Havana, a city of 2.2 million on Cuba’s northwest coast, is the island’s political, cultural and industrial capital. The weathered buildings in Habana Vieja and classic U.S. cars seem like a time warp. The U.S. embargo makes Cuba off-limits to most U.S. citizens, but the island attracts millions of visitors each year.
1. Stroll along the Malecón. A 5-mile (8-kilometer) promenade hugging Havana harbor, the Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) has been called the “heart and soul” of the city. Sunbathe or fish from the boardwalk during the day; join the vibrant, youthful crowd out for a paseo at night.
2. Experience Cuban art. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana (National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana) contains over 1,200 works dating from the colonial period through the late twentieth century. Admission: CUC5. (One Cuban Convertible peso [CUC]=$1.) Closed on Mondays.
3. Relish Havana cuisine. Doña Eutemia (Callejón del Chorro #60C), a paladar (privately owned restaurant) in Old Havana’s Plaza de la Catedral, serves Cuban specialties such as tostones rellenos (stuffed plantains), frituritas de malanga (malanga root fritters) and ropa vieja (shredded steak).
4. Enjoy pre-revolutionary nightlife. Havana’s premier cabaret, Tropicana (Calle 72 #4504 y Línea del Ferrocarril, Marianao) and its open-air Salón Bajo Las Estrellas (Salon Under the Stars) have been thrilling clubgoers since 1939. The pricey tickets (CUC75–95) include rum, cola and a cheap cigar.
5. Step in Papa’s shoes. La Bodeguita del Medio (Empedrado #207 e/ Cuba y San Ignacio) was a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda. Choose the añejo rum over the tourist-priced mojito.
6. Indulge in Cold War Nostalgia. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba (Calle O y 21) served as military headquarters for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and now houses a museum dedicated to the conflict. Head to the hotel bar, La Teraza, for a great view of the Malecón.
7. Sample beisbol. The 60,000-seat Estadio Latinoamericano (Consejero Aranjo y Pedro Pérez, Cerro) is the place to experience Cuba’s favorite sport. Catch a “Super Clásico” grudge match between the Industriales, Havana’s home team, and the Avispas, their cross-island rival from Santiago de Cuba. Price: CUC3-5 for tourist section seating.
8. Sniff a puro. The best Cuban cigar, the 7.5 inch-long “Trinidad” (a favorite of Fidel’s), is made at Fábrica El Laguito (Av. 146 #2302, e/ 21 y 21A, Cubanacán), the home of the Cohiba brand. To schedule a visit, call Tabacuba, the state-run tobacco company.
9. Ride in a 1957 Chevy. Havana is home to one of the world’s largest working collections of classic American cars, which comprise the city’s taxi fleet. Privately licensed since 2009, they are officially off-limits to foreigners—but rides can be booked legally through Gran Car company at $15 per hour or $90 per day.
10. Salsa the night away. The grandson of Buena Vista Social Club’s Compay Segundo carries on the salsa tradition on Monday and Wednesday nights at the Havana Club Rum Museum. Shows start at 9:45 p.m. Price: CUC30.
Watch a slideshow from Havana. All photos courtesy of Diego Ruiz.