Camilla Cabello Is Right: Havana Will Take Your Heart
Take me back, back, back.
Camilla Cabello’s super-catchy 2018 banger conjures up a very specific image of Havana. Sweaty, sexy and evocative of a bygone era where men smoke cigars and women sip mojitos and everyone wears fedoras and somehow has perfect rhythm. It’s a mood.
And you know what? It’s perfectly accurate.
Cuba’s a country that’s been stuck in the past for too long. So long, in fact, that the largest Caribbean island has become something of a legend. Search #Havana on Instagram and you’ll find countless pictures of crumbling, ice cream-coloured colonial architecture and the iconic 1950s cars that still fill its streets.
As international relations between governments improve and trade sanctions lift, the country is clearly taking slow strides toward becoming… well, just like everywhere else, to be honest. Everywhere you look, money is being invested - brand new buildings are mid-construction, heritage sites are in the process of restoration and landmarks are being refurbished.
The good news, though, is that homogenisation doesn’t seem to be destroying Havana’s heart - yet. For the time being, the old sits comfortably alongside the new, and fittingly so, given Havana is a place where everything seems to be happening everywhere, at the same time.
WHAT TO DO
As you’d expect from a city built on Latin beats, Habaneros know how to put on a party. Music is on every street corner. From any point in the city’s old town, there’s a cacophony of sound to be heard. Jazz, reggaeton, salsa, pop - all playing, all at once. And it works. This city has a beat all of its own and you can’t help but sway along to the sound as you wander the cobbled streets of Havana Vieja.
Anyone you ask will have a recommendation for ‘the best’ club in the city but unless you really know your stuff when it comes to salsa, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a brilliant night out at any of them.
Casa de la Musica de Miramar has a reputation for hosting some of the country’s most prestigious bands, while traditionalists can follow in the footsteps of Rita Hayworth, Nat King Cole and even JFK by paying a visit to glitzy cabaret club, El Tropicana. More chilled out vibes can be found at Fabrica de Arte Cubano, an art gallery and late night club that’ll impress even the most discerning of hipsters. And, of course, the legendary Buena Vista Social Club is still going strong.
Literary fans should take a day to live in the famously boozy footsteps of America’s favourite author, Ernest Hemingway.
The writer’s room at Hotel Ambos Mundos has been preserved in tribute, featuring books, artworks and even a few of his belongings. From here, there’s an easy bar crawl through some of Havana’s most charming establishments - mojitos at La Bodeguita and frozen daiquiris at El Floridita are a must. And if after all that you make it up the road to Sloppy Joes for a chaser, you can be sure Hemingway himself would be proud.
True aficionados can also visit Hemingway’s farm in the nearby town of San Francisco de Paula. Following the author’s post-revolution departure from the country in 1959, it’s become a museum - frozen in time much like the country itself.
Those who like their booze a little less educational should try out one of Havana’s many paladars - private restaurants that offer Cuban cuisine in authentic surroundings, often literally meaning someone’s front room. Cuban food is notoriously bad (though this is the environment where you’ll get the best of it) but what these eateries lack in flavour they make up in style. And cocktails. And that’s where we like to live.
It’s impossible to understand Havana without delving into its history. The Museo de la Revolución is a perfect starting place for those with gaps to fill, while the ancient Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta on the harbour goes even further back in time and gives a great view of the city.
For those who like their culture to be a little more frivolous, the picturesque Plaza de Armas is often packed full of stalls selling memorabilia, books and souvenirs.
To see more of the city, there’s no better option than hiring a classic car for the day. You’ll explore sights such as Revolution Square, the John Lennon Statue Park and visit the beautiful city forest - a green paradise that provides respite from the hustle and bustle to the city and occasionally plays host to mysterious Santería rituals, evidenced by the occasional chicken head floating down the river.
PLACES TO STAY
Iberostar Grand Packard
Havana’s Hotel Biscuit played host to Chilean writer Pablo Neruda and The Godfather star Marlon Brando back in the day. Revamped and relaunched in 2018, it’s now the city’s second ever luxury hotel with four restaurants, and three bars - one of which has breathtaking views over famous coastal road, the Malecón.
By Cat Collins