haven't read this post yet, you can check it out here! This post is all about what we did and (most importantly) ate while in Havana!
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I love traveling to new places and experiencing the food. From local, hole-in-the wall joints to upscale dining, I love it all. Having done plenty of research before our trip to Havana, my expectations of the food scene weren't that high. Aside from a select few, many of the blogs and restaurant reviews described food in Havana to be bland and unexciting.
Nevertheless, I know that people have different palates and experience food differently, so I kept an open mind when venturing out to different restaurants in Havana.
While there are some great dining experiences to be had in Cuba, I wasn't super impressed or excited by the most of the meals we ate in Havana. I didn't expect the food to be like the delicious Cuban food at one of my faaavorite Miami restaurants, but I also didn't expect it to really be as bland as people claimed it to be. (Being from Southeast Texas has spoiled me a bit when it comes to amazing food!) One reason the food is so bland in Cuba may be because of the limited availability of spices. Sooo. you may wanna pack your travel size Lousiana hot sauce or Tony Chacheres! As with many islands, the seafood in Havana was super fresh and I ended up eating quite a bit of fish, shrimp and lobster during our trip.
There are two types of restaurants in Cuba: Government owned ones that mostly serve rice, beans and meat, and Privately Owned ones called "paladares" that serve other things. Stick with paladares! We found restaurants that served a decent meal and didn't break the bank.
Myy absolute favorite dining experience was at La Guarida. This legendary restaurant located in the crumbling and gritty Centro Habana neighborhood (right around the corner from our AirBnb) and boasts rooftop dining with gorgeous views of the city. Another flight of stairs up there is a rooftop bar that plays the latest R&B/HipHop/Latin music. La Guarida was also one of the more expensive meals in Havana.We spent a large portion of last night in Havana on the rooftop at La Guarida and had an amazing time. You'll definitely want to make a reservation way in advance in you plan on dining at La Guarida. I requested a reservation about 2 months ahead and it took 3 weeks for the restaurant to respond to me.
Some other restaurants that I enjoyed were: Los Nardos- super affordable...like shockingly affordable. The lines were long here and the wait can sometimes be upwards of 2 hours during dinner time. Arrive early or go to it's sister restaurant located in the same building. Same food, different ambiance. Doña Eutimia- great casual restaurant with outdoor dining and fresh food. La Moneda- delicious traditional Cuban food. Try the ropa vieja!
There were also some great bars where we found cheap beers and good music. La Bodeguita de Medio is a small, but lively bar and restaurant. When we arrived here on our first night, we found a large crowd drinking mojitos and dancing to salsa music in the streets. A favorite of ours turned out to be a small hole-in the wall (most of them are!) called El Chanchullero de Tapas. Most of the bars close at midnight, so don't expect too many super late night options.
Because our time was mostly spent in Old Havana, we didn't get to eat in Vedado or Miramar, which also has some great fine and casual dining options.
See and Do
During my research, I kept reading that you only need about 2 full days in Havana to experience everything the city has to offer. While this may be true, we decided to spend all of our time in Havana with promises to visit the other beautiful areas of Cuba on our next trip. Suggestions for things to do while in Cuba are below!
Explore Old Havana
The streets of Old Havana are filled with restaurants, shops, hotels and people! We enjoyed getting lost in the streets and cooling off with a mojito (or two). You can also embark on a guided walking our classic car tour. You can experience the Museo de la Revolucion, visit Earnest Hemingways favorite bars, and sample rum at the Havana Club Museum of Rum.
Ride In a Classic Car
One of the most notable trademarks of Cuba is the abundance of antique cars from the 1950s. I'm not a car buff, but it was pretty cool to see how well-maintained these cars were. Most of these cars are now used for tours and taxis, but some people use them for every day use. You can easily book a tour of the city from a number of vendors near Old Havana.
Have a Beach Day
We planned to visit Varadero, which boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and is a popular tourist and resort destination. When the time came, we just were not about that 2 hour commute life, and opted to visit a closer beach. We caught an air-conditioned coach near Old Havana and for 5 CUC roundtrip, headed to Playa Santa Maria. We went on a Saturday and the beach was super crowded, mostly with locals. But the beach was beautiful and we eventually found a semi-secluded spot where we camped until we got hungry. There are also quite a few beach huts with fresh seafood and cheap rum.
Get Artsy at the Fabrica de Arte
Visiting the Fabrica de Arte was high on my list, so I was really bummed when I found out that it was closed for the entire month of May. Fabrica de Arte is essentially an art gallery/club that fuses modern art exhibits with live music and bars. Make sure to check the website for availability before planning your trip here.
Overall, our trip to Havana was amazing. We learned so much about Cuba and it's people and can't wait to go back and experience other areas of the island.
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