Fresh off a trip to Cuba's capital, Olivia La Roche and Alexes Bowyer of Petra von Kant (one of our favorite online-only vintage stores) are a gold mine of info for navigating Havana. Read on to check out their guide to the historic city, complete with wardrobe essentials and must-read tips.
Where To Stay
"We booked a place through AirBnB and later found out that the Cuban government had recently banned the website, so our host was not able to check their reservations. We ended up calling them directly and working everything out, but we would suggest a hotel reservation for anxiety free booking. Hotel Florida is classic Old Havana with a boutique twist, and Hotel Inglaterra was a favorite hangout of ours with its late 1800's Moroccan inspired decor and breezy outdoor patio with live music."
What To Pack
O: Mostly vintage cotton knits and linen dresses, worn-in 501's and light shirts. I had fun with jewelry and sunglasses and kept the rest simple."
A: Cool cotton layers, durable sandals, sneakers, rings, bathing suit, and a hair tie.
O: On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The Stranger Beside Me (Ted Bundy, The Shocking Inside Story) by Ann Rule
A: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
A: Portable Speaker, Nuxe Reve de Miel Lip Balm, Sanoflore Gelee Magnifica Face Wash, Burn-Out SPF 35
O: Egyptian Magic, RMS Un-Cover Up, Simplers Lavender Oil, Weleda Wild Rose Body Lotion, and my favorite baking soda toothpaste.
Miscellaneous: Watercolors and painting supplies. Dried figs, cherries, mango, and cashews. Journals, cameras, and tons of film!
Where To Shop
O: "Shopping isn't really a thing in Cuba being that it is still a communist country. I did develop a fascination with all the regulation-esq sleepwear on display but didn't bite the bullet and snag myself a set. Wish I had.”
A: "Cold beer is more or less acceptable any time of the day in Havana,; treat yourself to one while roaming the city on foot or find a nice spot on the shoreline with a book."
Where To Eat
"Eating is a very mixed bag in Havana. Rationing is still somewhat in place and trade is limited, so even though traditional Cuban fare is delicious, we didn't find much of it. The best advice I can give is to bring your own food to supplement the local offerings. Also, many items westerners are used to eating every day are impossible to find in Cuba, so stocking up on snacks to share is a good idea. We did come across a lovely little cafe on Boulevard San Rafael called Cafe Ballerina that had fresh fruit and omelets for breakfast, and the beach cafes in Santa Maria serve fresh seafood."
What To Do
"Walk down the Malecon at night and check out all the kissing couples and musicians hanging out on the sea wall. The ocean breeze is warm and surprisingly gentle, and it feels like the whole city is there walking or lounging along the coast. Cross the esplanade to check out the outdoor night clubs or movie theaters. The films playing were very old and odd, and you won't see any American movies."
"Take a taxi (make sure to grab a classic car) about 20 minutes outside the center of Havana to Santa Maria, a beach known for its locals only vibe and clean shoreline. Grab a fresh coconut and a dulce treat from one of the mellow vendors who walk up and down the beach."
"Walk the city and get lost. It's easy to navigate, safe. Follow the sound of live music, to grab a drink and dance for a moment before continuing your wander."
"Stand and drink a coffee served from the doorway or window of someone's home. The sweet instant espresso is served in cups fashioned from glass bottles cut in half."
Good to Know Before You Go
"US credit and ATM cards do not work in Cuba, not even to withdraw money. You will have to bring cash and exchange once you land. Skip the airport's insanely long line at arrivals and head upstairs to the exchange office in departures. Once in Havana, you can easily exchange at a hotel but don't try the banks, or you'll be in line all day (we made this mistake!)."
"Don't plan on using your phone or computer much. Wifi is limited to specific public locations and has to be purchased in one or two-hour increments. Even if you snag some cards, they won't necessarily work."
O: "Most cars are from the 1940's and 50's, and as someone who would trade their little toe for the ability to time travel, this was a big fave of mine. Also, I was constantly stopping in front of buildings and just getting totally lost in the beauty of the architecture. It's crumbling, but that makes it even more jaw dropping because the splendor sneaks up on you.
A: "Heading out to the beach for a midnight swim, calm waves and lots of stars. Reading on the shoreline in the afternoon."
Photography by Olivia La Roche and Alexes Bowyer.