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The mojito: Cuba’s ‘national cocktail’

While the Cuba Libre is, of course, one of the most famous cocktails to hail from Cuba, there is another fantastic thirst quencher for those warm Caribbean days: the mojito. Typically made from rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water, and mint, it’s the perfect refreshment for lazy days at your villa with private pool in Havana. Here’s everything you need to know about the mojito and its relevance throughout Cuba.

History of the Mojito

How—and where—the mojito was invented is a subject of great debate. Ask your bartender, your taxi driver, and your host at your casa particular in Havana, and they’ll all have a different opinion! However, most agree that the drink did originate in Cuba; Havana to be exact. Let’s take a look at four of the most popular theories as to how the mojito came to be one of Cuba’s most popular alcoholic drinks.

Some say that the mojito is an alternative form of the classic ‘El Draque’, a drink created by Sir Francis Drake who used the lime for treating scurvy and the rum to kill off all manner of disease.

Could the mojito have been created by Cuba’s African slaves? Some believe that the original mojito didn’t include lime, and was simply made from sugarcane juice from the fields.

It’s quite likely that the creation of the mojito was heavily influenced by Mojo seasoning, a popular Creole seasoning for meat, fish, and vegetables with a sharp lemon or lime base.

Finally, one of Havana’s best bars, La Bodeguita del Medio, confidently claims to be the ‘birthplace of the mojito’. It is said that Ernest Hemingway enjoyed drinking Mojitos here.

Mojitos in Havana 

When you’re on holiday in Cuba, you may find that the type of mojitos you enjoy are a little different from the variants you’ve had back home. Cuban mint or spearmint are traditionally used, which provides a slightly different flavour, and some bars may use angostura bitters to reduce sweetness. An authentic Cuban mojito is not to be missed, and is perfect for drinking at your villa in Havana.


Five Cuba venues for concerts and shows

While staying in your Cuba villa rental, you’ll most likely want to check out the many places where you can find live music, concerts, and shows throughout the island. Here are five venues worth looking into for live performances, with something for every taste!

Gran Teatro de La Habana

If you love opera, you’ll love the Gran Teatro de La Habana. This gorgeous theater is a part of Havana history, where the famous Pavlova and Alicia Alonzo once performed, and is a must-see when you’re in the Havana area. Take a tour and view the amazing architecture and art of both the exterior and the interior. The theater offers beautiful operas, ballets, and more. If you want an elegant evening on the town, you’ll want to come to this theater!

Legendarios del Guajirito

If you prefer a show with your meal, you’ll want to check out Legendarios del Guajirito, which is a fantastical dinner-theater venue! Enjoy a mojito, classic Cuban music, and even a conga line. Here you’ll get a high-energy performance coupled with delicious food and a night you’ll never forget.

Tropicana

An open-air nightclub, Tropicana is ideal if you’re seeking a show similar to something you’d see in Las Vegas. The stage is beautiful, the costumes dramatic and eye-catching, and you may even get a free cigar. Be sure you order some of their delicious rum as you enjoy one of the best shows that Havana has to offer!

Cabaret Parisien

If you like a good, old-fashioned Cabaret, you’ll love Cabaret Parisien. Located in the Hotel Nacional in Havana, this venue is like nothing you’ve ever seen! With 85 years of history, this venue is considered a symbol of history, culture, and Cuban identity. With its refined elegance and ancient splendor, you’ll want to check out the hotel itself before viewing the Cabaret.

La Zorra y el Cuervo

For the best jazz in Havana, check out La Zorra y el Cuervo. In a nightclub/bar atmosphere, you’ll hear some of the best jazz singers and bands perform live. Grab a drink at the bar, a snack, and jam the night away with amazing music! With all the performances thoroughly enjoyed, head back to your rental villa in Cuba and get a great night’s rest.


Best breakfast cafés in Cabarete, Dominican Republic

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and Cabarete has some of the best cafés in the Dominican Republic. So when you’re ready to leave your vacation rental, make sure you check out these tasty breakfast locations!

Vagamundo Coffee & Waffles

What goes better with coffee than waffles? At Vagamundo Coffee & Waffles, you get just that! This coffee shop serves cups of locally grown coffee and has specially-trained baristas. If you don’t want coffee, you can order a delicious tea or locally sourced fruit drink with a side of their gourmet waffles! For a healthier alternative, try their smoothie bowls. They also work for a worthy cause as a non-profit organization that supports underprivileged youth of the Dominican Republic and other island areas.

The Chocolate Bar

Who says you can’t have chocolate for breakfast? The Chocolate Bar offers hot chocolate, coffee, tea, frappes, ice cream, juice and smoothies. For breakfast, you might want to try a steaming cup of hot chocolate and one of their breakfast plates: fresh fruit, pancakes, eggs, croissants, or even their big breakfast platter.

The Honey Company

If honey is your thing, you’ll love what The Honey Company offers. They are an artisanal apiary whose honey is real, raw, and chemical-free. Their number one recommended food is their Greek yogurt, with their Eggs Benedict at a close second. They also serve coffee, juice, smoothies, waffles, and French toast. The Honey Company offers a relaxing atmosphere by the beach for your healthy, tasty morning.

Cabarete Coffee Company

Another great coffee option, the Cabarete Coffee Company offers delicious shade-grown coffee beans and organic cocoa. They even allow you to tour their coffee and cocoa trees during the day if you’re curious! On their menu, they serve breakfast all day long from waffles to breakfast sandwiches and croissants.

Belgium Bakery

Finally, if you’re craving baked goods, check out the Belgium Bakery. They offer pastries like the Napoleon, éclair, croissant, and chocolate mousse. Pair with one of their coffees and you have yourself the perfect European-style breakfast!

When you get hungry and are ready to leave your vacation villa in the Dominican Republic, go check them out!


Family-friendly attractions in Havana

Holidays in Cuba are often very busy, very colourful, and very lively, but the island still manages to be a great destination for families. One reason is because there are a lot of fantastic family villas in the Caribbean that are spacious and easily accessible, and plenty of family-friendly attractions that are ideal for people of all ages. Here are three excellent family-friendly attractions in Havana which are perfect for kids and adults!

Havana National Zoo

For kids who love animals, there’s nowhere better than the Havana Zoo. You’ll board a small bus which takes you through the African plains and then onto the real highlight — the lions (just remember to shut your windows!). There’s even a special treat at the end, when the kids can pet the friendly donkeys. A cafe and a playground are both on-site, so you can make this visit into a full day trip. The zoo is located a decent distance from most central Havana accommodations, but regular buses make the journey throughout the day.

Havana Aquarium

Havana National Aquarium

Another great place for animal lovers is the Havana Aquarium, which features a wide range of tropical and subtropical sea life, including sea turtles. The main attraction here, however, is definitely the large amphitheatre where you can sit down, relax, and take in a live show starring the aquarium’s resident dolphins. There’s a nice restaurant overlooking the dolphin tank, as well as a fun pool/splash pad for the kids. Located in the historic Miramar residential district of the city, the aquarium is very easy to get to.

Parque Almendares

A part of Cuba’s ‘Urban Forest’, Parque Almendares features a playground, pony rides, mini golf… and dinosaurs! There’s even a peaceful walkway down by the river which is a great way to take a bit of time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The park is located outside the centre of Havana, but getting there is half the fun, with roadside stands selling drinks in coconut shells to passing motorists. It’s best to set off from your Havana villa early, before the park gets hot in the middle of the day.


Where to stay in the Dominican Republic

Where should you rent a house in the Dominican Republic? The answer depends on what you’re looking for from your Dominican Republic holiday. This Caribbean country offers everything from untouched beaches to busy and bustling city centres. See below for a brief look at a few of the different neighbourhoods.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is the capital of the country, so the city is naturally very active and lively, and serves as a great place for shopping, nightlife, and experiencing the ‘real’ Dominican Republic. The historic Zona Colonial district is bursting with culture, featuring plenty of museums, sights, and attractions to keep you busy. Rather than staying at big resorts, the vacation rental homes in Santo Domingo are quite personal and private.

Punta Cana and Puerto Plata

Want to stay in a luxury villa with private pool in the Dominican Republic with quick and easy access to the beach? Consider staying in Punta Cana or Puerto Plata, which are two of the country’s best loved resort towns. Ideal for sunbathing, water sports, and resort-style nightlife, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata can provide a typical Caribbean island vacation, full of golden sands, cocktails, and a chilled vibe.

The Samaná Peninsula

In recent years, the Dominican Republic has solidified its place as one of the best destinations for ecotourism, and the Samaná Peninsula is a real ecotourism hotspot. With many local tour operators observing the code of conduct of the Center for the Conservation and Eco-Development of Samaná Bay and its surroundings, this is a great place to explore and do your part for the environment.

At the end of the day, however, it really doesn’t matter where your vacation rental in the Dominican Republic is located. The whole country has something wonderful to offer, from great scenery, history, and culture, to beaches, water sports, or shopping. Why not take a trip and see for yourself!


The mansions of Miramar

Just a few years ago, if you had asked anyone for the best place for a visitor to stay in Havana, they would have said the Old Town (Havana Vieja) or Habana Centro districts. Today, while these districts are still excellent choices, there are a few other options to consider, which are becoming increasingly popular with tourists. Miramar is one such neighbourhood in Havana, and it is the perfect destination to explore during your holiday in Cuba.

Casa Melodia in Havana Miramar

Luxurious Miramar 

Miramar is one of Havana’s most opulent districts. Previously a wealthy suburb, Miramar eventually became absorbed by the city, leading to some degradation. However, the mansions of the wealthy families–which were some of the finest homes in the Caribbean–remained, and they still stand today upon what has become known locally as ‘Mansion Row’, with sprawling lawns and stunning architecture.

A Diverse District

The fates of Miramar’s mansions have been diverse and varied, with some being converted into luxury accommodations in Havana, others being transformed into embassies, and some now in a state of disrepair. Some say that this is the Cuba they remember from the 1950s and 1960s, and that there is a definite sort of romance in the area, highlighting the nation’s heyday and keeping it alive.

Great for Families 

If you’re looking for a family villa in Havana, be sure to consider accommodations in Miramar. With wide, spacious, tree-lined avenues and fewer crowds compared to central Havana, Miramar may be a much easier place to visit with young children, especially if you’ve got a buggy to navigate around the streets. The kids will love looking at the mansions, too, which appear like fairy-tale castles! Upscale living with a truly international vibe? There’s no better way to spend your family holiday in Cuba!


Shopping in Havana

You may have heard from others who have taken a holiday in Cuba that Havana isn’t a particularly good shopping city, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, as more and more exciting shopping malls are popping up on every corner, Havana has become a more-than-satisfactory destination for shopaholics!

Here are some of the best places to find great bargains and amazing souvenirs to take back home.

The Boulevard, Calle San Rafael

Although the pedestrianised ‘El Bulevar’ really can’t compare to shopping streets in the United States or Europe, if you’ve booked Cuba accommodation in the Centro Habana district then you’ll get a front-row seat to this local shopping street. The 1950s vibe rings through the stalls of this street, and thanks to the low prices and cheap snacks, this shopping street has become a firm favourite of local Cubans, providing you with a very authentic and unique experience that you won’t find in the more westernised malls.

La Puntilla, Street A and 1st Avenue, Miramar

This may be one of the oldest shopping centres in Havana, but it’s also one of the biggest and one of the most comprehensive. By Cuban standards, this is one of the more upmarket places to shop, and there’s a pretty good supermarket here which is great for restocking the kitchen at your Havana villa. It’s an easy walk from the Vedado district, and you can’t miss it with its loud, bright blue exterior. Although the nightclub on the top floor is no more, there are still a lot of shops to explore at La Puntilla.

Galerías de Paseo, Calle Paseo

Located in the city’s Vedado district, this shopping centre is yet another that boasts a bright blue appearance, making it easy to spot from a distance. The mall is relatively small compared to La Puntilla, but it still has quite a lot of diversity inside, with shops covering three floors. There’s a supermarket, some sports shops, a few clothing stores, and even a car showroom! The best thing about this shopping centre is the cafe on the third floor (look closely and you might be able to see your Havana villa!).

Plaza Carlos III, Avenida Salvador Allende

If you’re looking for more of an American mall experience, then there’s no better place than Plaza Carlos III in Havana, which is one of 39 outlets across Cuba. Considered to be quite ‘flashy’, this is the place to pick up well-known brands like Adidas and Head, as well as sample some of the country’s most famous fast food items. What makes Plaza Carlos III really stand out, however, is that it has become one of just a handful of Cuban businesses that operates an e-commerce website, allowing Cubans to buy online.

Palacio de la Artesanía, Casa de Don Mateo Pedroso

Want to shop in one of the finest former homes in the Caribbean? The Spanish colonial-style Casa de Don Mateo Pedroso was originally built for the Pedrosos, one of Cuba’s most affluent families. Since then, the building has been used as a court, a jail, and even a police headquarters before becoming a market-style shopping centre. Today, this is one of the best places to pick up gifts and souvenirs, such as Cuban coffees and rums, t-shirts, local artwork, jewellery, and a range of antique books.


How to make the perfect Cubano sandwich

The Cuban sandwich is a staple in many homes in the Caribbean, and even further afield in the southern United States! While the origins of the ‘Cubano’ are highly debated, many agree that this variant on the classic ham-and-cheese sandwich was a quick and filling lunch for those working in Havana’s cigar factories and sugar mills, and eventually made its way to Miami by way of Cuban immigrants.

If you’re looking for a tasty and filling snack to whip up in your Havana villa, then here are the ingredients you will need:

  • Cuban bread (with a crusty outside and a fluffy centre with plenty of air pockets)
  • Olive oil (some people choose to use melted butter instead)
  • Mustard
  • Pork
  • Ham
  • Salami (debated by Cubano enthusiasts!)
  • Swiss cheese
  • Pickles (make sure they’re very thinly sliced)

Slice the bread lengthwise and lightly brush the middle with olive oil before adding mustard to both sides. Layer the fillings to assemble the sandwich. There are arguments over whether salami belongs in a traditional Cubano, but we say yes! Gently toast the bread in a panini press, lightly melting the cheese. Then dig in! It’s ideal to eat by the pool at your vacation villa in Havana after a long day!

Mojo-marinated pork

Making a Great Sandwich Better 

To make your Cubano even better, try making it with slow cooked, zingy mojo-marinated pork. You could even add lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, but be prepared to be frowned at by traditionalists! A Cuban sandwich is also great to make once you’re back home, bringing back all those great memories of your holiday in Cuba and mimicking the amazing tastes of your Caribbean islands vacations of the past. If you can’t find any Cuban bread back home, don’t worry; French and Italian breads are perfect replacements. ¡Buen provecho!


Havana’s best views

Wondering where to find the very best views of Havana? Here’s are our four top choices that are not to be missed!

La Guarida is a restaurant that’s often called the “Emblem of Havana.” It quickly shot to fame and became a top location for filming in Cuba, when it was featured in the 1994 movie Strawberry and Chocolate, and is now considered to be one of the city’s hippest celebrity hangouts. The view from the rooftop bar is absolutely spectacular, overlooking the colourful Central Havana and Old Havana neighbourhoods.

Havana Vieja

Cristo de la Habana, or the ‘Christ of Havana,’ is a tall statue similar to the famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There’s a great panoramic observation area at the statue, which offers breathtaking views across the city. The statue is located in Casablanca, so it’s a great place to watch the boats travelling in and out of the port and to see some of the more traditional homes in the Caribbean.

The Bacardi Building was once the headquarters for the Bacardi spirits company, although today it’s a blend of offices and abandoned glamour. It’s a prime example of Havana’s art deco architecture, but it’s mostly known for the incredible views from the central tower. Unfortunately, you can’t enjoy a Bacardi cocktail as you admire the views here, so you’ll need to save that for when you’re back at your Havana villa.

Bacardi building

El Cocinero is a popular bar that’s well worth a visit. If you want to see how a real Cuban home differs from the luxury vacation rental homes on the island, then this is a great place to enjoy a drink, as there are wonderful views across the Vedado residential neighbourhood, giving a glimpse into real Cuban life. You’ll need to walk up the twisty spiral staircase to access the rooftop viewing platform at the bar.


Catching the ferry in Havana

What’s the best way to get from your villa in Havana to Casablanca or Regla? While it’s possible to jump in a taxi and head through the Havana Tunnel, we think there’s an even better way: taking the ferry!

There are two main ferry routes in Havana, both leaving from the Havana Port near to the city’s famous artisan craft market. One travels north up to Casablanca, near the Che Guevara Museum, while the other travels southeast to Regla, ending up at the stunning Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Regla church.

Havana – Casablanca

The ferry to Casablanca leaves every 20 minutes or so. Casablanca tends to be quieter than nearby Havana, but a little livelier than Regla, and it’s often busiest in the mornings and evenings when visitors are either setting off for their day trip on the Hershey train or arriving back at the end of the day.

Havana – Regla

The ferry to Regla also departs approximately every 20 minutes. Regla itself is quiet and has a very local vibe; there are very few tourists here and, being quite a poor neighbourhood, there are not many vehicles on the roads. While there’s not a great deal to do here, photographers love Regla for its architecture and graffiti.

Practicalities

Havana is a very safe place to visit, and a part of that is because of a strong police presence. When you take the ferry in Havana, it is normal for bag searches to take place. To make this process quicker and less stressful, it is recommended that you leave any non-essential items back at your Havana holiday rental.

Remember that the ferries to both Casablanca and Regla depart from the same terminal, so make sure you join the correct queue! If you’re staying in a casa particular in Havana, your host may be able to help you out with some directions, but if not don’t be afraid to ask for help — Cubans are very friendly! 

Other Ferry Routes 

Now that taking a holiday in Cuba is easier thanks to fewer travel restrictions between Cuba and the United States, there has been a lot of talk about the introduction of a number of low-cost, high-speed ferries to the island. If plans continues, services are expected to begin running from both Key West and Port Everglades.