10 “to do’s” to experience Havana like a Cuban: Give ’em a shot!
The city that never sleeps is always in the spotlight, whether it’s for culture, dinning, sports, party, Havana can please you. Wherever you go there’s always something more than meets the eye. Forget the excuses, come and let Havana be your guide.
Here are 10 experiences to enjoy the city like a Cuban. Give’ em a shot!
Ride an “Almendron” like a Cuban
Once in this eclectic city, home of delightful contrasts seems like a terrific idea to ride in an “Almendrón” (Cuban slang for 1940s, 1950s American cars), hard top or convertible, your choice, whichever suits you it’s an original way to get around. For us Cubans it’s the day to day but when you stop for a moment and think about it’s somewhere in the middle of surreal and travelling back in time. Sometimes we can hop on exemplaries that look as if time had stood still, with their original engines and sometimes even the original stereo. In others it’s a mix of modern ingenuity in balance with a relentless past, anyhow it’s something that you won’t see elsewhere in these massive numbers, that’s the reason we say that Havana is a rolling museum. Almendrons are Cubans’ everyday taxis. With fixed routes, for only 10 Cuban pesos each ride you will be able to roll along Havana like a Cuban.
Embrace live culture at “Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC)”
This place pays tribute to its name (Factory of Art) from the bottom of its heart. Located in an old cooking oil factory which was transformed into a wondrous thing where there are loads of art choices. This carefully assembled singularity is able to entertain you for hours.
For music lovers there’s a lot of alternative live or recorded music, for other art lovers there is an art gallery with different expositions every three months, runways, theatre plays, movie projections, etc. It’s a place that no matter where you set your sight on you’ll find a piece of art because it’s alive.
The difference to other places is that when you step inside you feel as though you’ve entered a living organism, in constant motion for individual interpretation.
This kind of place is precisely on the other end of a franchise, even if its creators wanted they wouldn’t be able to replicate it, it’s impossible, not only because of its setting, but most importantly because of the feeling.
You can grab a bite in different spots but for fine cuisine lovers there’s a fascinating restaurant in the premises and for cocktail fans there are various selling points in which to enjoy a Mojito, Cuba Libre and others.
Ask local legend “La Milagrosa” for a favor
Behind the most visited tomb in the impressive “Colón Cemetery” lies one of the most powerful legends in the city. Believers and non-believers alike peregrinate to this non-institutionalized spontaneous popular cult.
A story of the purest love and suffering constitutes the basis. In the late 19th century after fighting for their love José Vicente Adot Rabell finally married his childhood sweetheart Amelia Goyri de la Hoz, only to see her and their newborn die in 1901 due to childbirth complications. After her passing his love remained so strong that he would visit her grave every day, little did he now that against his will he was starting one of the most strongly rooted traditions in Havana.
The fact that according to the legend, when her body was exhumed in 1904 and she was found with her baby in her arms instead of in her feet as she allegedly was buried, boasted the ritual to unsuspected levels.
The rite consists in saluting her sculpted image by sounding one of the four shackles on her tomb, touching the bottom part of her statue and going around the grave petitioning your wishes and most importantly never turning your back on her image.
It’s been declared National Monument and she has been adjudicated great miraculous powers to the extent that a lot of people have asked the Catholic Church to canonize her.
She is renowned for making practically lost causes come true, you can ask her for anything although she is mostly visited by pregnant women or those that are about to give birth, in search of hope or in appreciation.
Cross the bay in “la lanchita de Regla/Casablanca”
In the well-known “Alameda de Paula” promenade in Old Havana there’s a beautiful docking station in the form of a crystal cube where locals catch a ferry on a daily basis. Destinations are the neighbourhoods of Casablanca or Regla across the bay of Havana. Riding in one of these gives you a different perspective of the city because you get access to a frame of the old blending with the new. The infrastructure around the bay qualifies as a perfect scene to take pictures.
If you choose to go to Casablanca you’ll be able to visit a statue of Jesus Christ of about 20 metres tall on top of a hill overlooking the bay, safeguarding Havana. Here you can also have gorgeous views of the city and immortalize it with your camera lenses.
In case you decide to go to Regla you’ll have the option of visiting the church of “La Virgen de Regla” a virgin that was brought to Cuba by the Spanish.
She’s been declared Patroness of the Bay and Port of Havana as she is associated with the sea and the safeguard of sailors. She is an object of worship by Havana residents and her sanctuary is situated across the port.
Taste a World Champion Cocktail
We don’t always come across the opportunity to savour a World Champion Cocktail admired by many in its cradle, made by the person who fathered it; “Adan y Eva” is its name.
Right on the corner of 23 and L streets in the Vedado area stands one of the city’s grandest architectural icons, The Tryp Habana Libre Hotel, right on the spot where life beats hard and strong.
After looking at it there’s no resisting coming inside to a lobby full of space, style and elegance. Once in you look at the bar and there he is! Sergio Ramírez adding those magical drops of Campari, 2 centilitres of apple liquor, 2 more of white vermouth and 4,5 of Havana Club 7 years aged rum, 15 more seconds of assembly, you taste it and its pure bliss.
Watch a baseball game at Latino stadium
Baseball in Cuba is not a sport, it’s a religion, in the case of Havana the famous “Latino Stadium” is the headquarters of the capital’s team “Industriales”. This colossus has hosted uncountable national and international matches and it’s a place that more than one fan calls it home. When we go inside it’s like walking into a lively church, there’s no middle ground, you wear your team’s shirt (in the case of Havana’s team it’s blue) you sit behind your team’s bench and you scream and shout, play the drums, blow the Chinese trumpet (an instrument inherited from the Chinese community in Cuba) or just simply make some noise in order to bring your opponent down; all in a friendly and camaraderie filled environment; it’s a game and a party at the same time.
Pilgrimage to San Lázaro shrine on December the 17th
In the outskirts of Havana sits a shrine of which all Havana inhabitants know about and that is the church of “San Lázaro”. His physical representation is of a man dressed in purple accompanied by dogs who is said to possess miraculous powers as answers to your prayers. When visiting on the 17th of December (day of his celebration) you should be prepared to see dramatic displays of faith in retribution for his generosity i.e. there is a tradition of people asking him for certain things which can go from healing a relative to asking for a home. People promise to perform certain acts when these wishes come true and in religious discipline they compensate his assistance. Promises can go from handing him a cigar to walking barefoot from your house to his shrine, depending on the complexity of your wishes.
Play frontenis at Santa María beach
Frontenis is one of the most popular sports in Havana; you can find a court basically everywhere and even on the beach. The courts in Santa María beach are home of street championships where participants give their all.
Once you get the hang of it it’s potentially addictive, all you need is a tennis racquet, a frontenis ball and the three wall court.
Beach umbrellas, crystal clear blue waters, white sands, deck chairs, cafeterias, and friendly locals are the perfect complements after a few matches.
Dance salsa at 1830 club
The perfect answer for the perfect question of: Where to dance salsa in Havana? Locals will definitely say it’s got to be 1830! This restaurant turns into a dance floor every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. It’s where you have to be in case you want to move those hips with the aggregate of listening to great Cuban salsa music.
First, there’s an opening show where you can see the inventors of the Casino! (Cuban way of dancing salsa) Something that’s at the core of our nationality. They dance in couples as well as in a circle while they exchange partners, something truly original and worth watching. After that it’s your turn to show what you got!
Listen to national Rock bands at the Yellow submarine
Situated on the corner of 17 and 6 streets in the Vedado neighbourhood, next to John Lennon Park there’s a nightclub decorated as a yellow submarine on the outside and themed the same way on the inside. This place is a tribute from the heart to the famous British group; the Fab Four would feel at home here.
It’s a very popular venue for rock fans in Havana where national rock bands play their best tunes. Rock is international but as with many other things in Cuban life local bands have made rock their own, so be prepared to listen to good rock with Cuban flavour, they all carry a stamp that says “made in Cuba”.