If you’re lucky enough to visit Havana, you may be struck by the spirit and vivacity of the locals. Despite challenging economic conditions, Cubans seem to approach life as an ongoing dance, with a passionate flair and an enviable rhythm. From traditional salsa and bolero joints to raw reggaeton street parties, there’s always a place, and reason, to party and dance in Havana.
Despite the diversity of entertainment available in the capital, a tour guide may sway you towards the usual glamorous tourist spots: The famous El Floridita bar or the extravagant 1950s Tropicana Cabaret Show. However, at 85-90 dollars per head, these glitzy locations are not always sustainable for the budget backpacker.
During my six months studying in Havana, my friends and I escaped the tourist traps to sample the cheaper, more authentic nightlife spots. Based on my experience, here are four of my favourite places to boogie in Havana without breaking the bank. Perfect if you want to strut your stuff alongside the Cubans, rather than in the audience.
My Favourite Budget-friendly Spots To Dance In Havana
1. Drink In The Culture At Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC)
If there’s one place that you simply must visit, it’s Havana’s cultural venue, Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Located in the hip Vedado district, what was once an old oil factory has been transformed into the coolest, most dynamic spot on the island. It soon became a favourite among our group. A trendy, yet unpretentious labyrinth of entertainment, FAC is the only place you’ll find art, fashion, theatre, food and music under one roof. With a social and communitarian focus, there really is nowhere else like it.
Encompassing several floors, the club doubles as an art gallery, meaning you can enjoy the latest Cuban art with a minty mojito frappé in hand (by far our favourite drink on the menu). If that isn’t enough, you’ll be spoilt for choice with various bars, food outlets and electrifying live music performances on offer. On one memorable visit, the brass band onstage brought their instruments into the crowd, mingling with our group and drawing us into their creation. For another immersive experience, head to the dancefloor, where you can trade moves with some of the city’s most fashionable residents. And at a modest 2CUC (2 dollars) for entry, it won’t put you out of pocket. The club is open 8 PM-2 AM Thursday-Sunday and closes every three months for renovations (January, May and September).
2. Dance Under The Havana Moon Along The Malecón
For me, Havana’s Malecón, the 7 km-long seawall separating the city from the ocean, is the epitome of Cuban culture. Although simple, the promenade captures the soul of the city. Sunset brings with it an enchanting ambience as locals of all ages flock to let loose under the silver moon; lovers, musicians and groups of friends converge to share in its humble brilliance. Faithful to the true Cuban experience, my friends and I would often grab a planchao (a small carton of straight rum) and head to the intersection between 23rd Street and the Malecón.
Like us, take in the soft sea breeze as you grab a seat among the extraordinary architecture and competing cries of accomplished musicians and street sellers. Or, get stuck in and practice your salsa alongside the experts. And the best news is…it’s free!
However, keep your wits about you as the sea wall is a hotspot for tourist scammers – to blend in, leave your jewels at home.
3. Get Down To Reggaeton At A Wholesome Cuban House Party
While a select few can enjoy the city’s clubs and bars, going out is largely unaffordable for most Cuban residents. This means that the real fun takes place within the walls of their homes. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a Cuban house party, it is sure to be an experience you will never forget. Expect a family affair; grandparents will hand out homemade rice and beans, while toddlers sway their hips alongside you. However, these parties are not for the faint-hearted…the dancing will continue into the next day.
Top tip: Bring a towel—during my first house party in Havana, the Cubans ‘baptised’ the English students by pouring rum over us!
4. Party With The Crowd At A Free Concert
In Cuba, a lot comes down to being in the right place at the right time. So, if you happen to catch wind of a free concert, be sure to seize the opportunity. Free, or extremely cheap, concerts are occasionally thrown at the famous Plaza de la Revolución, along the Malecón or in various other locations. Electro-lovers will love Cuba’s annual techno festival, while international icons, such as the Rolling Stones, are among past performers. During our stay, we were lucky enough to witness the famous Afro-Cuban funk singer, Cimafunk, completely free! While we found that the technology wasn’t always top-notch, the crowds certainly made up for it, matching the energy of the performers. Expect spontaneous dance-offs and an electric atmosphere. These events are largely unknown to tourists and spread by word of mouth—so ask around.
Nightlife In Cuba Is Omnipresent
The truth is, in Havana, you can dance almost anywhere. If all else fails, head onto the street and follow the music: In a place where rhythm comes naturally and rum is cheaper than water, you won’t have to look far. But remember, drink responsibly, be respectful of locals, and you’re sure to have a good time.