as you know, last week, we came back from a little trip to cuba. since we live by the beach, we didn’t really want to do the caribbean beach plan around the island, just wanted to get to know the local culture, so we decided to stay in havana for the whole stay.
i read these articles (this on and this one) and found them very useful in planning our trip, we also bought a cuba lonely planet guide – this helped out mapping out a list of things we wanted to do in the city.
we had been trying to go for a while, cuba is so close to us – less than 350km, which is about 217miles – and after looking at several options, we decided on flying to cancun (through miami) and fly to havana from there. this way, we would take a few more days off and explore the yucatan peninsula too.
when i was planning the trip, everybody recommended staying at a casa particular. not long ago the cuban government started allowing cubans to rent out rooms in their houses or apartments to tourists, providing cuban families with new sources of income, these are locally called casas particulares.
we liked the idea, but we didn’t like the idea of staying at someone’s house without being recommended by someone we knew, and since we didn’t find one we decided to book an hotel for the first two nights and look for a casa particular once we arrived.
the hotels are beautiful, normally in old buildings with a lot of charm, but not so cheap. they also lack in maintenance – it is normal for the elevator to be out of order, the air conditioning to make a loud noise and for there to be lack of service. we thought the staff were very helpful and nice, but very slow and lazy. luckily we found a casa particular and were able to move. the casa belonged to a very nice and welcoming cuban couple, very clean and centrally located. and it gave us a chance to get to know a little better how is life for cubans. also it is a much, much cheaper option – a double room per night was about $30, dinner was about $6 each and breakfast was about $3 each.
the prices for tourists are in CUC, a different currency than the one used by locals – the CUP – and a lot more expensive than the actual cost of things for cubans.
we walked and walked and walked, everywhere, and what we most enjoyed was people watching and hearing the music in the houses around and trying to get a glimpse of local life style.
the first moment we waked out the door of our hotel i was surprised to see the main streets and squares in old havana with portuguese tiles – sorry, no pic – but it made me smile!
our favorite things to do were visiting the cathedral, the rum museum, the cigar factory, walking in the city centre, walking on the malecon (the broad esplanade that streches along the coast of the city), and definitely the fine arts museum.
i think what made james most happy – other than going on taxi drives in antique cars – was finding a place where they made sugar cane juice – he is a big fan, has had it since he was a kid in laos! apparently this is a very local drink, we went everyday to the one spot we found and it was always packed with locals – so good and dirt cheap!
the food is nothing special, they do have scarce access to a lot of products, and most restaurants we found are clearly a product made for tourists! another option would be eating at paladares, a similar idea to the casas particulares, where families open their houses to welcome guests for meals. we had a couple of bad experiences, but we did manage to find a restaurant with delicious food and with a lot more options than elsewhere – el template – we went twice!
we loved our stay, the city is as beautiful as they say, the old cars make it extra charming and the people are happy and welcoming.
if you wish to go we totally recommend the casa particular where we stayed, they will also give you recommendations that you can trust – contact rafael on firstname.lastname@example.org