- 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.
Yes, Cuban music is famous all over the world. Everybody knows at least the Buena Vista Social Club.
But Cuban music is not just Salsa and Son or Reaggeton. There is much more and especially young Cubans experiment a lot and make mix different styles and influences to create a unique musical environment. There is Cuban Rap, Indie Rock, Reggae, Punk, Metal and also electronic music.
In Havana you can see concerts from different groups and styles in many places like the Fabrica de Arte Cubano or the Diablo Tun Tun (Calle 35, esquina 20, Playa) and the Corner Café, or Clubs like the Berthold Brecht (Calle 13 e/I y J, Vedado) or the Submarino Amarillo close to the John Lennon Park .
In those places, you can discover more Cuban music and see live concerts for just a small fee or even no entrance prices. You can enjoy Jazz, Indie and other types of music that you might not have expected on the Island.
Here are just some artists and songs that you should have heard of:
The artist who also started the F.A.C in Havana grew up in a very musical environment and mixes a lot of styles and influences. He has a lot of songs about the Cuban lifestyle and everyday life. He got popular, also internationally, by making the soundtrack to the Spanish movie: Habana Blues.
Check it out:
Buena Fe is really popular on the island. They have nice and interesting lyrics and catchy songs, also they do great live concerts. They form part of current Cuban culture so if you have a chance to see them while you there, do so!
They also have quite creative video clips, check them out:
Wichy De Vedado
My next tip is a Cuban DJ, who named himself after a neighborhood in Havana. He produces and mixes his music in his home in the Vedado and does a really good job with it!
check it out:
Another good Cuban Dj. You could also expect him to play in a Club in Berlin or elsewhere in Europe.
Telmary does Hip Hop mixed with Cuban rhythms and Cuban topics. Her music is for listening and for dancing. She gives great concerts and you should also have heard of her or take the chance to see her live!
Sweet Lizzy Project
Sweet Lizzy Project is a young indie band. They sound like an indie folk band from Norway or Sweden, but they are from Cuba and they rock!
don’t miss them:
So check these artists out and be surprised by the variety of Cuban music. Soon there will be more about Cuban music here…
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!