Havana In Seven Mojitos

“My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in La Floridita,” wrote Ernest Hemingway of his infamous drinking exploits in Havana. “Ernesto,” as the Cubans call him, was a big fan of the rum, lime and mint-based cocktail, as evidenced by the slew of drinking holes throughout Cuba where he was reported to have drunk himself silly.

Indeed, sipping mojitos is a big part of the tourist experience in Cuba. And in a country where a glass of high-quality Havana Club Reserva costs significantly less than a bottle of purified water, there’s no reason not to partake in abundance. Cuba’s capital of Havana is flush with drinking establishments to help facilitate the cultural experience. Here are seven.

La Bodeguita del Medio
For tourists following the “Hemingway” trail, La Bodeguita del Medio is the Holy Grail – an atmospheric wood-paneled watering hole lined with photos and scribbled endorsements from Hemingway, as well as famous patrons like Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende. The place is often crammed with tourists herded in by the busload, who snap photos and clap their hands to a live band. The mojitos, however, are overpriced (CUC$4) and taste watered down.

El Patio
Situated smack in the middle of Havana’s Plaza Cathedral, El Patio certainly beats the competition in terms of location. Mojitos (CUC$3.50) are lightly sweetened and stuffed full with mint leaves, and live music plays long into the night. Stake out a spot on the ground floor for priceless people watching.



We were welcomed to Vinales with big smiles, handshakes and enthusiastic promises of music from Buena Vista Social Club. Our guard immediately went up; it was clear we were being solicited by a jinetero, a ubiquitous breed of Cuban hustler. Despite our protests, he called over the waitress and ordered us a round of mojitos, which were sugary sweet, with too much lime and too little mint. Sure enough, the bill confirmed our suspicions. At CUC$6 each, the mojitos were the most expensive we encountered in Havana, and it was clear our new friend had pocketed a portion of the “tip.”

Café Paris
Located on a busy corner in Old Havana, Café Paris is a popular spot for tourists seeking ceiling fans and a cool drink. Mojitos (CUC$3.50) were unmemorable, but the ambience provided the perfect midday respite from the Cuban heat.

Jazz Cafe
For a taste of Cuba’s most talented musicians, head to Jazz Cafe, a sleek 1950s diner-inspired spot above the Galerias del Paseo shopping mall in the neighborhood of Vedado. The CUC$10 cover includes the equivalent in food and drink, and the mojitos are a steal at CUC$2.50. Let the mind-blowing drum and saxophone solos distract you from the less-than-mind-blowing drinks, which were heavy on the sugar syrup.

Hotel Florida
The ground floor lounge at Hotel Florida is that rare nightlife spot that’s equally popular with locals and gringos. Compared to other music venues, entrance was cheap – CUC$5, including two drinks. The mojitos weren’t stellar, but they were strong – which really, was all we needed to wash away our inhibitions and hit the dance floor.

And the winner is … The Gallery Bar at Hotel Nacional
The mojito (CUC$4) at Havana’s most famous hotel bar strikes the sweet spot without being overpowering. The secret? Angostura bitters and a splash of dark rum. It’s no wonder that the bar’s former patrons include Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Nat King Cole. With the bar’s stash of high-grade Cuban cigars and dominos, you can easily while away an entire afternoon here – that is until it’s time to hit up the next bar.

Next stop: Cuba’s Vinales Valley

Cuba’s Viñales Valley is home to the Parque Nacional Viñales, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The area is one of Cuba’s top-level tourist attractions. It can be reached by bus from Havana for CUC$12 ($13), a journey that takes between three and three-and-a-half hours.

Located in the far western province of Pinar del Rio, Viñales is comprised of a beautiful and otherworldly karst landscape of enormous outcrops of limestone, called mogotes, which are surrounded by green fields. The contrast between the red, even orange, soil and the super verdant foliage is dramatic and very picturesque. A media-primed visitor might wonder why this landscape hasn’t featured in any Hollywood films, at least before remembering about that pesky embargo.

Pinar del Rio is tobacco country, and in fact much of the agricultural production here is devoted to tobacco. Other crops include sugar cane, corn and various tubers. Farms in the valley sell their products to wandering tourists. There are fruits and vegetables on offer, as well as cane juice and cords of cigars. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to visit a tobacco farm during your hike and witness the various stages of tobacco production.

It is possible to tour the fields, mogotes, and caves independently, though most tourists plump for a local guide. Ours was extremely reasonable, at just CUC$3 ($3) per person per hour. Guides can be organized through casas particulares or hotels. Most walks are not particularly challenging, though shoes with a good grip are more or less obligatory.

For greater adventure, check out Viñales’ burgeoning climbing scene via Cuba Climbing. More adventurous travelers might also be interested in taking a day trip to the Santo Tomás cave system some distance beyond the town of Vinales. Santo Tomás is Cuba’s largest cave system.

Accommodation Tip:

Check out the simple, two-room Villa El Mojito, a casa particular run by an affable couple named Tita and Juanito. Tita serves up outstanding home-cooked dinners, and Juanito, formerly a bartender, goes by the nickname “El Mojito.” He mixes delicious mojitos with muddled yerba buena grown in the casa‘s back garden. A twin bedroom at Villa El Mojito goes for CUC$20 ($21). Breakfast is CUC$3 ($3) per person; dinner begins at CUC$8 ($8). The freshwater shrimp and pork are dinner standouts.