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Shopping

Coming to Havana and want to do some shopping?

Even mundane functional objects can be irritatingly elusive – don’t forget to pack your insect repellent, shower gel, and tampons. And unless you’re a fan of Che Guevara T-shirts, macramé boob tubes and maracas, shopping in Havana is not the point (and to be honest it’s a blessed relief to be free of the eat-itself excesses of consumer culture for a bit).

Having said that, you should know that if you are willing to think outside the box in regards to a ‘shopping experience’, there are wonderful purchases to be found. Please see below some of our recommendations:

Note: If shopping for cigars or rum, please follow the recommendations of your private concierge on land. Also, if interested in Vinyl records: a private tour to be arranged with your concierge

Entertainment

Music and Dance are all around you in Havana though not always at the times you may expect. Here is a brief overview of how to approach the Havana Music and Night Life Scene:

12 midday to 6 pm

There are bars all along Obispo that play music all day. Here is a shortlist:

In the Historic Centre Also there is music all day and here is a shortlist

After 6 pm the scene around Park Cristo picks up with music at

Live Music Matinee

Late Night Music:

Jazz 10 pm

Boleros and Son 10 pm

Cabaret 9:30pm

After midnight

Discos / Hang Outs/Happening

Gay Disco

Eating out

Cuba has a rich cuisine that has evolved out of the island’s layered, émigré history, and yet a lot of people who travel to Cuba complain of having eaten badly. There are various reasons for this, but none that cannot be dealt with when you’ve got a grassroots-operating experienced travel company on your side.

Here are some highlights from Havana!

Restaurants

Spectacular views:

  • Río Mar

    This seaside restaurant is located off a small bay where Miramar meets the Malecon and where the Almendares river ends. The restaurant has a lovely terrace facing the sea where guests can enjoy a drink while looking out over a tranquil inlet.

    Don't miss: The swordfish ceviche, which is served with a thin layer of guacamole or the grilled fish with octopus for the main course
    11 3rd Ave and Final, La Puntilla, Miramar
  • Porto-Habana

    Porto-Habana pairs authentic Cuban cuisine with stunning sunset views. Aside from panoramic views of the Havana coastline, the carefully crafted dishes also offer many photo opportunities of their own.

    Don't miss: The picadillo a la habanera and the traditional ropa vieja
    158b E Street 11th floor between Calzada and 9th, Vedado
  • Vista Mar

    New on the scene-Not to Miss!!
    The seaside ambiance is embellished by a beautiful swimming pool that spills its water into the ocean. If enjoying delicious seafood dishes overlooking the crashing ocean sounds enticing, read no more, and book a table!

    Best for: Seafood, sunset, dining
    Don't miss: Eggplant boat, tomato, and blue cheese soup, rabbit and eggplant in wine sauce
    2206 1st Ave between 22nd and 24th, Miramar
  • Jíbaro

    This small, cozy restaurant in up-and-coming San Isidro, a colorful neighborhood in Old Havana, has the most delicious mocktails and a fresh, modern uptake on traditional Cuban food. Not to miss: every Friday chef Diana hosts theme night, with delicious international and local cuisine.

    Best for: Drinks with friends, Tapas, Friday theme nights.
    Don't miss: Seviche, low-temperature ribs, “la completa”, handcrafted pasta
    69 Merced Street between Cuba and San Ignacio, Old Havana
  • Grados

    Fine dining in a hip atmosphere created by chef Raulito Bazuka and artist friends. Authentic Cuban cuisine with a modern twist, in an unusual combination of informality and stylish cuisine… but it works!

    Best for: Fine dining, cocktails, a night out with friends
    Don't miss: Smoked fish, mojitos, tasting menu experience
    562 E Street between 23rd and 25th, Vedado
  • Más Habana

    A chic distressed interior with a huge artwork by Damian Aquiles. The chef worked for years on the diplomatic scene as one of the most sought-after chefs and the food here is simple but very elegant with excellent service

    Best for: Live music,
    Don't miss: Ginger mojitos, octopus salad
    Habana 308 between San Juan de Dios and O’Reilly, Old Havana
  • Costa Vino

    Costa Vino combines creative dishes from Mediterranean, Cuban and international cuisines with a wide selection of wines.

    Best for: Wine, great views, elegant dining, wine pairing.
    Don't miss: Pork loin with chicharrones in tamarind sauce, Thai shrimps
    1209 Calzada Street apt. 1 between 18th and 20th, Vedado

Old friends are always the best!

  • Otramanera

    Elegant, sophisticated and contemporary. Otramanera provides a great dining experience, combined with its excellent wine list — definitely one of the best in town.

    Best for: Formal dining, wine lovers, romantic couples
    Don't miss: The beef cooked at low temperature over roasted potatoes and caramelized onions
    35th Street between 20th and 41st, Miramar
  • La Guarida

    Two decades on, this place has become synonymous with fine dining in Cuba. In terms of overall quality and atmosphere, La Guarida is pure value.

    Best for: Something more than a Cuban gastronomic experience
    Don't miss: The Smoked Marlin tacos with rum perfume, mayonnaise, and capers appetizer, the suckling pig in a savory honey and orange sauce (try it with Champagne)
    418 Concordia Street between Gervasio and Escobar, Central Havana
  • El del Frente

    Definitely one of the coolest bars/restaurants in town. The drinks here are exceptional. Light a cigar on the rooftop and try one of the best gin tonics, daiquiris, and mojitos in Havana.

    Best for: Exceptional drinks, light meals, get together with friends
    Don't miss: Bloody Mary “Cesar Premium”, any Daiquiri available
    303 O’Reilly Street between Habana and Aguiar, Old Havana
  • Jama

    The eccentric mix of Cuban and Asian cuisine served here is an interesting addition to Havana. Cool and authentic, Jama is one of the go-to places right now.

    Best for: Casual dining, quality Asian food with amazing drinks
    Don't miss: The steamed dumplings and signature fried rice with seafood and spices, Bloody Mary “Samuray”
    261B Aguiar Street between O’Reilly and Empedrado, Old Havana
  • La Esperanza

    La Esperanza is one of those places which gives out its own microclimate so far removed it is from your typical Havana dining experience. The décor is a riot of a quaint English drawing-room somehow mixed up with an art deco-gone-baroque style.

    Best for: Great drinks, no menu; the daily special is recited!
    Don't miss: Gin and Tonic, mojitos, Oshun banana
    105 16th Street between 1st and 3rd, Miramar
  • 5 Sentidos

    With the chef’s exquisite interpretation of traditional recipes, this new paladar measures up to our expectations and goes beyond. It is now the talk of Havana.

    Best for: Fun meals in the heart of Old Havana.
    Don't miss: The salmorejo, ceviche and the exquisite lamb
    67 San Juan de Dios Street between Compostela and Habana, Old Havana
  • La Cocina de Liliam

    A legend long before Cuban food became legendary, with classy service, secluded ambiance, and freshly cooked food to die for.

    Best for: Fine dining, early evening, family dinners.
    Don't miss: Fried chickpeas, lamb stew, paella
    1311 48th Street between 13th and 15th, Miramar

Sandwiches and snacks

Bars

Best 5 bars in Havana with live music

In Havana, the question ‘What bar should we go to?’ is a particularly good one. With so many excellent bars to choose from you would be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed with the choice.

In Havana’s best live music bars you get to mix with locals, make friends, share stories and taste a bit of the local culture through dance, music, and drinks.

Here are some of our favorite bars in Havana where you can also enjoy great live performances. Choose your tunes – jazz, trova, boleros or rock ‘n’ roll – and get a taste of Cuba’s top musical talents.

  • La Zorra y el Cuervo

    This subterranean, cramped, smoky jazz club is the epitome of the genuine jazz joint. Its tiny stage has seen some of the brightest stars of the Cuban jazz scene, ranging from Chucho Valdés to Roberto Fonseca to spontaneous visits from international giants like Wynton Marsalis. There are also performances from the young up-and-coming Cuban jazz crowd in the line-up every night.

    Opening hours: 22:00 – 2:00
    23rd Street between N and O, Vedado
  • La Bombilla Verde

    La Bombilla Verde owes its name to a song by the Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodriguez. Right now it is an active artistic space in El Vedado, a kind of cultural café and tapas bar where the Cuban Trova is the star, with live performances almost every night, sometimes programmed and sometimes improvised. Young songwriters from all over the island come to perform here. Bohemian and relaxed, it’s quite different from the prevailing bar environment in the city.

    Opening hours: 12:00 – 24:00
    905 11th Street between 6th y 8th, Vedado.
  • El Gato Tuerto

    El Gato Tuerto (literally “the one-eyed cat”) is a dimly lit bar with gleaming furniture, crowned with a small stage and only a few tables. Once a meeting point for local artists and intellectuals, the iconic bar is known for its intimate atmosphere and live bolero performances. Today visitors can enjoy great live, slow-tempo Latin bolero performances as well as Cuban Trova music and jazz.

    Opening hours: 22:00 – 4:00
    14 O Street between 17th y 19th, Vedado
  • Pazillo

    A cozy space located in the Vedado neighborhood, Bar Pazillo is a relaxed space reminiscent of a living room with your favorite records playing in the background. Aside from excellent live music performances from renowned artists every night of the week, the bar offers an irresistible array of the cocktails, from deliciously refreshing caipirinhas to perfectly balanced gin and tonics.

    Opening hours: 12:00 – 3:00
    604 5th Ave between 4th and 6th, Vedado.
  • Underground fun: the conga room

    Whether you call it “Elegguá”, “the bar with no name” or its official moniker, “The Conga Room” (all three can be used to refer to this place), everyone agrees there are few better things to do in Old Havana at 3 am. This is the kind of clubby bar that you discover by chance. You start the night not knowing anyone and end up inviting a dozen new friends to your home for one final drink. Dark and decadent, it is the most underground bar in Havana

    209 Aguiar Street between Tejadillo and Empedrado, Old Havana

Trendy Bars//Local

Giving back

Often, our clients want to give back to the Cuban people and we can arrange this for you, either anonymously or meeting with some our partners who contribute to different community projects and special groups of the Cuban population.

Small amounts of first aids and medical supplies.

Small amounts of school supplies.

Volunteer opportunities.

Donations to the Oncology Pediatric Ward in Havana´s largest pediatric hospital; orphanages; senior citizen centers, schools for autistic children and various animal rescue projects/shelters.

Donations list/needs for vulnerable groups (our partner organization Cubalibro take photos, do inventory and follow up):

For animals (all legal in small amounts):

  • - Leashes and collars for dogs medium size
  • - Medicated shampoo
  • - Ear and eye drops
  • - Injectable B vitamin complex
  • - Tetracyclin and amoxicillin
  • - Antiparasite treatment
  • - Gloves (examination and surgical size 6 1/2 to 8)
  • - Syringes 0.5, 1 and 3
  • - Gauze (sterile and non-sterile)
  • - Surgical masks
  • - Flea and tick medicine
  • - Formula for puppies and kittens

For Orphanage:

  • - White socks (mid-calf length)
  • - Washcloths or scrubs (caregivers cannot have skin to skin contact with children)
  • - Clothing for girls and boys (3 to 12-year-old)
  • - Toys (sharing toys like kites, jump ropes, balls)
  • - Didactic games in Spanish (like puzzles)

Senior Citizens:

  • - Adult diapers any size
  • - Pajamas female and male
  • - Gloves
  • - Baby wipes
  • - Connectors for catheters and colostomy bags
  • - Colostomy bags
  • - Catheters
  • - Checker and chess sets
  • - Playing cards

For Therapeutic Clowns of Cuba:

  • - Art supplies (anything from construction paper to paints, crayons)
  • - Coloring books
  • - Stickers
  • - Small playing balls
  • - Whiteboard or Glass Markers (to draw on the glass of ICU patients)

Pre-travel advice

Passports

It is recommended that your passport be valid for at least six months prior to your planned return. Please make note of the expiration date and renew your passport accordingly if it is near expiration. As a general travel rule, it is a good idea to make a photocopy of your passport. Bring it with you and store it separately from your actual passport.

Flight Information

During peak travel season flights leaving the island can experience longer than normal delays due to the unprecedented number of travelers to Cuba. Flight delays are not uncommon.

Final Itinerary

A significant portion of your Cuba program is customized to maximize your cultural experience. Many of the places we visit are not tourist destinations and your particular itinerary will take advantage of what’s happening during your stay. Upon arrival in Cuba, you’ll meet with your Cuban concierge to review the details of your journey.

Arriving Into Cuba

Upon arrival, our VIP service will meet you at the airplane ramp holding a sign with your name. If this does not happen, please let anyone in a uniform know that you have VIP service under your name. They will escort you to customs to beat the sometimes-lengthy Immigration lines. When passing through Cuban immigration, an official will review your visa (tourist card) and take your photo. Keep your visa in a safe place as you will need it again when you depart immigration. After immigration, you'll proceed through customs and go through security. Once you have retrieved your luggage and exit customs, our airport representative will be waiting to meet you, and escort you to your vehicle where your Cuban guide or guide/driver awaits.

From time to time, Cuban Customs and Immigration officials may ask you or someone from your group additional questions as you enter Cuba. Please note this is standard operating procedure is nothing to be concerned about. They will typically ask to see your passport and will record your passport number. They may also inquire about your profession, who you are traveling with, what state you are from, why you are in Cuba and ask other basic questions. Simply answer all questions truthfully.

Packing Tips

Cuba has no clothing taboos! You typically find people are wearing very casual, colorful and Caribbean-style clothing. Very few venues in Cuba require formal wear. Pack light and very comfortable clothing, particularly comfortable walking shoes. If your itinerary includes hiking or a day in the mountains, you might want to bring boots.

Shorts, tank tops, t-shirts, sundresses, and skirts are all acceptable. A wrap, sweater or light jacket is recommended for the evenings. Some clubs and live music venues have very low AC.

Though hotels will have toiletries and may have a hairdryer, we recommend bringing your own. The voltage in Cuba is 110, though most hotels have 220 plugs. Bring a multi-adaptor.

Staying connected

Until recently, most travelers to Cuba took it for granted that there would be no Internet access and therefore this would be their opportunity to enjoy themselves and put their phones away. This has certainly changed. Most of the best hotels have Wi-Fi access and will provide you with a login and password at check-in. WiFi is not always included in all hotels. A few of the BnBs also have Wi-Fi, access to be purchased from staff.

There are also over 80 Wi-Fi hotspots all over Cuba. Your concierge and guide can help you purchase the Wi-Fi cards with login and password (cost between 2-3 CUC per hour), and indicate how/where to use them.

Alternatively, Cuba Private Travel offers clients the use of a cell phone with data, in which your concierge will instruct you how to create a mobile hotspot so you can use your own phone.

Do not expect much: Band-width is limited and navigation is slow.

Money while in Cuba

As credit cards, ATM cards, bank cards and traveler's checks affiliated to a US bank are not accepted in Cuba, bring enough cash to last your entire trip. The exchange rate is 1 CUC – 0.87 US dollars. Note that for other currencies such as Euros or Pounds this exchange fee is usually a bit less than the fee for converting U.S. Dollars.

Cards that are not denominated to a USA Bank normally will work at ATM machines, most hotels, and at the Bank Counter.

In Cuba, you can exchange your money at the airport, at a CADECA exchange kiosk, in a bank, or at your hotel. CADECA is an official money exchange agency in Cuba. Do not exchange money on the street.

We recommend 100 per person per day for meals. If you like to indulge in art, souvenirs, and evening outings, you may consider bringing more: $150-$250 per person per day.

Sample Costs

  • Taxi to Old Havana 10-15 CUC
  • Crafts 20+ CUC
  • Night club entrance fees 10-25 CUC
  • Cabaret (Tropicana, the Nacional, Ballet) 30-100 CUC
  • Drinks 2 - 5 CUC
  • Shopping - Simple gifts 2 - 50 CUC
  • Cigars 200 CUC a box

Tipping

Tipping is customary in Cuba and is perceived as a gesture of acknowledgement of satisfaction with a good or excellent service. For Cubans who work directly with visitors from abroad, such as hotel staff, the gratuities they receive are an important supplement to their income. In restaurants, 10% is the general rule. Your specialized guides are well paid in general, so tipping them should be based on your personal satisfaction with the level of service received.

For your private guide and driver, we recommend 20-40 CUC per day, each, if you feel their work was excellent. You may also leave a discretionary 5 to 10 CUC per day for your concierge and Clients Services Manager.

Packing Checklist

  • - Passport (original and photocopy packed separately)
  • - Print Final itinerary (sent 1 week before departure)
  • - Prescription medications (in original bottles)
  • - Over-the-counter medications for common ailments
  • - Basic first-aid items
  • - Toiletries (we recommend bringing your own)
  • - Hairdryer (hotels may have them but we recommend bringing your own)
  • - Adaptor
  • - Feminine hygiene products
  • - Toilet paper or small packets of tissues
  • - Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • - Insect repellent
  • - Flashlight
  • - Sun hat
  • - Sunglasses
  • - Sunblock
  • - Comfortable walking shoes
  • - Light rain jacket
  • - Small umbrella
  • - Cigarette lighters (packed in your checked luggage)
  • - Snacks (granola bars, mixed nuts, crackers, pretzels)
  • - Cuba Guidebook

Travel Protection Plan

Since April 2010, the Cuban government requires all travelers to Cuba to have medical care and evacuation coverage under an approved plan. In the case of US traveler, as a result of this requirement, your flight package includes this basic medical insurance.

If you need to seek medical treatment while you are in Cuba and it is not an emergency, it is your responsibility to pay up to CUC $100 directly to the health practitioner. Once you are home, you can then file a claim under your travel protection plan.

Before You Go Checklist

- Check that the expiration date on your passport is 6 months after the completion of your stay abroad.

- Make a photocopy of your passport and store it separately. Leave a copy with friends or family back home.

- Pack medications and other valuables in your carry-on bag.

- When you receive your final itinerary and emergency contact numbers, print it out and include with the documents you bring on your journey.