5 places That Will Make You Doubt You Are in Havana
When you think and hear about Cuba, what first comes into your mind is pictures of classic mid-century cars and colonial-styled colorful houses. Am I right? However, there is blowing a changing wind over Cuba, and as the capital, Havana is the front-runner for change.
The neighborhood of Vedado seems to be a melting pot for the changes visible in Cuba. When I studied Spanish at the linguistic faculty at the University of Havana nearly three years ago, I spent a lot of time in Vedado, and now coming back last year, I could for sure see the changes. Here are just some of the new modernized initiatives blowing in over Havana, and almost making you forget that you are in Cuba:
Fábrica de Arte Cubano
Fábrica de Arte Cubano, or simply just FAC, was a place I visited frequently when I studied in Havana three years ago. The by then newly opened museum-club-cultural center is located at the far end of Vedado by Calle 11, and it is best reached using a “maquina” aka a shared taxi (read more about how to use them here).
For me, FAC was my first encounter with this new modern non-governmental business movement in Cuba. As a friend of mine said back then: “It could be in Europe…”. And yes, it certainly lives up to many of the standards that European culture melting pots offer.
Nowadays, FAC has expanded with several rooms for dancing, shows… well, basically anything. The private investment and alternative (for Cuba!) approach of combining culture and bars certain appears to have been a success. Make sure you make your way to FAC!
Location: Calle 26 on the corner of Calle 11, and Facebook here.
It used to be an abandoned parking lot (I have passed by many times), but today Plaza Vedado is a lively meeting spot with a modern touch. The small square is filled with privately owned restaurants, shops, bares, and even a playing ground for children. The modern design and clean cuts in the architecture stand in clear contrast to the old houses in their surroundings.
The nice waiter in one of the restaurants explained that the Cuban state around a year ago chose to sell the abandoned parking lot to various private investors with the aim of creating a variety of shops and restaurants. He smiled shyly when he commented that it properly is not such a big deal with private investments where I come from but in Cuba, it is a big deal. Only a couple of years ago, it was almost impossible to think of a project like this becoming true through private investment (read more below).
Location: Behind Hotel Habana Libre, Calle 25 between Calle M and Calle N.
Restaurant La Paila
Across the street from Plaza Vedado, you can find another splendid example of these new private restaurants.
La Paila is located on the top of a little hill which gives it a pleasant view over the neighborhood and on hot days a pleasant breeze. They offer a great variety of food for a decent price.
Location: Behind Hotel Habana Libre, Calle 25 between Calle M and Calle N.
The first time, I went to Fabrica de Arte Cubano (see above), and went with some Cuban friends among those a young couple whom I talked a lot with that night. They told me many things about Cuba that I had no idea about.
Among the many things we talked about, they told me that some of their family were running a small café in Vedado, just on “L y 17” as Cubans tend to give directions.
The following week, I just had to check out this café. And I was not disappointed!
Café Mamaine is located in a huge mansion (see me on the stairs in the picture below) facing Calle L. The indoor design is super cozy while still having a very modern touch which is not so common in Cuba. There is both a little outdoor terrace and plenty of tables inside. Drop by for a breakfast or coffee – or just a break? This place will make you wonder whether you are actually in Havana, and I adore this contrast.
Location: Calle L between Calle 17 and Calle 15. For more information, click here.
La Flauta Magica
Located just behind El Malecon, the huge seaside walk in Havana, you will find La Flauta Magica, a modern-looking club for the late hours, and your dancing shoes.
I went there one night (without my camera, therefore no pictures), and simply had the best reggaetón party! The drinks were expensive but the party great – and for sure, you will for a minute or two forget that you are actually in Havana. Only too late I found out that they have a rooftop terrace, so remember to check that out!
Location: Calzada between Calle K and Calle L
A note on private investments in Cuba…
The Cuban state sits heavily on most businesses around the island. However, a few years ago it opened up the possibility of establishing smaller private businesses. The private restaurants, or “las particulares” as the Cuban calls things not being state-owned, can highly compete with the poor standard in many of state-run restaurants. The waiters are nice and polite, and the food and drinks are on completely other levels. The Plaza Verdado is an excellent example of this.
However, do not overdo these changes. The state is still sitting heavily on most businesses and has the last say in many questions. Stories are floating about how offers from private businesses have been turned down in favor of a state-run business offer. Even though, the private offer was of the same quantity and a cheaper price.
Rumors claim it is because the state does not want people to get too much money between their hands. Thus, the truth is hard to know… But by eating at these private restaurants, you are at least helping some Cuban families make a living.
Have you visited Havana or are you may be planning to? Would you want to visit places like these? Or have you may be already visited them? Or do you know any other recommendations for alternative places to visit in Havana? Please, share your thoughts and experiences below! I would love to hear from you!
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Agness of e Tramping
Wow! I would have never guessed that these places are in Cuba. Excellent collection of pictures, Becci!
Thanks for dropping by, Agness! Yes, I so agree with you! One would normally not think to find places like these in Cuba. I’m happy to know that you enjoyed the post!
Now this is a face of Havana I’ve never seen in any pictures! Interesting to get a bigger picture of it – when I think of Havana, the colourful colonial architecture is always on top of my mind! 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for dropping by, Dea! Yes, actually what I wanted with this post. We tend to get a one-sided picture of Havana and Cuba but there are exactly happening new stuff and popping up modern architecture.
I loved Fabrica de Arte Cubana and I clearly need to go back and eat more! Would love to take goodies back with me too, I found the children were particularly partial to M&Ms 🙂
Thanks for dropping by, Jen! Yes, Fábrica de Arte Cubano is so cool! Really a must for everyone to get a new view on Havana. Exactly, it is a great idea to bring some small gifts or goodies with you if you’re visiting Cuba. It will bring so much joy 🙂
Honestly, it’s quite refreshing to see a different side of Havana. In every Havana-related article, I would usually see old cars on the streets which visually (at least, for me) translates that “time froze a bit” kind-of-thing. Having a different perspective of its modern side is just as beautiful. 🙂 Thanks for sharing! It’s a great compilation of images. 🙂
Thanks for dropping by, Kate! I’m so happy to hear that you liked this different view on Havana 🙂 Sure that the old cars are a central piece in the streets of Havana, and usually fascinating for us as foreigners who are not used to seeing them. But yes, Havana is beginning to show a more modern side. Little by little. The Cubans deserve that 🙂
Steven & Jenny
That’s great. We will be in Cuba in March, really can’t wait. Guatamala and Mexico first though!
Thanks for dropping by, Steven & Jenny! So great that you liked the post! I would highly recommend you to try out some of these places – especiallyFAC! For how long are you going to be in Cuba?
Great post! I would love to visit Havana, but for now, I’ll have to settle with Havana, Florida! ? Did you feel safe there? How is the coffee? I am a coffee addict, so the café sounds wonderful! I am studying Food Security, so I would be interested on how their farmers are treated, and if there is easy access to locally-grown food.
Hi Rebecca! Thanks for dropping by!
Havana (Cuba) was an amazing experience – I hope you are content with your Havana too! 😉 I did generally felt safe in Cuba. There are massive amounts of police, and they are very keen on protecting tourist/foreigners.
The coffee is alright, but according to what I was told most of the best coffee is exported… Unfortunately! Those, you can find great coffee, and “un cafecito” (a little coffee) is a true morning ritual for many Cubans. Unfortunately, I do not have much information on the treatment of farmers in Cuba. It is a theme which is hard to get proper information about. However, one thing is sure, the means for farming are VERY limited for many Cuban farmers.
According to get more information on farming in Cuba, a place to look for alternative ways of visiting Cuba might be at “El Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos (ICAP)” (e.g. Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People) or through the agency Amistur Cuba S.A. I believe that they organize tours to Cuba with a more socio-economic/-political view. All the best of luck!
I’m enjoying your blog. Really interesting.
I visited Havana and Cuba during an educational [really more tourism than anything…] exchange way back. We spent a day at UH.
I’m interested in returning, this time to study Spanish at the UH as you did, likely a one month course with some time to sightsee before/after. As a Canadian, I believe we get 90 days-duration tourist card.
Do you have any suggestions for long-term housing (e.g. 1-2 months)? I take it with UH registration occurring the first of the month on a drop-in basis, that one has to make one’s own housing arrangements. I haven’t checked but I doubt Airbnb is there yet… Was there a central housing information desk at UH, or did you just book a hotel initially and look for private furnished rooms? If so, how did you find affordable long-term accommodation?
Thank you so much for your comment! I’m happy that you are enjoying the reading.
Yes, as far as I’m concerned it should be fairly easy for Canadians to stay in Cuba – at least, there were a lot of Canadians when I visited.
Actually, there is AirBnBs available in Cuba these days, and there is a fairly good chance of finding something of good quality. I don’t know if you are aware of the concept of “casa particulares” which exists in Cuba. But basically, it is the Cuban style of AirBnBs. So when more and more people started to get access to the internet for owners of casa particulares AirBnB was a fundamental place to be.
I found my housing through a website of these casa particulares, but nowadays I think you can as easily find a place at AirBnB (actually the place where I stayed is on AirBnB now). If you are looking to attend the classes at the university, I would highly recommend you to find a place near the university so you don’t have to worry about transportation. And yes, you are right the university doesn’t have any housing arrangements or housing information.
I hope this helped you a bit more! All the best of luck with your Cuba planning!
Very interesting, thank you so much for the information!
Thanks for dropping by! I’m so happy to hear that you found the information useful 🙂 Havana has so many special places to explore!