August 07, 2017
Born in Havana, Boris Masip has lived in Toronto, Hong Kong and latterly in New York City, yet Cuba is forever home – he returns frequently, seeing every visit as an opportunity to rediscover his country.
And, as the island opens up to more overseas travellers (Hello America!), Boris is on hand to help. His company My Amigo in Cuba crafts personal and immersive experiences, connecting visitors to locals in the know. For LUXE, Boris shares his must-dos in Havana.
Tourists have been flocking to Cuba for several years now and most will visit Old Havana at least once during their stay – the area's intoxicating mix of decaying and restored Spanish colonial-era buildings with European and American architectural influences, has an irresistible allure.
Despite increasing visitor numbers, some pockets still remain off the tourist trail – character-packed neighbourhoods, which like Chueca in Madrid or Tai Hang in Hong Kong might be on the verge of rapid gentrification, but you (thankfully) won’t see a chain coffee shop or a Zara for many years… These places are my go-tos for an authentic Cuban experience.
La Loma is mere steps away from the grandiose former Presidential Palace (now the Revolution Museum) and although part of the old city, it doesn’t yet have a super touristy vibe. This atmospheric, old-worldy cobbled-street neighbourhood is being revitalised by hoteliers, restaurateurs, gallerists and even one of the most notable hairdressers in Havana. Their efforts are demonstrating what private enterprise can do, which is entirely novel in Cuba.
The entrance of the area is identified by a simple, all-white church – its modesty belies the distinguished members that have formed its congregation, and it’s remarkable for being the setting for Cirilo Villaverde’s C.19th book Cecilia Valdés which is considered the very first Cuban novel.
Other than the former Presidential Palace, La Loma’s architecture is predominantly late Spanish Baroque; the elegance of the buildings enhanced by the pretty pastel colours applied during renovations.
The charming cobbled little plaza behind the church will look familiar to anyone who has travelled through any western European city – complete with a quaint cafe and souvenir store. This little square and its surrounding area is quiet (read: no tourists buses) and spotless, it’s perfect for an afternoon stroll.
If you happen to be near the area on a Wednesday morning at around 9am, don’t miss the group of senior citizens that gather to exercise. These grandmas and grandpas have rhythm, and their exercise routines look more like an adorable episode of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. Don’t just stand there – get to it and join them!
One of the biggest draws to Loma del Angel is it’s cuisine, here are a few standouts:
Ivan Chef Justo. Considered the best restaurant in Cuba today. Aguacate #9
Habana 61. A small and prettily designed restaurant with incredible food and service. Habana #61
Chacon 162. Come here to have a nightcap, grab a bite and be served by some of the friendliest staff in the city. Take a seat outside on cobblestone street on a warm night for a real ‘this is Cuba’ moment. Chacon #162
Sleep: Should you wish to stay the night in La Loma, Loft Apartamento is the type of urban loft you’d dream about having in SoHo, New York. Not only it is impeccably well appointed, but it’s the perfect base from which to explore Old Havana by foot. Casa Chacon #162
Parque Cristo in front of the Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje Church (Holy Christ of the Good Journey Church) is a quintessential mid-17th-century plaza, but unlike renovated areas such as Parque Central, Obispo Street, and Plaza Vieja, it’s remained untouched. For some, this spells opportunity.
Young entrepreneurial Cubans have turned Parque Cristo into the equivalent of Williamsburg, Brooklyn – it’s home to the city’s hippest bars and restaurants. If you’re tired of rice and beans and craving Japanese or Vietnamese food, you’ll find it here. As with most places that cater to the young and fashionable, the emphasis is on great drinks at reasonable prices and ‘good-enough’ food – though they get kudos for experimenting and expanding the national palate. If you want to go bar-hopping this is the neighbourhood to do so, without having to think about securing a taxi.
Eating & Drinking
El Chanchullero. For maximum scene, aim for the rooftop bar. Don’t even think about asking for a beer; order a cocktail, preferably a rum-based one. The tapas is decent, maybe even great after three mojitos and two daiquiris… salud! Teniente Rey #457 A
El Patchanka. Live music, great drinks and a crowd that looks like it has been cast. This place has an Insta-ready look and vibe. Having drinks with a band playing reggae in Cuba is pretty fantastic. Bernaza #162
Planning a trip to Cuba? Contact Boris for a personally crafted experience. myamigoincuba.com
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