There’s a reason that Camila Cabello’s heart is in Havana (♩♫♬ Ooh na-na-na ♩♫♬), the Cuban capital is vibrant, buzzy, historic, passionate, and really puts the ‘S’ in sexy.
Think Havana, think sultry salsa and steamy rumba, cigars, swaying hips, bolero, jazz, colorful architecture, mojitos, sun, and, erm, classic cars….lots and lots of classic cars….everywhere.
Cuba is a mere 90 miles south of the coast of Miami but to many in the USA, it may as well be on an entirely different planet. In 1963, as part of the President Lyndon B. Johnson regime’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations act, U.S. citizens were banned from visiting the Island, in addition to businesses being prohibited from trading there and the start of the world’s longest enduring sanctions program.
In the run-up to the death of Fidel Castro in 2016, President Obama eased the embargo in 2015, allowing “people to people” trips to Cuba, in addition to organized group tourism visits.
However, in his bid to reverse everything Obama enacted, and pander to the vehemently Republican Cuban-American lobbyists in Florida, Trump placed Cuba back on the “sponsor of terrorism” blacklist during his presidency, heaping more sanctions on the Northern Caribbean nation once again.
Where there’s a will there’s a way.
President Biden is keen to reopen dialogue with Cuba though, and for the time being it’s still possible for U.S. citizens to apply for a number of different visas to visit, or, as was the way before Obama’s changes, you can just travel there via another country, such as Mexico (and the Cuban government will stamp a visa entry form for you instead of leaving a permanent potential black mark in your passport).
So, dust off your little black dress or flashiest silk shirt and tight pants, loosen up those hips and get ready to rumba.
If you’re in the mood to splurge there’s no better place to stay in Havana than the iconic Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Providing some of the backdrops for the awesome 1999 documentary the Buena Vista Social Club, the Nacional is a must-visit.
If you can’t afford to stay in one of the 426 rooms or 34 suites, at the very least enjoy a mojito or two on the elegant veranda; stroll around the manicured gardens; enjoy the stunning harbor, fort, and ocean views, and check out the walls of photos of previous celebrity guests, the likes of which include Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Weismuller, Naomi Campbell, Oliver Stone, and scientist Alexander Flemming.
If you’re nursing a hangover there’s no need to stay in bed all day, Havana offers a wealth of daytime activities to get you out and about in the sunshine without taxing your addled brain.
Take a walk around the old town to soak up the culture and history of the city. You’ll see brightly colored old 1950s’ classic cars everywhere cruising the Malecón, which you can stroll for 8km along the seawall, in addition to checking out the beautiful architecture and once-grand, crumbling colonial buildings.
The color and vibrancy of Havana can hit you like a brick, so if you start to suffer sensory overload stop at one of the little bars and cafes dotted around and indulge in some highly enjoyable people-watching as you sip on a glass of Club 7 Años; a frosty Bucanero or a sweet, rich and delicious Café Cubana.
Talking about a revolution
You’ll spot plenty of homages to Ernesto “Che” Guevara dotted all around the city, along with Fidel Castro, his soldier in arms-turned-President-turned-dictator (depending on your political leanings), but to get the money shot hop on a bus to El Plaza de la Revolución and check out the Che Guevara monument.
Although he was born in Argentina, Guevara was instrumental in the overthrow of the Batista regime during the Cuban revolution of 1956-59 and served as the country’s chief of the Industrial Department, president of the National Bank of Cuba (famously thumbing his nose to capitalism by signing currency simply “Che”), and minister of industry prior to his execution by the U.S. aided Bolivian army in 1967.
Havana’s Museo de la Revolucion is also worth a trip, housed in the stunning old Presidential Palace building, it’s surrounded by Cuban artillery and packed full of artifacts, memorabilia, and fascinating insights into the events leading up to the bloody revolution.
Right up there with Che when it comes to Cuban dignitaries is Ernest Hemingway. The U.S.-born author lived in Havana during the 1940s and 50s, first at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, then in a private villa just outside of the city center with his second wife and dozens of cats.
Hemingway completed his most famous novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, while living in Cuba, and his home has been turned into a super cool little exhibit, El Museo Hemingway Finca Vigia, that’s open daily for tours.
Get your drink on
Cuba is synonymous with cigars and rum–two of its most profitable exports, along with sugar, gas, fruit, and coffee. To indulge in both, and continue with the Hemingway experience, drop into the novelist’s favorite bars, La Bodeguita del Medio and La Floridita, both of which are still operating to this day and offer a wide variety of delicious Cuban rums, cigars, and beers.
To finish off your Hemingway pilgrimage head to the roof of the Hotel Ambos Mundos (AKA The Mirador of Old Havana) for some sunset cocktails and to enjoy spectacular views of the city.
Breath of fresh air
With all those old gas-guzzling cars driving around in a tropical climate it’s no surprise that Havana can get a little smoggy and close at times, so if you’re feeling in need of some fresh air head to El Bosque de la Habana, for some expansive green space and fuel-free lung relaxation.
The enchanting and beautiful swamp-like forest is home to the Almendares River and offers a shady and relaxed reprise from the everyday buzz of city life.
Sweat it out
A trip to Cuba just wouldn’t be complete without getting your salsa and rumba on, and there are no better places in Havana to do so than La Casa de la Música de Miramar and El Café Cantante Mi Habana.
Both host live bands and shows on stage, in addition to offering a dancefloor to get your groove on–quick tip though, prepare to get sweaty, very sweaty, because things get pretty hot as the night progresses.
But, oh chica, what a way to sweat off Los mojitos.