it has been four months now that i was in Cuba for four weeks and i can´t believe it has been that long since I returned to cold Europe. I have already shared several travel impressions about my first trip to Cuba (first impressions, scuba diving, architecture, cars on the streets, animals on the streets, and the many lively people on the streets) but I wanted to sum everything up and randomly list some of my personal travel tips and tricks to get around Cuba and especially Havana.
/ first of all, if you have not been, go ahead and book a flight, Cuba is just somethin´else
/ if you are directly in Havana for more of a city-trip, be sure to get your dose of sand and water at the not far away beaches `Playas del Este´. From central Havana it takes about 30 to 40 minutes. I can recommend the Playa Santa Maria. Lovely beach with little huts that serve mojitos and fresh coconut water directly out of the coconuts (added rum optional). We had a great time there.
/ walking along the Malecón is a must in Havana. The wide balustrade turns into a public `sofa´ during sun-set. During the day i suggest a nice long stroll along the entire beach front to get amazing views of the city directly at the ocean. I can also recommend not to just go when the weather is beautiful, but when it is rather windy and rough. The atmosphere at such a time is incredible. The wind pushes the large waves over the edge of the wide balustrade and sometimes they even reach into the streets. It´s a great experience, especially with the extreme lighting and sort of dramatic end-of-the-world feeling. Amazing! Also great for photos! So don´t shy away from the very windy, strong weather and head directly to the Malecón.
/ stroll through the streets and be prepared to hear music from every corner. Especially interesting are the many live get-togethers in the homes. People stop in the streets and play, listen, and dance. Really great! Just be a part of it!
/ the Calle Opispo in Old Havanna is obviously a street not to be missed, but take a look into the Drogeria Johnson, it´s quite nice and charming.
/ the many oranges from street carts are extremely tasty! But be careful if your stomach gets upset easily. Us Europeans are not so used to the food from the streets...so be sure and aware of what you can eat and what you might want to miss. I had some oranges and I was fine, but I stuck to restaurants for everything else.
/ for a nice outdoor meal try the Jardín del Oriente. It is the backside of a very elegant and expensive Restaurant. The food is good and comes from the same kitchen as we were told, but is served for locals and in-the-know tourists in the back Jardín. You HAVE to try the Caramel Flan, it is that good!!
/ in general, the food and typical kitchen of Cuba is not really the best. You can have nice meals, but the food will always pretty much consist of some meat, rice, and beans. This concoction can be pretty good at some places, but if you want to switch it up I can highly suggest the two terraces of the Restaurant Centro Andaluz de la Habana on the Paseo de Martí. Exceptional food, great service, and amazing views. They serve meals with meat but also really tasty vegetarian meals. The bread with dips and olive oil is also a nice snack. We went often while in Havana to get superb food and tasty coffee and tea and cocktails. They serve coffee and espresso in the most beautiful cups. I had to go buy some for my tea at home! For me, this restaurant would always be a stop when I should ever be in Havana again.
/ something quite unusual for me and the rest of our group was the party-hours. I am not sure wether this is something done everywhere in Cuba, but we went to a Club with live music and salsa-dancing and mojito-and-rum-drinking at FIVE in the afternoon. Then the wild partying and dancing stopped at around nine in the evening. This felt so amazing and weird at the same time, for we were all used to go out at ten at night for some drinks and then go on to some club at around 12pm or even 1am. It felt good though to have had the most amazing and fun night partying but still have the late evening free and normal sleeping hours because we were home at 10pm. The club was called TunTun if I recall correctly.
/ if you take a taxi, you could share your ride with strangers going your direction. You then only pay 20 cuban pesos (not the convertible pesos), which is less than a dollar/euro and it is up to the taxi driver to let in other guests and take them in the same direction.
/ taking a taxi is a good way to get around, but be prepared for a strong gasoline smell, patched together seats with duck-tape, and lots of air and wind coming through cracks of the entire car (and of course the opened windows). Taking the old cars is a great adventure though and just the best way to get around. Your first ride will most likely be the most expensive, but don´t be afraid to negotiate about the price. We were usually a group of four or five and payed no more than one or two convertible pesos across the entire city or from the city center to the university of CUJAE. (this might even be a bit much for the locals, but for all of us it really was not a lot of money for a taxi ride) Just see how much you are comfortable with paying and getting away with. Talk to them, there are a lot of taxis, either the yellow ones or the old, vintage cars with a large TAXI sign inside.
/ if you are not staying in a hotel, the many `casas´ are the best alternative. The better one even in my opinion. You get to know the local people and their lifestyle. They usually cook for you if you request it and the food that they prepare is much better than most of the government-owned restaurants. Breakfast includes fresh fruit, eggs, bread, sometimes little pancakes even, and most of the time some fresh smoothie and coffee. We stayed in several different casas during our trip, and met some very nice and interesting people.
/ the Isla de la Juventud is a great little adventure for a few days and perfect for diving, we heard. We went there by boat for a couple of days but unfortunately could not go scuba diving since the weather was too bad (windy) for us beginners. If you do go, be prepared for a long and weird trip via boat. We were pretty naive to travel without any knowledge, very little to no spanish, and no real idea how to get to the island, but so many people sensed our confusion and always came to our rescue and helped us! It was so nice and a rewarding experience. If you are on the island, don´t miss the old jail where Fidel used to sit. It was quite the site and our very lovely taxi driver took us to the jail grounds and showed us around a bit himself.
In general I had a great time on Cuba and would love to hear some of your travel tips and tricks! Do you agree or disagree with any of mine?
Here are some more impressions that my boyfriend took with his iPhone.