This week’s announcement of American Airlines flights from the US to Cuba, all ports EXCEPT Havana, has the internet abuzz and the preverbal credit card swiping across the country. For many Americans, Cuba is unchartered territory being that the US government forbade travel to Cuba for tourism 53 years ago. In fact, though diplomatic tensions have been eased, tourism is still banned as it is not one of 12 reasons that the US Government allows its citizens to visit a neighbor that is less than 100 miles from our shores.
With that being said, I visited Cuba last month for journalistic reasons and below I have listed five things to do in Cuba on your first visit.
1. Roam the streets of Old Havana
Habana Vieja or Old Havana is as enchanting in person as it is in pictures. Roaming the streets of the city will leave you picturing the olden days when the now rotting buildings were newly built and Ernest Hemingway enjoyed mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio. A key to enjoying the day is to just go with the flow and turn down random streets. The beautiful people of Cuba are very kind and it will allow you a chance to brush up on your Spanish.
2. Take a ride in a vintage American car
In all of the pictures you’ve seen of Cuba, one thing that is always present are the old American cars. Riding around Havana and along the Malecon in one of these will make you feel as if you’re going back in time. It is easy to get a ride whether you are doing a city tour in a well maintained convertible or flagging down a taxi for a quick ride to dinner. They also make for great props in what will be your “I was in Cuba” picture! Warning: many of them do not have air conditioning so prepare for a hot ride!
3. Have dinner at La Guarida
Havana has many delicious restaurants to choose from and La Guarida is one of the top choices. Nestled on the third floor of a beautiful yet aged multifamily building in Old Havana. The food and atmosphere is absolutely exquisite so whether you choose to have a drink at sunset at their rooftop bar or enjoy the extensive menu for a special meal in the capital La Guarida is the perfect choice. I recommend the tuna tartare appetizer and beef tenderloin entree.
4. Cigars and Havana Club
Havana Club rum and freshly hand-rolled cigars, what more do you need? While in Cuba my blood was filled with Havana Club, a national staple that is cheap and delicious. Whether you choose to sip an aged rum or top off a mojito on the beach, Havana Club is a great option. To go to Cuba and not smoke a cigar seems to be a crime, be sure to take at least one puff. And to go one step further, take a trip to Vinales and visit a small tobacco farm to learn how cigars are made first hand.
5. Enjoy the beach
Cuba, first and foremost, is a Caribbean island so that means enjoy the beautiful and warm waters of the Caribbean sea! If you are looking for a beach close to Havana, Playa Santa Maria is beautiful and filled with local people, for now. Just a short 20 minute drive from Central Havana it easily makes for a great day trip.
Have you been to Cuba before? What do you recommend?