Salsa back in time to a city steeped in history, splashed with colour and filled with warmth and intrigue. A trip to Havana really is a must.
A trip to the Cuban capital is a trip back in time. Classic American cars hurtle through the streets honking their horns like musical instruments as the aroma of freshly-rolled cigars wafts through the air. Whether you want to relax supping a mojito, salsa the night away or explore this wonderful Caribbean city, Havana has it all.
When it comes to accomodation, The Sevilla (www.hotelsevilla-cuba.com) is a gem in the heart of Havana. Most rooms overlook the delights of the Habana Vieja (old town), so the location is ideal. The rooms are immaculate and you can watch the sunset as you eat to your heart’s content in the roof terrace restaurant. If you want to soak up the salsa beats of local bands head down to the bar.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba (www.hotelnacional-cuba.com) is a good luxury option. Frequented by celebrities, its elegant appearance inside and out makes it well worth a look.
Check out the Buena Vista Social Club concert and you won’t be disappointed. Dancing in this country is not just a hobby here, it’s a way of life. For a night you’ll never forget, go to the Cabaret Tropicana where the true Cuban spirit is alive and kicking.
For a typically Cuban meal, visit La Bodeguita Del Medio (Empedrado 207 entre San Ignacio y Cuba, La Habana - +537571375). This famous tiny restaurant boasts the best cocktails in town, but it is its the décor that makes this place truly unique. Every inch of the walls is covered in graffiti, and you too will be asked to make your mark. The food is unbelievably cheap and fairly standard. Expect to be serenaded as you eat by Eco Caribe, one of the best bands in town. If you want to sample a traditional dish, try the comida criolla (beans, meat and rice), rounded off with the national tipple mojito, made famous by American writer Ernest Hemmingway.
There are lots of options for getting around Havana. If you fancy a white-knuckle ride with a difference, jump into a cheap and cheerful Coco Taxi. These can only be described as yellow three wheeled eggs that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Inspector Gadget. It's an experience in itself and a great way to navigate the different districts of the city - but it's for the faint hearted!
Rickshaws also line the streets and work on a "name your price" policy. Most of the drivers are young men who only speak Spanish so learning a few simple phrases really helps.
If it’s a guided tour you're after, then the Calezas (horse-drawn carriage) is the most relaxing way to travel through Havana’s narrow and winding streets. You'll ride past some of the most fantastic architecture the city has to offer. You can easily flag one down in the main square or outside the magnificent Capitolia building, which is the focal point of the Habana Vieja.
Our guide Maria told us of the political struggles her country had been through before and after the revolution and that poverty is still rife and food is rationed. She guided us through rows of dilapidated yet beautiful buildings where washing hung from every balcony. Don’t miss the hidden artists’ quarter and the outdoor markets - you'll never see see such an explosion of colour and handicrafts.
Whether you smoke or not, a one-hour tour of the Fabrica de Tobaco Partagas (Belascoain, Esq. A Penaiver, Centro Habana, Tel: +537870 4797537) is another must. Making cigars is regarded as one of the most prestigious jobs in Cuba. It takes nine months of training and, even then, 90 percent don't make the cut. Rows of men and women sit side by side at old-fashioned school desks. They take great delight in demonstrating their work and you’re welcomed with a smile at every work station you pass. There is a chance to buy fresh cigars from the factory. Don’t buy these from street sellers as you may end up puffing on banana leaf rather than tobacco!
No visit would be complete without a classic car tour. Whilst it’s not cheap, it’s worth every peso. A three-hour trip with Gran Car is the way to go. There is no better feeling than whizzing along the seafront in a sparkling red Ford Mercury with the popular local tune Guantanamera booming out of the radio. You'll go from Habana Vieja, past Hemmingway’s favourite haunts to the Plaza de la Revolucion. Stop for a photograph by the iconic outline of Che Guevara at the Interior Ministry.