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Insider Interview: A Havana bucket list

For our latest Insider Interview we talk to Annette who publishes the blog Bucketlistjourney about her huge bucket list of travel and life-related goals. As a published author, US-based travel blogger and restaurant owner, Annette is a busy lady but she took time out to answer a few questions for us about a favourite destination of hers, Havana.

She’s already ticked a fair few things off her Havana bucket list so she can share all the best bits with us.

What initially attracted you to Havana? Was it on your bucket list?

Havana had been on my bucket list for a while, but with the embargo I wasn’t sure if there would be a checkmark next to it. Once the restrictions for US citizens visiting loosened, it was a main priority to travel there.

If a traveller only has time for three activities while in Havana what would you recommend?

The absolute number one thing I would recommend is to go to Fabrica de Arte Cubano (the Cuban Art Factory). It is a cutting-edge hotspot where sophisticated gallery rooms cohabitate with multimedia performance spaces.

The large warehouse space that used to be a cooking oil plant, has now been transformed into the hippest place in town where live events take place (like tango classes and symphony performances) while interesting art expos line the white walls.

Of course, you also can’t leave Havana without riding in a snazzy classic convertible. These pretty vintage cars will tempt you by cruising up and down the avenues in all their glory. You can either take a tour or there are a dozen drivers with their beautiful cars in front of Hotel Inglasterra, at Parque Central, ready to take you wherever you want to go.

The cost can range from CUC$25 to CUC$50 per hour depending on the season and your destination. Always try to negotiate!

Lastly, you must eat at a paladar. A paladar is a privately-owned restaurant, typically located in a converted home and run by a family. It’s one of the best ways to enjoy the Cuban culture and cuisine. Many times, you won’t even realise you’re dining in a paladar because they look just like a regular restaurant!

What was your personal highlight in Havana?

One of my personal highlights was dining at La Guarida. It is arguably the most famous paladar (and one of the priciest) in all of Havana. Located on the third floor in an apartment, the memorable experience starts on the ground floor where a wall with the Cuban flag leads you up a dilapidated staircase. The second level is fit for the scene of a movie with its naturally faux finished walls and rustic stone columns. When you finally arrive to the restaurant the food does not disappoint, neither does the ambience.

What galleries in Havana have you particularly loved?

Havana has quite a few fun galleries, but my favourite experience was Fusterlandia. About half an hour west from central Havana, Cuban artist José Fuster created a masterpiece of mosaic tilework in his home and the surrounding neighbourhood – Fusterlandia. It’s street art unlike any I’ve ever seen. His home is decked out in a rainbow of bright coloured tiles, that’s spilled over to the surrounding houses as well.

Where would you recommend our readers go for the best taste of Havana?

Many of the paladars will give you a local taste of Havana, but also make sure you go to El Floridita, not for the food, but for a daiquiri. This may be the most touristy bar in all of Havana, but who wouldn’t want to go to the place Hemingway claimed makes the best daiquiri in the world? It’s located in the popular Old Havana, which only adds to the crowds (there’s almost always a line outside the door).

What are your top three tips for people travelling to Havana?

Firstly, know that debit cards are banned in Cuba, as well as American-based credit cards like American Express and Diners’ Club. You can use most UK credit cards or make sure to bring enough cash in CUC$ to get you through your entire visit.

Secondly, internet is very limited and you most likely won’t have GPS. So be sure to pre-plan your itinerary and have some sort of map.

Lastly, a special health insurance that covers the territory of Cuba is required, which you should get in advance to avoid delays at the airport arrivals.

How would you describe the culture of Havana?

The culture in Cuba is rich with old beliefs and new. There’s still a large music scene – dancing in the streets, smoking Cuban cigars and eating at the paladares. But, there’s also a new trendy vibe with cool restaurants and modern galleries.

Do you plan to visit again and why?

I absolutely plan on visiting again, not only to explore more of the city of Havana, but also to get out of town and experience the rest of Cuba.

If you had to summarise Havana in three words, what would they be?

Lively, colourful, delicious.

What has been added to your Havana bucket list after reading this article? Let us know in the comments below.