Our Cuban Bucket List – 9 things you can’t miss out on while in Havana
Cuba has long been a Bucket List classic, and it’s not hard to see why. Still in the midst of a 60-year feud with the US, Cuba’s forced isolation has led it to develop a truly unique culture and way of life. With significant changes to internal economic policy and the death of Fidel Castro in 2016, many feel that Cuba is on the cusp of major change. Travellers are rushing to experience this revolutionary country before it inevitably slides into the 21st century.
Cuba is a charming place, and it’s best experienced through full immersion, so we’ve compiled a list of 9 must-do experiences in Cuba:
Unwind on the Malecón
One of the most iconic features of Havana is its Malecón, a seawall built in the 1900s that stretches along the city’s coast for 5 miles. The Malecón is always a great place to hang out, and it’s at sunset that it really comes alive. Grab a couple of beers or a bottle of rum and install yourself on the sea wall as the sun approaches the horizon. You’ll soon be joined by travelling trovadores with guitars in hand, gaggles of teenagers, canoodling lovers and twilight fishermen.
Have a ride in a vintage motor
It would be a crime to visit Cuba and leave without a ride in one of Havana’s immaculately maintained classic American cars. Whether you’re a fan of motors or not, a ride in one of these stylish automobiles is a rite of passage for any visitor to the island.
Everyone has tried a Mojito, but what about a Daiquiri, a Cuba Libre or a Canchanchara? Cuba’s world-class rum forms the base of many a delicious cocktail, and local prices mean you’ll have little reason to abstain. Cubans pour liberally, so take it easy tiger!
Dominoes is a favourite throughout the Caribbean, and Cuba is no exception. A photo of the aftermath of hurricane Irma in September 2017 shows CubanDominoes devotees sat intently at play with water almost up to their knees. Dominoes is more than just a game and forms an important part of everyday life: every few blocks in neighbourhoods like Centro Habana you’ll find a crowd of men around a square table, keenly following every slap of the domino. Take the opportunity to sit down with a local and learn this deceptively simple game.
Eat “a lo cubano”
Cuba has never been considered a culinary destination, but that’s quickly changing. Cuba’s classic creole dishes of rice and beans, roast pork, fried plantain and tamales are simple but hard to beat. A host of pioneering chefs are taking these traditional dishes and fusing them with cuisines from all over the world with stunning results. However, we think the best meal you’ll have in Cuba is in a local home.
Of course, no trip to Cuba is complete without a little hip swinging. Take a class or two with a local teacher and then try out your moves to the sound of live, home-made salsa.
Biking has a special place in Cuba’s national identity. Back in the 1990s, when Cuba went through a severe economic crisis following the fall of the Soviet Union, the government provided subsidised bikes for university students and many state employees. Nowadays, given somewhat unreliable public transport, bikes are seen as a luxury and are fiercely guarded by their owners. Cubania is proud of its fleet of 350+ bikes and the opportunity it gives our travellers to see Cuba from a local perspective.
Catch some live music and watch some Rumba
Cuba IS music. It’s everywhere you go: reggaeton blaring out of sound systems at street parties, the national anthem floating through school windows as students make their daily promise to be like Che, songs bouncing off faded walls in Havana’s old town. You can be sure that wherever you go in Cuba, a live band playing excellent Cuban music will never be far away.
Cuba is rightly famous for its ballet, but the dance that really captures the essence of cubania is rumba. Developed by African slaves as part of their weekly religious celebrations, rumba is the base of all subsequent Cuban dances. Accompanied by drumming and singing, rumba is at once both playful and moving.
Have a traditional “cafecito”
Cubans are crazy about coffee and when all else fails in this shortage-stricken country, a strong cup of coffee is something you can rely on. Most islanders can’t live without their cafecito – an espresso laced with sugar – and you will almost always be offered one when visiting a local home. Careful how you go, these tiny cups of caffeine pack a punch! Cafecitos are available everywhere in Cuba, but the best place to try one is right on a coffee farm in the mountains.