havana pt. 2 | april 2017
As promised, here is my (absolutely not extensive) list of some things to do, places to go and sights to see should you find yourself in Havana.
Situated about a 20-30 minute drive outside Havana in the Jaimanitas neighborhood, Fusterlandia evokes a grand sense of fantasy and whimsy. Artist Jose Fuster used mosaic and sculpture to transform his home and those around it. Taking references from Picasso and Gaudi, his home is the main focal point, and if you get lucky, you just might stumble across Fuster himself, as we were lucky enough to do. Grab a fresh coconut and wander throughout his home and those of the neighbors, as many of them are other artists drawn to the neighborhood for the opportunity to show their work to tourists as well. Don't forget to walk to the highest point of his home, where you can see "Viva Cuba" emblazoned across a neighbors' roof.
Playa Santa Maria
Although it sits on the water, Havana does not actually have a beach. Playa Santa Maria is the closest, at about a 40 minute drive away. A perfect way to spend an afternoon, set up on the beach in front of the Tropicoco Hotel and enjoy the crystal blue water, massive sand bars, and bathwater like temperatures. Treat yourself to a coconut filled with rum, and don't miss the stands selling grilled meat and fish - although just a tent and a folding table, this might have been some of the best, and cheapest, food we ate all weekend. Spend an afternoon lounging in the sun, and enjoy the company of both locals and tourists, packed in to enjoy the beauty.
Although this restaurant boasts "Hemingway was never here" through a plaque at the entrance, thanks to Lonely Planet this place still fills up pretty fast - but it's easy to see why. Three stories, the best place to sit is on the roof. Perfectly covered to avoid the direct sunlight, the drinks are large, cheap and cold, and the staff is incredible. The roof does have a different menu than the rest of the restaurant, but the food is great (get the ceviche) and the vibes are good. Go early, as the line forms before they even open.
Located in the Miramar neighborhood (notoriously the wealthier part of town where most embassies are located), Paladar Vistamar is a beautiful restaurant situated right on the water. Come for a great meal (hiiiii, ceviche), and stay for the incredible sunset. Absolutely worth the drive out to Miramar, and from there it's easy to venture to Espacio or Casa de la Musica.
Cafe Santo Domingo
Breakfast doesn't really seem to be much of a thing in Havana (just a slight change from the brunch craved Brooklyn we live in), so we were lucky to find Cafe Santo Domingo. Located right in Old Havana, you enter through a pastry shop, up some stairs that look like they lead to nowhere, and sure enough, there it is. The menu is small, but the fried eggs with ham is a great way to start the day, and at only about 5 CUC per person, you can eat here every day without breaking the bank.
Fabrica de Arte
One of the newer attractions in Havana, FAC (La Fabrica de Arte Cubano), is part bar, part lounge, part concert venue, part art museum. A massive industrial building, the space includes true art galleries, a large patio, a restaurant, multiple bars, plenty of places to lounge around, and even more places to dance. A DJ in one section, a full salsa band in another, and some gorgeous contemporary art make for a super unique experience. Grab a beer and wander through the space, but don't forget to take in the mix of people and cultures, as it's a hub for both locals and tourists alike. One thing to remember - get here EARLY. Even just shortly after opening the line can end up being hours long (or, if you're like us, pay someone to cut the line). Definitely not to be missed.
Hands down my favorite spot of the weekend, Patchanka is just a couple of blocks from Floridita, yet it feels like a whole new world. Not recommended by any friends and not listed in any of our guide books, we were enthralled by the energetic reggae band playing as we walked by on the way to El Chanchullero. Open air with graffiti covered walls, the daiquiris are about three times as large as Floridita's and a fraction of the cost. This invites a much more interesting crowd - young, sometimes solo travelers from all over the world with fascinating stories to tell. Stay long enough and you'll end up learning some sick dance moves from the band. It's easy to let time slip away while here, but hey, isn't that the point of vacation?
I had to include Floridita just because it's Floridita, but there really is no need to spend much time here. Although cool to visit (it is Hemingway's favorite after all), the daiquiris are small and overpriced, and the tourist nature of the place invites what I like to call the "cruise ship crowd". Grab a quick drink here, enjoy the music for a second and check it off your bucket list, but don't stay too long - too many other amazing places await!
Also located in the Miramar neighborhood, Espacio is a short walk from Paladar Vistamar. Situated in a large house turned bar/club, the backyard is filled with couches to lounge on and chill, or meander inside for music and dancing. Don't go too early though - this place doesn't really pick up until about 11 pm or so.
Tips & tricks:
*REMEMBER* you are not a tourist. Do not mark tourism anywhere on any customs form.
American money is not accepted, and American credit cards do not work anywhere. Go with plenty of cash to exchange once there (you get a better exchange rate with CAD or EUR), and if possible, get your hands on some CUC's before you arrive so you can avoid the exchange line at the airport and hit one in the city with a shorter line. Bring more than you think you'll need - if you run out, you're out, there's no getting more.
Come with any toiletries you think you might need. There is no CVS or Walgreens to stock up once your there, and toilet paper and sunscreen are essential.
Do not drink the water, but I think that should go without saying.
Should you NEED wifi during your stay, it is possible to find. Get a wifi card from a hotel or hostel, and then walk around until you see a group of young people gathering, usually in a park or other public place. If there's a large group in one spot all staring at their phones, you've found a hot spot. Often unreliable and slow, it will work should you need to get in contact with anyone or look up an address - other than that, put your damn phone away and enjoy.
Please add your Havana favorites in the comments section, and don't be afraid to reach out for more recommendations! Happy travels!