With recent steps having been taken by the U.S. to open up relations with this timeworn but magnificent country, there’s never been a better time to head on over to Cuba-- a Caribbean island of indefinable magic that is now free of any political or ethical complications when it comes to tourism.
Get cool-- old school-style-- with historical heritage, attractive white sand beaches, suburbia-free countrysides, and busy atmospheric city streets offering endless musicality, robust culture, and layers upon layers of Cuban, Spanish, French, Jamaican, and even African diversity that can be seen through live dance, magnificent architecture, as well as a rainbow of inviting local individuals waiting to invite you into their humble homes. There’s always a chance to have some fun in this dilapidated but dignified, truly cool and classic tourist favorite. To help you plan for that long overdue Cuban getaway, here are the top nine things for Millennials to do in Cuba.
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What to do in Cuba – A Guide for Millennials
1. Salsa dance the night away on the streets.
No where else in the world will you find spontaneous live music, the pounding of Afro-Cuban rumba, and finger snapping locals sashaying down an everyday city street in broad daylight. It may sound crazy to us, but for Cubans, salsa dancing is something they were born knowing how to do-- it comes as natural as walking, and in Cuba, you’re likely to find yourself bumping up against lots of feisty dancers as you move up and down the streets of Havana.
The best part of it all is that the dance culture in Cuba is all about doing it together, so even those with two left feet are in for a treat! Take a quick crash course in smooth moving, or hang out during salsa night at 1830, an outdoor club. It’s never been easier to fall into step with a handsome local or to sink those teeth (and those moves!) into awesome 40s and 50s-era style music. Plus, the area is also a great spot for a photo-op, with bold African murals adorning all the walls and artists' studios within the space. So warm up those hips and get ready to get your groove on.
2. Go into a Mojito-coma, Cuban-style.
Who doesn’t love themselves a nice sparkling mojito? It’s known as the traditional Cuban highball, a true tropical time-out that’ll not only quench your thirst, but give you that tried and true refreshment that you’re looking for.
For the ultimate cocktail experience, make sure that your mix contains some authentic Havana Club Rum. Also don’t forget to down those suckers at top spots such as the Salón 1930 ''Compay Segundo' at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba (where the likes of Churchill, Al Capone, Sinatra, Ava Gardner, and Nat King Cole have all slurped up some of the stuff along with a beautiful view of the harbor, the sea wall, and the city), or La Bodeguita del Medio. Better yet, head on out to lesser-known places to drink like a modern day Cuban by moseying on over to Bar Monserrate, El Gato Tuerto, or Lluvia de Oro, which feature some of the best local bands in their nightly musical lineups.
3. Stay up all night at The Malecón.
Simply put: What The Malecón is to Havana is what the Strip is to Vegas—it’s the place to stay from sunset until sunrise, running for five long miles along Havana’s Atlantic-facing coast. Once dusk hits, there are always plenty of gallivanting teenagers, lust-ridden lovers, mighty musicians, friendly fishermen, and savvy street vendors to take in, especially if you’re just looking for a nice spot to chill, hang, party, or to drink rum with some of your best buds. Meander along the Malecón seawall to a mashup of eclectic beats and breaking waves. It’s a whole new way to take in a surging surf.
4. Waste the afternoon away in Plaza Vieja.
It may be Havana's “Old Plaza,” but this attractively restored town square has tons of culture going on, especially with its array of art galleries, outdoor cafes, and nightly mix of lively bossa tempo music and lots of Latin dancing. There’s even a beer museum to check out! Make sure to sip on one of those fantastically refreshing versions of a michilata (beer and lemon over ice with salted rim mug) or better yet, some three-foot-high beer towers, or only slightly smaller mojitos. Talk about the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon watching the entire world go slowly by.
5. Hike up the highest of Cuban high points.
At 1,974 meters, Pico Turquino is Cuba’s peak point, providing all outdoor enthusiasts with a super challenging hike that’ll have those salsa legs begging for some rest. There’s also Torre de Manaca Iznaga to check out, where you’ll find outstanding views of the Valley of the Sugar – it’s a former slave watchtower by an old plantation house-turned restaurant providing a sobering reminder of the past. A large warning bell that sounded when slaves tried to escape even remains at the foot of the entrance.
6. Visit some of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite spots.
The infamous novelist lived at Finca Vigía (which is now a museum) from 1939 to 1960, and even wrote some of The Old Man and the Sea and most of For Whom The Bell Tolls at this white colonial-style home. Since his death in 1961, the building has been preserved as Ernest left it for all tourists to see, though the doors have been locked to outsiders thanks to a number of past thieves.
Still, for those bookworms out there, this is the place in Havana to go to for a mere glimpse into the Nobel Prize winner’s life. You can even follow in his footsteps with a pub crawl to some of his favorite joints such as El Floridita or La Bodeguita del Medio. Drink dozens of daiquiris and millions of mojitos with the likes of one of literatures’ greatest.
7. Catch a baseball game at Estadio Latinoamericano.
The country of Cuba itself is home to not one but two pro-league teams, which makes it all the more B-Ball crazed, especially with its more than spacious stadiums that are typically as big or even larger than most MLB stadiums in the U.S. So snag some strong Cuban coffee from one of the vendors, catch some hefty home runs along with those wiener dogs, and enjoy the nation’s favorite team sport-- which just so happens to be an All-American fave as well!
8. Feast on Havana-style Street Food.
From coconut pies to pineapple pizza, nothing costs more than $1.50 in Havana. So go all out and give your taste buds the ultimate treat of a lifetime with street carts galore, as well as a bunch of brick-and-mortar “cafeterias” such as the local favorite, Cafeteria Doña Laura. Try out some Pork Burgers (Hamburguesa de Cerdo), a ground pork patty, griddled to medium-rare and laid on lettuce, tomato and pan suave, a soft roll. Or how about finishing up a Guava Milkshake in under two minutes (or before it gets hot and melt)? The refreshingly cool fruit-made sipper contains peeled fresh guava blended with milk and sugar.
Better yet, get hopping with some individually wrapped Hawaiian Pizzas—a.k.a. thick disks of dough glossed with tomato paste and topped with shredded cheese (a blend that tastes like a mix of mozzarella and sharp cheddar), ham and fresh pineapple, baked in an oven on the street and served up on a piece of paper (un papelito). It may look like a pizza, but you can down it like a taco. Yum.
9. Discover a revolution at Museo de la Revolución or the University of Havana
Housed in a former presidential palace, this stunning museum is one of Havana's most popular attractions and features a fascinating peek into Cuba’s political past. Find your revolutionary spirit by checking out the Granma, a cabin cruiser built for twelve people that came perilously close to sinking in 1956 after carrying eighty exiled rebels (both Castros and Ché were among them) seeking to return to Cuba.
For those craving something even more interesting, there’s also UH, the Vedado-district based university that was founded in 1728. It’s a politically charged and historically significant hotspot that houses over 60,000 students and occupies a good chunk of central Havana. It was also the alma mater of the famous Castro brothers’ in the fifties, serving as a major site for anti-government protests and public social events. Today, it remains a political and social organization that acts as the city’s nexus of contemporary youth culture. Millennials wanting to get in tune with Cuban history need to check this one out for sure.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.