So you’re thinking of heading off to that large island in the Caribbean, heralded for its strong coffee, friendly people and often shaky relationship with the US.
After you’ve figured out how to travel to Cuba, jot down a few of these items and I promise you’ll be happy you did.
Things To Do In Havana, Cuba
Explore Old Havana all day
Honestly, give yourself at least an entire day to explore every alleyway, church and market in Old Havana. Pop into La Floridita for a famous daiquiri or bargain over Cuban antiques in Plaza de Armas.
There is always something going on and with Cubans being ever-so-friendly, and willing to teach a quick dance or smile for your photograph – you can’t go wrong. Plus, I’m a major people watcher — just sitting in a park snapping pics is one of my favorite things to do. That sounded creepy, didn’t it? Carry on.
Try a traditional Cuban dish
- Ropa Vieja – Braised shredded pork or beef, often over rice in a flavorful sauce.
- Moros y Cristianos (black beans stewed with white rice) – I will never look at black beans and rice the same again. Stewing the black beans is the way to go, plus hot sauce.
- Sofrito – This is often the base used in soups and black beans.
- Cubano – Cuban sandwich which is a variation of ham and cheese with pickles.
- Pollo a la cacerola (not sure how traditional it is, but it was my favorite dish of our trip) – Probably had enough butter to make Paula Deen happy, but the chicken was falling off the bone. Mix it in with moros y cristianos … *heaven opens*
Two of our favorite restaurants on the trip:
Drink a Mojito…or Cuba Libre…or Cubata…or Daiquiri
The mojitios are less sweet than the American version, but just as potent. I’ve never been a huge rum fan, call it PSTD from my college days, but the smell of it often makes me shrivel my nose. That is until I had Cuban rum, Havana Club specifically. It is great! The Cuba Libre is rum, coke, sometimes sugar, always lime. A Cubata, which ended up being my favorite drink of the trip is the same as a Cuba Libre, except they use old/aged rum.
Thank me later.
You can also get the best daiquiris I’ve ever had in my entire life from La Floridita in Old Havana. Apparently, Hemmingway also frequented this place and said as much. Psst. I agree.
Ride in an old American car
We worried we may not be able to get a chance to ride in one, but don’t you worry. They are everywhere! Relics of our American past, these well-tended puppies are just a wave away from being your taxi.
Bonus points if you get to ride in a pink convertible.
Sip on Cuban coffee
Also referred to as: Café Cubano, Cuban espresso, cafecito or crack, as we like to call it in our office.
Oh Fort Lauderdale and Miami, you have ruined me. I will never be able to sip weak coffee again. Why? Because it’s all Cuban-based brews and styles here. The cup is small, but the brew is a big punch in yo’ mouth. A café cubano is an espresso sweetened with sugar while it’s brewed. There are plenty of variations of this, but most use a darker Italian or Spanish roasts.
Now typically, in the states, I’ll enjoy it without sugar, but I guess that would just make it an espresso… I digress.
Learn about The Revolution
The government influence in Cuba, especially Havana, is hard to miss. There are constant reminders of The Revolution and how it is working. Whether or not it is, is probably up for debate in another post on another day.
That said, take some time and learn about Batista, The Bay of Pigs, The Cuban Missile Crisis, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and now his brother, Raúl. All play a major role in La Revolución Cubana and how Cuba operates today.
Grab a seat on a rooftop terrace
In a past life, I must have been a monkey. I like to climb and observe where I am. That’s why when we asked each another what the one thing we wanted to do most in Havana was, I said, “Get on a rooftop with a drink, my pals and some laughs.” And we sure did. Our AirBnb had an amazing rooftop terrace.
Plus, any chance we got to eat, we looked up for a restaurant. Havana is beautifully chaotic and it’s best to be viewed from up high.
Bring toys for kids
Perhaps our favorite memory was handing out soccer balls to boys and giving necklaces to girls. I may have been attacked at one point, but it was worth it. We were told toys are expensive and hard to come by in Havana, so we brought some in case. Just small items. I hesitated to bring toys at first because I didn’t want it to be condescending, nor part of a missionary trip. It at the very least helped to strike up a conversation with the kids and adults around.
I handed a Barbie-like doll to one girl and told her in my best Spanish it was a gift from friends in the US. Her mom asked me in perfect English where I was from in the US. I bet she totally heard me reciting my Spanish before I gave her daughter the doll. Doh!
Take a locally guided tour
The best way to explore a new area? Have the locals show you. We took a walking tour of Old Havana the second day we were there. It gave us the best lay of the land and our tour guide Jorge, absolutely was the icing on top. He wanted to hear just as much about us, as we did about him and Cuba. He was open and friendly and full of facts that you won’t get by reading any signs. If you’re in Havana, look him up!
Put your phone away!
This was incredibly hard at first. I wanted to Snapchat everything. But soon enough, I wasn’t even looking at my phone other than to snap quick pictures if my nice camera wasn’t nearby. I learned an essential lesson that trip:
The world still revolves if I’m not on my phone.
I hope you have the most amazing time in Havana — shoot me a comment below if you’re heading there or have been there before! I’d love to hear about it.