Written by The Leap on 07 / 07 / 2015
Gap Year Advice
Often deemed as the most musical nation on the planet, Cuba’s rich cultural mix combined with its dedication to the arts makes for an incredible variety of musical genres, which can be heard throughout the country.
But there’s surely no better place to sample this wide range of different styles than in the capital – Havana – where the choice of venues will no doubt keep you moving all night, every night. From thriving Salsa bars to Latin Jazz venues, this city has something to suit every traveller’s musical tastes. Read on to find out more.
There are few pre-revolutionary cabarets still in operation and, of the few that are, Tropicana is Cuba’s number one. At this Vegas-style nightclub, you’ll find people from all over the world who have come to enjoy the scantily clad performers, impressive orchestra and acrobatic shows that run each night from 8 till late.
Perhaps its greatest appeal is the fact that these shows take place in a forest beneath the stars of Havana’s night sky, making it all the more magical.
For a true taste of Cuba’s history (and a delicious daiquiri), head to El Floridita, where you can puff away at cigars by the bar and admire the life-sized bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway. El Floridita was said to be one of the author’s favourite haunts when he lived in Havana back in the ‘50s and today tourists find themselves embracing this tribute to him as though it were an old friend.
The building itself is also fairly historical and looks as though it hasn’t changed much since the days of Hemingway, but that only adds to its charm. Definitely worth a visit for the live music and mouth-watering cocktails.
For anyone looking to practice their salsa skills, or simply soak up the local culture, Casa de la Música is the place to head to. Cuba’s top Salsa and Reggaeton bands regularly perform here on a giant stage, around which the residents of Havana dance until they’re ready to drop.
As well as the nightly performances, Casa de la Música sometimes has sizzling-hot salsa sessions in the afternoon, which last a whopping three hours so you have plenty of time to get to grips with the dance. Be aware that, although the shows are scheduled to begin at 10.30, the headliner doesn’t normally come on until 1am – this is Latin America after all!
Cuban Jazz is legendary and there’s no better place in Havana to enjoy it than La Zorra y el Cuervo. This legendary basement club may be small and dark, but it gives visitors the chance to hear some of the world’s most-loved musicians and the sound here is superior to that of any of the other Jazz clubs in town
The club’s entrance is a replica of a red English phone box, so you can’t miss it. Doors open at 9pm and the music continues through till 3am, but you should make sure you arrive in plenty of time if you want to bag a seat.
El Tropical is not the sort of place that makes the guidebooks, which, for many, will simply add to its appeal. It’s very traditional, with its Cuban cuisine, mojitos and sound system blaring out salsa, rumba and cha cha, so I would recommend visiting with a local who can teach you the moves.
On Friday, you can enjoy karaoke from 9pm to 2am and every Saturday, there’s a live band. Not somewhere for wallflowers.
This venue is throbbing with energy and tourists in shorts and t-shirts, who dance alongside professional salsa dancers. It may not be easy to find a space on the dancefloor in Club Salseando Chevere, and you will inevitably end the night a big sweaty mess, but you will also have a LOT of fun here.
It also has weekly peñas, which run from 9pm to 3pm every Wednesday and cost just five colones (approximately 4 euros).
Trendy hangout El Cocinero is located in an old peanut oil factory with a roof terrace, which can be reached via three flights of circular stairs (dizzying, but well worth the effort).
The smart drinks, tapas and elegant décor attract a rather affluent crowd of Cubans and expatriates, as well as families, who tend to come here for dinner. It’s completely open, making it the perfect spot for a tipple at sunset, but not somewhere to frequent during hurricane season!
At the Malecón (i.e. the waterfront), you can sit on the long wall and enjoy one last beer once everywhere else has closed their doors. Thousands of locals flock here to drink and chat with their friends, and there is always someone playing music.
If you’ve got the late-night munchies, you can pick something up from the 24-hour gas station, which sells hot dogs, cheese-and-ham toasties, beers and soft drinks, amongst other things. It is a cheap form of entertainment and a good excuse to get out of the house, particularly on hotter nights.
Have you been to any of these places? Or want to tell me about one I've missed off the list? Let me know in the comments box below.
on 07 / 07 / 2015