Cuba on a Budget Part 1 

Visiting Cuba on a budget might not be the easiest but could be a lot of fun. First of all there are some things you should know about Cuba and tourism here.

Cuba’s main income is tourism, for the government and for private people. Besides that there are laws and rules that make backpacking or traveling on a really low budget harder sometimes. 

The easiest way to get around cheap in Cuba is to be a resident and/or student. In that way you pay less for entrances to museums and you can use the transportations for cubans (Astro Buses, cheaper shared cars and Camiones) 

To get a residency is not worth it if you just go on trip for a few weeks, but if you want to stay longer you should consider it. The easiest way is to do a language course at the university or the ISA (Instituto superior de Arte) and after some time you will get your own Cuban ID and are officially considered a local. 

Accommodation: 

First of all there are nearly no hostels in Cuba. There are two in Havana but almost none in other cities. That’s because for the people that rent rooms to foreigners it’s less convenient to rent to many persons as they have to report any single one to the migration and sometimes they earn more renting to less people. 

Also they have high fees to pay for the license and taxes. 

But everywhere you can find bnbs that charge around 20 – 25 CUC per room, per night. 

So here’s the tipp: do not travel alone. You will safe a lot of money. 

Food: 

On food you can safe a lot of your budget. You will hear from a lot people that just ate pizza to safe money but don’t worry you can actually eat a real meal for not so much more money. 

It’s true that you can get a lot of pizza for 10-15 CUP (50-60 cents). But you can also get a real dish for 35-60 CUP in a cafeteria. 

Cafeterías are run by private people and it’s common to find them serving food out of their garage or living room. Most cheap you will by just ordering rice and beans with eggs. But you could also get Ropa vieja or Bistec for around 35 CUP plus juice for 3-5 CUP. There are a lot of street food to eat during the day like Tamales that cost 8- 10 CUP, taste good and will help you to not get hungry in a while. 

If you stick to those kinds of Cafeterías you will have to calculate with around 10 CUC per day for food and drinks. 

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A Cup of Cuban Coffee? 

In Cuba coffee plays a really important role in everyday life and the culture. In a Cuban household there has to be coffee, even if it’s just a little to serve it to possible guests. Coffe was brought to Cuba in the 18th century and is cultivated mainly in mountain areas in the center and the east of the country. Coffee and its plantation and production is also present in many pieces of Cuban literature and in songs.

Even in this nursery rhyme that Cuban children repeat since various generations:

Cachumbambe la vieja Inés, que fuma tabaco y toma café.

In the 18th and 19th century cafés started to open all around the island and some of them still exist.

Coffee in Cuba is strong and people drink it with a lot of sugar. It is served in small cups like espresso and sometimes you are allowed to at your own sugar.

Although over the last years drinks like cappuccino reached the island, people prefer their coffee in the traditional way or Cortadito for the sweet cuban touth. Cortadito is made with milk powder and more sugar than ordinary coffee. If you want it even sweeter try the Café Bonbon, it’s the same as Cortadito but you also add cacao powder.

There are also several coffees served with rum. Like the café Mamainé, wich is prepared with Añejo Reserva and honey.

Mama Inés by the way is a legend of a elderly black woman and she is always combined with coffee in songs and literature. But where this legend comes from is a different story.

Coffee is made in cafeteras on the stove and you can get it almost everywhere on the streets. People tend to sell coffee out of their kitchens and living rooms for 1-2 CUPs. Just have in mind that this coffee was brewed before and kept warm, it is already been sweetened.

There are some places you should visit if you like coffee.

For example the Café Escorial or O’Reilly in Habana Vieja.

They roast their own coffee and also sell the beans and powder to take away. This coffee has a great flavor and smells incredible.

Café O’Reilly:

Calle O’Reilly No. 203, esquina Calle San Ignacio, Habana Vieja

Café Escorial:

Calle Mercaderes No. 317, Esquina Muralla, Plaza Vieja, Habana Vieja

Of Course there are many many more Cafés in Havana and all over the country.

Also there are great options where you can get a cup of coffee for 5 CUP. Like in the small but lovely backyard café Línea Punto G. At the corner of the Streets Lína and G.

Of course you can also take some coffee back home. Make sure it says 100% café on the bag and not mezclado. Beside the coffee from the places mentioned before these are great brands: Café Regil, Café Turquino, Café Cubita and Café El Arriero.

Enjoy your coffee.

Museo de la Revolución 

In Havana there are many museums. Some are more, some less interesting. Some like Bellas Artes, show art and impress by there big collections, others are interesting because of their idea. And others because they tell us about Cuban history and culture. The Revolution museum is a place you should visit if you are interested in Cubas history.

Not just because of the exhibition, that shows you a different perspective on the Cuban revolution as you might be used to hear, but also because of the building.

The museum is inside the Palacio Presidencial in Old Havana. Built in 1920 by the president Menocal, the palace impresses by its architecture and interior. Filled with luxury brought from Europe and from Tiffany’s from New York.

In the back of the former presidential palace, as part of the exhibition you can see the Granma, the ship that brought the rebels from Mexico to Cuba.
There is a lot to read in the exhibition about the revolution. The texts are in English and Spanish.

The museum is open from 9 am until 4 pm, closed on Mondays. Some parts are still being repaired so it might be that you cannot access some parts of the exhibition.

The entrance is 5 CUC.  It’s a interesting experience and makes you learn and understand some things better.
The museum is located right behind Bellas Artes

The Adress: Calle Refugio No. 1 e/ Zulueta y Ave. de Las Misiones,La Habana Vieja.

Telf.: (537) 862 4093

Maytego

María Teresa González or Maytego is a selth thought artist from Havana that works mainly with linoleum printing.

In her work she expresses feminism, Cuban culture and afro cuban culture and portraits her view on the city of Havana. Her paintings are diverse and interesting and any one of them is unique and has a story to tell.

Because of the difficulties to get raw materials in Cuba, Maytego makes the paper for her work out of recycled newspapers and anything else that could be useful.

She did personal and collective exhibitions in Cuba and all over the world. She participated, for example in exhibitions in the USA, Mexico, Spain, Great Britain and many other countries.

But never lost touch with her culture and city of Havana. Maytegos painting of Havana give us a different perspective but still let us see the magic of the city and her typical characteristics.

Currently she is working from her home in Old Havana. Maytego is friendly and open and keen to explain her work and the story behind each painting. Her work won prices awards in Cuba and other countries. She also participated in book illustrations and other publications.

If you want to take a unique peace of art home from Cuba you should have a look at Maytegos peaces and get to know her. She is giving her art a piece of her soul .

some of Maytego’s art work

 

If you want to get in touch with the artist you can contact her through:

maytegoalv@gmail.com or maytego@nauta.cu
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A Dish you should try part 2

If you like seafood and fish, Cuba is a great place for you. As it’s an island and you have sea and coast almost everywhere there is also a lot of fishing and, of course dishes that contain fish and sea food. From marlin to lobster people in Cuba prepare tasty dishes in an innovative or traditional way.
So make sure you try some langosta (lobster), camaron (shrimp), pulpo (octopus), cangrejo (crab) or pescado (fish).
Usually the lobster and the shrimps a prepared in three typical ways, but more and more restaurants offer their own unique way to serve them. The most typical ways are: enchilado, al ajillo and grillé or a la plancha. Enchilado is cooked in a sauce of wine, garlic, tomato, unions and green pepper, the second one is fried with garlic and the third one is grilled.
All three are very nice options if they are well prepared.
Here are three places in Havana that prepare stunning fish and seafood dishes:
  1. Doña Eutimia
Yes, again the place in Habana Vieja.
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. The restaurant is nicely decorated and the waiters speak English.
Very special is the “enchilada de la casa”, wich is fish in sauce I described above but in a very special way, served with rice, salad and the traditional black beans.
The Adress:
Plaza de la Catedral, Callejón del Chorro
No.60C, Habana Vieja
Telf: 78611332
  1. Donde Lis
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Pulpo al ajillo in Donde Lis 
Donde Lis opened recently and turned very fast in my new favorite restaurant in Havana. Also located in Habana Vieja, but it a side street, Donde Lis is decorated simply but nice and serves amazing food with really high quality. Most recommendable is the seafood plate for two, it comes with lobster, grilled fish, shrimp and octopus and it’s just great. Also very nice is the starter with octopus and guacamole.
The Adress:
Tejadillo No. 163,
e/ Habana y Compostela, Habana Vieja
Telf: 78600922
  1. Ideas
This one is located in the Vedado neighborhood and is decorated in a modern way, has very nice music playing and a great terrace. Ideas is a great place to visit for lunch as they have special offers like a whole menu, including drinks, for 10 CUC. But also for dinner it is nice to visit the place. Try the seafood risotto or one of the other dishes, you won’t be disappointed.
The Adress:
Linea No. 110,
e/ L y M
Telf: 78308900

Learning Spanish in Cuba 

In Cuba there are a lot of opportunities to study, to do cultural and language courses. Those courses can be a great opportunity to learn more about the island and it’s culture. Also if you want to do a Spanish course and learn the language in Cuba you have several options. You can learn a language and more about the culture from well trained teachers. 

There are several agencies that organize language courses for shorter periods. Like Sprachcafé and Villa Latina. But there are options to spend more than one month learning Spanish here at one of the Universities. Those courses also give you the option to get a stundet ID card wich allows you to take transportations for Cubans and pay entrances in CUP. 

Most common are courses from the university of Havana, that are a good option for intense courses that offer lessons every day.

But there are less expensive and more time flexible options. One example is the ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte), the art school is located in Havana in Playa and is build on an old golf course with impressive architecture and artwork. 

The departamento de estudios lingüísticos offers courses for different levels. The courses take place two times a week, each three hours long and they are usually ten weeks long and cost from 150CUC to 260 CUC per course. You will finish the course if an exam and a certificate. 

There are also quite inexpensive lessons from private teachers if you don’t need an ID card or a certificate. 

If you need some contacts don’t hesitate to contact me and I will help you to find the most stable course for you. 

Some useful Cuban Expressions

Cuban Spanish is a little different to accents in Spain and most parts of Latin America. Cubans speak fast and mumble and the eastern part of the island they eat the letter S and sometimes put where it doesn’t belong. Besides that, in Cuba people use a lot of expressions that are just being used in Cuba. This makes them hard to understand even for native speakers. But don’t worry they will try to speak slowly and clear when they realize that a foreigner doesn’t understand them. 
But to appear more local and make some conversations or haggle easier here are some useful Cuban expressions that might help you to get around. 

La Guagua – The Bus , people will understand Bus or autobus but this is the most cuban way to say it. 

agro – fruit and vegetable market

Cadeca – currency exchance 

la cola- is the queue, do not forget to ask for the last person in line 

maquina – route taxis 

moneda nacional – CUP 

Asere- used like buddy 

Qué bolá, que vuelta – whats up ? less slang is: como anda? or que tal?

la cosa – yes it means the thing , but is used in Cuba for the general situation and the everyday life of somebody like: La Cosa está mala!

la lucha – la lucha (the fight) is the everyday struggle of people. mostly used when somebody asks how are you? people answer: ahí en la lucha(here fighting) 

Oriente – eastern part of Cuba 

vianda – Vianda are roots like sweet potato manioc/Yuca, malanga or plantains. people eat them fried or boiled with almost every meal. 

For just food vocabulary there will be a separate post (or check the guidebook: where to eat in Havana)and many many more this is just the first part of many to get into the Cuban vocabulary and to get aplatando/a (adapted to cuban culture and life). 

Cuba’s size could be irritating 

Cuba is bigger than most people think! Ok, yes it’s a Caribbean island but it’s bigger than most of them. Cuba has a surface of 110.861km2 and the distance from North to South is around 150km and from East to West about 1250 km. Might look small compared to big countries but those distances in reality seem longer.

Why? The streets in Cuba a not really good, even the highways. That’s because trips from one place to another are longer than you expect them to be. With wholes in the streets and a speed limit of 110 km/h traveling in Cuba takes time. That’s the reason why I recommend not to plan too much for the time you are here because you will have to spend a lot of time on bumpy streets passing by bikes and carriages on the road.

If you travel by the Viazul bus trips usually take longer than by car because it also stops more and is a little slower. So that’s why sometimes trips from one city to another seem really long but really short when you just see the number of the distance.

It’s not too bad though but you should think about the size of the country and roads when you plan your trip.

Have Some Rum 

Rum is one of the thing almost everybody wants to take home. It’s a part of Cuban culture and one of the best know products made here with great tradition and quality and yes, it’s cheaper than in most countries.
There are several brands besides the famous Havana Club hat are worth trying and taking back home after a holiday in Cuba.

Rum is produced in Cuba since the 17th century . Rum is called the happy son if the sugar cane and is part the culture. Whether in the Santería religion or just in common life and parties rum is present. Tradition has it that when you open a bottle to pore some on the floor for the saints.

The most famous brand the Havana Club is produced since 1878. But there other famous brands like the Ron Legenadario, Vardero, Santiago, Santero or the special Guayabita de Pinar.

The time the rum rests in the barrel makes the difference in quality and price. The youngest rums are used to prepare cocktails and the older ones are taken on ice or just pure.

The 7 year old Havanna Club is a common choice. But if you want to take home something special try the Guayabita de Pinar wich has a special flavor and is not available in other countries. It has a small guava inside. Another great choice is the Ron Santiago wich is produced in the former Barcadí factory in Santiago de Cuba and especially the 15 year old .

You can also just try them out until you find your personal favorite.

Seeing Flamingos in Guanaroca

About 11 km from the town Cienfuegos, there is a unique place, the lagune of Guanaroca. You can pass by on your way to the beach Rancho Luna or combine it with a visit to the botanical garden. In Guanaraco you can see flamingos in a beautiful lagoon. It’s an protected area of 3000ha and home to a colony of 2000 of the pink birds. According to an old Indian legend that’s the place where the moon and the earth melt together.

It’s a beautiful area which is home to not only flamingos but 130 bird species, turtles, manatees and 20 species of plants that are close to extinction.

In the lagune you can take a boat tour with a hicking trip to discover the national park. ( about 5 CUC)

It’s a great way to discover nature and some different sight in Cuba.

You can go there by bike or hire a Taxi it’s worth a visit.