Exploring new destinations, eating exotic fruit and playing Russian roulette with tropical diseases are just a few of the reasons people travel. But, one of the main draws of criss-crossing oceans to destinations near and far is the potential to meet other unique and exciting travelers whom you can learn from, forge new friendships with and ideally see again regardless of if it’s a few days or years later. This isn’t just because we, as humans, often yearn for connection, but because creating new experiences – whether it’s a visit to a museum, grabbing drinks at a swanky club or kayaking down a serene river – are often more enjoyable when they’re shared. To travel is to connect. Fortunately, Havana is a bustling town that is the perfect place for meeting new people both local and beyond. And, whether you’re a solo traveler looking for companions or a group looking for new friends, you won’t have to look for long.

9 of the Best Places to Meet Other Travelers in Havana

Plaza de la Catedral – If you plan to go to any of the plazas in Havana,which you must, Plaza de la Catedral is the plaza to visit and meet people. It’s not only a lively place where you can feel the true spirit of Havana, but it’s also exceedingly beautiful. You’ll find regal buildings all containing balconies bearing light blue doors and white shutters with stained-glass windows above each of them. Women, clad in flamboyant dresses and red lipstick are eager to pucker up and kiss both male and female tourists. For a price, of course. And while you’ll certainly find travelers milling around the plaza, possibly in search of new friends, the main draw of the plaza is the cathedral, La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana, which is one of eleven Roman Catholic cathedrals in Cuba. It’s a great place to sit, meditate or pray and marvel at the 18th-century house of worship. But, the best part, by far, is the bell tower, which you can climb up for 1CUC ($1) and see amazing views of Old Havana and the plaza. Just don’t ring the bells! You’ll be sure to find other travelers scaling the stairs along with you, so don’t be shy and say, “Hi!”

Price: Free to enter

Address: Plaza de la Catedral, Habana Vieja

Hours of operation: 9am-4:30pm Monday – Friday, 9am-noon Saturday and Sunday

Time required: 45 minutes

View from the bell tower of Plaza de La Catedral in Havana, Cuba
View from the bell tower of Plaza de La Catedral in Havana, Cuba

Museo de la Revolución – Even if you’re not someone who’s enthralled by history (i.e. if you skipped the section above), you can appreciate the Museo de la Revolución, as hundreds of other travelers do every month. It boasts many rooms dedicated to the rise of communism, the fall of capitalism, and, biasedly, explains how Cuba became the country that it is today. My highlights were learning about the “Fathers of the Revolution,” discovering unknown architects of significant revolutionary missions e.g. Frank Pais (who was leading complex and integral missions at 22), seeing how women played a critical role in it all, as well as the many significant dates and events e.g. 26 Julio, 30 Noviembre. History is written by the victors, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see a room solely dedicated to how the United States has worked to thwart Cuba. What’s also a bit cheeky is that the building used to be the Presidential Palace, which Fidel, after successfully winning the revolution, turned into a museum. Be forewarned that there is a lot of information in there. So much so that it can get overwhelming. Fortunately, you’ll often find other travelers marveling at the revolutionary artifacts, so why not strike up a conversation?

Price: $8 to enter

Address: 1 Refugio y Avenida Bélgica, Habana Vieja

Hours of operation: 9:30am-4pm daily

Time required: 2 hours

The Museo de La Revolucion in Havana, Cuba getting a facelift
The Museo de La Revolucion in Havana, Cuba getting a facelift

Fábrica de Arte Cubano – Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) is not to be missed! Out of all of the places on this list, FAC may be the best place to meet travelers due to just how eclectic of a place it is. I’ve personally traveled to 27+ countries and have never experienced anything like it. It’s hard to pinpoint whether FAC is a restaurant, club, theater or live art show, because it’s all of those in one. The hip venue is located in the upscale neighborhood of Vedado, and occupies an old olive oil factory (yes, very Williamsburg, New York City). Upon entering (the line can be long, which can be a great way to meet new friends), you have to pay 2CUC ($2) and are handed a ration card, which is stamped with all of the drinks and food you buy throughout the night. In order to leave, you’ll have to give the ration card back and pay whatever the amount you purchased comes out to. Note: If you lose the ration card, you have to pay a flat fee of 30CUC ($30), which could be a good thing depending on how much of a glutton and alcoholic you are. It’s also fairly cheap. I paid 10.50CUC for 2 beers, 1 juice (gotta stay hydrated!) and 1 sandwich. The crowd is attractive and no two rooms are alike. It’s like an artistic orgasm and playground for adults at the same time. And, because of this, there’s no doubt you’ll find other travelers looking to mingle. I passed through one room, which featured modern art with electronic music playing in the background (DJ and all), to a room which had a full on play happening, to a room with a huge screen playing a movie (sound turned off) with jazz music in the background. I’d go back to Cuba just for FAC.

Price: $2 to enter

Address: Calle 26 y esquina 11, Vedado

Hours of operation: 8pm – 3am Thursday – Sunday

Time required: The whole night

Playas del Este – If you’ve done some research on beaches in Cuba, you’ve probably heard people saying to go to Varadero. “Varadero this, Varadero that, etc.” I went to Varadero, it’s about 2.5 hours outside of Havana and a nice place to go. But, nothing mind blowing. Especially given the fact that the beautiful, crystalline beaches of Playas del Este are only 30 minutes outside of Havana and just as nice, if not nicer. There are also more Cubans, which makes this the perfect place to meet locals and other travelers privy to less well-known spots. Now, I went to Playas del Este before Varadero, which may have made me biased, but when I saw the deep blue waters (I had never seen water that blue before, and I’ve been to the Caribbean many times), I was taken aback by how arresting it all was. You can rent a lounge chair for 1-2CUC ($1-2), and they have drinks for order from one of the men walking around (you’ll see them at the entrance). There’s also a sandbar a few meters out from the shore – I had never experienced standing in the middle of the ocean before, so it was pretty cool. In terms of getting there, I paid one of those vintage taxies 10CUC ($10) to go, and 15CUC to return back to Havana, since it was a bit late. If you find a good driver, they’ll wait for you, but don’t hold your breath if they say they’ll be back by a certain time! My driver, Jorge, whom I thought was a good and honest man, never showed back up! But, he was fairly old, so it’s plausible he had a heart attack on the drive back. I really hope not.

Price: Free

Address: Playas del Este

Hours of operation: Sunrise – sunset

Time required: As much as you want, it’s a beach

The beautiful Playas del Este outside of Havana, Cuba
The beautiful Playas del Este outside of Havana, Cuba

Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo – I was fortunate to hear about this gym from two photographers I met in Viñales who showed me a photo they took of a Cuban olympic boxer who trains there (supposedly many olympians train there). It’s tucked away on the side street of Cuba (nice name for a street), and has a brown sign with white lettering on a pole, so you can’t miss it. If you make it here early enough, you’ll get to see the guys training, who are the least bit camera shy. Aside from being huge and jacked monsters, they’re some of the nicest people I encountered in Cuba. One, Makiel, is a rapper and I’d bet $50 that he’ll try to sell you his CD (be warned, it’s actually quite good). Many of them met Kanye (sort of cool, no?) because he wanted them in a music video he was supposedly shooting in Cuba. Again, nicest guys out there and a great photo opportunity for photography lovers. The gym itself is pretty worn down, as is the ring, which gives it this gritty feel that amplifies the experience. What makes this place so special is that all of the boxers are happy to make new friends, exchange information and show you around town.

Price: Free to enter

Address: Calle 815 Cuba, Habana Vieja

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 20 minutes

A bunch of the boxers (jacked monsters) at Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo in Havana, Cuba
A bunch of the boxers (jacked monsters) at Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo in Havana, Cuba

Necropolis de Cristóbal Colón – Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Mateo, why would I ever go to a cemetery to meet people?” Fair question. But, don’t be put off by how it sounds! I stumbled upon this place (very hard to miss) after getting lost on a solo excursion throughout Vedado. The necropolis is one of the most beautiful cemeteries (if you can call it that) I’ve ever visited. It’s huge! And, because of its size, you’re sure to find other travelers taking in all of the beauty and history that it contains. You’ll know you’ve found the necropolis when you see meters and meters of yellow walls with white plus signs carved on them. The 140-acre necropolis, found in 1876, features over 800,000 graves and 500+ family vaults and chapels. The main allure of the necropolis, aside from its size, is the elaborate artwork featured on many of the graves and mausoleums. But, don’t be surprised if you see broken bottles and windows in some of the mausoleums. The rubbish may be from ghosts, or just disrespectful people. In which case, I hope the ghosts get them.

Price: 1CUC ($1) to enter

Address: Calle Zapata y esquina 12, Vedado

Hours of operation: 9am – 5pm daily

Time required: 1 hour

University of Havana – The main draw of the University of Havana (Fidel’s alma mater), aside from its beautiful architecture featuring large columns and a really nice cloister where students hang out, is just how “normal” it is. In a country where communism is still strong – the state runs most industries and businesses – the University of Havana is a great place to take a break and realize that Cuban people are no different than you or myself. Students hang outside in groups cramming for tests, exchange flirtatious glances and laugh with one another. They experience all of the feelings any college student experiences. Now, that’s not to say they don’t have difficulties specific to Cuba (I spoke with one student in Viñales who was switching majors due to internet issues and old textbooks), but a visit to the university is a great way to feel the humanity of the youth, meet some of the students and encounter other travelers hanging out on the front steps.

Price: Free

Address: Calles L and 27, Vedado

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 30 minutes

Cuban students hanging out at the University of Havana
Cuban students hanging out at the University of Havana

El Malecon – Most malecons in most cities are worth a visit. It’s basically a stone-walled embankment on a waterfront, sort of like a boardwalk, but without wood or a ton of vendors looking to sell you things. Okay, not like a boardwalk. On Havana’s malecon, you can see fisherman looking to catch their next meal, teenagers exchanging kisses and even dance parties erupting out of nowhere. It’s because of all of the life on this strip of the island that it’s one of the most perfect places to meet other travelers. Be sure to not go in the middle of the day if you want to avoid the blistering heat.

Price: Free to stroll

Address: Go by the water

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 2 hours

A fisherman on El Malecon in Havana, Cuba looking for his next catch
A fisherman on El Malecon in Havana, Cuba looking for his next catch

Parque Central – “A park, Mateo? Shouldn’t this have been number one on the list of places to meet travelers?” Sure, but then this list would start out with a cliche, and I didn’t want that. Parks are always de facto places to meet travelers who are taking a break on a bench, gathering up with other friends or sharing a meal. Parque Central is no different; it’s a nice little park. I read a guidebook that described it as “large, sprawling, etc. etc.” It’s not. It’s a nice little park with a statue of José Martí. Aside from that, it has a very central location (hence the name), which makes it a good place to meet friends new and old. You can also hop on one of those hop-on-hop-off buses here for 10CUC ($10). I’d recommend doing one of those at the beginning of your time in Havana, to get situated, and not at the end (I made that mistake and it was a waste).

Price: Free to enter

Address: Parque Central (I always feel weird giving the address as the name of the place, but it’s sufficient!)

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 15 minutes

Havana is a city where it’s harder not to meet people than it is to. Due to it being the start and end point for majority of travelers’ journeys, you’ll have no trouble making friends almost anywhere you go. But, knowing the “best places to meet other travelers,” is only half the battle. The other half is actually walking up, making yourself a bit vulnerable and mustering up the courage to say, “Hey!” Doing this is easier for some than others, but the fact is that to make new friends anywhere, whether it’s in Havana or wherever you call home, you have to put yourself out there. The rewards are always worth the risk, and you’ll be surprised by how many people are looking to make new friends and learn from others. Now, bookmark this article, hop on a plane and start making new friends! There’s a world of them out there waiting to meet you.

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Mateo is a writer who quit his flashy job in NYC to live life on his own terms. He’s done everything from working at an orphanage in Nairobi to building a new university in Abu Dhabi to sleeping on volcanos in Guatemala. And right now, he’s working to get his novel published. His writing has been featured internationally in publications including Matador Network, GoAbroad, Víkurfréttir, Caribbean News Now and Black & Abroad. Regardless of where he is, he’s always working. To keep up with him, follow him on Instagram & Twitter at @AskMateo and read one of his elaborate stories at SwagPapi.com

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