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Havana Now

Indagare has been taking travelers to Cuba on Insider Trips for five years. Half a dozen of their travel experts have scouted the destination, making sure they are up to date on the best hotels, restaurants and — most important — guides who bring a sense of going behind the scenes to each trip. Modern-day Havana is a study in contrasts with old-world luster set against an innovative spirit. Yes, power outages are a frequent occurrence and travelers cannot expect normal standards of service, but such inconveniences are eclipsed by the irrepressible creativity, resilience and warmth of the locals. And while the colonial architecture remains eerily frozen in time and crumbling mansions house families still supported by government-issued food rations, the great shift is most certainly already underway. Contact Indagare's team for help http://www.indagare.com/contact/

Where to Eat

Now, more and more Cubans own businesses like the increasingly popular paladares, family-run restaurants that were illegal until the 1990’s, and which provide an intimate Cuban dining experience. As of late, Havana boasts a thriving art scene, new hotels, bars that would not be out of place in New York or London, and, for the time being, one farm-to-table restaurant. There’s long been a stigma about Cuban cuisine, and while there is a noticeable lack of fresh fruit and produce, and beans and rice dominate many a meal, the up-and-coming dining scene shows some real culinary promise.

Mediterraneo Havana Paladar
Helmed by a Sardinian chef, this paladar grows its own produce, has its own livestock farm and even a private boat for fishing. The ceviche is incredible, and unlike most other restaurants, Mediterraneo has a great variety of greens and fruits. Calle 13 No 406; 53-7-832 4894.

VIP Havana
This bar, complete with a bouncer and models sipping daiquiris, is a hot spot for locals and visitors, who dine on rice dishes and Spanish tapas at communal tables. There is usually a pianist playing classical music, and VIP is opening an outdoor terrace and party space soon. Avenue 9na e/ E y F; 53-7- 832 0178.

El Litoral
Housed in a beautifully restored colonial building on the waterfront, El Litoral serves a menu of Mediterranean-inspired fare and heartier dishes like lamb wrapped in ham. The cocktails are best enjoyed as a pre-dinner drink overlooking the sea. It functions as a café in the morning, serving coffee and pastries. Malecon, No 161 e/Ky L; 53-7-830 2201.

El Cocinero
Set in a former factory (its smokestack still towers as a reminder), El Cocinero is a two-part restaurant and rooftop lounge that attracts Cuba’s newly minted upper classes. Come for dinner in the cozy second-floor dining room then retire to the third-floor open-air bar for mojitos under the stars. The food is delicious and the ambience is hipster cool; this is undoubtedly the hot spot for Havana residents in the know. Calle 26 E/11 y13; 53-7-832 2355.

 

What to See & Do

There has been a recent increase in artistic works inspired by the present economic, social and political condition in Cuba. Three Cuban artists, Alain Pino, Mario Miguel Gonzalez and Niels Moleiro Luis (known as The Merger), are leading this movement and it is worth checking out some of their pieces. Here are a few of the most exciting things happening on the Cuban art scene.

Callejon de Hamel
Salvador Gonzalez leads tours at this art alley where visitors can browse for colorful sculptures and murals—or take in the occasional rumba dance session. The Cuban-born Gonzales creates pieces that fuse surrealism, abstract art and cubism. 1054 Aramburo y Hospital.

Arte y Corte
Owned by Gilberto “Papito” Valladres, this hair salon-cum-art gallery is as much a destination for fashion and creative types as it is for art patrons. The space is dedicated to hairdressing, from a paintings on the subject to the antique scissors that line the wall, and patrons can even opt for a cut by Papito himself. He also runs a community project that has helped revive Calle Aguiar, a nearby alley, with a café and shops. 10 e/Pena Pobre, Ave de las Misiones; 53-7-861 0202.

Fabrica de Arte
Many of Cuba’s most revolutionary and outspoken individuals are the island’s artists, who are revered as celebrities, in accordance with Socialism’s emphasis on intellectual endeavors. Opened by such creatives, this new collective housed in a former factory boasts spectacular rotating exhibitions. It stands as a reminder that we are at an important juncture in Cuban history and reminds of the artists who are leading a cultural revolution. Corner of Calle 26 and 11.

Where to Stay

Many of the things that Western travelers take for granted like reliable hot water, phone service and fitness centers are things that are considered luxuries in Cuban hotels. But an exciting newly renovated opening looks to raise the bar, offering an alternative to the mediocre properties that had once monopolized the hotel scene.

NH Capri Hotel

Formerly known as the Hotel Capri (and owned by Mafia kingpin Meyer Lanksy), the revamped NH Capri reopened in 2014 with a minimalistic style and Spanish ownership. Each of the 250 rooms is done in light green and olive hues and many offer sea views. While its location in downtown Havana makes it convenient for walking along the waterfront esplanade, the hotel is a short taxi ride away from must-sees like the Plaza de Revolucion. One surprising bonus is the free wifi for hotel guests, as most hotels in Havana do not have it. Calle 21 between Calle N and O; 53-7-839-7200.

All images courtesy of Indagare.com

 

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