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An Insider's Guide to Havana

We asked our friend and Cuban native Maria Romeu where to go and what to do in Havana. Maria, who created the first music videos for cuban rock star Carlos Varela, has also just created a new luxury yacht charter service called VIP Yachts. We are so hoping she is going to invite us to enjoy a little floating five star luxury while being shown the real Havana! For those that prefer to stay on land, read below for Maria’s favorites.

Best Hotels in Havana

Below are my top picks for hotels in Havana.

1. Hotel Parque Central, Calle Neptuno, between Agramonte & Prado, Centro Habana, Havana

2. Hotel Saratoga, Prado 603, at Dragones, Old Havana, Havana

3. Hotel Nacional de Cuba, 21 St & O St, Vedado, Plaza, Havana

4. Meliah Habana, 3rd Ave. between 76 y 80 - Miramar, Playa, Havana

NOTE ABOUT HOTELS:  As you may already know, there is a great shortage of hotels in Cuba. Right now, it is hard to get a reservation before 2017. This is one of the great advantages of offering alternative and guaranteed 5-star accommodations on a yacht. Cuba VIP Yachts offers 5-star private, luxury floating accommodations in Cuba.

Best Restaurants

There is a booming culinary scene in Havana.  New restaurants are popping up almost daily. Below is a selection of the newest and some of my personal favorites places.

Breakfast is a challenge in Havana if you are not in a hotel. This is primarily due to the fact that there are no "commercial markets" open before dawn where the restaurateurs/chefs can go to purchase their inventory for the day. There is only one great spot, La Chucheria, with two locations that serves breakfast, and it is a place I personally enjoy going to.

1. La Chucheria - Vedado, 1st St between C y D. Vedado, Havana (+53) 781-839-7908

2. La Chucheria - Miramar, 1st  St  No. 4 at 28th. Miramar, Playa, Havana (+53) 7212 5013

3. 5 Esquinas Trattoria, Habana 104 at Cuarteles, Habana Vieja (try the breakfast special, Sundays only)

4. Habana Vieja, Old Havana

5. Doña Eutimia, Callejón Taller de Serigrafía en la Catedral

6. Los Nardos, frente al Capitolio

7. Delirios, debajo de Los Nardos  frente al  Capitolio

8. Siacara, detrás del Capitolio

Best New Restaurants

Below are the newest and in my opinion, the best restaurants in Havana. Many offer both lunch and dinner, and are located in Old Havana and Vedado, the main neighborhoods for tourism in Havana.

Old Havana

1. Esto no es un Bar, al lado de Doña Eutimia en la Catedral

2. Castropol, Malecón y Cárcel 

3. Café del Oriente, Plaza de San Francisco de Asís

4. Azúcar Café, Encima del Escorial Plaza Vieja

Vedado 

5. El Litoral, Malecón y K - Razones, Calle F e/ 3ra y 5ta

6. Opus Habana, Línea y D

7. La flauta Mágica, Calzada y L en el penthouse

8. Kingbar, 23 e/ C y D Bar 

9. El Sarao, 17 y E Bar

10. Corner Café ( B y 3ra) Bar 

11. Café Presidente ( 25 y G)

12. Wow (25 y L frente al Habana Libre)

13. Mediterráneo, 13 y

14. Gringo Viejo (21 y F)

15. Encuentro ( Línea y L)

16. La Guarida, #418 Concordia, e/ Gervasio y Escobar, Centro Habana.

La Guarida is still “the” Paladar to go to in Havana.The dramatic entrance in La Mansion Camaguey and a drop in by Beyonce and Jay-Z will pretty much keep this family run restaurant on the must-visit list. Order the honey chicken and the ceasar salad which is prepared tableside.

Best Bars

These are some new bars where you can go for cocktails. These spots also present the top music talent in Cuba,here you can catch late-night concerts starting after 10 or midnight. The schedules change daily and are blasted by young promoters texting information to their fan base on a regular basis. There is still a pretty interesting, sort of mysterious and private/vip essence to the whole bar scene in Cuba. You have to know an insider or have people there to really know what's happening after hours….

We offer all types of entertainment to our guests on yacht charters and have locals on the ground consistently giving us updates of where to go.

1. Bar Sara'o (Calle 17 y E Vedado)

2. Bar Kingbar (calle 23 e/ C y D Vedado)

3. Bar Córner Café (calle 3ra y B Vedado)

4. Bar Sangrila (Calle 42 y 21 Playa ) 

 

Best Places to Shop

I personally love to stroll Old Havana where little boutiques in the store fronts of the ancient colonial buildings, seem to pop up all the time.  I usually start in the Plaza de la Catedral and make my way over to the Plaza. Most of the boutiques will feature hand-made macrame clothing or linen "guayaberas".  You might also run into some antique linens and beautiful things made from antique linens.  There are a lot of traditional souvenir stores.

There is an extraordinary and very big market in Old Havana, along the port referred to as the Feria de Artesania de La Habana Vieja.  There you can find everything from little bongos and maracas and cheesy souvenirs....  to original paintings and  beautiful accessories, shoes, handbags, fedoras and clothing, all hand-made by local artisans.

1. Casa de Belkys, Calle 2 #607 e/ 25 y 27 Vedado. – everyone except those with a true love of antiques may be intimidated by the amount of vintage knick-knacks and glassware on display in this Vedado home.

2. Habana 1791, the perfume shop no. 156 corner of Obrapia

Habana 1791 is more than a place to buy perfume. This is a house of fragrances. The beautiful perfume shop-cum-laboratory is located in an 18th-centurymansion in the heart of Old Havana.

3. Alma, Calle 18, #314, entre 3ra y 5ta, Miramar, Boutique.Owner Alexandra Oppmann’s keen eye has curated a selection of local favorites you will want to wear back home, simple necklaces and clever clutches are the things to buy here.

Best place to go for a day trip outside of Havana

I would take a day trip toward the East to the province of Matanzas and drive along the Playas del Este, to the beach towns that border the Caribbean between Havana and Matanzas.  You can stop at Casa Hemingway and see were Ernest Hemingway really lived in Cuba and was inspired to write The Old Man and the Sea,  and see his famous boat, Pilar.

These beach towns offer beautiful white powder sand beaches with mid-century modern homes built on the rolling hillsides that go down to the beach. Overall, the drive to the port city of Matanzas is beautiful.

Overall, the drive to the port city of Matanzas is beautiful. After passing the beach towns, you cross a magnificent bridge over the Yumuri Valley which can easily be a natural wonder.  Past the valley, you reach the city of Matanzas which is architecturally beautiful,the home to museums and other important historic sites and home to the natural caves, Las Cuevas de Bellamar, that offer impressive stalagmite formations, as well as ancient indigenous burial grounds and cave drawings. 

Must-have Souvenir To Bring Back

As cliche as this might sound- Rum.  Bring back rum. And music of course -- you can buy cds almost everywhere.

Must-Pack Before You Go

Cool clothes, comfortable shoes and every toiletry and over the counter medication that you will ever need. Be practical.  Also bring things you might want to give to locals that you meet: tampons, condoms. In fact, be prepared to give a lot away. It's almost impossible to resist once you start making friends.

 

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