Passport to Havana, Cuba

Posted March 30, 2017 by Nora Handsher

It’s nearly impossible to avoid the allure of Cuba’s capitol city, Havana. This once forbidden city (for Americans, at least) is one of the most culturally vibrant places in the world. There is no shortage of things to see, do, hear, and eat in Havana. Senses, prepare! Grab your passport and dancing shoes: here’s our guide for the city that has us head over heels. ¡Vamanos!

GO during the cooler months of November-April. It’ll be much more comfortable exploring the streets in the milder, dryer season. Hoping for some Vitamin D? No problem. The weather is still warm enough to lounge.

STAY in a casa particular, a true Havana home. Book a taste of old Havana in the Hostal Chez Nous. This small casa has interiors that are decorated with colonial-style furniture. Enjoy the private terrace with coffee and a book for a perfect morning. If you’re looking for more luxe, try Hotel Saratoga. The hotel was built in the 30’s and is a mix of colonial style charm and modern amenities. It’s centrally located, within walking distance of many must-see sights. Plus, Beyonce and Jay-Z stayed there during their trip in 2013. What’s good enough for Queen Bey is most certainly good enough for us!

EAT pollo luna de miel (chicken flambéed in rum) and lamb brochettes at the exquisitely charming La Esperanza. A true don’t miss! This restaurant is run out of a private home with a vine-covered exterior and an eclectic interior of antique furniture, portraits, and 1940’s furnishings. Also, be sure to eat at the magical La Guardia. You’ll enter into a run down (but oh-so-charming) mansion and ascend two flights of stairs to the restaurant. Once inside, you’ll notice the high ceilings, large balcony doors, and formal decor. Try the signature eggplant caviar and fresh ceviche.

PACK casual attire. The city has a laid back, yet energetic vibe, so dress accordingly. Shorts, dresses, and sleeveless tops are all appropriate. Get into the spirit with any frock bright and ruffled from Johanna Ortiz and statement earrings à la Rebecca de Ravenel. You’ll be ready to hit the dance floor and baila the night away in this ensemble. Get made in the shade with an oversized straw hat. We love this one from Sophie Anderson. Bring a travel clutch for easy packing and toting the essentials from day to night.

SEE the Jardin Botanico Nacional for a exploration of exotic tropical plants, get a history lesson at the Museo de la Revolucion, and visit a national treasure, the Partagas Cigar Factory. Get to the top of a building or two for great views and stellar photo ops. We recommend the Bacardi Building and the Jose Martí Memorial. Then walk the streets of Old Havana – the romantic architecture, vintage cars, and palpable energy will bring you back to another era.

SHOP for cigars at Casa Del Habano. This is a mecca for cigar connoisseurs and worth the trip even if you don’t have the intention of buying anything. Next to one of the city’s best photography galleries is Fototeca de Cuba, which sells photography exclusively by Cuban artists.

READ Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten for a quick and captivating history lesson through the narrative of the Bacardi family. Havana Nocturne is another historical non-fiction page turner chronicling the mafia’s long and intimate relationship with the island. Get inspired by the architecture of the city in Havana Modern, take a master class in Cuban cigars with Havana: Legendary Cigars, and explore the streets and people of the city with Havana.

Buen viaje!

These storied facades line the Havana streets with the mystery of what was and what’s inside today.

A tarot card reader – one sign of the mix of traditional religions with Catholicism.

Walking up the steps to a third floor restaurant, a view into the old-glory of the second story of this building.

A view from the top.

The beach isn’t far if you can find a car to get you there… or just stroll along the dramatic Malecón.

The downtown hustle.

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