Cuba, once a forbidden fantasy, is now America’s closest tropical paradise, only 110 miles offshore. Two things put this island nation on the map: iconic drinks and infectious music. Put those together, and you’re bound for some incredible nightlife. From Humphrey Bogart to Al Capone, Havana was where America’s classic rich and famous (or infamous), went to play. Now, it’s your chance: bring your best dance moves, and be ready to learn some suave new skills from the locals!
Plaza des Armas, this great harbor-side gallery-marketplace has the best Pina Coladas in Havana! For just 3CUC (these are some of the most expensive pina coladas in town, by the way), the handsome bartenders mix your drink in a freshly-cored mini pineapple. And, they give you the fruit inside too. Sip them on the pier and listen to the live music to get ready for a great night! We went here three times in a week, it was that good.
Tropicana, Playa, Havana
Havana’s oldest and most famous show, the Tropicana, started in 1939. This timeless burlesque will take your breath away. Sit back and enjoy 90 minutes of incredible music, dazzling costumes, beautiful people, and mind-blowing choreography, under clear Caribbean skies. Afterwards, join some of the dancers on stage for salsa; you might even learn something!
Tickets are a little pricey ($85-110), but worth every cent, and include half bottle of rum, a flute of champagne, and a cigar. All of the seats are good, but if you’re going to go big, go all the way– the $15 dollar difference puts you right in the front where the dancers’ feathers may even tickle your nose! Make sure to book tickets online, before your trip, the venue sells out every single night.
Fabrica, Vedado, Havana
This old peanut-oil factory was converted into a multi-level art-gallery/nightclub, and is debatably the hottest scene in Havana. This place has it all: different floors and rooms play different genres of music, from Cuban/Latin to ’80’s rock to current hip-hop favorites. There’s also a live jazz band on the first floor by the bar, a movie theater-sized screen, and lively patio behind the VIP balcony. The art exhibits switch from time to time, and are mostly political and social commentary — really incredible work. Check the venue’s event calendar to sign up for Tango lessons, or see who’s performing. A night at Fabrica can be an intellectual experience, meeting with artists and locals, enjoying the smooth Bossa nova; or it can be a wild evening of mojitos and screaming the few words you know to Spanish hits. It’s whatever you make it!
Cafe Tilin, Centro, Havana
This small, lofty cafe-by-day/bar-by-night caters to locals, with a live band and cheap drinks. A close walk from the Malecon, Cafe Tilin is the perfect spot to sink into one of the lounge couches, or swing the night away. There hundreds of great bars in Havana, this just happened to be the one I was whisked away into by some Cubans I met on the Malecon! Centro Havana is more local, while areas like Vieja are nothing but tourists, mostly German,French-Canadian, and Argentinian from my experiences– depends what you’re looking for! In Cuba, you’re guaranteed a good time either way.
The Malecon is the long coast-line walkway, stretching from the Castillo del Morro as far as the eye can see. All night, the Malecon is crawling with locals and tourists alike, singing, dancing, and having a good time. This is great place to meet people to go out with, or hang out with your crew before going out. After the clubs close at three, head back to Malecon to wind down with some good vibes. We met several musicians, everyone was so friendly and wanted to serenade us. I played one of their guitars while they free-styled the fastest Spanish I’d ever heard. We were there enjoying the ocean breeze and good company until 6am!
Casa de la Musica, Vinales
Get here early– this small town knows how to party, and they start as soon as the sun sets! In the main square, next to the cathedral, is a large dance-floor, complete with a live band: trumpets, guitars, singers, and a whole percussion section. Outside, make-shift bars sell mixed drinks, and everyone gathers in the square. The whole town comes out on Friday and Saturday nights, but by midnight the party’s over! We made that mistake– We showed up around 11:45 and the place was packed. After we bought a drink, and danced to one song, it was over. Wish we’d have known!
Pina Colada Tip: In Cuba, establishments sometimes serve Pina Coladas without rum in them first, customarily pouring the rum in once they’re been served, at the table. If you can’t taste the alcohol, its probably because there isn’t any!
Casa de la Musica, Trinidad
Similar to the Casa in Vinales, a live band plays at this local venue from about 8-12, and everyone gathers around to listen. Rows and rows of steps lead up to the hilltop Casa. It’s 1CUC to get in, but you can hear the music (and it’s still really loud) from the bottom of the hill. Drinks around this part of town are 1-2CUC, so buy a round, take a seat and enjoy. The stairs are a great place to people-watch, and there’s always an interesting cast of characters in Cuba. Also, there are really great sandwich shops open 24/7, as well as street food vendors, selling fresh thin-crust pizza and crispy churros.
Pina Colada Tip #2: There’s nothing rude about asking for more rum in your drink!
Disco Ayala, Trinidad
Venture deep underground, for the ultimate Cuban nightlife experience. This hidden gem is built inside a network of caves; there are two dance floors inside the spacious caverns, with a DJ booth up on top of a rock, and two bars carved out of stone. Current Reggaeton and other Latin hits dominate in this subterranean discoteca, and the crowd is a good mix of Trinidadians and international tourists. Its easy to spot a Trindidadian at Disco Ayala; they’re incredible dancers. The natural insulation of the cave keeps the club from getting too hot, meaning you can dance all night without breaking a sweat!
Oh yeah, and of course, there’s always someone selling coconut drinks on the beach. Salud!