History is filled with moments in time when nothing that was will ever be the same again, and it appears Cuba is now at one of those pivotal moments. Ever since the sweeping changes in U.S.-Cuba relations that President Barack Obama announced last year took effect in January, the island has been on the mind of many Americans eager to visit.
Questions remain, though, regarding how a person exactly handles booking a vacation to Havana. What constitutes legal travel? What should I expect from the hotels? Are the restaurants any good? What’s the best way to purchase Cuban cigars? Fortunately, Cigar Aficionado has been going to Cuba for more than 22 years and has the answers.
Before you schedule your visit to Cuba, check out the June issue of the magazine where we bring you the ultimate travel guide to the largest island in the Caribbean. For a preview of the expert advice in the issue, look below.
The Top Five Dishes in Havana
Pork Ribs, Casa Grande Pezuela No. 86, esquina Fóxa, Cojimar, La Habana del Este
From the aroma wafting from the grill, to the size of the ribs when they land on the table, you would be hard-pressed to find a better rendition of pork ribs. Maybe it is the unexpected surprise of finding them in Cuba, but who cares. They are great. The lime-soy marinade is inspired.
Lasagna de Papaya, La Guarida Calle Concordia 418, entre Gervesio y Escobar, Centro
This has been one of my favorite dishes in Havana for years now. It is creative. It has the right balance of sweetness and acidity. And it qualifies for this list because it is just downright creative.
Ensalada de Pulpo, Corte del Principe Calle 74, esquina Avenida 9, Miramar
The thinly sliced pieces of octopus are delightfully tender but then they are tossed with small cubes of warm potatoes and dressed in olive oil and garlic sauce. You'll want a second plate when you're done with the first.
Tuna Sashimi, Santy Calle 240A, Jaimanitas
I know what you're thinking. Raw fish? Havana? But the tuna sashimi is perfect here. It may not be on the menu every day, because they don't catch tuna every day. Enough said, right? Make the effort to get here. You won't be sorry.
Roast Chicken, El Aljibe Avenida 7, entre 24 y 26, Miramar
I usually muscle the willpower to stop the all-you-can-eat parade of plates because it's my first night in Havana, and I don't want to overdo it. But it's hard. The chicken is always perfectly roasted, the rice and black beans are a meal in themselves, and they have even mastered the art of french fries. Who cares if the restaurant is rustic? This is the old style of cooking in Havana at its very best.
Five Tips For Cuban Hotels
Book Early—Havana is hotter than ever, and despite having many hotels there are times when you can't find a good room in the city. Be sure to reserve well in advance, particularly during busy times. Be sure to bring your reservation documentation with you to prove payment.
Elusive Wi-Fi—Wi-Fi is a luxury in Cuban hotels, not an expected amenity. Internet service is often slow, usually limited to the lobbies, and sometimes requires the purchase of a card, which generally costs about 8 CUC per hour of use.
Hunting For Hot Water—Even in the best hotels, you might have to wait for hot water on occasion.
Changing Cash—All good hotels in Cuba offer money changing services to turn euros or dollars into Cuban convertible pesos, which you'll need for all purchases in Cuba. If you can, bring euros to avoid the 13 percent "tax" levied on U.S. dollar transactions.
Amenities—While some hotels have decent shampoo and conditioner, be sure to pack both. You will be glad you did.
More Quick Tips Articles
For much more on traveling to Cuba and navigating all the island has to offer, pick up a copy of the June issue of Cigar Aficionado, on newsstands now.