Before visiting Cuba I knew we were not going to get a lot of gourmet food; there is a restriction on trade and spices are restricted. I wanted to also stick to local food and enjoy their cuisine.
Now that I have been I know that the food in Cuba is basic and if you are vegetarian you will struggle. We quickly worked out the best meals were the simple dishes.
Street snacks like the one below are tasty and cheap; this one tasted like fried pastry with a light sugar dusting and was 1 CUC.
In terms of drinks I knew that rum based cocktails would be the best to have because Havana Rum is produced in Cuba and the locals know what works with it.
I was looking forward to having endless Mojitos because they apparently have a special ingredient in them (different type of mint) and Cuban Mojitos are well known. I was a bit disappointed with all the Mojitos I had ; they did not have sugar in them or if they did the sugar was at the bottom and did not melt which made them taste strong and not sweet. This was perfect for those who do not like a sweet cocktail.
The best cocktail I had was their Pina Colada. The fresh pineapple and coconut made them taste really nice. Another famous cocktail is their daiquiri; in Cuba this is always served frozen.
Being a tropical country I was expecting a lot of exotic fruit. Apart from papaya and guava we did not have anything different. Every piece of pineapple I had was sour and not sweet and juicy; it may be that January was not the best season for them.
In Cuba you with get state owned restaurants or private ones known as paladares. The latter tend to be the better ones.
Restaurants/places we ate
- Lobster at Casa Victor: Just off the Cathedral square there are a lot of locals touting for business. We saw a couple of deals for 12CUC that included Lobster, a drink, rice and some salad. We thought that was a bargain and chose to go for it. The meal was average and we didn’t realise that you have to pay 10 percent tip and 10 percent charge for the table (a historic charge) so in total the bill for two of us was 33 CUC. Apparently Lobster is a dish you find in many local homes and you can get it for 3 CUC if you know where to go. We did not have any luck with that. Also if it is a dish the locals have it surely should taste better?
- Churros: these are deep fried and sugar coated and taste lovely. The ones we had were 0.75 CUC at San Ignacio, really close to the chocolate museum. If you can’t find it, ask someone. They are freshly made and just melt in your mouth.
- Los Nardos: This is a lovely Spanish restaurant that the locals visit. It’s opposite the Capital building, is candlelit and has a pianist in the evenings. The queues are long and you cannot reserve however it’s worth it. In the evenings they have some singers outside entertaining customers waiting. Portion sizes are big so don’t order too much. Their tropical Sangria is one of the best I have tried. This restaurant has a sister restaurant with the same menu next to it and you can get a table pretty quick however the atmosphere is not the same. http://losnardos.restaurantwebexperts.com/
- Local pizza: You will come across a few take away pizza places. We went with one where we saw locals queuing. They pizzas are stone baked and freshly prepared. The pizza we had was tasty and supposed to be only 1 CUC but because we paid in coins it was 2 CUC. The server said it was because private places do not accept coins? It was still good value for us. **TIP: Carry 1 CUC change and notes.
- Restaurant Van Van: This is a lively restaurant/casa. They have a band playing, the staff are friendly and the food and drinks are cheap. This is where we had the best pina coladas at 2.70 CUC. You can stay here too but I imagine it will be quite noisy until midnight.
- Cafe O’Reilly: This cafe has got great ratings on trip advisor. It is great for coffee and a light bite to eat. We had some chicken and it was OK. I think it is probably better for a light snack and coffee. My cappucino was a bit strong for me but would be perfect for coffee lovers. It is a good place to sit on the balcony and people watch.
- La Bodequita de Medio is a nice little bar full of signatures however it is a tourist trap. At the bar you can see their framed Hemingway signature and all many other signatures that have built over the years. It is a good place to get some of Hemingway’s history.
- Hotel Ambos Mundos: This is where Hemingway stayed for a lot of his time in Havana. You can visit his room for 5 CUC. The hotel itself has lovely features and has the original caged lift to take you to the roof top bar. Apparently when the nearby buildings were developed the hotel view from the top was blocked so they had to add an extra section. From the bar you can get a good aerial view of Havana.http://ambos-mundos.havanahotelsonline.com/en/
- El Floridita: this bar was one of the many hangouts for Hemingway. It is a tourist trap. It gets really busy and there is no queue system. We waited for about 15 minutes and walked out. Locals say the drinks are over priced and nothing special. It is better going to a local bar.http://www.floridita-cuba.com/
- Juices: On OBishop street, they have a sugarcane juice (1 CUC) stand which was amazing and cheap. On the same street they also have a coconut stand which sells. The coconut water (2 CUC) was tasty and pulp was delicious.
Getting around, Tours and shows
- Buena Vista Social Club: This show plays 50’s music and some classics from the original band. They have various artists singing on the night and a couple of salsa dancers. We paid 30 CUC each and with that you get three alcoholic drinks. The show lasts about two hours and starts at 930pm. We arrived before nine and were seated right at the back with another couple.
From here you could barely see anything. I tried to get moved in front but was told the space was for bigger groups. If you are going to this show, try and get there earlier and make sure you sit in front by the bar/stage. I think if you buy the package with food for 50 CUC you get better seats or maybe if you book via another company they may have a deal with the club? We went directly to the club and bought our tickets.
The singers and dancers move around the room however not that much.
This is a tourist place. I wish I had gone to a local bar that had a local band on with some salsa.http://www.buenavistasocialclub.com/
- Walking Tours: The only way you will be soak up some Cuban culture is stay away from the tourist spots. Try and do a walking tour or create a walk for yourself. Check out my previous post on Cuba for some of the handy apps you can use for self guided tours.CUBA; Handy tips before you go We came across so many little shops on every street, some probably the smallest and cheapest shops we have every seen. E.g we walked past a nail salon that charged 1 CUC for file and polish. Walking around allows you to get a true flavour of Havana and the local lifestyles.
We used strawberry tours for a couple of the walking tours we went on. The tours are free; you just give the tour guide what you think the tour was worth at the end of the night. https://strawberrytours.com/havana . Don’t bother with the night one. There was no in site into Cuban night life and we went to bars with no atmosphere. The day time one was great.
- Half day city tour: As part of our holiday package we got a half day city tour where we were able to get an idea of the key sights to see. This tour was in a coach that had both Spanish and English speaking (2 of us) people on board. We were the minority and it did feel like the guide spent ages talking in Spanish and translated briefly what she said in seconds. She was still helpful when we asked questions however I think it would have been better if there were more English speaking customers on board. As part of the tour we went to the Morro Cabana Historical Military Park. https://www.tripcuba.org/morro-cabana-hisotrical-military-parkI would recommend doing this on your first day so you can go back and walk to the sites you want to explore further. Apparently this tour is around 20 CUC per person.
- Classic cars: These are easily available. We went on one and it was a pleasant drive but the guide knew little English so gave us limited information. Don’t pay more than 30 CUC for an hour. You can smell the pollution coming from the car; the engines are old and modified making them less efficient. This is one of the reasons the pollution is so high in Havana. The cars are lovely to look at and maybe sit in for a tourist photo.
Hope you enjoyed reading my post. If you are going to Havana, hope you find some of this information useful.
Read my other posts on CUBA and Havana: