The Garage

 

There are a lot of unique places to discover in Havana, sometimes there are a little bit hidden. You can find the best restaurants in apartment buildings, shops in streets where you would never expect them and cafés and bars in patios of private homes. Usually those are the best places to discover. One example is the Garage in the neighborhood Vedado.
This place is like a mixture between museum, antique shop and souvenir shop. In the garage of a private home José from Spain opened this weird place. It is all about vintage and old but gold stuff. He collects items from the 50s and older, sometimes he repairs them, so they can be used to decorate homes and restaurants.
The Garage is a place where you can find anything, baseballs from the 1940s signed by teams, that no longer exist, shoes, movie posters, toys, jewelry or Barcadi signs with wholes of gunshots.
Just to see the items it is worth a visit and maybe you find an exceptional piece to take home.
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You can find the garage in: Calle 19 e/26 y 28 Vedado.
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5 Places for watching the sundown in Havana

In Havana you can see spectacular sundowns. An experience the pink light that puts the city and everything in a warmer light. That is the moment when you should head to one of the spots to watch an impressive sundown and make your friends at home jealous with your pictures.
  1. The Malecon
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At the fortes La Punta, where the Malecon starts, this is where you get pictures like this. Also it has a nice atmosphere during that time, especially on weekends. You can meet a lot people fishing, taking a bath in the sea or watching the sundown like you.
  1. the Focsa
With a hight of 121 meters, the Focsa is not only the highest building in Havana, but the highest building in whole Cuba. The green building in the Vedado neighborhood, is full of private apartments but has an Restaurant and a Bar on the last floor. I don’t recommend the restaurant so much, but from the bar you also get a spectacular view and you can enjoy an daiquiri or mojito with it. The Focsa is located in 17 and L.
  1. El Penthouse de 17 y K
This is still a little secret. The restaurant is a former penthouse in an apartment building, so don’t be shy and take the elevator to the 6th floor and have a seat on the terrace. They offer great food and drinks and as the place is still not popular you have the chance to be alone and get a private sundown experience. As it’s already in the name the address is 17 y K.
  1. El Christo de la Habana or El Morro
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Havana has the second biggest Christ statue in Latin America, after the one in Rio. It’s located at the other side of the bay and can be reached by the ferry from Habana Vieja, or you take a walk from the fortresses Morro y Cabana. By the way from there you can also get a great view on the city and the sundown. If you want you can stay there until 9 p.m to watch the traditional canon shoot, the Cañonazo.
  1. Hotel Ambos Mundos or other hotels
Not so much of a secret but still with a great view are roof top terraces of hotels like the Ambos Mundos, Parque Central or Saratoga in Old Havana. I recommend the view from the Ambos Mundos especially if you like Hemingway that could be something for you. The hotel was the place where Hemingway stayed during his first times in Cuba. His room can still be visited.

Waiting in lines?

Queuing up for something is very normal in Cuba and forms part of the everyday life. Many things, especially official institutions like banks have long lines outside and require a little patience.
That’s a challenge for tourist, especially from Europe or the USA. But don’t worry you will get used to it. Also you are on holiday, so no need to hurry.
Due to fact that queues are so normal here Cubans developed their own system of waiting in lines, which works around the whole country and in every queue. It is good to know it to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
So here we go:
Whenever you need to wait in a line you have to ask for the last person, el ultimo or la ultima persona. Don’t just queue up because there might be somebody else before you that just left the line for a minute. Yes, that’s possible. Queues can be really long, so people are allowed to leave the line and come back without giving up their position. That’s why it is important to know who is in front of you in the line and also who’s in front of that person in case he or she leaves.
Normally people help you if you get confused, so don’t worry.
Typical places to wait in lines are banks, cadecas, buses and restaurants.
If you want to take the bus you will have to ask for the last person and the bus number For example: Ultimo para el p6.
To avoid long lines in Banks and Cadecas, I recommend to change money near to big markets like 19 y B in the Vedado or 17 y K, because usually they are not in the main touristic hotspots they don’t have so many people waiting.
Also I recommend banks off the beaten path or bigger banks, like in Linea y Paseo.
The biggest and most popular queue in Havana is the one for entering Coppelia (23 and L), an ice-cream place that has good and much ice-cream for just 5 CUPs. Especially on Sundays the queue is huge and people are waiting hours to go inside.
So if you want the best waiting in a line experience, that would be it!

Some Jazz

In Havana there are a lot things to do. I will tell you some f them in different posts. This post is about music and there is a lot of music in Havana and Cuba. That’s why this article is about just about jazz, but there will be other.
In this post I will list up some Jazz clubs in Havana and restaurants etc. that have live Jazz presentations, not just during the Jazz festival in December.
  1. La Zorra y el Cuervo

la Zorra y el cuervo is one of the most famous Jazz Clubs in Havana.
It is open every night from 10pm until 2 am and has live music every night. There are a lot of concerts of famous jazz musicians as well. The Jazzclub is at La Rampa at 23rd Street between M and O.
I costs 10 CUC but there are two drinks included in the price.
  1. Jazz Café

The Jazz Café is another Jazzclub located in a shopping centre near the seafront, the Malecon. In that Jazzclub there is a 10CUC fee but you may consume the 10 CUC in drinks and food. Usually there play the same Artists as in the Zorra y el Cuervo, also you have a nice view on the Sea from the Café. The Jazz Café is in Galerias Paseo at Paseo and Malecon in the Vedado.
  1. Valdes Jazz

Valdes Jazz is a Restaurant with a big Variety of cocktails and good food. Also it has Jazz music at night. It is a nice decorated place in the vedado as well. That’s the address: Calle E No. 105, e/ 5ta y Calzada, Vedado.
  1. Prado 115

In the Boulevard Prado No. 115 between Genios and Refugio in the Neighborhood Old Havana  there is a nice restaurant/bar with Jazz music on Saturdays. Every Saturday starting at 10 p.m you can enjoy the best of Jazz with your food. 
  1. La Barraquita

If you do not just want to eat and listen to Jazz on Saturdays you can also go the Barraquita on Fridays. That Restaurant has live jazz on Fridays from 8 to 10 pm mixed with Spanish flair and great paella. The restaurant is in: Calle 19 No. 1010 corner to 12 Vedado. 
Of course you can also visit the famous Fabrica de Arte Cubano, there are jazz concerts in the smaller concert room almost every weekend. Enjoy!

One Week: Havana and some Nature

If you just have one week to discover Cuba I recommend not to overload it with activity and traveling all around wanting to see everything. Usually there are so many impressions you will need a little to process them, also you are on holiday, so relax a little!
Let me tell you: Cuba is bigger than most people think! Traveling around takes time and is not so fast and easy as it looks on a map.
If you just have a Week take time stay in Havana, go to beaches close by and maybe take a little trip to Viñales and discover some unique nature!
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This what a possible trip like this could look like:

Day one:

 
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Arriving and orientating. Whatever you feel like. I suggest to visit or the neighborhood you stay in or the old town at the first day. On my tours I usually take people the first day to neighborhood their BnB is in, so they know how to get around.
Or take them to Habana Vieja (Old Havana) to visit the touristic sights and take them to part of old Havana where people actually life.

Day two: 

 
Time to discover another neigborhood of Havana. Like Centro Habana or the Vedado. There will an article about what to do in the different neighborhoods!

Day three: 

 
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Take a break go to beach! Best way to go to the beaches around Havana is the Bus that leaves from the Parque Central in Old Havana, near the Capitol.
It charges 5CUC (there and back) leaves every 40 Minutes and has air condition. The last one back to city leaves the Beach Santa María at 6 p.m..
The Playas del Este are beautiful beaches with white sand and blue water. I recommend to go to Santa María and get off at the first stop of Santa María, there you can rent an umbrella for 2 CUC the whole day and don’t have to worry so much about loosing stuff.
Also very nice is Tarará, it is not that long and big as Santa María, but very well maintained.
You can also take a Taxi to the beaches. They charge about 15- 20 CUC. 

Day Four:

 
 
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Leaving for Viñales. Take some kind of Transportation and go to Viñales. If you have the possibility to stop on your way, you should also visit Soroa and/or Las Terrazas. Those are beautiful places with nature and interesting things to visit like the Orquidario in Soroa where you can see about 300  different types of orchids.
The trip tp Viñales takes about 2,5 hours.
In Viñales you can take a trip around the Vally and one visit different spots like Caves and other sights. I recommend the second one for the first day.
There is a bus taking tourist around wich costs 6 CUC. But taxis take you around for the same price and they are usually more willing to wait. You can also rent a bike.
There will be a separate post about Viñales soon. Also with recommendations of BnBs and places to eat.

Day five: 

Take trip around the valley. You can do that by hiking or by horse. Ask the owner of the BnB you stay in, they usually know somebody that can guide you around and explain plants and anything about the valley to you.
Prices for the basic tours are about 15 CUC – 25CUC per person and take about 2-4 Hours. You can also ask for longer hiking trips.
Head back to Havana in late afternoon/ evening.

Day Six:

Back in Havana I suggest take that day for visiting museums like Bellas Artes and The Revolution Museum.
If you are not into that cross the bay and visit the Christ Statue, Che Guevara’s House and the fortress.

Day Seven:

 
If you have time left visit the Arts and Crafts Market in the port of Havana. It is amazing even if you don’t want to buy souvenirs.
Of course this is just a suggestion. You can structure your trip however you want. But if do not really know what to do in that time, this plan worked out for many of my clients.

If you are interested in doing a tour in Havana to learn more about it: http://www.indie-tours.de. Private tours are about 40 CUC per day (not per person).

How to get around?

 If you want to travel to Cuba individually, transportation is an important issue. Do you rent a car? Are you going to hitchhike? Are there busses?
So what is the best and fastest way to travel through Cuba? Here I will give you some advice on transportation for any budget.
  1. Renting a Car

There are several car rentals all around Cuba and you can already reserve a car before you come here. In fact renting the car through the internet before coming to Cuba will safe you money. If you come during peak season (November-March) it’s best to book  the car in advance, because there are not enough cars for the number of tourists.
Prices for renting a car can range from 30$ to 100$.  If you rent a car you have to leave a deposit from 150$ up to 500$, which depends on the car. If you pay by credit card you won’t have to make a deposit!
Just be prepared that most of the streets in Cuba are quite bad and you may have trouble to drive around.

Car rentals for Cuba:

  1. Travel by bus or shared taxi

More than renting a car, I recommend to travel by Bus or “taxi compartido” (shared taxi). There are several bus routes around the country and there are bus lines for locals and for tourists. If you do not a residency you have to take the tourist buses and taxis with permission to travel with foreigners.
The bus line Víazul is working quite well and the buses have air condition. Currently you can also reserve the tickets on the internet in advance. They have reasonable prices and for 3-5$ you can also transport bikes with the buses.
Here you can find the current bus routes and prices:
For Example:
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the other possibility is traveling by shared cabs. as with buses there is system of shared taxis for foreigners and for cubans. Again if you are a student or have any other kind of residency you have to take the taxis for tourists Usually you can find them at any bus station that has a Víazul connections. Usually those taxis take a reservation for an other day or just wait until the car fills up. They charge a little more than the busses, normally about 2-5$ more.
The dirrection for the Víazul station in Havana:
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  1. direct taxi

There is also the possibility to get taxi just for you. This site has the possibility to reserve them by mail in advance.
Of course you can also contact me and I pass some informations of the drivers I work if.
There will be an separate article about taxis in Havana and their route system.

What to pack ?

 Some Things are hard to get in Cuba or are really expensive so I recommend to bring them and safe time and money that you could spend on other things.
Although searching and buying things here might be a interesting  and authentic experience and you should consider that if like to travel adventurous.
But don’t worry, there is always a way to find what you need and if you do not need any special products or are used to travel without luxury you won’t need most of that list.
For the rest of you here is a possible packing list suggestion:

Documents 

 
☐Passport valid for 6 months beyond period of stay
☐Tourist Card (or other Visa) (can be ordered online and from the Cuban embassy)
☐Onward or Return Ticket
☐Travel Health Insurance (best is to have an Spanish translation)
☐drivers license
☐credit card (best: Visa, Mastercard)

Clothes 

Cuba is a hot country en general so you won’t need too many clothes. Also most of the BnBs offer to wash clothes and there are cheap laundries.
In summer it rains a lot, so if you come from late June to September bring an umbrella and a raincoat.
In Winter, December to February,  it can get colder than you might think, so bring pullovers and long pants.
For going out to night clubs restaurants and bars, it is recommend to bring long pants and a pair of nice shows, instead of shorts and flip-flops.
here a quick list to check the items off:
☐Swimsuit
☐T-shits
☐Pullover
☐Raincoat, Umbrella
☐Hat
☐Sunglasses
☐shorts/ skirts/ dresses
☐long pants
☐sandals, flipf-flops
☐a pair of nice shoes
☐Shirts or blouses (to go out at night)
☐socks and underwear

Cosmetics,Hygene etc. 

Cosmetics, shower gel, shampoo etc. may be harder to find and are expensive in Cuba. So you should bring them and don’t bother to get them here.
If you have to, it is best to find them  in big shopping malls, hotels or in the touristic areas, but prepare for higher prices. Some like Toothpaste and soap are easier to get for less.
Anyway here is the list:
☐Toothbrush and toothpaste
☐Shampoo and shower products
☐Razor, anything for shaving
☐Tampons
☐nailclipper
☐Cosmetics
☐if you need disinfection products, gel or spray
☐tissues
☐Spray against mosquitoes
☐Sunscreme

medicine 

same as cosmetics. There are some products you will not have energy to look for if you feel bad. Most of problems, like stomach aid or diaria you can cure with natural products you can find here like Guava and Malanga.
here are some useful products to bring:
☐painkillers
☐Sunscreme and after sun
☐dressing material
☐anti mosquito spray or creme
☐Thermometer
☐ointments
☐products against fever and cold
☐Imodium etc. for the stomach
☐gum
☐maybe antibiotic

other useful stuff 

travel adapters
☐flashlight
☐cameras
☐notebook and pen
☐gum or sweets
☐pocket knife
☐diving equipment
☐locker if you stay in hostels
☐anything else you find useful
There are some things everybody takes on a trip and find useful share them here if you want.
There are some basic items I did not list because they might be too basic.
If you need anything in Cuba hosts of BnBs and most of the people are willing to help you, so do not mind asking.

Of course you can also get in touch with me anytime.

What’s with all the money?

There is something about Cuba that drives every visitor, at least at the beginning crazy.  I am referring to the two currencies.
Yes there is two of them. You may have heard that there is one called the CUC and one called CUP.
But why are they two? How are they different? Do I need both? Am I allowed to have both?
Those are some of the questions people ask in that context. Let’s see if I can make it a little easier for you.
So yes, there are two currencies but they just exist in Cuba. That is why you can not chance money before you come here. You will have to chance some at the airport, or just take money out the ATM with your credit card.
By the way, Visa Cards work best with the ATMs, with a MasterCard you usually need to go to a Bank and take money there directly.
You can change money at Banks or Cadecas ( official bureaux).
First you are just allowed to change foreign currency to CUCs, later you could change some to CUP.
Also if you want to chance US-Dollars be aware, there still applies a 10% surcharge for that, it is less at the ATM.

So what is the difference between CUC and CUP? 

 
The CUC (Convertible Pesos, peso convertible), was established 2004 to replace the US-Dollar as exchange currency, since then there are no more direct payments with US-dollars. One CUC has 100 centavos (cents).
The CUP (Cuban peso, peso cubano) or MN (moneda nacional) is the original cuban currency.
1CUC  : 25 CUP, sometimes they change the CUC for 23 or 24 Pesos, it depends on the place.
Usually you can pay with CUP at cafeterias, markets, public transport and in some stores. Although since 2014, people are allowed to pay everywhere with both currencies. Just have the exchange rate in mind.
And yes, tourists are also allowed to pay in CUPs now. But you can also pay in CUC, you just have to know how to change it.
for example: If you buy a Pineapple that costs 10 CUPs, you can give them 10 pesos or 40 CUC Cents.

How do I tell which is which?

 
Actually that is pretty easy. The CUC usually has printed Monuments and buildings on it. The CUP has faces of people. Usually those are heroes of the Cuban independency wars or the revolution.
On the three peso note, there is a picture of Che Guevara and on the three CUC note there is a picture of the Che Guevara monument in Santa Clara.
Some Cubans say: Just use one pocket for CUCs and the other pocket for CUPS.
Don’t worry you will get it after a few days.

Where to stay?

I get a lot of questions about the best way to stay in Havana.
As everywhere in the world there are places for lower and places for higher budgets. in this post I will give you some tips about accommodations for every budget! If you need a special recommendation feel free to ask!
In general the best way to stay in Cuba are “Casas Particulares”, that means BnBs run by private people or owned by private people. There are a lot and there are some for every budget. Usually the owners take really good care of the place and of their guests, so that places are even cleaner and have better services than hotels.
You can choose between staying in private homes or search for independent apartments, most of the BnBs offer Breakfast and wash clothes for additional costs.
Usually Breakfast costs about 5$.
Most of the Casa’s owners also can help you to reserve places around the island.
Of course there are good and bad ones, if you need tips for good Casas I can send you some, also I will put some links below.
  1. Low Budget/ Backpacker/ Nomads and longer stays

Worldwide there a lot of options to stay in hostels or do couch surfing if you are on small budget. In Cuba it’s a little different, some laws or high fees and taxes make staying on this budget or for free a little difficult. BUT there are alternatives.
I am quite active on couchsurfing and I get some requests from travelers to stay with us in Havana. Sadly we are not allowed to host to foreign guests without a permission. For that kind of permission you can just apply once a year, so that’s why we are not able to host.
So that makes staying legally  in another persons place impossible.
Nevertheless I recommend searching on couch surfing, because people can give recommendations of hostels and casas. Sometimes also the owners use couchsurfing.
So let’s talk numbers! The good thing about the room prices are, that you usually pay per room, not per person. In that way you can safe a lot of money if you travel with a friend, your partner or in small groups. Sharing a room that costs 20/25$ (CUC), with private bathroom will be the same for you as booking a bed in shared room in a hostel.
Some of the rooms also have access to a kitchen and a minibar.
In Havana the cheaper rooms and hostels are usually in the neighborhood Centro Havana. 
That would be an example: Casa Mary  
DSC_0386.JPGMary’s Kitchen, Rooms for 20-25$, Offers for students!
There are hostels as well. Two of the popular ones are Rolandos Backpacker Hostel and Hostal Robles. There you can find a private room or a bed in shared bedroom. They also offer breakfast and washing services, also they can arrange with somebody to pick you at the airport.
If you stay longer for studies or whatever there are casas with special offers for that. Also you can find apartments to me more independent.
I am working on an separate article on traveling on budget in Cuba so you will get more tips and tricks on that topic!
  1. Higher budgets/ No Budget 

 
You can get really nice rooms for a solid budget, for example there are rooms in old colonial houses or mansions for about 30-50$ (CUC).
In the most busy tourist area Habana Vieja (Old Havana) rooms happen to be more expensive  (about 60$)  because it is the touristic hotspot.
I always recommend to stay in the neighborhood Vedado. There you can find really nice rooms in old mansions because the neighborhood was built for people with money in the early 20th century. Now most of that buildings chanced the owner or where destroyed and rebuilt. in this way you get the change to stay in amazing houses for a good price.
Also the neighborhood is more quiet but at the same time the cultural center of the city.
Houses I recommend here are Villa Lola and Carta Cuba (among others).
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Villa Lola Rooms for 40$ and 50$
  1. Luxury stays

There are a lot of luxury casa and hotels in Havana. I recommend the Neighborhood Miramar for that kind of stay. There are mansions with swimming pools and all kind of confort.
But you also can find penthouses in the Vedado with exceptional views.
A lot of those casas you can find in Airbnb, but there are a million other websites for reservations and finding places to stay in Cuba.
Also many casa have their own websites with fotos etc.
Besides that it is worth to check the cuban sides Revolico or por la livre.There you can find offers and articles about BnBs and apartments for longer stays.
The best way is to follow personal recommendations from other travelers or friends.
Also you can ask me for more recommendations.
Have a nice stay in Havana!