An Insider's Guide to Cuba: Where to Stay, Eat (Like Jay and Bey) and Chill
As diplomatic relations improve, expect the once-forbidden (to Americans, at least) city to become even more of a cultural and musical epicenter.
On March 6, Diplo's Major Lazer will play a free show for thousands of fans at Tribuna José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Though the past year has seen Katy Perry and Rihanna soak in the art and music scene, the electronic trio will make history as one of the first major U.S. acts to perform in Cuba since diplomatic relations were restored in June following the 1962 embargo. The show comes ahead of Musicabana (May 5-8), the first international festival produced by American and Cuban partners in 30 years -- as well as a free Rolling Stones concert (March 25) and Chanel's Resort show (May 3). Wi-Fi service is limited to Internet cafes and hotels, so don't expect to Instagram anything until you're back stateside. Also be sure to bring cash, as most U.S. credit cards aren't accepted.
HOW TO GET THERE
Americans are still not permitted to travel to Cuba purely for tourism. To go legally, travelers must fall within one of 12 authorized categories (such as research or education) and book through a licensed tour operator who can handle visas. Try Conscious Cuba, which was founded by Francis Harrison of the Rosewood Hotel family, who studied abroad there in 2009 and splits her time between the two countries. Prices vary. Go to consciouscuba.com for more information.
To the right: A Cuban flag hangs downtown. Photographed by Karyn R. Millet
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Nacional Built in the 1930s, it is one of the most iconic and elegant hotels in Havana, with past guests including everyone from Frank Sinatra to Winston Churchill. Rooms start at $153. Calle 21 y O | Vedado, Plaza, hotelnacionaldecuba.com
To the right: The bar at the Hotel Nacional, where the country’s other renowned drink, the mojito, is always ready to be served. Photographed by Karyn R. Millet
Hotel Parque Central Located in the heart of Colonial Havana, the hotel is close to a mix of nightlife and cultural must-sees, and has a 360-degree view of the city from the rooftop pool. Rooms start at $176. La Habana Vieja, hotelparquecentral.com
WHERE TO EAT
La Guarida Book the table for two on the balcony and dig into the nuevo Cuban dishes. Jay Z and Beyoncé swung through the colonial-style home it is situated in when they visited the city in 2013. Prices range from $15 to $30 U.S. 418 Concordia, laguarida.com
To the right: Marble stairs leading to La Guarida, a popular restaurant first made famous in the movie Strawberry and Chocolate. Photographed by Karyn R. Millet
La Fontana A casual spot where local musicians typically grab a bite to eat -- though Rihanna has dropped in, too. It is known for its grilled meats. Prices range from $11 to $30 U.S. Ave. 3ra A & 46, Miramar, Lafontanahavana.info
Bodeguita del Medio It is claimed that Nat "King" Cole, Pablo Neruda and Gabriel García Marquez all spent time at this bar that opened in 1942. One thing is certain: It serves a damn good mojito. Prices range from $3 to $11 U.S. C. Empedrado between Cuba y San Ignacio
BEYOND THE BEACH
La Finca Vijía Take a free tour of Ernest Hemingway's home, where he penned most of For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Finca Vigía Km. 12 1/2, (+53) 791-0809, fincafoundation.org
To the right: Ernest Hemingway’s house, or “finca,” just outside of Havana. Photographed by Karyn R. Millet
Bar Sarao For a night out, visit this club where Cuban music blends with modern hits. Perry, Usher and Ludacris have all stopped by. Prices range from $8 to $14 U.S. Calle 17 between E and F, Vedado. Plaza de la Revolucion
This story originally appeared in the March 12 issue of Billboard.