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Swimming in Havana, Cuba

When you’re on holiday in Cuba and the Caribbean sun is blazing down, there’s one great way to cool off: take a swim! But where are the best places to swim in Havana? Here are a few great options.

Your Villa with a Private Pool in Havana

If you love swimming but hate crowds, why not treat yourself to a luxury villa with a pool in Havana? Wake up and enjoy an invigorating swim before breakfast on the patio, or cool off in the pool at the end of a busy day sightseeing.

Hotels

If you’ve opted for a villa in Havana without a pool or a downtown apartment, don’t worry! Many of the big resort hotels in the city offer day passes for non-hotel guests which provide access to many of the building’s facilities, including swimming pools and gymnasiums. Day passes can be very inexpensive, which makes them a good choice.

Public Swimming Pools

Although these are few and far between, there is one olympic-sized swimming pool in Havana which is open to the public between competition events. Located on Avenida Monumental, Complejo de Piscinas Baraguá is famous for hosting events during the 1991 Pan-American Games.

Beaches

The nearest beach to Havana that offers clean and safe swimming opportunities is Playa Santa Maria, which can be reached from your Havana accommodation in about 25 minutes by local bus or taxi. Playa Guanabo is another beach neighbourhood that can be reached on foot from some of our Havana villas!

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The Havana International Book Fair

If you love to read, then you’ll love the Havana International Book Fair, which takes place every February at the city’s San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress. The event has been a Havana staple since 1982 and is now so big that it has become an unofficial national holiday in Cuba. Festivities are held in many venues throughout the Old Town, including the Cuba Pavilion and the Dulce María Loynaz Center. The event celebrates Cuban literature, encourages literacy, and acknowledges international literary works.

February is a great time to rent a house or apartment in Cuba, even if you’re not much of a bookworm. During the event, there’s an unmistakable party atmosphere and a very lively environment, including street food stalls, carnival rides that are great for the kids, and live bands around every corner. Each year’s festival is different, with a different celebrated literary icon and a focus on literature from a different nation, so you can return year after year and never get bored!

Nearly half a million people travel from all over the world to attend the event in Cuba’s capital, so be sure to book your Havana accommodation early! If you do miss the festivities in Havana, don’t worry. The International Book Fair goes ‘on the road’ and travels all over the country, ending in Santiago de Cuba in April. The event’s finale is often a little less busy, so you may find some great accommodation in Cuba in this area during April.

If you do attend the fair in Santiago de Cuba, there are a few sights and attractions you can’t miss: the San Pedro de la Roca UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Turquino National Park, and the Bacardi Museum.


Five vegan-friendly restaurants in Havana

If you’re a vegan renting a vacation villa in Havana, you may be concerned about the food options in a culture with a fish- and meat-heavy diet. But thankfully Havana has something for everyone! Here are five vegan-friendly restaurants to try out in Havana.

San Juan Bar & Grill

For Caribbean, Latin, and Spanish cuisine, check out the San Juan Bar and Grill, a cozy, rustic, yet traditional-style restaurant with delicious food and amazing cocktails. Their vegan menu consists of soups, delectable salads, vegetarian tamales, fried peppers, and sweet desserts.

San Juan Bar and Grill

El Del Frente

This restaurant has a lively atmosphere that features live music, a terrace for Habanos smokers, delicious cocktails, and amazing tapas. The interior is simple, elegant, and vintage while the exterior has outdoor seating, a full bar, and views of the city. For vegans, they offer amazing soups, salads, pasta, vegetables, tacos, and delectable desserts. Round out the meal with an eye-opening Cuban coffee.

Nero Di Seppia

This traditional-looking Italian restaurant offers both classic and unique dishes alike. The family-family atmosphere helps diners feel right at home, and live musical acts occasionally take the stage. Their food is fresh and made with love. For vegans, they have dozens of pastas, soups, and salads.

Mediterraneo Havana

A choice between Mediterranean and Italian, you are sure to find something you love at Mediterraneo Havana. Located in a gorgeous blue-and-white building that looks like a local’s personal home, the space offers shaded patio seating with beautiful views of the city and tropical vegetation. Their vegan menu has many offerings like risotto, pasta, roasted potatoes, and more.

D’Next Bar Cafeteria

This American bar and cafeteria is known for its amazing pizza! The restaurant is bright and colorful, with modern décor and delicious meals. Vegans will love the sandwiches, salads, desserts, and bread.


Our picks: Top 5 museums in Cuba

The tiny island nation of Cuba is chocked full of history, and many who visit the island don’t know much about it. The best way to learn more about the history and culture of Cuba during your holiday in Havana, check out these five incredible museums.

Museo Napoleonico

This gorgeous museum will teach you all about Napoleon Bonaparte: his life, history, and the time period he lived in. You can view memorabilia throughout the house, as well as beautiful artwork, classic architecture, and amazing stained-glass windows. Take a guided tour, check out a death mask of the would-be emperor’s face, and get a great view of the city of Havana.

Museum of the Revolution

Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolucion)

If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the 1959 revolution in Cuba, this museum is certainly one to check out. You’ll see artifacts from the revolution, learn more about Cuban history and old Havana, and brush up on former leader Fidel Castro. Housed in the gorgeous presidential palace, not only will you learn a lot, but you can admire the artwork and architecture of one of the most beautiful buildings in Havana.

Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi

Once one of the best cathedrals in Cuba, this church and convent is now a renovated concert hall and museum. Along with intricate architecture, you also can enjoy artwork, tombs, art exhibits, and archeological finds that are sure to keep you busy. You might even be able to check out a concern during your stay!

Martha Jimenez’s Studio Workshop

Martha Jimenez is most well-known for her work in terracotta ceramic sculptures. When you visit this workshop, you’ll be able to view plenty of her artwork, from sculptures to paintings. There also is beautiful garden where you can relax away from the sun. Learn about Jimenez’s life, inspiration, and works, as well as what she is up to today.

Work by Jose Salazar Vazquez.

National Museum of Fine Arts

If you love art, you’ll want to check out this amazing art museum where you’ll learn about many Cuban artists, their history, and inspirations. Opt to hire a tour guide so you can learn about the time periods of the pieces and the history of the artists.


Must-try foods from the Dominican Republic

If you’re heading to the Dominican Republic for your next vacation, there are a lot of traditional foods that you are sure to love! Vacations are about taking a break from what you normally do at home, so treat yourself to restaurant-quality meals and time with family and friends around a dinner table. What are the foods that are traditional to the Dominican Republic, and what restaurants should you check out to try them?

Goat

Goat is actually a very popular meat in the Caribbean and is usually served stewed. If you want to try it, check out El Meson De La Cava and Restaurant Vizcaya.

Ceviche

Ceviche is a seafood dish typically served cold with fish, lime, lemon, onion, and chili pepper. There are a lot of restaurants in the Dominican Republic that serve a delicious ceviche, including (but not limited to) Pat’e Palo European Brasserie and Muelle 47 Seafood Culture.

Croquetas

Don’t be alarmed, croquetas are simply croquettes in Spanish, which are fried foods dipped in breadcrumbs. This can be anything from cheese to potatoes, to meats and even seafood. If you want to try croquetas for yourself, check out Pura Tasca and Jalao.

 

Paella

You’ve probably heard of paella as it’s mentioned on nearly every Spanish and Mexican menu. It’s a Valencian rice dish that has made its way around the world, including the Dominican Republic. It can be served in many ways with different meats and vegetables, so just choose the one that looks best to you. Two restaurants that serve some of the best paellas on the island are Cafeteria Restaurant Manolo and Don Pepe Restaurante.

Mofongo

Mofongo consists of fried plantains and can be served with a lot of different foods like rice, vegetables, meats, and it can even be served as a dessert. Each restaurant does something different, but you’ll find mofongo in nearly every restaurant in the Dominican Republic, including Adrian Tropical and El Conuco!


National Parks in the Dominican Republic

While you’re staying in a beautiful vacation rental in the Dominican Republic, you’ll want to view some of the lush foliage that is part of the Dominican Republic experience. See bellow for a list of four national parks that you can visit during your stay!

The 3 Eyes National Park

Check out interconnected caves at the 3 Eyes National Park, or take a boat on the lakes and admire the crystal-clear water. View the amazing rock formations, take a walking tour, peek at the turtles swimming around, and breathe in the clean scents as you enjoy the serene surroundings.

National Park of the East

Take a walking tour around the National Park of the East to enjoy the beach and search for elusive starfish. Head into the freshwater cave and relish in a nice warm swim, or opt for snorkeling or diving. Take a catamaran to Isle Saona for even more fun!

Isla Catalina

This Caribbean island is perfect if you want some fun in the sun. Take a day trip from your Dominican Republic property to catch the clear waters where you can swim, dive, and snorkel. The amazing coral reefs ensure that you’ll never be without beautiful fish and other sea creatures. The warm white sands are great for a relaxing siesta, reading a book, or people-watching. You can find all kinds of sea life, especially starfish. There are even a few places for you to catch a quick lunch before returning to your relaxing day.

Haitises National Park

If you want to see unique of wildlife, check out Haitises National Park! You can spend all day touring this beautiful area. There is a cave with paintings to explore, small islands, rock formations, and a public beach. Be sure to keep an eye out for all the flora and fauna in this amazing park, including seabirds and dolphins.

When you’re done with your tour of the gorgeous greenery that can be found in the Dominican Republic, head back to your vacation rental and relax, satisfied with a day spent in stunning tropical nature.


Havana Cathedral: Unusually Baroque

Standing tall right in the heart of Old Havana, the Havana Cathedral is a building that can be seen from almost anywhere. Take a glimpse out of the window of your Havana apartment and you may be able to sneak a quick peek at the grand, looming bell towers.

The Havana Cathedral is one of the most visited attractions in the city, especially by visitors enjoying a holiday in Cuba. Why is it such a popular place to visit? Some people come here for the culture, some come here to appreciate the art works, and others come for the unusual, eye-catching architecture.

Baroque Architecture

There’s really no hard and fast rule to determine what is — and what isn’t — considered to be baroque. In fact, in many cases ‘baroque’ can be applied to practically anything that appears to be overly detailed. However, in terms of architecture at least, it is typically agreed that baroque architecture is symmetrical. Take a look at any major baroque building in the world — the Trevi Fountain, Peterhof Palace — and they all have one thing in common: they’re symmetrical. Bizarrely, Havana Cathedral is very different.

When you look at Havana Cathedral, you’ll notice that the right tower is considerably wider than the left; so much so that it really does catch the eye. Is this the only baroque building in the world to feature an asymmetrical façade? It’s unknown but what we can say is that this is probably one of the most striking differences, and it does help to make Havana Cathedral even more of a must-see attraction.

Cuban Architecture

During your holiday in Cuba, why not make time to see some other great pieces of architecture, too? From theatres to museum buildings, and perhaps even your own villa in Havana, there are a lot of little gems nestled within the city. Perhaps one of the most interesting is the baroque Gran Teatro de la Habana which does, of course, appear to be symmetrical, really highlighting the peculiarity of Havana Cathedral.


La Arboleda: A natural retreat near Havana

There are lots of ways to take a holiday in Cuba, from enjoying the hustle and bustle of Cuba’s most famous city, Havana, or experiencing a true Caribbean island vacation by visiting Cayo Coco. Alternatively, you could also take some time to explore the country’s lush green parklands, one of which is Matanzas’ La Arboleda.

Matanzas is well known for being a place of natural beauty. Often referred to as the ‘Venice of Cuba’, Matanzas is a top choice for travellers who want to spend a day or two in a Cuban city that runs at a slightly slower pace than Havana, and has a more open, spacious, and back-to-basics feel.

What is La Arboleda?

Located in the bayside city of Matanzas, La Arboleda is a natural paradise; a sort of national park complete with river walks, local attractions, and arguably one of the best restaurants in all of Cuba. Although this isn’t a popular location for filming in Cuba, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Jurassic Park was filmed here, as La Arboleda appears to be from a forgotten time; very raw, rustic, and wild.

What to Do in La Arboleda

Although it’s a decent trek from your Havana villa, it’s easy to fill a day — or even more — at this place. You can rent a boat to take a trip down the river, visit the miniature zoo where you can hold an osprey, or even take a jeep safari, which takes you into the most rural depths of Matanzas.

Visiting Matanzas

Matanzas is located about 1.5 hours by car from most Havana accommodations, so the trip can easily be made by hire car, or even by local taxi. In addition to La Arboleda, there’s plenty to do here, including the mysterious Bellamar caves, the historic Sauto Theatre, and the utterly stunning La Vigia plaza.


Dive into Havana’s delicious street food

In the United States and United Kingdom, street food has become a culinary trend in major cities, exposing locals to food from all over the world. However, if you’ve taken Caribbean islands vacations before, you’ll notice that in this part of the world, street food is already a very well-established concept, and that both visitors and locals alike flock to these street-side carts for tasty and filling snacks.

What is Havana Street Food?

Unlike in the United States, where traditional street food means hot dogs or gyros, street food in Havana is much more diverse and varied. If you take a walk from your Havana villa to any major attraction in the city, you’ll likely come across little stalls selling everything from pizza slices and sandwiches to fresh fruit pastries and deep fried churros. Specialities in Havana include chicharritas, which are fried plantains, frituras de malanga, which is fried malanga root, and tostones, which are twice-fried plantain slices.

Tostones are also big in the Dominican Republic. However, if you’re staying in a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic, be sure to ask for the local ‘fritos verdes’ which is the correct term for this location.

Why Street Food?

Quite simply, this is a chance to eat like a local and to try foods that you may not have tried otherwise. While there are many great restaurants in Havana (and great local markets, too, if you want to whip up something at your Havana vacation rental), there really isn’t anything that beats strolling along the Malecon with a cone full of freshly fried banana chips. Caribbean islands vacations are ideal for self-proclaimed ‘foodies’, offering a wide range of mouthwatering foods that are far different from what can be found at home.


How to spend one day in Havana

The best way to see everything that Havana has to offer is to rent an apartment in Havana and spend a week — maybe even two! — exploring the local sights. However, with a number of major cruise lines now including Cuba on their itineraries, many travellers are finding that they have just a few hours to discover what Havana is all about, so what is the best way to spend just one day in the city?

Arrival

Cruise ships dock at the Sierra Maestra Terminal, which is located very close to Old Havana (Havana Vieja). Traditional taxis and the famous Cocotaxis are available at the port, but many of the city’s main attractions are within easy walking distance. Walking is also a great way to scope out accommodations in Havana so you have a good idea of where you may want to stay when you take a longer holiday in Cuba in the future!

Things to Do

The best things to do in Havana will depend upon your own personal interests. For example, you may want to take in the Old Plaza (Plaza Vieja) and the Malecón which are lovely, airy places to explore (and they’re free, too!), or you may wish to visit a local cigar factory or learn how to make the perfect mojito. You might wish to learn more about Cuba in the city’s museums, or spend the day at the zoo. There have even been some movies that were filmed in Cuba, so fans of the big screen may wish to visit some of these famous locations.

Lunch

Although you could head back onboard for a lunchtime buffet, why not stick around to sample some authentic Cuban cuisine? Meat and rice dishes are hugely popular in Havana, but there is one Cuban staple that has become famous all over the world: the Cubano. A sandwich made with meats, cheese, and pickles, this Cuban sandwich is a must-try, even if you only have a few hours to enjoy the city.

Back for More

Although one day is certainly better than nothing, it’s impossible to see everything that makes Havana great in such a short space of time. Next time, consider a Havana holiday rental and stay a little longer!