ONE. Take a long walk through Old Havana then book a convertible car tour for the rest of the time.
It’s nice to do one or the other of these activities but experiencing them both gives you the best overall feel for how a day in the life of a Havana local goes. While you walk through Havana, you get to discover some staples in the city, like café Escorial where you can find the best cafecito in Havana or walk a little further to the rooftop café at hotel Ambos Mundos for some pretty sick views of Havana.
TWO. Visit a local beach
There are a few pristine beaches that are worthy of their popularity amongst travelers but they don’t capture the festive tranquility that Cubans love so dearly, there are no major neighboring hotels or tons of tourists running through, just the ocean, pina coladas, salsa and good vibes. The local beach we were brought to was called Mar Azul, maybe only known by few travelers but definitely loved by many locals. This beach is also only a short drive from Havana.
THREE. Book a taxi or tour guide to take you to Vinales
Just a 2.5 hour ride from Havana, there you can visit tobacco fields and learn about the cigar making process then ride a horse through the valley for some unparalleled views. This was a beautiful experience, it is a bit of a hike to get here from Havana but worth the trip! Horse back riding through the valley, eating a feast at the top of a farm, witnessing the process of tobacco being turned into cigars is all part of the beauty that the Vinales holds. Along the way you’ll get to see more of Cuba, and ride past some small towns you may have never even heard of. This is truly a great way to experience Cuba outside of Havana!
FOUR. Find a concert or salsa club nearby and dance the night away
There are TONS of places to go in Havana for a great night of music and salsa dancing but there are two spots in particular where we had the time of our lives. One of these is El Diablo Tun Tun, a small venue with a stage that has live music and endless Havana Club rum flowing, you’ll enjoy the lively band as they play new and old salsa hits and even some non salsa songs that you’’ll love. Another location loved by locals for all the right reasons.
The second is 1800 club. Now this is a party, the band is electric and can get everyone in that area tapping their feet or moving to the music. There is an uplifting aura to this place that puts a smile on your face as soon as you walk in. Located outdoors and near the water, it is the perfect location for a night of drinks, laughs and salsa.
FIVE. Try something new on the menu
There are several authentic Cuban foods that people may not be familiar with but are in fact beyond your wildest taste buds. For a starter, try croquetas! These fried pastries can be filled with anything from cheese, to chickpeas, to jelly, to beef. Whatever the case, they are mouth watering and perfect in every way. For your entrée, try Ropa Vieja (Old clothes), its given its name because its shredded pork but don’t let the name fool you, it’s a classic Cuban dish that will keep you coming back for more.
SIX. Visit Varadero beach!
This isn’t a locals beach, you’ll find many tourists here but it’s for a reason, this beach is absolutely gorgeous. The waters are bluer than a smurf and the sand is nearly white. There is a hotel surrounding and several shops and a restaurant, making it the perfect day trip away from Havana. Don’t skip the chance to visit one of the Caribbean Islands best beaches!
SEVEN. Do as the locals do
Do not ever make it known that you are not comfortable with normal customs in Cuba or that you think something is weird or unusual. Keep in mind this is their everyday life and they think you’re not normal for not doing the same. For example, when you go out bring toilet paper. It is very often that you’ll find a bathroom attendant offering paper for a tip, you can either bring your own or continually tip the kind attendant. Some toilets also don’t flush and there could possibly be a big bucket nearby where you’ll have to fill with water and pour into the toilet to manually flush it. Remember, this is normal to them. Don’t express your confusion or dislike to anyone but yourself. You’re submerging yourself in their culture, not the other way around.
EIGHT. Support local family businesses
There are tons of amazing restaurants in Havana to enjoy, but there are some paladares (family owned restaurants) that are out of this world. Try to eat at a few of these, they tend to have better cuisine and help support the families of Cuba who have worked their tails off to get to where they are. In an economy that doesn’t exactly make it easy for many to be independent business owners, that support from travelers goes a very, very long way.
NINE. Take the time to really learn about the culture and its history
There has to be an understanding that Cuba isn’t just about cigars and vintage cars. There is a lot, I mean a lot of history there. Check out some of these historical sites like El Castillo de los Tres Reyes where you can explore the castle once used to guard the entrance to Havana or Hemingway’s favorite café on top of his favorite hotel, Ambos Mundos. There you can see his works and pics of him throughout the halls and experience history.
TEN. Visit FUSTERLANDIA
This is a hidden gem that not many travelers know about. It is a large area, almost an entire town, (Jaimanitas) that is covered in beautiful mosaics. It all began with artist Jose Fuster, with the inspiration coming from Gaudi’s Park Guell, Fuster began to breather life into the small town with his beautiful artwork and began to transform his home into a mosaic museum, covering every inch with beautiful, vibrant pieces that tell a story. It is free to enter the house and explore Fusterlandia and just a short drive from downtown Havana. Do not pass up this opportunity, many leave Cuba without even knowing of its existence but it’s too beautiful not to share.