Go on an amazing trip for a foodie - a week of dining at the top restaurants in Havana! The restaurants in the Cuban capital are an amazing experience with wonderful food. Expect to be dining in old mansions, garden terraces, penthouses, and even restaurants with ocean views. The atmosphere of the restaurants in Havana is amazing – where they have done things such as convert historic mansions and penthouse levels of apartment buildings into restaurants, along with taking advantage of their warm climate to create picturesque outdoor dining areas. The food in Havana’s restaurants is great too, where specialties often include pork, chicken, fish, and even lobster. This is not the food found in all inclusive tourist resorts – the cuisine we’ll be having is the real, authentic Cuban cuisine. And it will be an unforgettable experience!
Havana is Cuba’s capital and is a very beautiful European looking city and the old section of Havana was even named a cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1982. Slowly, the city, and especially the old section Habana Vieja, are being restored. The history of Havana dates all the back to the 1500s. There is still a fortress with canons that is still intact that was there to defend the Spanish against the English and French. Havana even had a fortified wall around it like Quebec City, but it was torn down in 1863 because of city growth. Havana encompasses lots of history from centuries ago to the present day. It is also at the heart of Cuban life and culture.
Overall, the trip will feature 11 of Havana’s top restaurants, 6 for dinner and 5 for lunch, all of which will feature Cuban cuisine. In between our meals, there will be plenty of time for sightseeing and entertainment. Two days of the trip have been reserved as beach days, where we will go to the Playa del Estes beach which is about a half hour bus ride from Havana, and we will have lunch at the beach on those days.
Havana has undergone a transformation in its restaurant scene the last couple of years under economic reforms implemented by Raul Castro. Whereas restaurants in Cuba used to be a gastronomic joke, they are now becoming much more sophisticated with more international influences to make what is called nueva cucina cubana, which is Cuban food fused with international influences and flavours to make a worldly dining experience. Private restaurants called paladares are now popping up all over Havana, and can now legally seat up to 50 people whereas they could previously only seat 12. Needless to say, the growth of the restaurant scene has really enhanced the dining experiences in the Cuban capital.
Dining in Havana is also a very good value. In a lot of places, even lobster won’t be more than 20 convertible pesos (around $20). Overall, Havana restaurant prices are extremely reasonable when you compare to Toronto dining establishments.
So come and enjoy a great dining trip in a warm, sunny climate – in Havana, Cuba. This is an unbelievable trip that you won’t want to miss!
On the first day of the trip, we’ll explore Old Havana. We’ll start by seeing an old hotel where Ernest Hemingway stayed in the 1930s, and then head to a chocolate museum (also a fine chocolate shop). Next, we’ll see the historic Plaza de San Francisco de Asia and then head over to one of Havana’s best coffee establishments on the Plaza Vieja. Then, there is another great historic hotel we’ll see that serves up great mojitos in the lobby and may have some musicians performing. After that, we’ll see a spot that is famous for Buena Vista Social Club performances before having lunch at a fine restaurant that is known for exceptional traditional Cuban cuisine, having such dishes as ajiaco, a thick soup made with root vegetables (one of Cuba’s national dishes), fried malange with honey sauce, black bean soup, empanadas, blue cheese croquettes, yucca fritters, tamal and exceptional roast pork. After lunch, we can try a beer at Havana’s only brewpub where they make their own beer on site before heading off to a rum museum. For dinner, we’re going to a restaurant near the Plaza de Cathedral that makes food the traditional Cuban way and was written up as one of the 101 best restaurants in the world by 53 celebrity chefs in an article for The Daily Beast. Among their famous dishes are ropa vieja and chickpeas with chorizo. After dinner, we’ll take a taxi to an old Havana fortress where they have an historic shooting of the cannon ceremony.
We start off the day seeing the Havana city museum, which has exhibits on Havana’s history. Then, we’ll go see the historic Mallecon, which is one of Havana’s most historic boulevards along the ocean and a place where Cubans of all walks of life hang out. We also will have lunch at a famous restaurant that overlooks the Mallecon and the ocean and is well known for seafood and lobster. After lunch, we go to see a museum dedicated to the Cuban Revolution which is located in the former presidential palace and is undoubtedly probably the most significant museum in Cuba. Before dinner, we can get a daiquiri at a bar that was frequented by Ernest Hemingway. Then for dinner, we are going to a restaurant that is literally right on the water that is also known for seafood, having things such as skewers of lobster, shrimp, fish and shellfish stew. But they also have other traditional Cuban dishes such as ropa vieja, roasted lamb shoulder, and Cuban style fried beef.
We go to the beautiful Playa del Estes beach for some swimming and relaxing under the sun. For dinner, we are going to one of my favourite restaurants in the world of all time that is located in what was formerly a large mansion owned by a sugar plantation owner before the revolution and is now the home to several Cuban families that share the same building as the restaurant. The food I had here was phenomenal, and I had the lobster when I was here, which was spectacular. Other great dishes here are a sea bass in a coconut reduction and chicken with honey and lemon sauce.
We’ll take a Havana Tour bus to the outskirts of Havana and go to an aquarium with a great dolphin show.For lunch, we’ll go to one of the prettiest and well decorated restaurants I have ever seen that is in a garden like setting. The food I had here was also spectacular (I had a stuffed pork loin) and the restaurant specializes in Cuban cuisine, although there are some international touches to the cuisine. In addition to the many seafood, lamb, veal, and chicken dishes that are on the menu, the restaurant has some excellent appetizers and side dishes such as fried chickpeas, malanga fritters, assortments of Spanish sausages, mashed sweet potatoes, and fried plantains. This is a place where you dine in the mist of fountains and tropical gardens on a lovely terrace. The restaurant was even visited by Jimmy Carter back in 2002. After lunch, we continue on the Havana Tour bus and go to see a memorial dedicated to Jose Marti, which is on a super large plaza dedicated to the Revolution. In the same area, there is also an interesting postal museum. Later, if the line is not too long, we can get ice cream at Havana’s most famous ice cream parlor (this is a place you got to see even if it is just for the atmosphere).
For dinner, we go to a famous paladar that has been around since 1995 and is known for very friendly service and has often been frequented by celebrities. The menu at the restaurant is extensive and serves lobster, fish, paella, chicken, and even rabbit in elegant presentations. The owner is known to be one of the friendliest people on the Havana restaurant scene and will even gladly share some of Cuba’s history with you.
We’ll have another day at the beach. For dinner, we'll go to one of the best new restaurants in Cuba that could be one of the most significant restaurants to come to the country in a generation. This restaurant is located in an old restored colonial house in Habana Vieja with tainted glass, original 19th century floors, soaring cathedral ceilings, and beautiful mural paintings made by local Cuban artists, with views over a courtyard and an old street. There is also charming guitarist to match the elegance and exquisiteness of the restaurant's cuisine and keep you entertained. Among the dishes at this restaurant are octopus in pesto sauce, chicken with orange sauce with beans flavoured with brandy, beef with green peppercorn and blue cheese sauce, pollo al chilindron, ropa vieja, and a mariscos (shell fish) plate with fresh fruit. One of the specialties of the house is the Langosta al Café estilo Los Mercaderes, which is lobster in a sauce made of coffee, spices, cream, butter, and a secret touch of the chef. Desserts here are exquisite and include a chocolate/toffee dream dessert and a chocolate dessert whose recipe came from the owner's Grandmother. The owner here too is extremely friendly and will let you know anything you need to know about Cuba, nightlife, cigars, or rum. After dinner, we'll check out the magical European atmosphere of Old Havana under the nighttime sky.
We start the day by getting a tour of one of Havana’s most famous cigar factories. Then for lunch, we go to a great restaurant that is in the penthouse of an apartment building and has an unbelievable terrace where you can get a view of the sea. Seafood dishes at this restaurant, such as red snapper with clams and shrimp in green sauce are excellent. This restaurant has outdoor dining at its finest. In the afternoon, we go to see Havana’s Cuban art museum. Then for dinner, we go to a restaurant in a mansion that is full of antiques, photos, clocks, religious artifacts, and even has a parrot. The place looks like it has everything your grandmother would have and even has the original bathtub in place. This place is a must see for atmosphere and the cuisine is traditional Cuban. Some of the recommended dishes at this restaurant are lobster, steak with mushrooms, and cerdo asado (roast pork).
We start by seeing the capital building and then we will have lunch at a restaurant that has a terrace with outstanding views of the city and wonderful charcoal barbequed Cuban cuisine, such as lobster, shrimp, chicken, pork, and an outstanding leg of lamb. The grill of the restaurant is out in the open and you can see the chefs at work. The atmosphere here makes this is a great place to have a few drinks while overlooking the city before we go home.
Detailed Itinerary to be given upon payment of the trip organization fee:
Once payment of the trip organization fee is received, then the person will be given a detailed itinerary that lists all of the names and addresses of the restaurants and sightseeing attractions.
Although plans for after dinner have been left open, the detailed itinerary lists several entertainment venues, such as bars and salsa venues.
What are the influences to Cuban cuisine?
Cuban cuisine has been influenced by ingredients native to the island as well as people who came to the island from Spain and Africa centuries ago. Fishing has always been popular on the island, and the original aboriginal population there grew cassava, sweet potato, corn, black beans. The Spanish led by Christopher Columbus came to Cuba in 1492 and gave a Spanish influence to Cuban cuisine. Also, people from Africa brought other agricultural ingredients to the island such as okra, taro root, and plantains. Some French plantation owners came from Haiti too at the end of the eighteenth century and brought with them some minor French influences to the cuisine and also started growing coffee on the island. Also, Chinese immigrants arrived in the middle of the nineteenth century and gave some influence to rice dishes, such as frying it.
What are some main ingredients used in Cuban cuisine?
On Cuban menus, you will often see pork, chicken, seafood, shrimp, lobster, and in fancier restaurants, beef or steak dishes. Black beans and rice are a delicious accompaniment to a Cuban meal and are a widespread specialty throughout Cuba. When black beans and rice are cooked together, they are known as moros & cristianos.
On my last trip to Havana, I really liked the lobster (see picture on left) and had it four times. Lobster seemed to be a nice treat in Havana and much less expensive than getting it in a Canadian restaurant. I also really liked the pork and chicken dishes and the moros & cristianos as well as the fried plantain.
Nowadays in the more upscale restaurants in Havana, you will see more international influences (such as French) on Cuban dishes, giving them a more international flair. This trend is also known as nueva cocina Cubana.
What are some dishes you might find on a restaurant menu in Havana?
There can be quite a variety, especially now that there have been international influences on the paladares (private restaurants) in Havana. And each restaurant can have their own specialties too. But here is a list of items you may see (but there will be many other menu options):
Moros & Cristianos
Roasted or smoked pork loin
Skewers of shrimp
Brochettes Chicken with pineapple and bacon
Cuban black beans
And to drink, you can find mojitos everywhere, and they are really delicious and thirst quenching.
Our daily meeting spot:
Our meeting spot will be at the Hotel Inglaterra in Central Havana. This is in the very centre of town. Tourist buses and taxis go there with frequency. However, you don’t have to stay at this hotel. There are other options nearby.
Hotel and Flight Arrangements:
Everyone who goes on the trip will be responsible for their own hotel and flight arrangements. Normally, you get the best deals by getting a combination hotel and flight package. I have used Redtag.ca for this and also Sunwing has quite a few packages. Redtag.ca will cover all of the major companies that offer hotel and flight packages, including Sunwing and Hola Sun. So Redtag.ca is great for seeing what deals are out there. Tripcentral.ca is also a good web site for comparing pricing. Overall, the web sites that I have found for booking hotel and flight packages are:
Also, for hotel and airfare packages where the flight goes into Veradero instead of Havana, the transfer between the Veradero airport and your hotel is normally included in the vacation package.
Which dates should I book my trip for?
The dates to book are departing from Toronto on Friday, April 5 and returning to Toronto on Friday, April 12.
Where will Greg (the trip organizer) be staying while in Havana?
I (Greg) will be staying at the Hotel Inglaterra which is on the Parque Central (it is a big park in the centre of Havana).
What are the recommended hotels near the Hotel Inglaterra?
Iberostar Parque Central
Neptuno e/ Prado y Zulueta
Hotel Pool: Yes
Area: Central Havana
Highest recommended hotel for its superb location, luxury standards, nice rooftop pool, and great breakfasts. Disadvantage is it is definitely not the cheapest.
My hotel (see pictures above and below):
Paseo de Marti No. 416
Hotel Pool: No
Area: Central Havana
Paseo de Marti No. 408
Hotel Pool: No
Area: Central Havana
Trocadero No. 55 between Paseo de Marti & Agramonte
Hotel Pool: Yes
Area: Central Havana
Paseo de Marti No. 603
Hotel Pool: Yes
Very Expensive, but great pool
Area: Central Havana
Also, this hotel is approximately a CUC$10 taxi ride away (not walking distance) from the Parque Central and is being mentioned because this is the nicest of all Havana Hotels and often may have last minute deals:
Ave Paseo entre 1 y 3
Hotel Pool: Yes
This hotel is even beautiful by Canadian standards.
If you stay at the Parque Central, Hotel Inglaterra, Hotel Telegrafo, Mercure Sevilla, or Hotel Saratoga, then you can easily walk to our daily meeting spot at the Hotel Inglaterra.
One note of caution: if you are really fussy about hotels, don’t expect absolute luxury unless you are staying at the Parque Central or the Melia Cohiba (the two best hotels in Havana). These 2 hotels are even fine luxury hotels by Canadian standards. The other places are fine, but there might be a few oddities here and there.
Overall summary of hotel locations:
If you do not end up staying at one of the hotels I mentioned, hotels in Vedado and Old Havana are relatively close to the Parque Central, but you may have a long walk or a short cab ride. I would not recommend staying at hotels in Miramar as those are far away. If you do end up staying in Miramar, the cab ride is probably around CUC$15 each way. You will not be able to walk to the Parque Central if you are staying in Miramar.
Single surcharges for vacation packages:
On most of the web sites, vacation package rates are based on double occupancy and two people travelling. In order to get the double occupancy rates you see on a web site, you normally have to book for both people at the same time. If you have your own hotel room, the single occupancy surcharge is normally between $200 for 3 star hotels to $400 for 5 star hotels.
What if my hotel does not have a pool?
You can go to the pool at the Mercure Sevilla and use their pool for a CUC$20 fee.
You should always keep your valuables such as money and your passport in a safe. Most hotels have a safe in the room.
Trip Organization Fee:
The trip organization fee is $115 per person and does NOT include transportation, accommodations, meals, drinks, or admission fees to attractions.
Payment required upon RSVP:
In order to RSVP for the trip, payment is required at the time the RSVP is made. If you do not want to pay through Paypal, you will need to please contact me to make alternate payment arrangements.
Types of payment accepted for Trip Organization Fee:
PayPal (or credit card) through the Meetup web site
I can also give a person an address to mail a check upon request.
Special note about paying through the Meetup web site:
For those paying online through the Meetup site (through PayPal), YOU CAN STILL PAY THIS WAY EVEN IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A PAYPAL ACCOUNT. You will see an option on the screen that allows you to pay without logging into PayPal (just paying with your credit card), even though PayPal is administering the payments through the Meetup website. Therefore, it is NOT necessary to have a PayPal account in order to pay through PayPal on the Meetup web site.
What does the trip organization fee cover?
The trip organization fee covers the planning, research, and preparation of the group itinerary, leading the group on the tour to the different restaurants and itinerary locations, as well as making arrangements for the group to dine in Havana’s best eating establishments. Part of the research that went into the preparation of this trip was from my last visit to Havana in March, 2012.
Guest sign up:
You are allowed to sign up one guest for this trip, but the trip organization fee of $115 must be paid for your guest at the time of sign up.
In addition to the amount you pay for hotel, air fare, and the trip organization fee, expect to need about $750 to cover meals and other miscellaneous expenses in Havana, such as admissions and taxis.
If someone wants to join the trip for only part of the time and not the full week, they can do that but would still have to pay the full trip organization fee of $115.
Paying for things in Cuba:
Most places, including all the restaurants that we go to, are cash only and only take CUC. You should bring enough cash with you to last the entire trip. A $1000 in cash for the trip would be recommended. (I have recommended bringing more than the $750 budgeted just for unforeseen emergencies, but if you bring a $1000 with you, you should have money left over at the end of the trip.) As for ABM machines, debit cards cannot be used in Cuba. However, there are some places where you can get a cash advance on a credit card, such as Visa. At the Miramar Trade Centre, there is an ABM machine where you can get a cash advance on a Visa 24 hours a day. However, Miramar is way outside of the centre of town. There are some places where you can get credit card cash advances closer by, but you would have to research to find out where they are. The best thing to do though is to come with enough cash to last you the trip. Canadian dollars can be converted into CUC at all the major hotels.
Where can I exchange Canadian dollars into the Cuban currency (CUC)?
This can be done at the airport, banks, and major hotels.
What is the exchange rate between the Canadian dollar and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC)?
One CUC is worth approximately $1 Canadian dollar. The CUC may be worth a penny or two more than the Canadian dollar when exchanging money.
ALWAYS ask a taxi driver what the cost will be to take you to your destination before you use one. This will avoid taxi drivers trying to charge you an unreasonably high rate.
Trip Itinerary Subject to Change if Necessary:
The trip itinerary is subject to change if any of the selected venues or restaurants are closed or cannot accommodate our group size (i.e. cannot take group reservations). However, the itinerary is expected to primarily remain the same. We may be able to work around a restaurant not accepting reservations in some cases.
Seating at restaurants:
Please note that at the restaurants we go to, we may be split between different tables because of our group size.
No smoking at our table at restaurants:
Although in Cuba smoking is common on outdoor terraces, there will be a rule in place for our group that smoking will NOT be allowed at our table.
Pre-gathering before the trip:
Before the trip, we will have an informational meeting where you will also get to know your fellow trip goers. Date and time for this TBD.
Everyone who goes on this trip needs a valid and up to date passport. If you do not have a Canadian passport, then you need to check if there are any visas required.
Transfers from Veradero airport to Havana:
Some airlines such as Sunwing and Air Transat fly into the Veradero airport instead of the Havana airport. Sunwing and Air Transat normally has a transfer bus that takes you from the Veradero airport to the hotel where you are staying included in the price of the vacation package.
Exit fee upon leaving Cuba:
When we depart Cuba to go back to Canada, Cuban Customs will charge a CUC$25 exit fee. This has to be paid before you leave Cuba, so make sure you have CUC$25 cash before you leave for the airport to ensure that you have enough cash with you to cover this fee.
Baggage Weight Restrictions:
The airlines have been very strict on baggage weight restrictions. Sunwing has a weight restriction of 20kg for a checked bag and 5kg for a carry on bag. The airline may even charge $20 per kg in excess of their weight restriction. Needless to say, it is best to make sure that your baggage meets the weight restrictions.
Bringing back alcohol, other souvenirs:
One trick that I found, at least in the Veradero airport that Sunwing and Air Transat use, is that there is a shop that sells Cuban souvenirs such as Cuban rum after you have your bag weighed. The prices here are basically the same as those outside of the airport. So if you want to bring Cuban rum back with you, it may be good to buy it at the airport after your bags are weighed. Also, Canada Customs allows only 40 oz. of hard liquor beverages to be imported without being taxed. This basically that you can bring one bottle of rum back into Canada tax free and after that, you can be taxed on the excess amount at a high tax rate.
Before I went to Cuba on my last visit, the two vaccinations I got were Dukoral and Twinrix. Before you go, you should consult with your doctor on which vaccinations are needed. It is DEFINITELY recommended to get the appropriate vaccinations before travelling to Cuba.
Everyone who goes on this trip needs to have travel insurance.
How do I make telephone calls to and from Cuba to Canada?
To call Canada from Cuba, dial:
119 - 1 - Area Code - TEL #
To call Cuba from Canada, dial:
[masked] + (local telephone number)
In Havana, local telephone numbers for land lines normally start with a “7” and local telephone numbers for cell phones normally start with a “5”.
What is the address and contact information for the Canadian embassy in Havana?
Embassy of Canada in Cuba
Calle 30 No. 518 (esq. 7ma)
Ciudad de la Habana, Cuba
Monday/ Wednesday from 8:30am to 12:00
Hours of Operation
Monday - Thursday: 8:30a.m. - 5:00p.m.
Friday: 8:30am to 2:00pm
After hours emergency contact information(for Canadian citizens only)
Call collect:[masked] /[masked] (TTY) - The Emergency Operations Centre of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An experienced officer is always available to respond to emergency calls from anywhere in the world.
Refund Policy (if the trip is NOT full):
If the trip is not full, then a refund will be given for cancellations up to one week prior to the trip.
Refund Policy (if the trip is full):
If the trip is full, then no refunds will be given until someone takes your spot.
Is there a minimum number of people required to sign up in order for the trip to take place?
No, the trip will take place, with a tour to the different restaurants and sights on the itinerary, as long as at least one person signs up.
The trip organizer is not liable for any loss, injury, accident, damage, or delay due to an act or default of any hotel, transportation company, restaurant, or any other place, location, or company associated with the trip.
The person whom signs up for the trip agrees to indemnify and hold the trip organizer harmless against any costs, fines, claims, damages, charges, or fees (including reasonable attorney's fees) arising by reason of this trip.