Many people come to Havana, myself included, to dance salsa, see famous Cuban bands playing live, and to experience the amazing salsa clubs here. They are literally the most energetic clubs you will ever experience! I visited Cuba 4 times with my Cuban salsa teachers Osbanis & Anneta and in that time got to know all the best local dancing spots and clubs to catch the best Cuban bands play.
This guide will not tell you where all the tourists go, who cannot dance a single step. This is for people who are serious about salsa or are curious and committed to learn and try it out on the dance floor. It will tell you the places and parties where you can encounter everyday Cubans who come to dance and what you can expect from these places. Ahinama!
The city of Havana is split mainly into three areas: Habana Vieja (Old Havana), centro Habana, and Vedado.
Cubans mostly go to dance salsa at the clubs in Vedado so let’s start there.
Jardines de 1830, or 1830 for short, will always be a classic place to dance salsa in the evening when in Havana. The outdoor venue located at the end of the Malecon is nothing short of spectacular. Drinks are cheap, there is a great vibe, perfect sea views and lots of friendly locals. Personally I just love dancing at outdoor clubs, and you can even hear the waves crashing in the background here. Such a beautiful location and a place regular salseros often return to. There is a good mix of locals and tourists here, and there is even an excellent restaurant here located in an ancient mansion that you can eat in beforehand.
It is also here where the music video for ‘Agua pa Yemaya‘ by Elito Reve y su Charangon was filmed – at the end where the Japanese garden is. The Japanese garden (jardín Japonés) is empty at night so you are free to stroll around it – it’s so beautiful and the views are stunning! Although the Japanese garden should definitely be visited during the day too: with lots of rock pools, a small stream and a giant pergola (Glorieta Mudéjar) it is truly enchanting.
Best time to visit: Sunday night (rueda).
Click here to find the location of 1830 on Google maps.
Cafe Cantante Mi Habana
Often just referred to as Cafe Cantante, this is another favourite for salseros in Havana. Cafe Cantante is located next to Plaza Revolución, underneath the Teatro Nacional and gets very, very busy (and smoky!).
There is a really great atmosphere here and some really good dancers, both foreign and local (as there are good public transport and taxi connections from here). Matinees are good here too (they start around 5 or 6pm). Matinees are one of the best ways to experience salsa when in Havana (more about them later!).
Best time to visit: Monday and Tuesday nights are good here (plus Friday for matinee!).
Click here to see the Google maps location.
Not far from Club 1830 and also located outdoors along the sea front is Don Cangrejo. This is one of Havana’s newest and best live music venue events, and is the place to be on a Friday night, full of young beautiful Cubans wanting to dance. The dance floor is actually on top of a covered swimming pool! Don Cangrejo is open from 11pm – 3am but don’t leave it too late to get there though as the queues can get really big!
Best time to visit: Friday night.
Click here to see the Google maps location of Don Cangrejo.
Click here to view the Google maps location of El Sauce.
Just a couple of hundred metres from Hotel Habana Libre is La Gruta. Another great place for salsa and also reggaeton, and hardly any tourists visit this place! Do check before you visit though as salsa is not on every night (at the moment Wednesdays andFridays are the best nights for salsa!). This place gets really packed with locals dancing and it gets SO hot here! At only 3 CUC entry, this is also one of the cheaper salsa clubs for you to visit!
Best time to visit: Wednesday and Friday night
Click here to see the Google maps location of la Gruta.
Palacio de la Rumba
THE place to go for rumba lovers on weekend afternoons. The atmosphere is incredible and the crowd and amazing and always super enthusiastic. Full of locals dancing rumba.
Best time to visit: Friday – Sunday from 6.30pm.
Click here to see the Google maps location of Palacio de la Rumba.
El Turquino at Hotel Habana Libre
Mostly frequented by tourists, and not as busy as the other salsa clubs is the swanky rooftop club El Turquino, located above Hotel Habana Libre. It is worth a visit for the views, the different bands playing each night, and to watch when the roof opens up and you can see the stars. It is quite expensive though, so you won’t see many Cubans here. All the posh places are made primarily for tourists and are really expensive in comparison. For this reason, you will struggle to find regular Cubans here.
Click here to view the Google maps location of El Turquino.
Casa de la Musica Miramar
Located past Vedado in Miramar is Casa de la Musica Miramar. Beware there are 2 Casa de la Musicas in Havana and they are not close to each other! One is in centro (Galiano), the other one is in Miramar. There can often be a lot of traffic if you are heading to the one in Miramar, especially if a big name is playing. Always double check which location before you head off, so you don’t end up at the wrong one!
Nevertheless, both venues offer a top quality night full of dancing, locals, and they regularly host Cuba’s top bands. Casa de la Musica Miramar actually has two performances every day – a matinee (5pm – 9pm) and an evening show (11pm – 3am).
Also, located above Casa de la Musica Miramar is Diablo Tun Tun, another great club full of locals that is more reggaeton focused. Often Diablo Tun Tun closes at 6am!
Best time to visit: Usually the Sunday matinee at Casa de la Musica Miramar has a great band playing. Also Adalberto Alvarez play on a Wednesday night here at Casa de la Musica Miramar (unless the are out of town or on tour).
Click here to view the Google maps location of Casa de la Musica Miramar.
Located even further away than Casa de la Musica Miramar is El Sauce, on the edge of Havana. El Sauce is a giant venue with two big stages and is extremely popular with local Cubans! Many of Cuba’s top bands perform here too.
Best time to visit: Tuesday – Saturday nights.
Casa de la Musica Galiano
One of Havana’s most well-known and loved salsa clubs is Casa de la Musica Galiano, located next to the America Theatre. Be careful because Havana has 2 Casa de la Musica’s as mentioned above! Galliano is the centrally located one of the two, and most people prefer this one as the layout is better, although both venues are equally full of local Cubans. Saturday nights are usually being the best night here in Galliano (and Wednesday night being the worst as it is based at tourists this night).
Both Casa de la Musicas feature the biggest names in Cuban salsa playing most nights of the week and are some of the absolute best places to dance salsa, so make sure you visit here at least once! I lost count of the amount of times I have visited this place and it never gets old – the energy in this place is amazing! Both venues are very intimate which makes the live music even better!
Best time to visit: Saturday night.
Whilst Habana Vieja (Old Havana) is incredible in terms of it’s historic and incredibly beautiful sites to see, it rather lacks authentic salsa clubs. Any salsa places here are predominantly tourist focused, and most likely any Cubans in there will be more interested in hooking up than dancing (more about that later).
There is one place in Old Havana worth mentioning: Maragato located inside the stunning Hotel Florida. Whilst it does fit into the category I just described and you won’t find many serious dancers here, it is a fun place, even if the level of salsa is not as high as the clubs listed above. Cubans will come here in their best outfits and do their best to wow you with their moves, but this place is a bar, not a club. The music is spot on however and it’s a nice place in a fabulous location. It is definitely worth it to visit once, but don’t expect the Maykel Fonts’ of this world to hang out here.
So as a rule, steer clear of Habana Vieja on a night out if you want some serious salsa. However, you can always go to Maragato first as a warm-up before walking down to Casa de la Musica Galiano (a nice 20 minute walk).
Click here to see the Google maps location of Hotel Florida.
Where to watch popular Cuban bands play
When you’re in Havana, you won’t just be able to dance along to your favourite Cuban songs, you’ll be able to actually watch the bands perform live in the clubs! And if you’ve never seen a Cuban timba band perform live – you’re in for a treat. Watching Cuban bands play live is SO fun – these guys are so talented and have the most amazing energy! Even if you don’t know the lyrics (which I don’t half the time!), you will have a ball watching the bands play and dancing along.
The popular Cuban bands (Pupy, Los Van Van, Elito Reve, Manolito Simonet, Maykel Blanco, Havana d’Primera etc) all perform regularly at the salsa clubs here in Havana, and the energy these bands and the crowd has is just insane.
It’s not always straightforward to find out which bands are performing where each night, so try to find out on the day from word of mouth from Cubans, as often things can change quite last minute here.
What about clubs solely for Cubans?
Clubs that are purely full of locals are usually located out of town. Often they have an atmosphere that a regular non-salsa dancing tourist would not fit into well at all and would usually feel uncomfortable in. I would advise to go to these places only if you’re a serious dancer, and if you go with another person. It’s also an advantage if you can speak Spanish. Better if you have a Cuban friend or Cuban friends you can go with (note: friend. Not a Cuban you just found earlier that day).
If you turned up to a place like this in a big group, and are there to have fun as opposed to dance seriously, it might not be received so well. Clubs such as La Tropical in Marianao (about a 30 minute drive from Centro) are examples of this kind of place.
So, how do you to find a place where you can find almost exclusively Cubans inside, a great atmosphere, serious dancers, great music, and where everybody just wants to dance? The answer is…. in the day at the matinees!
Honestly, matinees are the best for social dancing. They are definitely my favourite place for dancing in Havana! The atmosphere here is amazing – everyone is happy and you don’t get the people just there for a hookup – all the Cubans there just want to dance! Matinees in Cuba start at around 6pm and finish around 9pm, which is great if the late nights are getting too much!
Callejon de Hamel
This isn’t a club but more a social gathering place, and somewhere that can not be missed!! On Sunday afternoon make sure to come here to watch Afro-Cuban dancing: – you’ll see dancers dressed in the Orisha costumes, live percussion and a fabulous atmosphere – I was literally entranced here. There is a lot of rumba dancing and tributes to Santeria, and the whole place is beautiful with lots of wall murals and street art.
Whilst I have never had any problems when I visited, people will tell you to be careful of your belongings here in case of pickpocketers.
Click here to see the Google maps location of Callejon de Hamel.
Casa de la Musica Galiano
Whilst I love Casa de la Musica in the night, I prefer it so much more on the matinees! There is always a great crowd and electric atmosphere here – even more so than in the evenings!
Casa de la Musica Miramar and Cafe Cantante also have some really good matinees.
Price of drinks:
At the less touristy clubs located more out of town, the drinks (and entrance fee) will be much cheaper.
In places like 1830 and Casa de la Musica Galiano, if there is a group of you it is best to buy a bottle of Havana Club rum and some cans of coke and split the cost. This will work out much cheaper than each person buying individual drinks. Sounds crazy right, but it’s true.
How much does it cost to enter a salsa club in Havana?
It depends which band is playing, but usually expect to pay between 10-20 CUC ($10-20USD). Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) are equal to the US dollar. Naturally it costs more for foreigners to enter clubs than it does for the locals.
Petty crime such as stealing does sometimes occur in the clubs. Prevention is always better than cure though, so try not to bring anything out that you absolutely don’t need. If you are a couple, ladies there is no need to bring a handbag as your man can carry one phone between you, and he can carry the cash and your ID (and lippy!). There are cloakrooms to put your things too, for an additional CUC or so. If you do bring a bag and don’t put it in the cloakroom, don’t just leave it on the side when you go dance – leave it with a friend! Some women even go out wearing a bumbag so they can still dance without having to put their things down.
What kind of music and bands plays at these clubs?
These days all the bands play a type of Cuban music called timba, which is really upbeat and fun to listen to (and you just can’t help but dance to it!). Popular Cuban bands that you can often expect to hear their music in the clubs and even see them performing include the likes of: Elito Revé y Su Charangón, Maykel Blanco y su Salsa Mayor, Alexander Abreu y Havana d’Primera, Pupy y los que Son Son, Los Van Van, El Nino y La Verdad, Adalberto Álvarez y su Son, Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco amongst others.
What to wear when dancing salsa in Havana
Prepare to sweat: it gets really hot so make sure you wear breathable and comfortable clothes! The locals really like to dress up when they go dancing in Cuba, so pack your best outfits and heels!
TIP! Bring toilet paper in your handbag as most of the clubs don’t have any!!
When is the best time of year to dance in Havana?
Weather wise the end of November til May is the best time to visit Cuba. June to October is the rainy season, and sometimes hurricanes occur during these months.
Each time I visited Cuba I went in November, which is a popular time for salseros/salseras to visit Cuba as Baila en Cuba Festival takes place in Havana in November each year. I went several times to the parties and they were incredible. All the big names play at this festival, and even part of the music video for Pupy’s El Cache was filmed during his performance here. Click here to watch the video and see how the concert was, and if you watch closely you will see me several times during the video – right at the front dancing along in a white dress haha!
Where not to go for salsa in Havana!
Forget Tropicana. I have never been, nor will go there. This is not where you go to dance salsa when you are in Havana so get this out of your head now. It is pure cabaret (and is ridiculously expensive).
Also, as mentioned above, don’t waste your time in Habana Vieja trying to find a decent salsa place.
What kind of people go to dance salsa in Havana?
Cuban salsa, both in Havana and internationally, attracts a diverse range of people. Unlike regular party nightclubs, at salsa nightclubs you will always see a real variety of ages, from 20 to 70! Personally I love that, and I hope at 70 I will still be on the dance floor! Don’t be put off by dancing with older people – they are often just as nimble on their feet as the young twenty-somethings!
Hooking up in Cuba
Personally I have no interest in hooking up with Cubans. I love Cubans, but I’m not going to go home with someone I have just met that evening. Especially when I’m all hot from dancing all night. But some people do. Many people who go to dance salsa actually go with the intention to pick up a girl/guy.
Infact, many people go to Cuba to hook up with Cubans. And many Cubans want to hook up with foreigners. So I will discuss it here.
Now I love Cuba and I love Cubans. But I have to tell you how it is. You’ll see a lot of Cuban girls skimpily dressed sat at the bar (especially at Casa de la Musica Galiano in the evenings). They aren’t there to dance, heck they look like they’re having a pretty miserable time there if I’m honest. They are looking to hook up (and get paid for it). I knew one guy who hooked up with one, took her back to his hotel, and then woke up to find his cash missing. Not saying this will happen to you, but I am just letting you know!
You will also often see a middle aged Western women with a young Cuban man. You know what, if it makes them happy who are we to judge? Yes many Cubans are desperate to get a different passport and get out of their country, so sometimes an older Western women seems like an easy target. But Cubans are charming, and I’m sure it’s so nice for these older women to receive so much attention from a hot young guy.
Important information about Cuban salsa clubs in Havana
There is something important you should be aware of when you come to Havana to dance. Salsa clubs and salsa nights in Havana can often change, sometimes very last minute even. You just need to go with the flow. If you try and meticulously plan things when you are in Cuba, you will end up getting frustrated when things don’t go to plan. And things often don’t go to plan when you are here! So just relax and go with it.
Also, each club is not always open every night for salsa either. But don’t worry, every night of the week there will be a great salsa party happening somewhere in Havana! You just need to find out where. So use my information as a guide, then just confirm with the local Cubans when you are in Havana during the day of where the best salsa party will be that night, incase any last minute changes have happened.
I will continue to update this page whenever I am alerted of changes, but do let me know in the comments below if you think there is something I have omitted or is now incorrect. Places close and open all the time, but all the great ones have stood the test of time.
With Freddy Clan and Maykel Blanco after the show.
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