Almost surreally untouched by many of the developments of late 20th-century life, the Cuban capital seduces with its bright vintage car collection, silken mojitos, hypnotic rhythms of salsa, jazz and rumba drifting from the lively street cafés and smoky clubs, palm-lined avenues, and its wide variety of architectural styles.
From dramatic Baroque buildings of Habana Vieja to the Neoclassical villas of Vedado and elegant Art Deco and Art Nouveau structures throughout the city, Havana is without a doubt one of the most inspiring cities I have ever visited in all my travels across the globe.
Romantically decaying, Havana’s houses, which range from cobalt blue, banana-leaf green, and chocolate brown to sun-bleached yellows and soft pinks, exude retro charm and immediately capture one´s attention.
Did you know for a time the Cuban capital had the highest standard of living of any Caribbean city? Mid-century Havana was an entertainment hub for wealthy Americans and celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Ava Gadner or Marlon Brando. Decades have passed since those glory days, however, you can still revive that glamorous past and enjoy this captivating city like there was no tomorrow!
For a taste of Havana’s true spirit La Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, is the place to be. We stayed for three days in Casa Betty which was located right in the colonial heart of the city, and it was definitely the best idea.
Seemingly frozen, La Habana Vieja is certainly a photographer´s paradise. With a Panama hat, we walked the ramshackle streets to discover the sexiest bars, art studios and cigar lounges. At every corner, spectacular facades come into sight, each more fascinating than the last.
One night, we visited the famous Buena Vista Social Club for an evening of salsa dancing with our Colombian friends. It was such a fabulous night with glasses of dark rum or mojitos—the Cuban drink made of rum, lime, sugar, and mint- flowing every now and then. Believe me when I say I haven’t partied like this in ages!
Another beautiful Casa Particular in Central Havana became our happy home for two days. We had a reservation for dinner in the famous paladar La Guarida, so this lovely private house was ideal for us since it was just round the corner.
It was absolutely delightful, after a long day exploring, to sit on the balcony while enjoying a welcome home Cuba Libre- a classic Cuban cocktail based on Havana Club rum and Coca-Cola.
Famous by the 1993 Oscar nominated-film Fresa y Chocolate, the fabulously dilapidated Colonial building that now hosts the well-known paladar La Guarida is a favorite choice among professional photographers. Bright and airy, with elegant, colonial interiors and buzzy atmosphere, having dinner here is absolutely a must!
We came to this impressive paladar several times to capture with our camera every detail and enjoy the imperfectly perfect city from the balcony on the first floor. At the grand entrance, there is an interesting hand-painted revolutionary speech that joins a headless statue.
I´ll never forget the night we dined here. We were seated on the terrace which was even more romantic!
Sunset at El Malecón
Stretching from the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta to the Almendares River, the four-mile long esplanade and seawall is where lovers come to admire the sunset over the bay. We loved coming here to relax with the cool night’s breeze coming in from the sea.
We would sit on the sea wall along the elegant curve of Malecón, open a can of Bucanero beer, and have a friendly chat with the fishermen as countless Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Chevrolets, Studebakers, even Cadillacs passed us by.
A Must Do Experience
We couldn´t leave Havana without taking one of those pastel 1950’s convertibles that cruise through Centro Habana, Vedado, Nuevo Vedado and Miramar districts. Our chauffeur was so amazing that we ended up booking another tour for the following day. He even took us to the airport the last day to say goodbye to our beloved Havana in style!!
The Perfect Cocktail
Mercure Sevilla Hotel
The Patio Sevillano of this legendary hotel in Old Havana is ideal for some cocktails and live music. Apparently, Al Capone and his mob lived on the 6th Floor of the hotel whilst looking after their ‘business’ interests in the city!
Evoking a bygone era, this legendary Havana bar is considered the birthplace of the daiquiri. The ambiance at La Floridita is like no other in the Cuban capital.
Interestingly, the daiquiri recipe is exactly the same as it was 100 years ago when the cocktail was invented. Following Nobel prize-winning Ernest Hemingway´s footsteps, we grabbed a stool and listened to one of the many great live bands that play here as we sipped our cocktails.
Hotel Saratoga’s Bar Mezzanine definitely became our heaven during our trip. Every night, we would settle down in our favorite chair and get the best Piña Colada on Earth!
While government-owned hotels are certainly a good option, a family hotel -or Casa Particular as they’re called in Cuba- offers a unique cultural experience. You’re guaranteed to receive a great hospitality, and the best home-cooked breakfast.
It was a short stay, just three days, but enough for us to fall in love with this lovely gem of a Casa particular on Calle Cristo 12. Betti and her adorable family made us feel like home as soon as we stepped onto the amazingly beautiful tiled floor. The pastel pink walls and mid-century furnishings give the property a unique twist of flavors.