HAVANA | a city on the rise

So where were you when Fidel died? I was in a Cuba dancing in a cave in Trinidad!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The mood in Cuba rapidly changed after Fidel’s death on the evening of November 25th 2016,  a nine day ban on music, alcohol and public celebrations was imposed and our last two remaining days in Cuba were never the same.
However we were lucky enough to experience the real side of Cuba in six days. We danced to salsa, we ate croquetas and medianoches, we made new friends, we listen to live music in every town square,  we drank mojitos and watched the sunset , we have a new admiration for reggaeton music, we learned about cuban artists, we visited a local tabacco farm, we had a lovely car ride through the country side and I can go on and on. Cuba did not disappoint us and you can see that from the pictures below.


LEFT : Classic car in old Havana   RIGHT : Private salsa lesson at Casa Colonial La Habana with former Tropicana club dancer

WHERE TO BEGIN
If this is your first time visiting Cuba, I would highly recommend using a tour company to organize your trip. We could not have done as much as we did without the help of the Copper Bridge Foundation. Based out of Miami Florida the CBF is a non-for profit organization that specializes in creating customized “People to People” travels for those interested in an art and cultural based itinerary.  We highly recommend them.

A touch of vintage and chic at Casa Sofia
Casa Colonial La Habana and our new friend Eduardo

WHERE TO STAY
Colonial style casa particulars all the way.

We recommend:
Casa Colonial Sofia : Calle 10, Numero 165, Vedado, Havana, Cuba
Casa Colonial La Habana: Calle 17 #606 (altos) entre B y C / +53 7 837 7593

Lunch at Dona Eutimia – The frozen Mojitos are a must

WHERE TO EAT   ***We recommend you make reservations a few days before your arrival
Doña Eutimia : Plaza de la Catedral -Callejón del Chorro 60C / +53 7 861 1332 /  email d.eutimia@yahoo.es
Paladar El Atelier : Calle 5ta e/ Paseo y 2, Vedado (avoid the main room and the back room, the terrace or the two seater in the back bar are the best seats in the house)
Mediterraneo Habana PaladarCalle 13 entre F and G   #406, Vedado, Havana 10400, Cuba / +53 7 832 4894

Cuban traffic jam…
Private tour of art dealer Milagro Borges, we fell in love with the works of cuban artist Vladimir Leon Sagols (large foreground painting)
LEFT: former Tropicana Club dancer now private salsa instructor  RIGHT: a scene from old Havana
Hotel Nacional
Old Havana
fac
A dance battle inside F.A.C. – Frabrica De Arte Cubano.

WHERE TO DRINK AND DANCE
La Esencia : Calle B entre Línea y 7 número 153 Vedado,  / +53 7 836 3031 / Sunday night is gay night
Hotel NacionalCalle 21 y O, Vedado, Plaza, La Habana / great place for sunset drinks
Factoria Arte CubanaCalle 26, esquina 11, Vedado, La Habana, Cuba / fun night with the locals

El Megano is an old art deco cinema in central Havana
El Megano is an old art deco cinema in central Havana
LEFT: La Guarida:Rihanna was photographed here by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair RIGHT: a street scene in Old Havana

THINGS TO DO
Walking tour of Old Havana : Visit the 4 plazas of Old Habana, Plaza de Armas, Plaza San Francisco de Asia, Plaza Vieja and Plaza la Catedral
National museum of fine arts :  This museum is the home to the works of many renowned Cuban artists like Wilfredo Lam, Carlos Enríquez Gómez, Tomas Sanchez and many more.  We highly recommend a private art tour with Omar.
San Jose craft Market : Buy a Panama hat and a few souvenirs in the first aisle and that’s all the time you want to spend here.
Milagros Borges gallery : For serious art collectors only. This colonial style art gallery will introduce you to local Cuban Aritists.
Fabrica de Arte Cubana : This place is AMAZING !! you can watch a movie, discover young artists, watch a concert and dance to techno or Hip Hop all in one venue.
Vintage Car Tour : A fun way of getting around the city – but you already knew that .
Salsa lesson : Salsa is Cuba’s other language and you should attempt to speak it . 
Take a walk off the beaten path : Cuban is a very safe place so walk around and meet some of the locals. *** Don’t be stupid and wonder off after dark.
The Malecon : Know as Cuba’s livingroom, this seafront esplanade is where you will find everyone – from German tourists, to young cuban lovers . Look out for dangerous waves crashing over the sea wall.

LEFT: a young boy poses for me  RIGHT: local fruit vendor in Havana
Street life in Old Havana
Street life in Old Havana

PREPARE TO DISCONECT
There is no access to wi-fi on the island so you don’t have to worry about dodging people while crossing the street. If you need to use the internet you have to purchase a wi-fi access card and then find the closest  “hot spot” – which are randomly located throughout  Havana – ‘ Ain’t nobody got time for that’

A drive along the Malecon during sunset
Sunset view from the Malecon

OUR TIPS
Believe it or not Cuba is expensive so bring plenty of cash for your entire stay, your credit cards will not work anywhere and don’t rely on ATM’s.  Do not bring US dollars brings Euros and exchange them for CUC’s not CUP’s. The exchange rate was 1 EUR = 1.05 CUC, basically one to one

Dinner for 3 at any of our recommended paladares were an average of $50-$60 CUC – including 2 rounds of drinks and tips which is normally 10%.

Cubans really dress up when they go out. Ladies bring a few flowy dresses and sandals and guys bring a nice pair of light pants a light material shirt and loafers – no socks of course.

Imodium AD !!! While the food in Cuba is absolutely delicious you will eventually get sick and let me tell you they do not have an over the counter fixer upper.

Plenty of tooth paste – whatever you don’t use leave behind for the cleaners

Small packets of tissue paper, hand sanitizer & hand wipes

Scented travel candle

A few small gifts for your host. We had a few travel size cosmetics and our hosts loved them. A cash tip is also good.

Candy for the kids

and most importantly an open mind 🙂


Photography and Text by JJ JIMENEZ
Special thanks to the entire staff at Cooperbridge Foundation
Mauricio Delgado and Alejandro Garcia thank you for keeping us safe and showing us the best of Cuba !