Our new printed guide of top recommendations is already on the streets of Havana. In this sixth edition we carefully selected outlets and venues that captivated our attention in 2018. Read on for more and enjoy!
Star dishes include exquisite fresh pasta; complex variations with eggplant; and concoctions with spinach, sweet potato, yucca, millet, rice and whole wheat bread; tasty desserts; and freshly squeezed natural juices.
Wine lovers, take note. Otramanera’s owner is a Spanish sommelier, who pays special attention to his wine selection. For Cuban standards, the restaurant has an excellent wine list, offering a wide variety of reds, whites and sparkling from all over the world.
5 Esquinas Trattoria is located on the corner of the peculiarly-named “Sword alley,” a charming cobblestone street in the historic center of Havana. Indeed this is one of the most exciting restaurants in Old Havana. Pizzas here are the real deal and made in wood-fired oven.
In a strikingly high-ceilinged 120-year-old Vedado mansion, this stylish second-floor paladar offers competently done international meat, poultry, pasta and seafood dishes that satisfy even if they don't always totally dazzle.
Coffee is another sign of changing dynamics between the United States and Cuba. Swiss giant Nestlé SA recently announced its Nespresso division would begin selling "Cafecito de Cuba" single use coffee pods in the United States.
Today, private restaurants or paladars in Cuba seem to be opening up everywhere in Havana. But you would hardly expect, in the crowded and bustling streets of Centro Habana, to find a Swedish restaurant.
Rightly named after its Spanish owner Pilar, this private restaurant or known as paladar here opened its doors three years ago, and is – without a doubt - one of the best Spanish restaurants in Havana.
You wouldn't expect President Obama to have dinner in a private restaurant on the evening of the first day of his official visit to Cuba - the first in nearly 90 years. But we think he made a good choice. President Obama chose Centro Habana's San Cristóbal - one of our favorite places to eat in the city.
The 18th Festival del Habano began on the 29th of February in a bright and warm Havana. The festival took off with the usual press conference at the Palacio de la Convenciones where journalists and professionals from the industry came for a review of the events during the festival as well as new releases and business figures from Habanos S.A.
Seven months after its July 2015 launch, HavanaInsider.com continues to lead the field. It is the single most useful website for travelers to Cuba who want to savor the very best the island has to offer. We extend a big thanks to all our readers for their great support and feedback.
The White House announced February 17 that U.S. President Obama would travel to Cuba March 21-22, 2016. This is a political milestone in the measured but steady process of normalization between the two countries.
We tasted Havana Club's ultra premium Union rum recently in Havana. It's a powerful and amazing expression of an aged rum, blended to pair with a Cuban cigar. The target was the powerful Cohiba Siglo VI.
It always seems strange drinking bottles of mostly Spanish and Chilean wines in the few restaurants that offer them in Havana and outside the capital. Most often, everyone else is drinking cocktails, rum or cold beers. There is no wine culture in Cuba.
Named after Richard Egues, a flute player and soloist in Cuba’s legendary Orquesta Aragón band, who went by the nickname “the magic flute”, this bar is located on the rooftop of a 10-floor building that is right in front of the United States Embassy in Havana.
HavanaInsider.com has only been online for about six months, but you know that I have been rating Cuban cigars since 1992 - first with Cigar Aficionado magazine and then with my own website JamesSuckling.com starting in 2010.
HavanaInsider.com was launched in July 2015 by JamesSuckling.com, as the U.S. and Cuba resumed diplomatic relations. It quickly became the go-to reference for visitors to Havana who want to experience the best of an amazing 500-year-old city.
Following James' recent interview with UK Cigar Scene Magazine, a popular London-based online cigar magazine, James shared more of his thoughts on the future of Cuba's cigar industry in this extra bonus video.
Located on the lower floor of an restored traditional limestone building with a few tables scattered in the pedestrian street, the food here is mainly Cuban, with pork and fish dominating the menu, which actually changes daily depending on the fresh ingredients available.
The Atlantic Council, a prestigious Washington DC think tank, just released the results of a recent poll—in four electorally important U.S. "heartland" states—that shows strong support for President Obama's Cuba policy.
Located on the second floor of one of the newly restored buildings that surround the Plaza Vieja in Old Havana, this loud, funky and eclectically decorated lounge-like restaurant commands one of the most envious views of the ancient Plaza Vieja from its terrace.
I was thinking about a Japanese whiskey and cigar tasting I did a week ago in Hong Kong at the Red Chamber cigar club prior to a Zachys wine auction on October 31. I said a few words about the cigar, a Montecristo Edmundo, which was My Cigar of the Year in 2014.
The hip Café Laurent is located on the top floor of an eclectic building in the heart of Vedado, just a few blocks away from the historic Hotel Nacional. This paladar is refurbished from an old apartment, but one can still have the cozy feeling of dining in a living room.
James recently did an interview with UK Cigar Scene, a popular online cigar magazine based in London, where he looked back to his more than 30 years of experiences writing about Cigars when working as the bureau chief of Cigar Aficionado magazine.
Al Carbón, a new restaurant that opened only a few months ago in Havana, is a new addition to Havana's fine dining scene. Created by the same owners of the immensely popular Iván y Justo, the restaurant strikes out in a different but equally successful direction, specializing in traditional Cuban dishes cooked over charcoal.
Habanos S.A., Cuba’s state company that distributes and markets Cuban cigars, has launched a new website, which according to the cigar company, will provide users better site navigation and more comprehensive information on cigars.
President Barack Obama met with President Raul Castro last week for the second time this year, on the margins of the annual UN General Assembly in New York. This followed steps by the U.S. Administration to further ease restrictions on individual U.S. citizens' travel and doing business in the island country.
This is hands down the best fish restaurant in Havana. Far from the salinas and commotion of Old Havana, it is tucked away near the mouth of the Jaimanitas river in a fishermen’s village of the same name in western Havana.
Pope Francis just ended his four-day visit to Cuba, during which he met with President Raul Castro and, privately, with Fidel Castro and his family at the latter's home. HavanaInsider was present at the large mass in Revolution Square and noted the enthusiasm of the crowd for the Pope's message of reconciliation and human service.
In one of Cuba’s best tobacco growing areas, Pinar del Rio’s San Luis region, tobacco grower Hiroshi Robaina wakes up every year at midnight on September 21 to check the direction of the wind at his plantation, Cuchillas de Barbacoa.
This spectacular venue, which is located upstairs at the legendary Teatro Nacional in Vedado, offers some spectacular performances anything from trovadores or Cuba’s singer-songwriters to some of the most sought-after salsa ensembles.
September is usually quieter in Havana. Now things are changing and you notice it clearly from month to month. New restaurants and bars are popping up everywhere. Numerous direct flights from the U.S. are arriving full every day, and the number of American visitors is clearly up a lot.
This restaurant, whose name translates as "The Printer," is owned by Habaguanex, an enterprise of the Havnana City Historian's office. It is located on Calle Mercaderes in Old Havana, one door away from the famous Conde de Villanueva hotel, where you can also find one of Havana’s best cigar shops.
La Domínica, a lovely Italian restaurant facing Hemingway’s Ambos Mundos hotel in Old Havana, is one of the best Italian restaurants in Havana. The food is reasonably priced, and the live music performance really upped the experience.
The legendary Jazz musician Wynston Marsalis just released a new jazz album recorded before a live audience at the Mella Theatre in Havana, Cuba. Titled "Live in Cuba", the album explores the connections between American jazz and different types of Afro-Cuban music.
Café Cantante Mi Habana is located in the basement of the Teatro Nacional, one of the corners of the iconic Plaza de la Revolución. It is very lively and well-kept, with lots of space for dancing, and some of the hottest, up-and-coming bands on the local scene are often jamming there.
American airlines could start operating weekly charter flights from Los Angeles to Havana as early as December this year. Plus more stories on Cuban youth and essentials to know for Americans who want to invest in Cuban property in our weekly news digest.
Today marks a special moment in history of the United States and Cuba as the U.S. flag once again unfurls in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana after 54 years. As a journalist who has been traveling to Cuba on a regular basis for more than two decades, this has left me breathless this morning.
The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, presided at an official flag raising ceremony today outside the U.S. Embassy building on the Bay of Havana. Read our report and watch the flag raising ceremony here.
This video clip offers a beautiful overview of how a Cuban cigar is made--from picking the tobacco at the planation, to curing the leaf, and rolling the cigar at the factory, and, finally, to smoking and savoring a world class cigar. All in two minutes.
Vintage Classic American cars in Cuba from the 1950s have become poster images of Havana, but riding one is not always great. Don't be surprised to see duct tape and odd bits of homemade fixtures holding things in place.
Gastón Joya Perellada is one of Cuba's finest bass players. At 28, he has already played alongside Cuban piano legends Chucho Valdés and Ernán López-Nussa. A versatile and rounded musician, he has also performed with the Latin American Symphonic Orchestra under the direction of master conductor Claudio Abbado. Watch him perform a masterful solo during a show with the Ernán López-Nussa Trio.
Beginning March 1, 2015, MasterCard officially began handling credit card transactions by its American cardholders in Cuba, the first US credit card company to do so. However, the range of establishmnets accepting credit cards is limited, and many travelers have reported difficulty using U.S. Mastercards.
I don't think the person who wrote the caption has ever stepped foot in Havana or Cuba. One key reason why Cuba is so safe is that the government’s security is extremely strong and its police force innumerable. However, more importantly, the Cuban people are friendly and do welcome visitors. They also understand how important tourism is to their economy and are looking forward to more Americans visiting following the recent change in U.S.-Cuban relations.
I was in Havana earlier in February for Havana Cigar Festival. Immediately when I landed, I lit a Cohiba Siglo I in the taxi. It's nice to be legally smoking a Cuban cigar after ten years of it essentially being illegal for Americans to smoke them. Nonetheless, in most cases it appears Americans still should not be smoking Habanos.
Havana’s bar scene is really varied. There are venerable places, steeped in history or associated with major literary figures, such as Hemingway’s favourite, El Floridita. Most of these are state-owned and major draws for foreign visitors.
Like many things in Havana, getting a shave is like stepping into a time-machine. While I was in Havana attending the Habano Cigar Festival in February, I couldn't resist stopping by a local barbershop. Where else in the world can you get a shave and smoke a cigar at the same time? Now that's what I call “the good old days.”
The bottom line is that Cuban cigars can be bought like fine wines, following the vintage or date on the bottle (wines) or box (cigars). I believe that one can buy Cuban cigars according to the box date.
The annual Havana Cigar Festival kicked off on the morning of February 23rd, 2015. The day took off with a press conference, where Jorge Luis Fernandez Maique, Commercial Vice-President of Habanos, the global distribution and marketing organization for Cuban cigars; and Javier Terres Ercilla, company Vice-President of business development, gave some insight on the sales of cigars around the world. Please click here to read our report on the first day.
This is the first of a series of interviews with the different managers of the great cigar shops in Havana. In this video, we talk to Leonerto Pérez Hernández, director of La Casa del Habano at Club Habana.
Hiroshi is the head of Finca Robaina, the legendary estate where Hiroshi’s family has been growing tobacco since 1845. Hiroshi would not be where he is if it weren’t for his grandfather, the great Alejandro Robaina.
In this second segment, Hiroshi and James discuss the importance of technology in the curing process. The curing of the tobacco is one of the most important parts in the process of making a cigar – it adds balance as well as that beautiful golden copper color to the wrapper.
The Museo de Artes Decorativas (Museum of Decorative Arts) is a work of art in its own right. The site is the original residence of María Luisa Gómez Mena, a wealthy patron of Cuban artists. Built in 1927, the sumptuous, French Renaissance-inspired mansion was designed by French architects P. Virad and M. Destugué. The residence was claimed by the Cuban government in 1964 and became what is known as today - the Museum of Decorative Arts.
This is a stop that visitors to Cuba have to make. Otherwise, what’s the point of visiting a country that is famous for its national drink - rum? Opened in 2000 by the country’s most famous rum brand Havana Club, the museum uses visuals and models to guide visitors through the whole rum-making process, from harvesting at sugarcane plantations to the final bottling process.
The first day of the 2015 Havana Cigar Festival took off a with a press conference at the Palacio de las Convenciones in Havana, where Habanos’ business development vice-president Javier Terrés Ercilla and commercial vice-president Jorge Luis Fernández Maique commented on the new releases as well as the company’s relevant commercial information.
On the second day of the 2015 Havana Cigar Festival, the press and participating guests had the opportunity to visit some of the top plantations in Vuelta Abajo, recognised by many as the best tobacco region in the world.
Bella Ciao, a lush Italian restaurant deep in the Miramar area delivers stellar classics that stay faithful to their Italian roots. With outdoor seating under a roof of green ivies and trees, there’s a casual atmosphere that plays nicely off the classic austerity of many of the dishes on the impressively packed menu.
Visitors to Cuba (including Cubans living abroad) are required to have medical insurance adequate to cover medical expenses that may arise while in the country. Travelers may be asked to show proof of such upon arrival, and should check with their insurance companies beforehand to confirm coverage.
I smoked a number of new releases at the 2015 Havana Cigar Festival, and the best cigar so far was actually not one of the official releases from Habanos, the global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars.
A lot of cigars were smoked during the 2015 Havana Cigar Festival, the annual mega-cigar festival in Havana celebrating the greatest of Cuban cigars from February 23 to 28. I smoked and rated just about everything that was handed out during the five-day event that including various dinners, seminars and visits to cigar factories and tobacco plantations.
Tourism in Cuba is booming as relations between the U.S. and Cuba continue to thaw. In the first five months alone, the island country welcomed around 1.7 million people, a 15% increase over the same period last year.
The 2015 Havana Cigar Festival concluded with a gala dinner at Pabexpo in Havana's Siboney neighborhood. The night was dedicated to to the 80th anniversary of the Montecristo brand. Throughout the dinner guests were entertained by various musical numbers while they smoked cigars handed out after each course.
Day four of the 2015 Havana Cigar Festival saw Phoenicia, the regional distributor of Habanos in the Middle East, continental Africa, Cyprus and Greece, organize a cigar tasting session at El Laguito cigar factory, where many Cohiba cigars are manufactured.
Until the Saratoga was operational this was the best hotel in Havana. This attractive, large (427-room) hotel in Parque Central, opened in the '90s, is one of the newer additions to the city’s roster of top hotels.
The former residence of Count Villanueva was turned into a courtyard-style boutique hotel in Old Havana in 1998. One of the 20-odd hotels run by the city’s hotel brand Habaguanex, the nine-room hotel has a red façade that opens up to a lush courtyard. A café is hidden in the back of the courtyard, where free-roaming birds and peacocks amble lazily. The lobby and reception are well furbished and the front desk staff are more than willing to provide suggestions for visiting Old Havana.
This is one of the most upscale restaurants in Havana, located in Plaza de San Francisco in Habana Vieja (the very professional and jacketed waiters traded off-street salsa with classic live piano performance). The decor is striking and grandiose; you'll regret it if you dress down.
In a short span of two years since its opening in 2013, Mediterráneo has already amassed a loyal following among Havana foodies and visitors. The restaurant’s overall environment is agreeable: Mediterranean blue and white decor, spacious, airy, attractive and modern.
French-style bakery is still a new concept in Havana, and you’d be surprised by how some local bakeries can turn out jaw-dropping, hard-as-a-rock chocolate muffins. Bianchini is in a class of its own, a bakery-cum-café that first opened near Plaza de Sanfrancisco over ten years ago.
Café El Escorial is the closest thing Havana has to Starbucks, minus the takeout services. If you insist, bring along your own mug or even a Ziploc bag (like Cubans do) for a café con leche, the holy grail at this quaint café shop on Plaza Vieja, for only $1.2 CUC!