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.
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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.
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José Luis and La China 
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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!

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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
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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.

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
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Basic advice for travelling 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 unpleasent suprises.

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 envoirnment and most of the foreign companies have really high roaming fees for Cuba. And, yes I mean extremely poor internet envoirnment, there is no private internet connection, just public WIFI in parks or hotels (2CUC -3CUC per hour). More habout 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 enchange) or withdraw from the ATM with Visa or Mastercard. Just be carefull with American cards, there are still some problems. Try to get money in the bank with your credit card, before your try the ATM. (The last advice is just for travelers with American Credit Cards). More about Money here.

ACCOMODATION: 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 abut 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 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 gift please consider this post first.

Tipping: As in many countries, in Cuba you also tip 10%. Sometimes the 10% are 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: Generally 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.

Tips for the peak season in Cuba

Now after the days of moarn 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 travelers and tourist, but also Cubans and families from all over the world visitng their loved ones on the island. SO prepare for things to get crowded.

Usually travelling 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, wich 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 disapear fast. If you want to take the Viazul busses, 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 big party on New Years 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.

Over all the time around Christmas and New Years is a great time to be in Cuba and exeperience a different kind of holiday season!

 

 

Cuba on a Budget Part 2 

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: 

Transportation

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… 

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. 

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.