Featured

Essential advice for traveling to Cuba

There are some things you should know about before you travel to Cuba, or at least have a rough idea about them to avoid unpleasant surprises.

I am not talking about planning every detail about your trip… just some basics

so here we go:

THE INTERNET: Cuba has an extremely poor internet environment, and most of the foreign companies have really high roaming fees for Cuba. And, yes I mean extremely poor internet environment, there is no private internet connection, just public WIFI in parks or hotels (2CUC -3CUC per hour). More about the Internet here. And more about Telefons and Cells here.

MONEY: There are two currencies in Cuba (maybe that’s going to change soon) the CUP and the CUC (similar value than USD). One CUP is 24/ 25 CUP, and you can pay with both of them in almost every place, you just have to know how much they are worth. You can change money in banks and CADECAS (currency exchange) or withdraw from the ATM with Visa or Mastercard. Just be careful with American cards, there are still some problems. Try to get money to the bank with your credit card, before you try the ATM. (The last advice is just for travelers with American Credit Cards). More about Money here.

Accommodation: Stay in BnB (Casas Particulares), more here.

TRANSPORT: There are buses and shared taxis all around the island. Also, you could hitchhike if you are on a budget or seek for authentic adventure. More about transport here.

Here are some general tips for behavior in Cuba.

Politeness: Be polite to the people. Please don’t just walk into homes, schools or official buildings without a permit. (Would you want people to do that at your home?) If you want to talk politics be polite and not hardly direct and accept it if people do not want to talk about that kind of topic. Also be respectful. If you want to bring a gift, please consider this post first.

Tipping: As in many countries, in Cuba you also tip 10%. Sometimes the 10% is included in the check. You usually would tip in restaurants and bars, also tour guides or taxi drivers. In a restaurant you leave the money with the check, wait until the waiter returns with your change and then leave the amount you would like to tip.

Toilets: There is a thing about Cuban toilets that you shouldn’t forget: Do not through your paper in the toilet! Never! In most places like hotels or public restrooms, you should pay about 10cents or 1 CUP for the paper, or carry your own. Also be aware that most public restrooms are not in the best condition.

Safety: Cuba is a very safe place. Nevertheless, you should be aware that there are pickpockets and scams in touristic areas.

Water: Do not drink tap water. You should buy bottled water or drink boiled, and filtered water like most people in Cuba do. Don’t wonder if you cannot get water anywhere that happens. Make sure to drink enough because of the heat and the sun.

Read here what’s useful to prepare before traveling to Cuba.

Read here what’s useful to prepare before traveling to Cuba.

A Ride in Classic Car in Havana

Havana is famous for a lot of things, one of them, maybe the most famous one is the old cars. They belong to the city like the Capitolio or the Malecón. The classic cars come in all shapes, colors, and conditions.
For most of the tourists it is something unique and special, for the Habaneros it is a part of everyday life and their normal transportation.
While you are in Havana you will discover that there are many types of those classic cars. The ones you see most look less shiny and changed a lot over the years.
Those are the most frequented taxis by locals. They have their fixed routes in the city and people just hop on on the way, they work a little like buses. Most of those cars have new engines and many parts from all kinds of cars. What’s left classical is the outside. It doesn’t make it less fun though. You will notice that every route taxi is different and every ride can be a small adventure.
Also, it is a rather cheap way to get around in the city.
Then there are those classic cars, that really deserve to be called classical. They look shiny on the outside, usually also on the inside and they still have their original pieces. They usually are used as taxis and have a license to transport tourists as well. The rides are a little more expensive because they also consume a lot of fuel. But if you want to travel in time or just feel the classic car vide for a bit, it is definitely worth it!
Another famous type of cars are the convertibles. Almost in any book about Havana, there is at least one picture of a convertible car. The colorful cars are used by tourist to take a tour around Havana and by locals to take wedding pictures and drive around on their wedding day. There are some really nice convertibles, but careful not all of them are original, some were converted into convertibles later by cutting the roof off. But there are still some gems, original Cadillacs and much more, left with their engine and sometimes even the seats are original.
They charge for a city tour from 35-50 CUC per hour, but that is maybe an experience you will just get in Havana.
But please do not ignore the Sun and take those tours in the late afternoon or in the morning, or wear a hat!
Enjoy your ride!
Advertisements

Unique BnBs in Cuba Part 2

This time our unique Bnb is in Viñales, Viñales is beautiful valley and a nice little village, that got flooded by tourists over the last years. There are around 300 Bnbs in Viñales, each one has it’s own appeal, but this one is special.
La Cabaña el Atardecer is a Bohío, that’s the name for the wooden farmer’s houses in Cuba’s countryside, with roofs made out of palm tree leaves.
Those help to keep the place cool in summer and warm in winter.
Well, La China, the owner of the BnB prepared one part of her farm, in the middle of the valley for tourists and gives them a unique experience. The BnB is your chance to stay at a real tobacco farm and be part of the country life.
It is not that rustic though, the Bohío has power and running water, it’s own bathroom and a fan.
DSC01157 copia.jpg
La Cabaña
The position is idyllic and close to the village but comes with the peace of the valley.
Every food served on the farm is organic and planted by the farmers, who are lovely hosts.
I recommend to book the room in advance, as there is a huge demand.
Make your days in Viñales unique and get the real experience.
DSC01180.JPG
José Luis and La China 

Unique BnBs in Cuba Part 1

There many really nice BnBs, or Casa Particulares in Cuba. Some of them have pretty views, some have amazing decorations and most of them have lovely owners, so that you instantly feel at home.
Sometimes it’s a little hard to find them and a recommendation or some tips on where to stay in Cuba are helpful.
But this post is about something else. This post is about BnB, that a little different and transmit a different vibe, or just have something very special. This is not publicity for those places.
If you find one on your own and want to share it, please feel free to send me a message or an email!

Casa de PaloDSC02875

So here is my first example of a special Casa Particular in Havana’s Neighborhood Vedado. Why is it special or different? Well- Palo means wood or stick. And that’s the material of the house.
Yes the Casa the Palo is partly a wooden House in the middle of the urbanized Vedado.
Being one of the first houses around here in around 1900 the Bnb maintained it’s traditional wooden structure but got modernized inside and offers a new eclectic vibe. They mix classic and modern elements and create a unique home
DSC02870
This their Facebook page and they are also on Air Bnb.
The house has three rooms, of which two are possible to connect through a door and one is more independent.
The place has huge porch and nice hosts that are happy to assist with anything.
Casa the palo is your chance to stay in a house that used to be one of the traditional fincas in the Vedado, before it became a high class neighborhood in the early 20th century.

Young and Independent Cuban Cinema

DSC02877 copia
The Cine Chaplin Yesterday with the opening installation
Yesterday one of my favorite events started in Havana: La Muestra del Cine Jovén.
Basically, it is a film festival for young Cuban directors to present their latest work. They present a great variety of short films and documentaries. During the festival there also a lot of workshops and interesting talks from local and international realizers.
Every year the Muestra is an interesting way to engage with Cuban culture from different perspectives and get to know young Cuban art.
The festival mainly takes Places in the Cine Chaplin (23rd Street between 10 and 12 in the Vedado), but there are also activities in the cultural Centre Fresa y Chocolate across the street and in the Cine 23 y 12, just one block away.
The 16th Muestra de Cine Joven started yesterday April 4th and finishes on the 9th. Make sure to stop by while you are in Havana you won’t regret it.
The films have English subtitles, so even if do not speak Spanish you won’t be lost!

Nightlife in Havana on a Budget?

Partying in Havana does not have to be a difficult if you are traveling on a budget. In the city there are clubs, bars and activities for every budget and you don’t have to stick to peso bars for it.
Here are some ideas for a great night out without having to spend a fortune:
  1. The Malecón
Do what local Habaneros do and grab some beers, a bottle of rum or if you are really on a tight budget a planchado (0,3 cl tetra packs of rum for 0,90$)  and go to the Malecón. The famous sea front fills up with people at night, especially on weekends. The area around the Hotel Nacional or the Hotels Melia Cohiba or Riviera(Malecón y Paseo) are popular spots to meet old and new friends. In august the Malecón is also the place where Havana’s carnival is hold.
  1. La Casa Balear (23 y G)
At the crossing of the streets 23 and G (or Avenida de los Presidentes) there is a big yellow mansion called la Casa Balear, like the Spanish islands. This place is a cultural centre with activities on the weekends, in particular on Sunday afternoons, but it also a bar with almost the cheapest mojitos (15 CUPs)  in city. The bar is a popular place for young Cubans to hang out with friends and a have a couple of drinks. Although crowded on weekends during the week it is a quiet place to hang out and get some drinks.
  1. Free concerts
If you are lucky enough to be in Havana during the beginning or the end of summer holidays (July/September) you have the chance to be part of some free activities, like the concerts around the university (Vedado L & San Lazaro). For the start and the end of the semester, also to other occasions, there is a big concert on the stairs of the university. Usually the places gets crowded and the groups that play are quite famous. Ask around for the exact dates.
  1. Happy Hours
The concept of Happy Hours found it’s way to Havana as well and there are a few bars around the city that have great offers. There are Bars like the Bohemio (Vedado Calle 14 esq. 19) that offer two drinks for the price of one on Friday nights and you can enjoy a really nice atmosphere. Other locations with a Happy Hour are the Bar Esencia ( Calle B e/ Línea y Calzada), also on Friday nights or the Art Pub (Teniente Rey #306 e/ Aguacate y Compostela ), until 6pm.
Many Bars in the Old Havana have Happy Hours until the evening or nighttime, so move the cocktail hour to the afternoon and stick with beers at the Malecón or the Casa Balear at nights.

Some food related tips for Cuba

I already wrote some posts about Cuban Food and dishes you should try while you are here. This post is more about food in Cuba in general and provides some tips for your trip.
If you are a Vegetarian be aware that a trip to Cuba could be a little boring food wise. In this post you can find more information about that.
Here some food related tips for your trip:
  1. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
I know, at home you are used to go one supermarket to get all your groceries from meat and bread to vegetables and yogurt. Well Cuba is a little different: Fresh fruits and vegetables you can only find on farmers markets or buy from street vendors, not in supermarkets. But they are fresh and locally cultivated and yes, mostly organic!
Try mangos and avocados in Summer and Tomatoes and Mamey during Winter.
Some big farmers Markets are in:
19 y B in the Vedado
17 y K, also Vedado
 Mercado de Egidio, in Egidio y Corales, Old Havana
Those are just some examples. Big markets close on Mondays but you can still go to smaller ones.
  1. Big Portions
Cubans love to eat and to eat a lot. So a important criteria for a good restaurant from a local point of view is that the portions are big. It is perfectly normal to ask for a doggy bag to the rest of the food back home.
  1. Sugar
Sugar in Cuba counts almost as basic nutrition and if you love sweetness Cuba will be your place. So be aware that sweets are a little sweeter than you might be used to.
Make a stop in a Dulcería and try some pastries or get in line at Coppelia and have some ice cream.
  1. Drinks and Food
Cubans are used to have their drinks with their food. Usually     you will be asked if you want the drinks first or with the food: para ahora o con la comida?
 
  1. Restrooms 
Not directly food related but good to know: not all places have bathrooms, usually cafeterias do not have any. 
WHERE to eat?
There are different types of places to eat in Cuba, for different tastes and budgets:
 
Official
First of all, there are state owned restaurants. They can vary a lot in terms of price and quality of food and service. 

Paladares
Paladares are restaurants owned and run by private persons. Now the main restaurants and the high quality ones are private. Thanks to those places the Cuban food gained his former variety again, also the decoration and presentation of the places and dishes are usually more special. Normally better chefs work in a Paladar.
Of course there are bad ones as well.

Cafeterias
The Cafeterias are the Cuban alternative to international fast food chains. Since 2013 Cubans have the possibility to be auto employed and open small businesses so in the last years a lot of people opened their own small fast food places. Most Cafeterias are a lot cheaper than Restaurants and serve fast food or Cuban dishes for small Prices. Typical fast food are pizzas, burgers and sandwiches. Most of the bakeries and Cafés are also private run.

 
WHEN to eat? 
 
In Cuba people eat when they are hungry. Usually they have  a big a lunch and dinner, but there is no special time for time for it. 
 
For More Infos about Cuban Food and a huge list of restaurants, Bars and Cafeterias you find in my guid, available on Amazon or directly here : 
Avoid bad experiences and discover Cuban food at its best! 

Havana on a Budget- Taking the Bus

As I mentioned in some posts before, traveling Cuba on a budget can be a bit tricky, but it is not impossible.
Havana is the best place to stay on a budget because you many options. Here you have hostels and a lot of options to eat good but not expensive. In other areas, especially touristic towns and popular locations, you might have to look longer for such things, but they exist.
Moving around will affect your budget a lot and is yet one of the best chances to safe money. In Havana there are a lot possibilities to move around. The cheapest would be walking, but it is a big city and you can not walk everywhere .
A little more expensive than walking is taking the bus, or “guagua”, but really just a little. A bus ride cots 40cts from the CUP. Just be aware that if you pay with 1CUP you will not get any change back, usually and bigger bus stops there are people who change the coin to cents.
Some buses are really crowded, so always try to catch them during the first stops.
A great way to get around a little faster and still see something of the city are the P- Metro buses.
You could even safe on your city tour if you take rides on the P4 or the PC and discover less touristic areas if you take the P3.
Keep in mind that at the bus stations you should always ask for the last person in line: el Ultimo.
Have fun discovering Havana by bus.mapa-lineas-metrobus-habana

Colorful Fusterlandia

Imagine your home as a tourist attraction, you’ll get a lot of visitors from all around the world. Of course there has to be a reason why a home can be an attraction at the same time, or somebody famous lives or lived there or somebody has turned his home to something different.
That is what the artist José Antonio Rodríguez Fuster did. Fuster, who lives and works in Havana’s neighborhood Jaimanitas started to decorate his home and parts of the neighborhood with mosaic and sculptures. That project grew over the years and is now one very interesting and less known attraction in city.
Located in a less touristic area but easy to reach by taxi, route taxi or bus, Fusterlandia is a different experience of Art and community project.
Each part of the main house and the surroundings tells his own story. You can find sculptures and painting about Cuban history, culture and identity but also about other countries and personal lives of the people living close by.
The place feels like a huge playground of fantasy and things to discover. The ride there takes you through some beautiful parts of Havana and combines well with a visit to K’chos studio at the Paradero de Playa. YoloIMG_0089.JPG

A Place for the Living and the Dead

Cementaries are popular sights sometimes in cities like Paris, they are also used for a Sunday picnic or just a walk.
In Havana the cemetery is also tourist attraction and that’s more than justified. Although it doesn’t have Jim Morrisons grave it is a really interesting place to visit.
The Cementerio Colon is located in the Vedado neighborhood and was built in 1870 and still is one of the biggest cemeteries in the world. After the population of Havana grew fast in the 19th century and cooler spread among the city  the existing churches and cemeteries had not enough space for all the bodies. So they built a new one wich now is about 56 ha big and counts about 800.000 graves. The thumbs are decorated with ornaments and statues made by famous artists and there are several mausoleums telling their own stories.
Famous Cubans are buried here and as the place is so huge is has its own system of streets like a small city.
You have the chance to visit the graves of famous people from Cuban history and culture like Ibrahim Ferrer.
It’s worth to plan a lot of time for the visit and discover the artistic thumbs and stories behind them.
Be aware that for tourists the cemetery is considered a museum and the entrance is 5CUC, residents and Cubans do not have to pay.
Plan your visit in the morning or in the late afternoon as the sun can get tricky and there is not much shade to hide from it.

February 14th

Everybody knows that day, some love it, some fear it and some people hate it. All around the world this day is conected to a lot of pressure and money spending for your loved ones.

As in other countries in Cuba people also celebrate Valentines day, but it’s called differently. Februray 14th in Cuba is the “día de los enamorados”or also the “día de la amistad”, so it’s the day for loved ones and also the day of friendship. And believe me people take this celebration seriously!

So here are some tips for Valentines Day in Cuba:

If you want to eat out that day, make a reservation or eat early. Streets, especiallly in Havana are packed that day!  Everybody goes out with their partner, date or just a group of friends. Outside of restaurants and cafeterías there are queues and every place has their own special offer for that day.

check some of them out at A la Mesa.

If you hate Valentines Day, stay in or get a bottle of Rum and make new friends at the Malecón.

If you want to take somebody out to impress him or her, here are some ideas for:

Dinner 

Drinks 

or Dancing or Music

Also you can just go out wandering the streets and watch what the others do!

It’s going to be a unique februray 14th that’s for sure! IMG_0024.JPG