Cuba is famous for its culture, and at the top of this list (or perhaps just mine) is the music and dancing.
Havana has plenty of venues for live music and dancing, but one challenge is they are located rather far apart from one another. Also, I was surprised to learn that in addition to night shows or parties, there are matinees as well! They start at 4 PM and last until 10 PM with reduced cover charges and cheaper drinks! This brings new meaning to after-work drinks.
Depending on where you go and the entrance fee for the night/afternoon, the composition of the clientele at the venues changes quite a bit:
Disckoteka’s have cover charges between $1 to $3 CDN and have more Cubans than tourists, but they often they play more reggaeton, pop and electronic music than salsa. I went to a thumping matinee at Kalabali on La Rampa one afternoon, and at 7 PM I was done for the night.
For strictly salsa, the venues below have a good mix of locals and tourists, but there is a greater proportion of Cuban male dancers and females tourists, compared to the reverse.
- Hotel Florida - Habana Veija (Calle Obispo) ($5 CDN including two drinks). Open every night, but best on Mondays and Wednesdays, or when it rains
- 1830 - Vedado (Malecon and Calle 20) popular on Thursday and Sunday. They close at 1 AM on these nights, so go early.
- Cafe Cantante: With more affordable prices, Cantante is attended by more locals than the venues above, and is located near the Teatro National in Neuvo Vedado. Check the schedule weekly to see who is playing.
- Palacio del Rumba as of November 2013, has also become a popular spot to go on Tuesdays. Normally, this venue is limited to Rumba shows and bands, but it has a relatively large dance floor. Palacio del Rumba is located in Centro in front of Parque de Trillo.
- Casa de la Musica Galiano and Miramar. These are the best places (especially the former) to see the biggest bands (Los Van Van, Habana de Primeira, etc., ) but not necessarily the best places to dance salsa. Entrance fees range from $10 to 20 CDN (i.e. half a month or a full month of official state salaries for Cubans). At these shows, expect to see more tourists than locals, and usually those who are there have been invited as a friend, dance teacher or otherwise. So if you are keen on dancing, consider inviting someone to the show.
- There are some other venues, I've heard of but did not have a chance to visit: Tropical and Salon Cheverere in Miramar, and La Cecelia in Playa,
- Two-tier pricing: for certain events, there may be a price for foreigners and separate one for Cubans. These are the best days to go. There are always more Cubans attending, less jineteras (prowling females), and the venues are more packed.
Aside from salsa there are many venues afro-cuban music and shows that take place at Callejon de Hamel, El Gran Palenque, La Rumba, Palacio del Rumba.
- Callejon de Hamel - is a street in Centro Havana dedicated to Afro-Cuban Religion and Dance created by the painter Salvador Gonsalez. Murals and art pieces related to Santeria adorn the walls and fill the street. There is a good rumba show every Sunday at noon. While it has become quite popular with the tourists, it is also attended by locals - just be prepared for a line of questioning from interested Cubans.
- El Gran Palenque - in Vedado, it is another outdoor venue that has a rumba show every Saturday at 3 PM. It is also home to the Conjunto Folklorico organization which holds two week dance programs in January and July each year. El Palenque offers a beautiful outdoor courtyard, with more space, seating and shade from the sun than Callejon de Hamel.
- La Rumba in Havana Veija is a tightly closed space packed full of people, who all seem to be smoking. I didn’t last too long there, but they have regular shows Fridays at 5 PM. Despite the smoke, it has a strong energy and is rather atmospheric.
- Finally, Palacio del Rumba has rumba shows and concerts, and is now doing a weekly salsa night on Tuesdays.
Unfortunately, I only have photos of rumba, since I never bring my camera if I'm going out to dance.