When we got an invitation to Havana (Habana), Cuba from rum brand Havana Club we jumped at the chance. It was a destination that had long been on our wish list and the promise of experiencing authentic culture with a brand that is embedded into the culture was difficult to say no to.
Funnily enough, since we’ve been everyone we discuss it with say the same. Why? None of us have a specific reason, it just is one of those places apparently that has everyone intrigued. In fact, since we have been back, we know so many others who have made or are making the trip. We’re literally seeing it everywhere, French fashion brand Sandro even has a range dedicated to Cuba this season.
So, what did we think? Well, Cuba for all of its political mess still doesn’t break the spirit of its people. It is one of the few remaining Marxist–Leninist socialist states, where the role of the vanguard Communist Party is enshrined in the Constitution. Everyone apparently gets paid the same, health care and accommodation are free and no one is really allowed to leave the country. Although, I believe this is changing, though who can tell – the politics of Cuba are beyond confusing to those outside of it (or maybe just us)!
Despite all of this, Cubans are genuinely some of the friendliest people we’ve met and a prime example of not needing much in life to be happy and content as long as you look out for each other. For every few that would like more, there are those who are more than happy with their lot. There’s a real sense of community.
As westerners we often take for granted the luxuries and freedom we have and have a tendency to project what we think it means to be free. Cubans, we are told, aren’t really allowed to leave Cuba, it’s damn near impossible for them to get visas. If you do leave you’re no longer viewed as Cuban. This is just one of the many things they live with. And whilst, we may not understand it or appreciate life of a certain standard, without wifi (the horror), the majority seem more than happy with it.
There are three things that we found synonymous with Cuba and the things that all Cubans identify with. These are rum, cigars and sugar, just ask any Cuban. All three are embedded in their DNA.
Cuba is the biggest sugar exporters in the world. It’s actually how we learn that light rum was born in Cuba. There’s 20 distilleries in Cuba. We visited the Havana Club distillery and had good fortune of meeting their Maestro Ronero, Asbel Morales. A charming and very knowledgeable man, who took us through a tasting of some of their best rums including Union which took a year to create and depicts a love story between two iconic Cuban brands that has been designed to be drunk with a cigar (Ciglos). We also tried Maximo the most premium in the collection.
The art scene in Cuba is fantastic and you’ll find it all around the city. The cities architecture, is interesting and full of character. The classic cars and the colourful houses, though weathered, really give Cuba its unique personality. Some of the grand buildings we came across had become dance spaces, whilst others were private restaurants known as Paladares, changing our opinion of Cuban cuisine with it.
Though generally speaking Cuban food is limited to meat, rice, beans, and fried food, we soon realised that the private restaurants were upping their game (though rice and beans and fried food was still on offer) with more international fusions and enticing options including sushi.
Here’s some of our favourites to check out:
We had lunch at Vista Mar – the winner for us – Avenida Ira No. 2206 e/22 y 24 Miramar Playa.
Dinner at El Cocinero – Calle 26 between Calle 11 & 13. vedado
The Fabrica de Arte Cubano is next door and super cool. Great for drinks and nightlife. Get the VIP pass.
La Guarida, is perhaps the most renowned in Havana, beautiful building and the roof top was best for drinks – Concordia No. 418, Gervasio y Escobar, Centro Habana
Museum of Rum, is also worth a visit, and yes you can buy rum there!
Cuba, has a real rawness to it which naturally makes it an intriguing destination. Famous for more than its daiquiris and mojitos it offers a real cultural insight but there’s also beaches so you can still be a tourist and relax in the sunshine. The local food wasn’t to our liking as sadly there’s only so much fried food we can take but the Frituras de Malanga (fried malanga) was definitely a pleasant surprise. For those looking for more from their holidays we’d recommend all that Cuba has to offer. Embrace life without wifi and live like a local in a homestay. It’s a grounding experience and one that we enjoyed.