Cuba is a country stuck in time, yet - rapidly changing. This platform is meant to gather finest outcomes and avoidable clashes of this ongoing sociocultural switch from alternative tourism perspective.
What you will find here is our personal honest reflection on traveling and exploration around Cuba - we wish this platform was made by someone else before our trip. But it wasn’t.
So having a tight time/budget frame it is important to know how things work there, because 8 times out of 10 locals won’t be the ones to help. At least not without 5 CUC.
City of narratives, where you have to make your own.
We would offer to pass without stopping all the supposedly important museums and just try to get lost, go to the darkest corners and rebuild abandoned majesty in your imagination. Remember, it is visually tasty colonial city with great multicultural history: typography, ornaments, architecture are ones to fill your gallery.
However, after stepping from the beaten path and leaving glow behind, you will face the life of commons, usually much worse than imagined. Wounds are still open and having to now the city, its story and people, means having to know them.
Electronic music bar
Aguacate and O’ Reilly street corner
Welcome to New York. Or Berlin. Or…
Ultimate must. Owned by foreigners, located at the very very center on the top of beautiful Roma hotel with authentic interior design and inhabitants that tend not to care about bar alongside as long as you pay them for using their toilet. Yes, bar doesn’t have one, but lady at the end of the corridor does - while waiting she will offer to watch cable TV on her sofa.
Electronic music, foreign DJ’s, English speaking staff, pulled pork sandwiches and a great relief after all that reggaeton and salsa.
Go around the building, look for entrance and lift guy will show you the way. However, leave the party using stairs - ornamental interior will remind splendid past.
58 San Juan de Dios Havana
So western, they even use tweezers
Pretty European and touristic, however very cosy place with English speaking, friendly and welcoming staff. Perfect for afternoon cocktails and good quality, nicely cooked food. We haven’t tried their meals by ourselves, influenced by all previous disappointments concerning this topic. However, while passing by fellow tables, feeling of regret started to grow - afterwards Trip Adviser explained why.
Also, don’t miss a chance to become a part of very eclectic interior - scribe your presence on the wall and visit WC even with no need - you might be quite surprised. Probably, your Instagram followers too.
Taller Experimental de Gráfica
Callejón del Chorro #62, Habana Vieja
Cuban Hub of visualists
After spending some time in Havana you will start to notice pretty contemporary graphic prints that are sold at local book shops and flea markets. Here is the place where originals are born. Furthermore, small gallery upstairs sells etchings, lithographs, woodcuts and collagraphs.
Local craftsman doesn’t seem to be bothered by you looking over their shoulders, visitors can freely wander around, touch and have a closer look at their final work or become spectator of making process. Actually, we heard that participation is also possible - workshop is offering courses on traditional lithography (using stone), woodcuts, and etchings (using metal).
Talking about prints, to be honest, we regret we haven’t bought one.
We faced the problem of coffee in Cuba, most of the times beans were over-roasted and tasted like instant beverage. However, on the way of leaving Havana we got stopped by Cafe O’Reilly. To be precise - by the smell of Cafe O’Reilly, which actually gave a sense of freshly blend coffee beans.
Yes, they roast them at the Cafe, which even strengthen the impression of your local old town roaster. Furthermore, bird whispered about delicious breakfast people line up for.
It is about proper coffee. The one, you will be craving.
Calle O'Reilly 203 Havana
Cuba Tacón and O’ Reilly street corner
Paradoxically denying all the market laws
In any other city you would expect flea market to be space of unexpected. However, this one will surprise you in slightly other way. Considering the fact of everlasting shortage of commodities in Cuba, venders at flea market mostly offer the same vintage items. And, again, surprisingly are not the ones to negotiate with - they will lower price once and then it’s over, take it or leave it.
However, exceptional cases are pretty exceptional - vintage Cuervo y Sobrinos watches will make you breathe slower, propaganda comics - your colleagues back at work.
Obrapia 452/ Aguacate y Villega Havana Vieja
Same ingredients, different taste. Asian one.
This place offers magical combination of same chicken, beans, rice and eggs, that most of the places in Cuba can’t really upgrade even to the level of taste. Even though cooks are two local girls and their environment doesn’t look promising from first sight - try food and judge later. Treasure for tourists - you become regular during few days stay in Havana. Out of pure love and physical need.
Furthermore, they offer rooms for rent, obviously targeted to the Asian tourists but hey, who wouldn’t want to see the interpretation by themselves - book in advance.
City where no one seems to care. Finally, you just stop doing that too.
Our favorite location in Cuba. Town with its wrinkled face - UNESCO heritage site and most well preserved colonial city in Cuba. Locals treat Trinidad as heart of music and rhythm, which is true - waken up by moon Cubans start to sing and dance, usually - both. This might be a result of history, as after finding of this city in 1514 by Spanish, Trinidad was too far away from Havana to be properly governed, so it became a shelter for pirates and traders, which were famous because of certain lifestyles.
Generally, we would recommend to observe local life of Trinidad, where low architecture gives you the chance to become a spectator of always changing, yet very still life of Cubans - they always keep their windows open.
Calle José Martì #261 | e/Colon y Francisco Javier Zerquera 62600
Partial sophistication with sound system
You can see the hand of foreigner: wine shelves (doesn’t necessarily convert into assortment), deep house in high quality sound, imported drinks, iPads, minimalistic interior with sprinkles of red&blue light… However, it can’t stop you from asking to make your drink stronger. Just because. Wouldn’t recommend food.
In case you have an eagle eye for details: all around the room, there are setting of Cuban car evolution. Sounds boring, probably it is, but believe us, after some time this may look exciting and pretty conceptual.
This name is a well known trademark not only in Cuba but around the world too. It’s a famous tourist destination because of the personalities which have patronized it and the legend of Mojito birthplace.
We’ve visited few bars under this name: in Havana and Trinidad. Besides stopping for a drink you can spend half an hour staring at walls of fame - hundreds of celebrity pictures that visited La Bodeguita del Medio.
As probably other 70% of bars in Cuba, this one too is claiming on having been favourite of E. Hemingway - signature on the wall serves as proof.
La Bodeguita del Medio
Cuban hall of fame
74, Calle Real del Jigüe, Trinidad 62600
Javira Waterfall (El Cubano)
Rebellious cut of beaten path
After spending some time in Trinidad we decided that was the time for some wilderness. First, we looked for civilized ways: tour by travel agency and scooter rental, obviously none of that worked - one was too expensive, another wouldn’t manage getting up the hill. So we marked a waterfall we wanted to visit as destination in offline map and started our hike.
After a good half an hour realization of proper cultural and environmental expedition occurred: we passed through authentic villages, crossed beautiful valley with sheep, cows and horses grazing there, spotted some massive skeletons left on the field, rode along the fences, swam alone in the pool surrounded by beautiful jungle and probably got lost a thousand times before reaching the goal. Process surely overcame the result and became the best Cuban experience, especially after getting to know that we bypassed ticketing. Yes, ticketing of the forest.
Town by size, Hurghada by number of tourists, great discoveries by leaving it.
To be perfectly honest this place was one of the greatest disappointments in Cuba. Loads of tourists, overwhelmed local business makers and zero authenticity. Yes, nature is beautiful, but was it that much? Hm…
This might be a great place to disappear into the landscape but for that we would strongly recommend taking private guide or just go wherever and see what happens.
However, there were some gems that made our heart melt - highly connected with getting out of the town.
Calle José Martì #261 | e/Colon y Francisco Javier Zerquera 62600
Quick getaway for sunset time
This place is on the very edge of village - last building before beautiful valley with the idyllic view of mountains begin. We ran there for sunset which was mesmerizing, but besides that got surprised by professional, English speaking staff, good quality food and few people around. They even have their own casa, so you might get very lucky if reserved it before your trip. Staying here looks as very good option for families with kids, they will definitely won’t get lost and will be very happy enjoying freedom of running around the meadow. In that case, wouldn’t even go to the side of the town - face straight to the grasslands and tobacco plantations.
Click to view on map
Sandy expression of joy
It is just simply beautiful. Empty, calm, clean, bright and incredibly photogenic.
With a twist of freshly caught and cooked fish, honest stories of villagers, oily hands, dirty faces and divine taste of simplicity.
Fish and langostas that we bought from local fishermen and ate bare hands while being under attack of flies, was the best meal we had in Cuba. At that moment, probably felt like in entire life.
However, getting to the beach might be quite tricky. Try to go to the main street of Vinales and look for shabby buses, talk directly with driver, at worst case - one of his managers. Road is very bumpy so be ready for pretty uncomfortable trip, take water and some food if needed, because there are no real business establishments at the beach itself. Thanks God.