Since President Barack Obama opened relations with Cuba, Americans are now allowed to visit the once isolated island and explore one of its beautiful cities, Havana. There is a countless number of places to visit while in the capital such as museums, shops, bars, restaurants and beaches, but aside from most touristic attractions, here are some spots which allow for a more authentic experience.
3 p.m. Bar
American novelist Ernest Hemingway once said, “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daquiri in La Floridita.” For 5 CUCs (or around $5), you can visit La Bodeguita del Medio and have a refreshing mint mojito on Empedrado Street. It is a dimly lit bar, able to fit about 20 people and is filled with guests ordering mojitos, taking pictures of their drinks and enjoyinh performers singing and dancing. Head on over, you might be sitting on the same stool once occupied by the great man himself.
4 p.m. Salsa Class
Not only is Cuba known for its mojitos and authentic culture, but also its music and dances like salsa, el mambo and la cha-cha-cha are all popular on the island. If you want to join in, Salsabor A Cuba in the city’s central district is a dance school that offers lessons for 12 CUCs an hour.
8:15 p.m. Shoot The Cannon
Every evening at exactly 9 p.m., people come together at La Fortaleza de San Carlos de La Cabaña across the harbor from old Havana for the firing of an ancient cannon. It is a tradition for the locals to watch Cuban men dress up as Spanish soldiers from the 18th century and perform as a remembrance of the times when Cuba was under the control of Spain. Before the firing, there are souvenir stands on the castle grounds where one can buy bags, jewelry, figurines and with many other items. Make sure to arrive at least 15 minutes before for a good view in front of the crowd. Entrance is 8 CUC.
9:30 p.m. Dinner
After working up an appetite from the day’s activities, check out Casa Miglis on Lealtad Street, a restaurant with tall ceilings, low lighting and small paintings hanging on the walls. The room is intimate with a candle sitting in the middle of every table. At Casa Miglis, enjoy a refreshing pineapple daiquiri for 4.50 CUCs or a strawberry daiquiri for something more subtle. Order the grilled chicken stuffed with bacon, onions and honey sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes for 14.50 CUCs.
9 a.m. Breakfast
According to many locals, breakfast is eaten early in the morning and at home. A usual breakfast is light, consisting of bread, butter and pastries along with coffee and juice. In efforts to follow the Cuban lifestyle, a place to enjoy a typical breakfast is La Suiza Sylvain in the Verdado district of the city. Open 24 hours, its pastries range between .10 to .30 CUC. There are muffins, cookies, pan de guayaba (guava pastry), cakes and many more sweets. There are also drinks and coffee at .50 to 1 CUCs.
10 a.m. Old Havana
Obispo, a busy street in Old Havana, is not only good to visit for a mojito, but also to go shopping. Wooden maracas, Che Guevara llicense plates, colorful bracelets made from shells, and t-shirts emblazoned with “I ‘heart’ Havana” along with many other knickknacks are all on sale. Each table is filled with similar souvenirs allowing one to find what they need for the right price. While shopping, watch men and women perform on the street with guitars, drums and even the flute. Most t-shirts and bags are around 10 CUCs and the smaller items such as jewelry and license plates are between 1 and 5 CUCs. Buy more than one or two items and you just might be able to bargain down the price.
1 p.m. Lunch
While sightseeing, you might find yourself back in Vedado. On the corner of L and 19th street, visit one of the many restaurants here, Nerei. Since you cannot go to Cuba and not have ropa vieja (shredded meat), order a plate accompanied by white rice with black beans and a salad for 9.25 CUCs. Sit outside and enjoy the view while drinking a cold mojito for 3 CUCs. The all-white decor, along with the relaxing view, is perfect for a quiet afternoon.
Back in central Havana on Calle Lealtad is a small boutique called Miru’s Talabatería, filled with leather wallets, purses, and book bags. The owner, Miru, spends her nights creating the bags from scratch and sells them straight from her house. On the street, you cannot miss the authentic bags hanging from the stand. The smaller wallets and purses are 3 CUCs, with purses ranging from 20 to 30 CUCs and book bags from 40 to 80 CUCs. Hours vary each day, but Miru is mostly open after 5 p.m.
3 p.m. Beach
Take a cab to the Las Playas del Este beaches to enjoy the clear, warm water of the Bring a beach ball (or play with some locals) and enjoy the atmosphere which is great for families as well as individuals. There are also two bars that sell drinks and the popular piña coladas with prices from 1 to 5 CUCs.
A full day in Havana is a breathtaking experience. The fresh food, bumpy but fun taxi rides and genuine people all combine to bring joy for foreigners from around the world. Many places cater to tourists, but Cuba’s new experience allows for visitors to easily learn the local culture. It may only be 24 hours, but a day’s worth of activities will have you heading back home feeling like a true Cuban. Let’s not forget, your suntan will be reminding everyone else of your journey too.
La Bodeguita del Medio; Empedrado, Havana; Everyday 8 a.m.-midnight; (07)867-1374.
Salsa Class; Instructor: Yoena; 558 Neptuno Street; Everyday 9 a.m.-7 p.m; (53)5-439-5923.
Casa Miglis; 120 Lealtad Street, central Havana; noon-midnight; (53)-7-864-1486.
Nerei Paladar; Land 19th Street, central Havana; 1 p.m.-midnight; (07)832-7860.
Miru’s Talabartería; 112 Lealtad Street, central Havana; vary; (05) 333-5211.