The F.A.C

Many articles have been written about this place and list it as the place to be in Havana. The Fabrica de Arte Cubano is famous. The Fabrica is a place that everybody wants to see in Havana but it’s still authentic and one of the best places in the city.
The unique mixture between art gallery, night club, bar and just a place to hang out opened in 2014 and got bigger and more popular.
The F.A.C is open from Thursday to Sunday from 8pm to 3am and offers drinks, snacks, live music, art, movies and documentaries.
It’s a place that offers something for everyone. You can have a party or just chill in one of terraces or the movie area.
The entrance costs 50 CUP or 2 CUC. The location used to be a cooking oil factory wich gives it a nice look and a unique flair.
Right now the Fabrica is closed until the 5th of October. Then it opens it’s doors again to surprise us with new art and music.
make sure to visit La F.A.C during your stay in Havana, you won’t regret it.
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One Cuban dish you should try

Ropa Vieja, yes that means old clothes in Spanish, but in Cuba it’s also one of the most typical and tasty dishes.
It contains meat so Vegetarians should try something else.
Ropa Vieja is made of shredded lamb, beef or, most likely, pork. The meet is cooked for a long time in a pan with a sauce of tomato, dry wine onions, green pepper and garlic.
Well that’s the basics in fact everybody cooks it differently and you won’t two similar Ropa Viejas in Havana or anywhere else in Cuba.
There are places that serve the Ropa Vieja on bread, but usually it served with rice and beans and salad.
Here are some places that have the best Ropa Vieja in Havana:
  1. Doña Eutimia

Doña Eutimia is a place in centre of the Old Town in Havana, right by the Cathedral, that offers high quality Cuban food and great service.
If you want to eat dinner there you should make a reservation. Doña Eutimia offers the best original Ropa Vieja, with traditional rice and exceptional black beans. The restaurant is nicely decorated and the waiters speak English.
The Adress:
Plaza de la Catedral, Callejón del Chorro
No.60C, Habana Vieja
Telf: 78611332
  1. El Chanchullero

Also located in the Old Town of Havana, but off the main streets, there is a place called El Chachullero. This places has great cocktails and  a really nice and cool atmosphere. AND one of the best Ropa Viejas in Havana, they serve it with Arroz Morro (rice cooked together with black beans) and fried bananas. It goes great with a mojito or a freshly made lemonade.
The Adress:
Teniente Rey No. 457 bajos, Plaza el
Christo, Habana Vieja
Telf: 78610915
  1. La Juliana

Located in the Barrio Chino, former Chinatown of Havana, there is a Cafetería, wich is famos among the locals in Havana. It serves Pizzas and amazing milkshakes, but also typical Cuban dishes like Ropa Vieja. In La Juliana you can choose if you want Arroz Amarillo (made with corn) or Arroz Morro with it and you also get a lot of salad and fried sweet potato with it.
The Adress:
Esq. Zanja y San Nicolas , Centro Habana
There are a lot of other places that serve this dish in Havana, sometimes the best Ropa Vieja is serve right around the corner in a small Cafería or is home made by your host or friends and family.
You definitely should not visit Cuba without trying it.

Trinidad

Trinidad is a town in central south coast of Cuba. It’s quite small, over 500 years old and quite colorful. Trinidad is like a big open air museum and if you walk through the center of it you feel that. Over the years Trinidad turned into one of the biggest tourist attractions in Cuba.
The colonial town offers a lot of museums, places to eat and drink (each place with it’s own band), places to dance and to shop.
Trinidad was founded around 1514 and is the third oldest town in Cuba and pretty well preserved.
There you  can get a great idea of what a colonial town looked like back in the days. Trinidad got rich because of sugar and trading of slaves.
The history of the town can be discovered in various museums. One of them the “Museo de Historia Municipal”, also called “Palacio Cantero” wich was built in 1830 and is very well preserved. There you can get an idea of what houses of the upper class looked like and get an nice view on the city from a tower that belongs to the house.
The entrance costs 2 CUC and 2 CUP for Cubans and residents.
From Trinidad you also have many options to do excursions around in the Escambray mountains or to the beaches.
As Trinidad has many tourists there is also a lot nightlife and salsa dancing. Two of the most famous locations are the “casa de la musica”, open air on one of the main squares, and the “Disco Ayala” wich is a little outside of the city inside a cave.
Make sure you try the cocktail Chanchánchara, wich is typical for the town.
I also recommend to take a bike and visit La Boca and the beaches around Trinidad.
As Trinidad turned into a really touristic hotspot, there are a lot of scams and prices are quite expensive compared to other places in Cuba.
Trinidad can be also visited on a day trip from Cienfuegos.
I usually don’t recommend to stay to long in Trinidad as it can be exhausting and as I mentioned the city turned into a museum and sadly there are just a few natural things left about it. But it is beautiful.

Couchsurfing in Cuba?

Couchsurfing is a great platform and travel network. I really like the Idea and the concept of it and met great people from all over the world through the website.
It also seems to help a lot of people, visiting Cuba to find help for their trip, getting contact to locals and so and so on.
But some things are a little special about couch surfing in Cuba.
First of all, again, the Internet, so be calm when your questions, request etc can not be answered the same day. But don’t worry people answer.
Also,  especially Havana has a active couch surfing scene with meetings almost every week. So don’t hesitate to make contacts before coming and meeting new people in Havana.
The other special thing about couch surfing in Cuba is, that hosting does not really work like in other countries.
Tourists are just allowed to stay in houses with a special permit to host to foreigners. Those Casas Particulares can be identified by the blue symbol.
In the post Where to stay in Havana and Cuba I recommended some and explained how it works.
So I apologize I would host to a lot of couch surfers but I can’t. There is the possibility to get a permit once a year for foreign visitors, but it’s just once a year and most people have family and friends abroad…
I highly recommend to ask local couch surfers for recommendations, because some of them rent or have friends that rent to tourists and they can send you to a great place.
I usually do it like this and so far everybody was happy. So don’t let that complicate your couch surfing experience in Cuba.

Bringing Gifts

One of the most common misconceptions about Cuba is that there is nothing to buy and that everybody needs the gifts of wealthy foreigners to survive.
That is just half way true.
Bringing gifts to Cuba is nice and a great idea for family and  friends and people who really need them. But that’s the problem, does the ordinary tourist have contact to the people that really need your help?
I will try to give you an idea of when it is appropriate to give and what is appropriate and useful to bring.
For your friends and family you should know better than me, so will focus on strangers and travelers that visit Cuba for the first time.
  1. Giving and bagging on the streets

I recommend to not rely on the wealth of a person just by seeing him or her bagging on the street. Especially in more touristic areas thats an easy and fast way to get money without big efforts.
A typical scenario is the following:
A Lady will ask you on the street if you can buy milk for her children. She will look very poor and sad. The problem is, the milk is, in most of the cases, not for children. Most of he times she will go back to the shop later and bring the milk back and get the money in return.
I know you read that the average salary in Cuba is about 20 USD per month, and that shocked you. Of course that shocks everybody, who can live from 20 Dollars a month? The answer is nobody does, well just a very few people.
First of all that is just the salary people earn if they work for the government, if they work as self employed or for a foreign company, they earn more. If they work for the government they have another income, sometimes legal, sometimes illegal or in a grey zone, but they have it and don’t have to live from 20 Dollars per month.
Bringing us back the poor people in touristic centers in Cuba’s cities.
People got used to getting stuff and money easily from foreigners, people and children. So please think before you hand out stuff to random children on the streets, what do they learn from that?
If you want to do good and bring nice and useful gifts to children get some information before you come, projects or schools that are worth being supported and need pencils and other supplies. Or projects or people that need use cloths etc., please remember that usually the really poor and the people who really need help, are not the ones bagging in Habana Vieja or in the centre of Trinidad.
If you are not sure about that you can also ask me and I will give you some contacts, or ask people on couch surfing etc.. We will pitch you in the right direction of families and projects that will be grateful for your support.
  1. Useful gifts and gifts for hosts and friends

Everybody likes receiving gifts, also the owners of your “Casa Particular”. Just remember that they are usually not part of the poorer population, because not everybody in Cuba is poor. Depend on how many rooms and for witch price they rent, they could be wealthy as well. Nevertheless they also have a everyday struggle like almost everybody living on the island.
Some things are hard to get, or they are really expensive. Some of the best examples are shampoo, shower gel ,deodorant, body lotion or other beauty products. They will make almost everybody happy.
The other thing is sweets, oh yes, Cubans love sugar! So bringing a little something typical from your country or a sweets classic like Haribo or Toblerone is also a nice way of making gifts that don’t offend people.
If you are worried about other products that are hard to get or could be useful to your host or other people, you could also ask directly.
With this posts I don’t want to say that bringing gifts is wrong, just be aware and think before making them.

Some things you should prepare for a trip to Cuba

There are several things you should check before traveling to Cuba to make your trip easier and less stressfull. You don’t have to prepare too much but you should be aware of some things.
One of them is Communication, especially the Internet connection. So it is useful to download some apps before you come and if you really depend on mobile internet check your roaming fees.
Money is also a big issue for many travelers, that provokes unnecessary trouble.
So before you come to Cuba check that you bring enough cash or have a working credit card.
I recommend to bring Euros if you have to decide between bringing euros or dollars. If you need to chance US-Dollars remember that there  still applies a 10% surcharge.
There still is problem with credit cards from some US-banks.
Also if you are not from the USA you should check if that applies to your bank.
Besides that you can withdraw money easily from the ATM. Visa cards are working almost everywhere, master cards just at some ATMS. Make sure the ATM has CUC as you can’t withdraw CUP with an international credit card.
Another thing you should have before traveling to Cuba is a travel insurance, as you need an health insurance to travel to Cuba. You can get one at the airport, but it might be more expensive. Especially if you need to extend your visa you will have to show it at the migration.
It’s helpful to have a Spanish version of your papers.
To enter the country you also need a Tourist Card or a Visa, if you are an US citizen. The tourist Card is easy to get at travel agencies, online or at the airport. At Cancun airport you can get one at the check-in desks of Interjet or Aeromexico. To be sure ask your airline before coming to Cuba.
If you want to be really well prepared I also posted an optional packing list.
Make sure to bring sunscreen and something against mosquito bites.
Also, if you love planing and that everything works according to your plan, you should prepare yourself mentally for last minute changes etc..
Some things work differently in Cuba.

Three Weeks, getting a better picture

Three weeks is a great time to discover a little more of Cuba  and to relax, well to just enjoy your time off.
There are several routes, that are recommendable for a period of three weeks. One, for example, could be flying to a city in the east and travel through the island until Havana,or the other way round.
I will recommend one that starts and ends in Havana, because most travelers fly to and from here. There will be another post of different routes from different starting points. This plan is one with a lot of moving an a lot of destinations.
For three weeks you could also amplify the two weeks post a little and include stops in Varadero and other locations.
Some of the things you can do in the different locations are in other posts, so just follow the links.
 

Day One – Day Three  

Arriving and spending some time in Havana. On this route I recommend to spend more days in Havana in the end than in the beginning. After seeing different parts of Cuba before the city will seem more attractive, without jet lag and so on.
So spend some days in Havana at the beginning and than come back.
As always I recommend to stay in the Vedado neighborhood.

Day Three – Day Five 

Go to Viñales and discover the nature and the tobacco fields. On your way there I recommend to visit Soroa. In Viñales you can think about staying one more day and make an excursion to one of the keys, like Cayo Levisa or Cayo Jutías.

Day Five – Day Nine 

Go to Cienfuegos. If the trip is to long from Viñales to Cienfuegos you can think about spending a Day in Playa Girón (The Bay of Pigs) and catch a day on the beach before leaving to Cienfuegos.

Day Nine- Day Eleven 

From Cienfuegos it’s just a short ride to colonial town Trinidad. In Trinidad you can learn a lot about colonial buildings and scams, so be aware. For the nights I recommend the Casa de La Musica, wich is open air and offers traditional music shows, or the nightclub in the Cave close to Trinidad. Every taxi driver will know where it is.

Day Eleven- Day Twelve

Make a stop in Camagüey and rest a little. After spending one night there most people have enough so take off to real east of Cuba.

Day Twelve – Day Fourteen

Visit Holguín and the beach Guardalavaca. Around Holguín there are some of nicest beaches in Cuba with white sand and clean water. The town is the cultural centre of eastern Cuba.

Day Fourteen- Day Sixteen

After Holguín make your way to Santiago the Cuba to visit the second biggest city in Cuba. Santiago is the home of Afro Cuban culture and a lot of music and completely different to cities in Western Cuban.
There you visit “El Cobre”, home of the Virgin and national Saint and a place for many pilgrims.
After your stay take the night bus back to Havana. Of course you can vary the duration of your stays in the different cities.

Day Seventeen- Day Twenty-one

Back in Havana you can enjoy the city a few days before you leave Cuba. In the Category Havana in this blog you can find some tips for the Capital.
Also if you fancy a tour or need help with Casas in Cuba or transport. Just “get in touch”.

The Film Festival in Havana

Every year in December Havana celebrates one of my favorite cultural activities in the city: The international Film Festival.
For ten days it’s all about movies, pop corn and everything that has to do with cinema.
Directors and actors come to Havana to present their new films and all meet in the Hotel Nacional and attend other movies. Also the city offers a lot of events linked to the Festival, the Fabrica de Arte Cubano for example opens it doors every day while the festival is on. Some bars have special offers or concerts during that time.
The streets, better to say 23rd Street fills up with people from all over the world going from one movie theatre to another, analyzing and arguing about the films they just saw.
People are waiting in lines for the movie to start and sometimes they have the chance to attend a world premier.
If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry movies are showed in their original language and most of the Cuban and Latin American films have english subtitles.
The best thing about ist is, the festival is inexpensive. You can get a passport for 10 CUP and watch seven movies with that, your see one movie with seven people, or 3 movies with two people and one alone, well you get the idea…
or just buy one ticket for 2 CUP, but be aware that lines can be longer or you have to queue up twice.
There are movies starting from 10 am until 10 pm. You can attend documentaries, short films, dramas, comedies, since fiction and almost every genre you can imagine.
So if you come to Havana in December make sure to be part of the Film Festival.

Where to shop in Havana?

Do you want to come to Havana and bring something home, something special? Of course you already plan on bringing Cuban Rum and Cigars.
But if you want to bring something nice that isn’t a Tshirt with Che Guevaras Face or the Havana Club logo on it?
There are some places in Havana selling the same or similar souvenirs and Arts and Crafts.
But there are those hidden Corners, like the Garage in Vedado neighborhood, or the shop Clandestina in Habana Vieja, that offer special souvenirs for your special trip.
Do you want to come to Havana and bring something home something special? Of course you already plan on bringing Cuban Rum and Cigars.
But if you want to bring something nice that isn’t a Tshirt with Che Guevaras Face or the Havana Club logo on it?
There are some places in Havana selling the same or similar souvenirs and Arts and Crafts.
But there are those hidden Corners, like the Garage in Vedado neighborhood, or the shop Clandestina in Habana Vieja, that offer special souvenirs for your special trip.
Clandestina is located in the Street Villegas No. 403 e/ Teniente Rey y Muralla, close to Plaza de Christo, close by the Capitol and the historic center of Havana.
The shop opens everyday from 10 am – 8pm.
Inside you can find printed Tshirs, shorts, bags with a unique map of Old Havana and posters with funny and witty   designs. All products are printed there and if you are lucky you can watch them being made.
Sometimes they use recycled materials for their work and they come up with great ideas.
If you want to see some of the items in advance visit their website: www.clandestina.com.
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When is the best time to visit Cuba?

Cuba is an attractive destination during the whole year. Warm temperatures and cultural events are present almost all the time.
Most of the visitors choose the less hot and drier seasons for their visit. That’s from November to April.
The climate is warm, but not as hot as in August and the summer months and also less humid and rainy. That makes those months also the high season. So be aware that some hotels, casas and activities may cost a little more and rental cars are harder to get.
Make sure to reserve the cars in advance.
In July and August Cubans are on holiday too, so don’t wonder if beaches are full of people. During holidays like Christmas or Easter the cities are also quite full and family visitors come from all over the world to be with their loved ones.
In February the temperatures can get quite low, well low for a Caribbean Island. Houses are not well prepared for low temperatures, so make sure to bring some warm clothes if you come during winter.
But all times have some appeal for visitors like festivals, nice warm water, less people, more people and so on…
Just in Havana you could be here for the film festival, or the international book fair. In Remedios you could attend the famous “Parrandas” in December. And during the summer months you can join Cubans for music festivals and activities all over the island. Different regions celebrate Carnivals in different times of the year and some regions have a different appeal when it’s colder or hotter.
In Viñales it’s nice to be before the tobacco is harvested to still see the plants and if you like Mangos you should come in summer to eat the best ones.
So theres a different season wich is best for everyone. Find out yours!