Cuba is the place to go. When? NOW! I’m sure you’ve heard the buzzword phrase “I have to go before it changes!” Well, that’s probably true! It’s affordable (for now), culturally rich, and the people and food are amazing. Most importantly, you CAN still go to Cuba! For Americans reading this, I repeat: It’s OK to visit Cuba! Even with Trump’s new restrictions, a full tour is not the only way to do it. There are many options that are cost-effective and flexible on the ground in Cuba. Reach out to a specialist for advice, compare options, read the regulations, talk to friends who have gone, but ultimately, go ahead and go. It is worth it!
Arriving to Havana & settling into Habana Vieja (Old Town) was at first an assault on my senses. It is crowded, much hustle & bustle, extremely loud & overall quite a contrast to my countryside home I had left in Maui, Hawaii. Actually, after 3 weeks here I was still not acclimatized to the amount of people & traffic, the extreme hot & humid weather (of all the months I had to pick July!). That said, I found my havens & an oasis here & there. Many were on the rooftop bars where one can lounge around & sip pina coladas from full hallowed out pineapple shells & watch the sunset while listening to an amazing live salsa band or DJs. Others, were restaurants that offer AC, wi-fi & occasionally the rare vegetarian food options that were hard to find in Cuba. Music, is of course our main focus here at Remix The Earth. Below you will find the best music & nightlife options in Havana. In Habana Vieja it’s incredibly easy to find live music from noon to 11pm as its spilling out of all the tourist restaurants & bars, local dives & on the streets every few blocks, but generally it’s the same salsa over & over….& over. After the 5th day of that, I went looking for something else. Below we will give you more options including a weekly Rumba street party not to be missed, a weekly DJ rooftop bar night with two up & coming female House DJs I had the honor of sharing the stage with, and more!
“Access to culture was a principal pillar of the communist system Fidel Castro installed in Cuba. Theatre and dance were given to the masses for almost nothing. Spilling out of cafes and blasting from cars, music is a backdrop to daily life in Cuba. On weekends, plazas are crammed with bands and dancers showing off their salsa moves.” (National Geographic)
“Among younger generations, the music scene has taken a turn toward house and electronica. When Major Lazer played a show in Havana in 2016, half a million people showed up. Underground DJs like Joan Coffigny and the female duo Pauza spin at clubs like the Fabrica Arte Cubano and house parties. Havana’s first independent electronic music studio was started by DJ Ra. But a lack of basic supplies introduces new twists for the island’s innovators: a few summers ago recording artists found the island had run low on CDs.” (National Geographic)
:: Music Scene ::
Fabrica de Arte Cubana, aka F.A.C. – Location: Off Linea Ave in Vedado barrio of Havana. This place is very impressive! Fabrica de Arte is essentially a music venue, art gallery, and bar that is all built inside of an old olive oil factory. It has two floors plus an additional back area made from cargo containers. On the first floor is a bar, artwork and a live band playing, and upstairs is more art, a room where DJ’s & bands play, and a back area where an indie film is playing on a massive screen. Out back is a patio where most people lounge and hang out, then back downstairs out back is a little “food truck” type thing made from one of the cargo containers with modern Cuban cuisine. If you continue walking past that you’ll see another bar, & then you’ll pass through the doors that lead into the nightclub area where there’s more live music & tons of people dancing every Thursday-Sunday night. It’s a must-see for every nightlife lover! Only 2 C.U.C. (about $2.10usd) cover charge any night & cheap drinks makes it super affordable for most people. Great mix of locals & travelers.
EF3 – Location: Calle 23 y Calle F, Vedado, Havana. Open til 3am. This bar became a frequent stop for me & my local friends. They consistently have amazing live bands, DJs accompanied by latin percussionists & a mix of travelers & locals. I saw a great band that had an original style of Latin, Funk, Hip-Hop fusion play one night. No cover charge.
Roma – Location: Calle Augacate 162, Habana Vieja. This rooftop bar has DJ’s spinning tunes 7 nights a week. It’s kind of a secret gem as it’s a bit tricky to find with no sign down below. There is an old elevator & man that will guide you up to the bar, kind of like a speakeasy from the old days. They are the only bar that plays music until about 3am, & this is perhaps why it’s a secret, as Habana Vieja has laws for music stopping at 11am. Rebels in a rebel country!
Flauta Magica – Location: Directly across from the American Embassy is a blue condo. On the 10th floor of that, the penthouse suite, lies a restaurant & rooftop bar with an amazing sunset view of the Malecon Oceanside. Every Sunday from 4pm-Midnight features the female DJ duo Pauza, comprising of Zahira Sanchez and Paula Fernandez. The pair have attracted devoted fans that follow their shows across Havana. Styles of music = mostly Deep House, Minimal House, House music in general. I had the honor of playing at this party & wow…what a great place to watch sunset! Strange the American Embassy was so close. Felt like they were spying on us!
Café Escorial – Location:Plaza Vieja in Habana Vieja This café is on one of the corners of Plaza Vieja & tends to have great live music practically every night of the week. Follow the sound of the Salsa & Rumba till you make it upstairs. Then, grab a seat on the patio overlooking the Plaza, order a mojito & sit back & get ready to bob your head to the beat! I saw an 8 piece all female salsa band called 8 Tone that was fantastico!
La Zorra y El Cuervo – Location: Vedado neighborhood in Havana. Here you can find world class jazz most nights of the year.
Ambos Mundos Hotel – Location: Corner of Calle Obispo & Mercaderes Ave. This is the famous hotel that Ernest Hemingway himself once shacked up in & hunkered down & wrote some of his stories. The rooftop restaurant/bar has a stunning view worth coming back several times! This spot was a “date place” for this single ready to mingle guy! Had a few pina coladas served in big pineapples. Not really a live music place from what I can tell, but great for drinks, food & the view!
Casa de Africa – Location: Habana Vieja, near Plaza Vieja. Great place for Afro-Cuban cultural events. 2nd Saturdays of the month they have a big music & dance performance not to be missed!
Which neighborhoods to stay?
Easy answer…..Old Town, Havana Vieja, duh!!! It’s the oldest part of town, the Heart of Havana, with colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, a few plazas, museums & Salsa bands on every block, with many choices of restaurants & few rooftop bars! Trust me, this neighborhood is the spot! And yes….Cuba has AirBnb now, although I believe it is only allowed for approved familes that run “casa particular’s”, a Cuban BnB that is monitored & taxed heavily by the Cuban authorities. Bring your passport for check in!
Book your AirBnB there & receive $40 free credit (see my blog on how to do this by creating a new account with alternate email):
:: OTHER STUFF ::
DJ’s will want to know about the record store with 45s & 12” vinyl galore. Cuban traditional music only of course, don’t expect to find the latest EDM as it’s all oldies, but goodies! Price for records is 5CUC each (about $4.50usd), even though you may be able to sell some of those on eBay to collectors for much more. Location: Walking towards Plaza Vieja in Habana Vieja Old Town on Calle Muralla, take right onto Calle Cuba. Store is just down 1 block on the right.
Hospital for tourists: Clinica Cira Garcia located in Vedado. English speaking staff. Bring cash, don’t expect to pay with your insurance, although I hear it is possible.
San Cristobal Tour Agency: This place is a great resource of information. If your looking to volunteer, teach English, want to join guided tours, or book bus trips around Cuba, this is the one stop place for you.
InfoTur: Another great resource for information on just about anything Havana & Cuba. They sell tickets for tours, tourist taxi’s to other cities & get-aways, & can generally answer just about any questions you might have. Location: Calle Obispo near Floridita Bar.
:: 25 Things To Do In Havana ::
:: HAVANA FOOD WISDOM revealed ::
Peso food – Peso food are meals that are available from little shops, around the country, which accept CUP (the National Peso currency). These foods are unbelievably affordable, and if you’re a traveler on a tight budget, you can easily get by on US $3 a day while still treating yourself to three full meals a day. That’s right – peso food is often a buck a plate (sometimes less). Some foods that you can buy with CUP include: fresh fruit juice (US $0.04-$0.08), egg & cheese sandwich (US $0.36), sugarcane juice (US $0.04), pork& rice meal (US $1.50), pizzas (US$0.44 -$1.20), ice cream cone (US $0.04), coffee (US $0.04), beer (US $0.50) and fruit & vegetables from the market.
Vegan / Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants ::
El Bambu – Location: Carretera del Rocio Km 3, Calabazar, Arroyo Naranjo (at Jardin Botanico Nacional de Cuba), Havana, Cuba. Mon-Sun 1:00pm-3:00pm. Cuisine: International, Buffet, Fast food, Cuban. El Bambú is located in the National Botanical Garden, near the Japanese garden. Features a self service salad bar with some warm dishes.
Oasis Nelva Cafe – Location: corner of Havana and Muralla, Havana, Cuba. Open: Mon-Sun 10:00am-8:00pm. Cuisine: Lacto, Ovo, European, Fusion. Creperie with nice interior and view of the plant shop downstairs. Cooks with olive oil, and offers smoothies, sandwiches, salads & other things besides delicious crepes! Cold A/C if you go upstairs to dine is a plus in hot Havana! Also, they serve 100% organic food they source from organic local farmers which is rare to find at a restaurant in Cuba. This was my “oasis” indeed!
Azucar Lounge – Location: Plaza Vieja, Mercaderes 315, Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba. Cuisine: Lacto, Ovo, Middle Eastern, Cuban, Non-veg. Has vegetarian and vegan choices available including falafel, pesto or tomato pasta, black beans, and grilled veggies. Not cheap compared to most other restaurants in Havana. Has view of the Plaza Vieja.
Bohemia Cafe – Location: Plaza Vieja, San Ignacio 364, Havana, Cuba. Open: Mon-Sun 9:30am-10:00pm. Cuisine: Italian, Caribbean, Cuban, Non-veg. Typical tourist restaurant in the old town where you dine sitting next to one of the town squares or in a courtyard. Has several vegan options on the menu such as bruschetta and a couple of sandwiches, not labeled but the ingredients are listed. Possibly other dishes (pasta, salad) can be veganized – ask.
Buena Vista Curry Club – Location: Tejadillo 24, esq. Cuba, Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba. Cuisine: Lacto, Indian, Non-veg. Indian restaurant with a few vegetarian/vegan choices such as dhal lentil soap, paneer (cheese), garlic naan bread, eggplant vegetable curry, etc.
Dona Eutimia – Location: 60-C, Callejon del Chorro (at Near Plaza de la Catedral), Havana, Cuba. Open: Mon-Sun 12:00pm-10:00pm. Cuisine: Lacto, Ovo, Beer/Wine, Caribbean, Cuban, Non-veg. Conveniently located next to the Plaza de la Catedral in Habana Vieja, this paladar has interesting choices for vegans, such as ropa vieja chickpeas, rice and beans, salad and bread. Reservations strongly recommended.
El Cafe – Location: 358, La, Amargura, Havana, Cuba. Cuisine: Cuban, Non-veg. Small trendy cafe in the back streets of old Havana serving vegan and vegetarian options.
El Dandy – Location: Calle Brasil y Villegas @ Plaza del Christo, Villegas, Havana, Cuba. Cuisine: Salad bar, Juice bar, Beer/Wine, Mexican, Spanish, Non-veg. Serves both meat, vegetarian, vegan options available. Cozy small bar/bistro serving tropical juices, fresh salads and vegetables like avocado and pimientos and vegan soup like gazpacho. I went for the sweet potato fries with aioli sauce.
El Shamuskia’o – Location: 308 Muralla, Havana, Cuba. Open: Mon 12:00am-2:00am, Tue-Sun 2:00pm-12:00am, Wed-Sun 12:00am-2:00am. Cuisine: American, Caribbean, Fusion, Cuban, Non-veg. Small family restaurant in La Habana Vieja where everything on the menu can be made vegan. Options include bruchetta, veggie kebabs, pisto (vegetable soup), breaded veggies, salads, cucumber sushi, stuffed tomato, eggplant lasagna, baked boniatos (potato), and moussaka with boniatos.
La Rosa Negra – Location: Calle Tulipan y 24, Nuevo Vedado, Havana, Cuba. Open: Mon-Sun 12:00pm-12:00am. Cuisine: Lacto, Ovo, Beer/Wine, Caribbean, Cuban, Non-veg. Serves traditional Cuban food not cooked in pork fat. Vegan options available such as malanga, yuca, black beans, cooked vegetables, salad, tostones and more, as well as a long cocktail menu.
Snack Bar Waoo – Location: Calle L 414 (at Entre 23 y 25), Havana, Cuba. Cuisine: Vegan-friendly, Italian, Beer/Wine, Spanish, Cuban, Non-veg. Offers some vegetarian dishes on menu and off the menu, of which some are either vegan or can be made vegan. Just to be sure, always ask if a dish contains meat. Located in front of Havana Libre Hotel in Vedado neighborhood.
Starbien – Location: Calle 29 no. 205 (at entre B y C, Vedado), Havana, Cuba. Open: Mon-Sun 12:00pm-12:00am. Cuisine: Lacto, Ovo, Beer/Wine, Caribbean, Spanish, Cuban, Latin , Non-veg. Fancy paladar. Reservations generally required, but you can inquire about seating upstairs near the bar if you don’t have a reservation. Accommodating to vegans offering black beans, rice, fried malanga, plantains, salads, and other dishes. Confirmed open, June 2017.
Topoly – Location: Calle 23 No 669, Vedado (at 23 and D), Havana, Cuba. Cuisine: Lacto, Ovo, International, Salad bar, Middle Eastern, Iranian, Non-veg. Iranian restaurant that specialises in Middle Eastern food. Has a vegetarian section of the menu much of which is vegan or can be made so by the omission of dairy.
:: Lets Get Political, Just For A Moment ::
Did the revolution led by Fidel & Che in 1959 that overthrew president Batista & nationalized the countries land & resources ultimately succeed or fail? I have mixed feelings about this. My first impression: Wow! Fidel, Che & about 87 other armed revolutionaries were able to mobilize beginning in 1953 & actually won a civil war against all odds! Pre-1959 this was a country that was being taken over by American businesses, mafia, drugs & corrupt politicians like there was no tomorrow. It was basically an American empire takeover (as seen on TV) by eager companies trying to get a slice of the Cuban pie. So, Fidel & the new regime kicked out American companies, which is the nature of ‘nationalizing’ industries & by 1962 Kennedy began the embargo against Cuba that is still operating. Many things here can be seen as positive change to this day: FREE Health Care, FREE Universtiy, FREE or extremely cheap Housing, & FREE rations of food. The basics in life, all FREE! That said, all workers work for the State. Everybody, including lawers & doctors, make $40 a month or less. The only way around that is if you are very lucky enough to have one of the 30 government approved businesses such as: taxis, bicycle taxis, shops, restaurants, hair salons, etc.
I’ve heard that these businesses pay A LOT of taxes where they generally have no chance of getting much ahead. Such is communism: the limit of capitalism & free market with government owned only businesses, heavily taxed to pay for the free absolute BASICS. Well, that’s fine if the people were getting enough nutrition, but they mostly live on rice, beans, meat & eggs, oh…and expresso! That’s fine if my friend in Havana could afford Pampers for his baby at $9usd a pack. That’s fine if you want to spend ¼ your monthly income on overpriced phone & web cards. That’s fine if the average person could EVER afford a car (I hear those extremely lucky enough to have a classic American car had them passed down from inheritance). That’s fine if you never plan to leave the country (forgot about having money to ever go on vacation abroad, or even within your country). That’s fine if your higher dreams are not so important & you can make peace with poverty. You know what…I do not think this is ‘fine’ at all! The situation needs to change drastically. The revolution was a success in so many ways, but these people are ready for a change. I see it in their eyes. I see it in the 1/20 people walking around with American flag clothes (very popular since Obama loosened things up in 2015). Maybe if Trump could continue on that path (or more likely, the next president), the people could afford to make just a few of their dreams or household needs come into existence. Until then, on a financial level, it looks bleak. Cuba is one of the poorest countries I’ve been to out of 35, but very, very rich in culture! “Hasta la victoria, siempre” translates to “until the victory, always”, but…what exactly is the victory at this point?
Random Quotes for Cuba ::
“It has fine fruits, new bugs, excellent microbes, & stone floors in the bedrooms. It certainly has a sensation in store for the average American.” (Frederic Remington, 1899)
“ Many Cubans can’t get parts to fix the old American and Russian cars, but adding electronic entertainment is becoming popular. MP3 players and rear-facing cameras are common additions. The most famous symbol of Cuba’s embargo-innovation balancing act are the vintage American cars. Owners haven’t been able to acquire new parts since President Kennedy issued a trade embargo in 1962, so they have devised hacks to keep the cars running. Now, with new technology coming into the country, these old cars are being revamped with mini-DVD players and stereo systems that blast out oldies in Spanish and the latest American pop.” (National Geographic)
Random Photos of the week ::
Me & my new 90 year old Cuban amigo who was in the 1953-1959 Revolutionary War led by Fidel. He showed me some of his battle scars & we talked in my broken Spanish for a bit!
Have you been to Cuba? If you know of something that should be added, let us know in the comments!