Insider's guide to... Havana


What's the weather like now? October is warm but stormy, so sudden downpours are the norm. It's also the season for occasional hurricanes although Havana usually misses the worst of them.

What's the weather like now? October is warm but stormy, so sudden downpours are the norm. It's also the season for occasional hurricanes although Havana usually misses the worst of them.

What are the locals complaining about? The ongoing complaint is the disparity between the lifestyle of locals and that of tourists. For instance, the fact that most locals cannot afford to patronise the deluxe venues opening up for tourists is a constant irritant.

Who's the talk of the town? The vigour and longevity of Fidel Castro is still the top talking point: just last week he took part in a protest march against the continuing US blockade of Cuba. The coverage of this blew everything else out of the water. Meanwhile Los Van Van remain the most popular salsa group on the island and will always draw a crowd.

What's the cool drink? Rum, rum and more rum - in all its permutations. The Mojito, a cocktail of rum, sugar, mint and sparkling water, is always popular although real connoisseurs prefer to drink theirs neat. The brand to drink is Havana Club - the members of the Bacardi family are personae non gratae since they fled Cuba after the revolution and now support the US blockade.

What are the people eating? Pork with Caribbean rice and beans is the unofficial Havanan dish, and the best places to enjoy it are any of the private paladares restaurants around the centre.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV? Dia y Noche (Day and Night), a sensational police series equivalent to The Bill, is keeping everyone enthralled. Although, with only two television channels to choose between, perhaps that's not such a challenge.

Where wouldn't the locals dream of going? Most discerning locals would avoid the tourist discos because the entrance fee and the drinks combined would set them back most of their monthly wages.

Where are the locals going that the tourists don't know about? Centro Habana (Central Havana), the ramshackle barrio that bridges the historic core and the modern side of town has become the nightly hot-spot with a warren of underground clubs playing everything from traditional Cuban tunes to reggae, techno and hip hop. The venues are in constant flux and remain clandestine and quasi-illegal. But as soon as one is pounced upon by the authorities, another two open up.

Where are the chic people doing their shopping? Consumer culture is still something of a novelty in Havana, so Cuban chic is something of an oxymoron. Most of the shops sell a selection of the same imported goods at the same price, though the shopping mall on Avenida Carlos Tercero is a favourite, not least because it boasts three floors and is the city's biggest. No music buff passes up the chance to browse through the city's best selection of Cuban music CDs in the Habana Libre Hotel shopping mall.

What's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend? Foreigners with money fly to Cayo Largo, the Club-Med style resort cay off the south-west coast. Everyone else uses the boisterous Playas del Este beaches 15 kilometres away, or the quiet and rustic Playa Jibacoa beach 55 kilometres east of Havana.

Fiona McAuslan is co-author of the 'Rough Guide to Cuba'

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