Casa de Palo
- 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 seafront 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 held.
- 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 center with activities on the weekends, in particular on Sunday afternoons, but it also a bar with almost the cheapest mojitos (15 CUPs) in the city. This 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.
- Free concerts
- Happy Hours
- Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
I know, at home you are used to going 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.
- Big Portions
Cubans love to eat and to eat a lot. So an 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.
- Drinks and Food
First of all, there are state-owned restaurants. They can vary a lot in terms of price and quality of food and service.
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.
Everybody knows that day, some love it, some fear it and some people hate it. All around the world, this day is connected to a lot of pressure and money spending for your loved ones.
As in other countries, in Cuba people also celebrate Valentine’s day, but it’s called differently. February 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, especially 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:
Also, you can just go out wandering the streets and watch what the others do!
It’s going to be a unique February 14th that’s for sure!
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 (1CUC -3CUC per hour). More about the Internet here. And more about Telefons and Cells here. Rumor has it that there will be Internet on Mobiles, soon. Oh and forget about free WIFI in Cuba.
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.
Now after the days of mourn and the funeral Havana and Cuba are heading back to normal again and so is tourism.
So don’t worry you will be able to buy rum and have drinks again.
And speaking of tourism, it’s also the beginning of peak season in Cuba! So there will be a lot of travelers and tourist, but also Cubans and families from all over the world visiting their loved ones on the island. SO prepare for things to get crowded.
Usually traveling around Cuba is not a problem at all, Bnb owners send you from one “casa” to another and might also reserve the transport for you. Usually, there is not much planning needed.
For the December and January, I suggest you reserve some places early. Especially in Viñales, which got so booked out last season that people had to sleep in parks. If you don’t mind that, you’re fine though!
If you plan to rent a car, you should also plan ahead, because family members from abroad tend to rent most of them in that season, so they disappear fast. If you want to take the Viazul buses, you should maybe plan that as well, but usually, there are more taxis that just charge a little more and take you to your bnb or hotel directly.
If you plan to have a big party on New Year’s Eve, be aware that in Cuba usually people celebrate this holiday with their families, so there is not so much going on on the streets. If you do look for a party you should probably be in Havana that day, because there are more and more clubs and bars offering specials and parties.
Overall the time around Christmas and New Years is a great time to be in Cuba and experience a different kind of holiday season!
This is the second post about traveling in Cuba on a Budget. As I mentioned in the first post, before you travel to Cuba on a tight budget you should be aware that tourism is the main income of the country and it’s still not really prepared for backpackers and travelers. But don’t worry! That doesn’t mean there are no ways to travel cheap or at least to safe money on the way, for example on food or accommodation by not traveling alone!
But there is more:
Unfortunately there is a big difference in prices for tourists and for locals, that means Cubans or foreigners with a residence. If you stay for longer you should consider a language course to get an ID card and safe on transportation and entrances.
If you stay for shorter periods you can also try to take the local buses like ASTRO or to travel with a Camion. Those are trucks that are transformed to transport passengers or just ordinary trucks that have some space left and take passengers standing from one place to another.
It’s not the most comfortable way to travel, but it is an interesting way.
You just have to know that the driver could possibly have to pay a retribution if he get caught taking a tourist with him. So maybe they don’t like to take tourists with them. You could think about offering to pay the amount for him.
Hitchhiking is also a possible and common way to travel around Cuba, you just have to stand under a bridge or somewhere in the shade. Believe me that is an useful advice!
You could also think about a trip by bike! That safes you the prices for transportation around Cuba.
More about traveling Cuba on a budget coming soon…
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 a 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.
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 fewer 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 tip: do not travel alone. You will save a lot of money.
On food, you can save a lot of your budget. You will hear from a lot of people that just ate pizza to save 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.