Neither rum nor cigars. If it were necessary to choose a single icon for Havana, it would be an old car. The ‘almendrones,’ as convertibles from the early 20th century are known, add color to the city while taking tourists to such locales as the Malecón (the city’s large seaside roadway) and Habana Vieja. Riding on the backseat is amazing, but driving one of these old cars, with the wind in your face, controlling the speed, is something else. The experience is usually not allowed to foreigners, since the cars are a historic heritage and you need a special license to drive them.
CULTURAL CENTER Fábrica de Arte Cubano(Calle 26, esquina com 11, Vedado), a multipurpose venue that mixes exhibitions, film, theater and a bar in a revamped oil refinery, is the center of this new Havana. The venue was built in association with the national government, including bars and clubs like the Casa de la Música in Miramar(Calle 20, esquina com 35, Playa/Miramar), the best place to hear a fusion showcasing traditional Cuban rhythms
GASTRONOMIC SCENE Informal restaurants called “paladares” have recently gained some sophistication with the arrival of foreign chefs. Delicious examples are the gastropub Sia Kará(Concordia, entre San Nicolás e Av. Itália, Centro), helmed by a French chef; Atelier(Calle 5, entre Paseo e 2, Vedado), whose chef studied and worked in Lyon, France; and the simple, homey café Arcangelo(Concordia, entre San Nicolás e Av. Itália, Centro), run by a barista trained in Colombia.
DESIGN One of the first local design initiatives is Clandestina(Villegas, 403, entre Teniente Rey e Muralla, Habana Vieja), a shop that produces t-shirts, posters, and cards decorated with catchphrases. Located near Plaza de Santo Cristo (a spot reminiscent of Europe), this store is an essential stop on your tour of contemporary Havana. The owners – two women, one Cuban and one Spanish – have produced a little guide to their favorite places, including great tips like the restaurant 304 O’Reilly(entre Aguiar e Cuba, Habana Vieja) for the best mojito, and El Dandy(Brasil com Plaza del Cristo, Habana Vieja), a lovely café on a corner that’s great for people watching.
Three myths about Havana
GOOD FOOD IS RARE The ingredients are scarce, but chefs work miracles with very little, and restaurants are great.
THE CITY IS CHEAP The basic needs of Cubans are met, but foreigners pay Eurpean prices. A cab ride can cost €10.
THERE ARE FEW HOTELS In recent years, many new hotels have opened – there are even luxury options. Staying with a host family is a local tradition and a good option for those who want to get a closer look to the Cuban culture.
And three truths
THERE'S NO CONSUMERISM Besides souvenir shops and basic government stores, there is nothing to buy in Cuba (this can be very relaxing).
INTERNET IS RARE Hotels and cyber cafés guarantee some connectivity (cable), but communication in Cuba is by landline.
THE MONEY IS DUPLICATED There are two currencies in circulation, the Cuban peso (CUP), worth €0.04, and the convertible peso (CUC), which is traded almost 1:1. Note: you can exchange euros easily, but not U.S. dollars. Credit cards are not accepted. Bring cash.