Cuba Shopping and nightlife
Shopping in Cuba
Those hoping for a shopping splurge in Cuba will likely be disappointed - art being the obvious exception. There are a few luxury shops in Old Havana and in large hotels like the Habana Libre, but stock is generally uninspiring.
Cuba makes the world's finest cigars. Buy the real thing at factories such as Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás in Havana, which also sells fabulously ornate cigar boxes. Other official outlets called Casas del Habano sell authentic wares as well. Cigars from street vendors will probably be fakes or factory rejects. Visitors can export 20 loose cigars, or up to 50 boxed cigars if they are in their original packaging, with all seals and holograms intact. Receipts must be shown to export over 50 cigars. Fidel Castro's favourite brand was Cohiba, Ché Guevara favoured Montecristos, and, before he put the blockade in place, JFK stocked up on H Upmanns.
Santiago de Cuba was once home to the Bacardi family distillery, but Havana Club is now the most famous Cuban rum. Good though it is, connoisseurs prefer Varadero. The rich seven-year-old variety is sipped like fine malt, while younger and lighter blends are used for cocktails.
A new, welcoming crafts market, the Almacenes San José, has opened in the historic port building at Avenida del Puerto, next to the church of San Francisco de Paula; open 1000-1800 Monday to Saturday.
Mon-Sat 1000-1700, Sun 1000-1200.
Nightlife in Cuba
Havana is renowned for its after-dark entertainment scene, and only the tip of the iceberg is visible to tourists on a short stay. Even medium-sized bars usually have a house band playing Cuban classics. The two Casas de la Música in Havana attract tourists and locals alike, the latter distinguished by their accomplished salsa dance moves. The famous Tropicana nightclub (www.cabaret-tropicana.com) stages nightly open-air cabarets that are a throwback to decadent, pre-Revolution days. The Cabaret Parisien at the Hotel Nacional is similar, and both attract tour groups on 'day and night' packages from the coastal beach resorts.
Theatre, opera and ballet are staged all year round in Havana and seats are very cheap. Cinemas show films in Spanish and blockbuster Hollywood movies - the latter are always subtitled, never dubbed. Santiago de Cuba is the spiritual home of Son - the music that gave birth to salsa, and regular live sessions are on offer at the Casa de la Trova (+53 22 623943). In beach resorts, nightlife tends to mimic what is on offer in Havana, with varying degrees of success. Varadero has a thriving scene, but in the smaller resorts (many of which are all-inclusive) most entertainment is planned and formulaic.