Listen to Female Musicians While Sipping Mojitos

Hotel Sevilla

Our starting point is the Hotel Sevilla in Prado. This iconic landmark was built in 1908 and quickly became a playground for prohibition era jet setters. Black and white pictures of artists, gangsters, and politicians adorn its walls, which you can admire while strolling to the hotel's famous patio.

 

 

Courtesy of Hotel Sevilla's Official website

Courtesy of Hotel Sevilla's Official website

Whilst not amongst Havana's most beautiful architecture, the Patio Sevillano is home to many amazing female musical ensembles, whose talents you can enjoy while sipping a mojito in the breezy courtyard. Can you think of a better way to start your Cuban adventure?

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Dine at this historic family-run restaurant

Paladar Doña Blanquita

Courtesy of Barbara Torresi

Courtesy of Barbara Torresi

Traveling is tiring, so you may want to avoid straying too far for dinner. Which is fine, since all you need to do is cross the road and grab a table at paladar Doña Blanquita. This cozy family-run restaurant dates back to 1995 when Cuba was in the midst of an economic crisis so severe that the government saw no alternative but to allow a modicum of privatization. Doña Blanquita was quick to spot the opportunity and put her culinary skills to profitable use, becoming one of the most successful restaurant owners in Havana. 

Part of the paladar's attractiveness lays in its location since you can sample Cuban delicacies such as enchilado de camarones, langosta grille, yuca con mojo, ropa vieja, and delicious chicken with congrí from a terrace overlooking the famous Prado.

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Live like a local at a casa particular

Casa Andres, Grisel y familia

 
Inside Casa Andres, Grisel y Familia | © Courtesy of Barbara Torresi

Inside Casa Andres, Grisel y Familia | © Courtesy of Barbara Torresi

One of the things that make visiting Havana such a unique experience is lodging in a casa particular, which is the Cuban version (and incredibly the predecessor) of Airbnb. When the country opened up to western tourism in the early 90s, its hospitality infrastructure was unable to cater to the throngs of people dying to see what rests behind the iron curtain. Ordinary Cubans with a room to spare came to the rescue, offering tourists lodgings and the intimate experience of family life. One such casa particular is Casa Andres, Grisel y Familia

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Learn to Dance at Havana's Oldest Salsa School

Marisuri's Salsa School

The Escuela de Bailes Cubanos | © Courtesy of Barbara Torresi

The Escuela de Bailes Cubanos | © Courtesy of Barbara Torresi

Breezy Havana mornings are a perfect time for culturally appropriate physical activity. Just exit Grisel's casa and take three steps to your right, literally, for Marisuri's salsa school (or Escuela Bailes Cubanos), officially the oldest in Havana. 

Escuela Bailes Cubanos started as a cultural project in 1994 when Marisuri, at the time a 21-year-old world-traveling ballerina, began offering informal lessons to the first westerners visiting Cuba. When the government green-lighted small scale privatization in 2014, she seized the opportunity to capitalize on her reputation by registering the school as a formal business. 

This year, Escuela Bailes Cubanos is celebrating its 25th birthday with great plans for the future. One of the projects in the pipeline consists of tweaking contemporary Cuban salsa, the shaping of which Marisuri herself has influenced, into a style that gives women more leading power. Most Latin American dances, Marisuri tells me over a fragrant cafe criollo, are inherently machismo, but there is a growing push in the performance arts towards greater equality on the dance floor. 

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A Souvenir Better than Cuban Cigars

Clandestina

Inside Clandestina | © Courtesy of Barbara Torresi

Inside Clandestina | © Courtesy of Barbara Torresi

Clandestina is wildly regarded as the most sought after fashion label in Cuba. Founded by Idania del Rio and Leire Fernandez in 2014, its clothes are 'up-cycled', which means that they are made from already sawn pieces that people have thrown away. The rationale behind Clandestina's signature Vintrashe line is not only the need to be eco-friendly in a world plagued by unbridled consumerism but also, given Cuba's current and foreseeable economic difficulties, financially sustainable. With raving customers from all over the world, a Vintrashe piece is the best souvenir you can get from Havana, one that trumps the latter's admittedly excellent cigars and supports the ingenuity of the Clandestina experiment. 

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A Spa Founded and Run by Women

Vida SPA

Courtesy of Vida SPA's Facebook Page

Courtesy of Vida SPA's Facebook Page

If walking around in the sweltering heat makes you feel like a pampering is due, Magda's wellness center is the place you want to visit. One of the first of its kind in Cuba, Vida SPA offers facials, body scrubs, and massages with natural products from the island's rich pharmacopeia. More importantly, Vida is an establishment started by a woman and currently entirely operated by women.

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Celebrate the Legacy of a Ballet Icon

Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso

Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso | © Knomrm/Wikipedia Commons

Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso | © Knomrm/Wikipedia Commons

After a relaxing massage at Vida SPA, it's now time to dress up for a glamorous night at Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, so named after Cuba's greatest dancer and worldwide ballet icon. In spite of partially losing her sight at age 19, Ms. Alonso wooed international audiences for more than half a century and was instrumental in creating a strong ballet tradition in her home country. She performed until well into her seventies and is still actively involved in her company's artistic management—at the tender age of 99! 

Historically elitist and expensive, the revolutionary government decreed that art, even of the highest order, should be accessible to all. Locals can thus buy tickets to the Gran Teatro for the equivalent of just $1.25 USD, whilst the price for foreigners is $30 dollars, which is an absolute bargain given the stratospheric quality of the performances. 

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Honor one of Cuba's Literary Female Icons

Centro Cultural Dulce María Loynaz

Courtesy of Centro Cultural Dulce María Loynaz Official Facebook Page

Courtesy of Centro Cultural Dulce María Loynaz Official Facebook Page

Dulce Maria Loyanaz is the country's most famous poet and one of only three Cubans to win the prestigious Cervantes Prize. Born into a wealthy family in 1902, Dulce Maria's talent for the written word manifested early, leading to the publication of her first poem while still a teenager. But if poetry was her natural medium, her greatest literary achievement is the novel Jardin (Garden), which was written at the apex of the suffragist movement and encapsulates the progressive spirit of the time. After the Cuban revolution, Dulce Maria retired from public life, preferring to spend time wandering in the jardin of her Vedado mansion, now a cultural center accessible to the public. 

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Catch the Sounds of Cuba's All-Female Ensemble

Convento de San Francisco de Asís

Courtesy of Camerata Romeu's Official Facebook Page

Courtesy of Camerata Romeu's Official Facebook Page

The performances of Camerata Romeu are one of Havana's best-kept secrets. Founded by Zenaida Romeu, the country's first female graduate in orchestral direction, the ensemble consists exclusively of women, who perform pieces as diverse as Bartok's “Divertimento” and the “Camerata en Guaguancó” (Guaguancó is a type of rumba) by Guido López Gavilán. Best of all, the concerts are held in the majestic church of San Francisco in the eponymous Old Havana square. 

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