One of my favorite international trips was to Havana, Cuba, shortly after the U.S. lifted its travel ban to the country in January 2015. What I enjoyed most was taking in the city’s rich Afro-Cuban culture and history. A couple of years ago, President Barack Obama’s administration widely expanded the categories of authorized travel to the Communist island nation, to the point of allowing organized American tours for educational activities.
America set up a trade embargo against the nation in 1960, as a reprimand against former president Fidel Castro’s alliance with the Soviet Union and human rights violations connected to the country’s Communist control. Now, Americans can now enjoy easy access to the country’s rice culture, tasty food, and exciting nightlife. Here are some things to consider for your next trip to one of the oldest cities in North America:
Where to eat
The best restaurants in Cuba arepaladares, which are owned and operated by individuals rather than the state. Some offer a white tablecloth-style experience, others are more cozy and familiar. Where ever you decide to go, make your reservations well in advance and follow up upon your arrival in Cuba: space fills up quickly. Favorite paladares:Doña Eutimia, Paladar Los Mercaderes, El Chanchullero
Where to drink
Cuba has many claims to cocktail fame—the daiquiri, the mojito, the Cuba Libre—and their high temples can be found in Old Havana. El Floridita is one of those spots—the real reason to go is the daiquiri, which was invented there, and is still served up by waiters in red waistcoats. Schedule a tour of the Bacardi rum distillery. But to drink like a local, buy a bottle of rum to share between your table. Favorite watering holes: El Floridita, Sloppy Joe’s, El Mesón de la Flota
What to see If you’re big on museums, you’re in luck: Old Havana has a lot to show off.The Museo de la Revolución, located in the former presidential palace, was once the setting of a failed 1957 assassination attempt on Batista—and there are bullet holes in the stairwell to prove it. Though almost all the exhibits are in Spanish, the pictures and objects tell a compelling story of the Cuban revolution.If you’d rather look at paintings of blood than bloody shirts, the Museo de las Bellas Artes has two buildings of collections—Cuban and international—you can see for the price of a combined ticket. Other sight-seeing destinations:Granma Memorial, Museo de las Orishas
Where to shop While there’s plenty of stuff to buy (and much of it is quite good), there are no grand avenues of stores like Fifth Avenue in New York or the Champs Elysées in Paris. Still, Cuba is justly famous for its rum and its cigars, and it’s worth making an effort to bring a bottle and a box home. The best place to buy rum is…in a duty-free shop in the airport on your way out of the country. A walk along Calle Obispo will also reveal some interesting shops. Other shops to check out:Hostal Conde de Villanueva, Taller Experimental de Gráfica, El Quitrín
For an even more comprehensive guide to visiting Havana this summer, check out this article in GQ.
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