I've just completed a year spent studying dance in Cuba, and one of the most important parts of my learning process was going out salsa dancing in Havana. You can't learn everything in the studio. You have to get out and practice!
However, it's not that easy to figure out the scene when you first get there. There is rarely any advertising. Website information (if there is any) is not reliable. If you only have a week or two for your dance journey, you could easily miss out.
No worries - I'm here to help!
This is the general schedule that I followed to hit up the most popular and well-known salsa spots on the right nights. (Keep in mind that ANYTHING can change suddenly, but these were my standbys for a year.)
I've included the name of the venue, whether there is a DJ or live music, the neighborhood, and the cover charge. Most venues get going between 10 and 11 pm.
Monday: Hotel Florida* (DJ), Vieja – 5 cuc, includes one drink
Tuesday: Mil Ocho (DJ) or Cafe Cantante (live band), both in Vedado – 5 cuc, 10 cuc respectively
Wednesday: La Gruta (DJ), Vedado – 3 cuc
Thursday: Hotel Capri (live band) or Mil Ocho, Vedado – 8 cuc, 5 cuc respectively
Friday: Hotel Florida* (DJ), Vieja – 5 cuc, includes one drink
Saturday: up for grabs
Sunday: Mil Ocho (live band), Vedado - 5 cuc
Any night: Asturias (DJ) after hours for salsa/reggaeton, Vieja - 5 cuc Mon-Thurs includes two drinks, 10 cuc Sat-Sun includes four drinks
[* UPDATE: As of spring 2018, Florida increased its cover to 10cuc without changing any offerings - it's still a DJ/playlist and one drink. No one goes anymore :( ]
I would definitely recommend mixing it up with some live salsa concerts as well. Check out the schedules at the following venues each week. Note that it's best to call the day of to confirm.
Casa de la Musica (Miramar) - this legendary location offers matinee and evening shows every day. When they're not on tour, beloved acts like Maykel Blanco and Havana d' Primera play every Monday and Tuesday - these are don't-miss shows for sure!
Salon Rojo at Hotel Capri
Mil Ocho (Fridays and Saturdays)
Salón Rosado de la Tropical Benny Moré
You can find the exact addresses in your offline map or in your guidebook, and you can also ask your casa duena, the concierge at a hotel, or taxi drivers – these are all well-known spots that people can direct you to easily.
New events are always popping up, so the longer you stay, the more you'll hear about - but definitely be pro-active and ask your salsa teachers and other dancers for the latest news!
Rest assured, if you're only in Havana for a week to dance, you can follow this schedule and you will have a blast.
Questions? Let me know in the comments! Or hit me up on Facebook or Instagram at @melissasmansfield
And check out the Follow My Lead: Havana web series! Travel with me through the world of dance, starting with Havana, Cuba! The streets are alive with music and dance, and I've got some big goals while I'm here. This is a dream come true and the challenge of a lifetime!
Photo credit: Melissa Mansfield