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The Native | Ines Bahr shows us around Havana

Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible as is the rest of your stay. Ines Bahr shows us how to travel around Havana like a native.

rachelzc
Rachel Zammit Cutajar
20 October 2017, 8:16am
Havana, Cuba
Havana, Cuba
Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible. The same can be said of sightseeing, hotels and nightspots. Travelling to a place where you know people to recommend the right places makes your stay all the more enjoyable.

Ines Bahr
Ines Bahr
Ines, (25), was born in Nuremberg, and lived in Havana for more than 2 years with her Cuban family. If you’re visiting Havana, these are the places she recommends to hang out like a native and get to know the real Havana (not the tacky version of it).

Best spot for sightseeing

Habana Vieja
Habana Vieja
All parts of Havana have something to offer, if it is one of the main sites or just local life, it does not matter. Of course there are things you cannot miss out on, like old Havana, the cemetery or places like the Vedado and the streets of Centro Havana and Miramar. It is a city full of contrasts so make sure to visit more than one neighbourhood. However, the old town (Habana Vieja) is a must see, with all the colonial buildings and museums. What an experience it is to cross the bay and visit the Christo de La Habana, the second biggest Christ statue in Latin America. From there you have an amazing view on the city and I highly recommend to there around sunset for a special experience. You can either take the ferry, a taxi or the bus to get there.

Best place to eat

Restaurant Doña Eutima
Restaurant Doña Eutima
There are a lot of bad comments about the Cuban cuisine. Believe me, they are not true. Especially in Havana there are so many nice and affordable restaurants that it is hard to decide where to go. If you are on a budget, try a local cafeteria; you will have the pleasure of eating home-cooked food on a dime and to really feel like a local.

For a more elevated but authentic food experience I recommend Doña Eutima, close to the Plaza de Catedral in Havana’s old town. Doña Eutima is the oldest private owned restaurant in the area and serves authentic Cuban dishes at a high standard. You can have the best black beans in Havana and try all the typical dishes like “Ropa Vieja”.  The atmosphere is cosy, all the waiters speak English and the mojitos are great too. You will have to make reservations.

Best place for a night out

Over the last couple of years some great bars have opened in Havana. Make sure not miss places like the Chanchullero, Bar Madrigal or Café Mamainé for some spectacular cocktails and nice conversations. Visiting the Fabrica de Arte Cubano is a must. It is an art project, nightclub, bar and space to hang out and meet interesting people. The art factory opens its doors from Thursday to Sunday at 20.00 and there is always something going on. You can wander around and have a look at the contemporary Cuban art; you can watch a movie or documentary or dance like there is no tomorrow to one of the live bands or DJs.

Of course there are more great spots in Havana and if you’re looking for a salsa or reggaeton club, you can go to the Casa de la Música, el Café Cantante or 1830, a restored colonial palace.

Best place to stay

Casa del Palo
Casa del Palo
For the best experience in Havana and Cuba in general, it is best to stay at a “Casa Particular” that means Private House or B&Bs rented by locals. The Casa Particulares require a special license and some of them have really high standards. My tip is to book your first one and let them recommend you others if you go travelling through the island. You will find some B&Bs as restored colonial houses, mansions and restored wood houses, like the Casa de Palo in Havana’s best neighbourhood to stay in – Vedado.

A lot of the places can be found on AirBnB. The Casa Particulares give you a great chance to get in touch with Cubans and receive a five-star family treatment, like in Villa Lola, also in the Vedado neighbourhood in Havana. You will be able to swap stories with the hosts over a delicious Cuban coffee.

Best spot for shopping

Shopping in Cuba might be a little different than in other places: no big chains but a lot of artisanal products and creative minds. There are arts and crafts markets like the Feria San José in an old warehouse in Havana’s port but also more and more locals are opening shops and selling unique products. The best example is the shop Clandestina in old Havana, right by the Plaza de Christo. Clandestina was opened by a young designer and they sell unique t-shirts and prints to fight against tacky souvenirs. They have a collection with recycled goods, t-shirts with unique phrases, bags and many other pieces of art. The shop is popular among locals and tourists.

Another unique shop is Alma Cuba, in the Miramar neighbourhood; they sell selected products from craft makers and entrepreneurs from all over Cuba. There you can find everything from handmade books to natural soaps with Cuban fragrances, like coffee and coconut.

Best areas to wind down and enjoy nature

Staying a couple of days in Havana does not mean you have to stick to the city the whole time. If you want to see something different, you can take the T3 bus from the Parque Central (right by the capitol) that takes you to the beaches east of Havana. Get off at Santa María and you are at a long beach with clear water and white sand. Yes, the full holiday feeling.

You can also take a day trip to Viñales to discover the tobacco fields and some unique scenery to unwind. Another beautiful, not that popular place is the botanical garden in Havana. It is huge and even has a vegetarian restaurant inside that offers organic Cuban dishes without any meat.

Personal Blog: https://locallyabroad.com/

How to get there

There are no direct flights from Malta to Havana, though all the major airlines offer flights from central Europe. Turkish Airline offer flights to Havana with a short layover in Istanbul.

Best time of year to visit

The best time to visit Cuba is from the end of the year, December, to the beginning of the rainy season that tends to start any time from April, May and into June. August, September and October are probably the worst times to go to Cuba due to potential hurricanes, especially close to beach resorts.

Currency

Major foreign currencies can be exchanged into the local currency – the peso convertible – to make purchases while you’re there. Cuban currency is NOT traded internationally, so you can’t buy it in advance. You buy it when you arrive in Cuba.

Visas

To be allowed into Cuba you must have a 30 day visa, a valid passport and a return ticket.

rachelzc
Rachel Zammit Cutajar graduated in economics from the University of Malta...
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