With its faded architectural beauty and complicated history, Havana is unlike any other capital in the Caribbean. Scenes of vintage cars chugging passed colourful colonial-era facades take you into the city’s past, while pulsating rhythms, soul-warming rums, and quickly-evolving cityscapes remind you that Havana is rapidly hurtling into the future. Here’s how to make the most of your first visit to Cuba’s alluring capital.
Here’s everything you need to know about where to stay and play in Calgary.
Where to Stay when visiting Havana?
Iberostar Grand Packard
This five-star property looks like a chic beach resort has somehow been transported into downtown Havana. The hotel is striking from the moment you arrive, with an old-meets-new facade that sees three modern floors integrated on top of the historic original hotel building, which dates back to the early 1900s. Rooms are bright and polished, with gleaming white chrome surfaces and frosted-glass-accented bathrooms with rainfall showers. Guests can kick back on the two-storey outdoor terrace, which has a glamorous infinity pool overlooking the Malecon; or the spa, where the signature massage treatment features oils spiked with Cuban rum.
An excellent option for travellers on a budget, casa particulares are private residences that are owned and rented by locals. Like an AirBnB or traditional B&B, every casa particular is unique but most offer affordable, simple accommodation and the chance to connect with a local host during your stay. There’s no central website for booking casa particulares, but a quick Google search will bring up private booking sites, or most of the accommodation options you’ll find on AirBnB are categorized as casa particulares.
Where to Play on your next trip to Havana Cuba?
Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, is the historic heart of the capital, home to picturesque plazas, grand colonial mansions, and beguiling Baroque and neoclassical monuments. Although architecture representing 500 years of history is on display here, Old Havana is no open-air museum. The neighbourhood hums with the activity of locals and tourists alike, and music drifts out of restaurants and courtyards into the streets. Old Havana is home to significant sites — like the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which houses Cuba’s most impressive art collection, and historic squares like the Plaza de Armas — but it’s also a rewarding place to set your itinerary aside for a few hours and just wander.
You’d be remiss to leave Havana without spending some time strolling along El Malecón. This 8-kilometre-long boardwalk stretching along the seawall is one of the city’s most beloved gathering places. This strip is alive with activity anytime of day, and makes for a fun people-watching stop. You’ll see people strolling, eating, drinking, fishing, playing music, and stopping to admire the scenery. Since it faces north, El Malecón offers beautiful sunset and sunrise views. The refreshing sea breeze can make it a pleasant place to cool off on hot afternoons in Havana.
This surreal public art project in the Jaimanitas district is well worth the journey west from central Havana to see. With its detailed mosaic tile work, colourful sculptures, and snaking walkways, the display looks like a Caribbean version of Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell in Barcelona. Known as Fusterlandia after José Fuster, the artist behind the dream-like installations, the ongoing project first began in 1975 and centres on Fuster’s own residence. After transforming his own home into a stylized public art display, Fuster began asking his neighbours if he could create similar installations for the surrounding houses and buildings. The whimsical designs now span several blocks, and have helped to revitalize and bring tourism to Jaimanitas.
Where to Eat when visiting Havana?
La Moneda Cubana
One of the best ways to get a literal taste of the local flavour in Havana is to dine at a paladar, which are small, family-run restaurants. Every paladar is a little different but most are informal and unassuming, with homestyle fare and eclectic decor collected by the owners. La Moneda Cubana, which is located in Old Havana at the entrance of Plaza de la Cathedral, is a solid spot to try traditional dishes like ropa vieja, which consists of shredded beef, onions, and tomatoes. The restaurant’s terrace has a lovely view over the rooftops of Old Havana.
Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana
When it comes to dinner and drinks with a view, it’s tough to beat the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana. Located in the heart of Old Havana, this regal historic hotel is set in the Manzana de Gómez building, which dates back to the early 20th century. The hotel’s El Surtidor Pool Terrace and Bar offers jaw-dropping views over El Capitolio, Parque Central, and down to the seafront. The bar’s menu of well-executed, Latin-influenced tapas makes for satisfying nibbling while watching the sunset. After dark, colourful illuminations around the terrace add extra magic to the view (as do the bar’s fresh fruit cocktails).
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