Cuba

Quick guide to exploring Havana like a local

Havana is usually compared to stepping inside a time bobble. The old 50s cars on the streets, the old colonial houses and people sitting in their doorway chatting to their neighbor. Life has another speed here. However, it can also be a little bit difficult to figure out how everyday life actually is lived here. How can you get a taste of living and exploring Havana like a local?

 

In this guide, I will take you through the everyday life and customs of the dusty streets of the Cuban capital, and give you my best tips on how to explore Havana like a local!

I spent four months in Havana walking through the streets of Centro Habana toward the university of Havana in Vedado. Even though, it was back in 2014, when I visited again last summer not a lot seemed to have changed. So, I hope my tips can still be useful for you. I don’t know if a completely white European like me can ever really become Habanero (a person from Havana) but the closest I got was this ID card! But then again, they took it from me in the airport. Not so Habanero after all. Sad, sad!

 

Well, let’s get started on the guide!

1) Don't pay a fortune for renting one of those old cars – get the real Havana in a máquina

A classic tourist trap in Havana is driving along the seaside drive Malecón in one of those renovated old 50s car. But let's face it; the Cubans don't do that! Instead they use the older less-renovated 50s cars you see around town as transportation. Taxi collectivos or simply máquinas as they are called by Cubans, run in a net all over the city. They have more or less fixed routes, and along these routes people will stop them and ask for a ride. The car quickly get fill up (or something overfilled) with people who doesn't know each other but just need a ride. A little bit like a small version bus. Click here to read more on how to use Havana’s collective taxis.

A misconception of many visiting Cuban is that these maquinas are only for Cubans. I have never been denied to enter or anything, and you get a so much more authentic feeling for Cuba. Enjoy, and have a great ride!

2) La Habana Vieja isn't everything 

The old part of Havana is cute, vibrant and all that! But! But it is just representative for Havana. The Cuban state has in recent years invested a lot of money in renovating La Habana Vieja. And yes, it is beautiful, and El Capitolio is nice. For sure, you should spend time exploring this part of the city. Havana Vieja is truly the touristic center, and the prices are as follow. But it is not all of Havana. Very far from everything actually. And it doesn't just a part of how living standards are for the common Habanero.

So, get out of the touristic comfort zone of Havana Vieja, and hit on the dusty roads to Centro Habana and relaxing Vedado (keep on reading to #2 and #3). Havana Vieja starts at Parque Central leading downwards towards the harbor side through calle Obispo (check out the interactive map below to get an overview).

3) Walk the dusty roads of Centro Habana

In Centro Habana you will experience a complete different everyday life than in Havana Vieja. The buildings there aren't new-renovated or recently painted but old, dilapidated with the painting fall off and doors hard to open.

It has this own charm. People sitting in their doorways, talking with their neighbors, shouting at acquaintances passing by or buying a cafecito (more on cafecitos later) from a café in a window of somebody's home. The streets are broken. When the máquinas pass by filled the passengers, you hear how mental crashes against mental everytime the car falls down in a hole in the street. Head to Centro Habana to get lost on the small side streets, and explore your own little hidden gem of the real way life is lived in Havana.

When you stand on Parque Central with calle Obispo behind you, in the right corner you will have the beginning of calle Neptuno, and the beginning of Centro Habana. 

Centro Habana lies alongside the seaside drive, Malecón (continue reading for more on the Malecón). So, in case you get really lost just hit toward the Malecón to orientate.

4) Enjoy the quietness of Vedado

If you continue straight ahead on calle Neptuno, you will end up at the University of Havana located in the Vedado neighborhood. Vedado is in most parts a quieter area of Havana but that doesn’t make it less worth visiting!

Scroll around the streets parallel to calle 23 heading towards the street of Paseo, and you will see some beautiful colonial houses with small gardens in front. A local market. And even a school.

Check out the massive hotel Habana Libre which used to be a Hilton hotel. After the Revolution in 1969 it was turned into the revolutionary headquarter. Nowadays it has return to be a hotel.Just behind Habana Libre there has recently been popping all kind of all restaurants and bars up with a lot more modern design than you usually see in the state-owned restaurants around the city. Check out my post about this area of Vedado here.

The university itself is worth a visit. From the top of the stairs, you have an amazing view down the street of San Lazaro towards the Malecón. The inside of the university is a beautiful little park.

Calle 23 is a traffic hotspot in Vedado, and it is a great spot for catching a máquina to almost anywhere in the city. Calle 23 also connects with the Malecón so you might be lucky to catch a máquina toward the Malecón, and get a part of that touristic drive on the Malecón in your own a la Cubano way.

5) Spent an evening sitting at the Malecón drinking rum, Cristal or Bucanero

Apart from helping you to orientate when you get lost in Centro Habana, the seaside drive of Malecón is very popular among Habaneros during the evening. Head down there around sunset to get some amazing photos, and then just settle down with a bottle of rum or some of the local beers, Cristal and Bucanero.

Little by little the fence towards the water will fill up by young Cubans holding in hands and kissing away from the glance of their families, older couples taking an evening scroll, and others trying to earn a little extra by selling all kinds of things from sweets to plastic roses. Relax and take it all in as the Cubans do. Enjoy the view over the sea and the forces of the waves. Watch the people walking by. Just be.

6) Do exchange your CUC to CUP, and go shopping at the local market or by the street vendors

Okay, I know it! The internet is full of blogposts and articles about Cuba’s two-currency system (the CUC and the CUP-thing). And don’t worry, I will not bore you with a long description of it.

It is simple: 1 USD is equal to 1 CUC which is then equal to 25 CUP (or pesos nacionales as they are more commonly known as).

However, in my opinion, it is a myth that the pesos nacionales only are for Cubans. I have never had problems getting them exchanged. The trick is that you need to ask for it. If you go to the CADECAs (Casas de Cambio) and ask directly for pesos nacionales, you will most likely get it. If you don’t, the sweet employees there will just give you the CUC (they aren’t stupid, right?).

So, get some of your money exchanged and hit the streets to enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables sold by street vendors and at the local markets around Havana. That’s where you really get to experience the local life in Havana. Just remember not to ask for a papaya, right

7) Walk in the middle of the street with no worries... 

... just kidding! You do need to watch out for the cars…

The pavement in Havana isn't the greatest, and especially not if you go outside the tourist area. And for that reason (and people sitting in the doorways) Habaneros don't use the pavement. They simple just walk in the middle of the street. Stop for a chat, shout something at somebody they know.

So, if you want the really Cuban experience, get used to walking in the middle of the street

Apart from the cars, you need to watch out for the people taking their cake for a walk (confused? You will understand when you have been to Centro Habana…)

8) Take a bici taxi to la puerta de tu casa – but do negotiate the price!

There are a lot… I mean A LOT of bike cycle taxis (bicitaxis) in Havana. Most of them shouting at you that they will take you to la puerta de tu casa (right to your doorstep). A phrase that has almost become a synonym for bicitaxis in Havana.

The Cubans do use the bicitaxis, so they are not just for the use of tourist. The drivers are, though, very desperate to catch a tired tourist. Since they know that they can charge a lot more with a tourist than with the Cubans. So, therefore you dump in, please negotiate your price! I was not so fond of the bicitaxis as I get too tired of the aggressive male drivers trying the flirt with me, and having to negotiate the price every time. I'm more on the máquinas.

9) If you are a woman, get prepared and use to Cuban men's catcalling (pilear in Cuban Spanish)

This leads us perfectly to the next point: if you are woman (sometimes also for men), you will have to get used to the catcalling in the streets of Havana!

It is heavy! And if you are not used to it from your home country, it can be very annoying. The more foreign-looking you are (or the more yuma you are as the Cubans will say), the more striking and noticeable you will be in the streets of Havana. And, the more attention and catcalling you will get. My simple rule is that you don't need to talk with everybody talking to you in the street (accounts for all Latin American countries!). Just simply just keep on walking, don't look at them, don't do anything. And they will leave you alone.

I had a professor at the university , who told us that some Cuban women (especially younger ones) would dress extra up before going out on the street. Just so that they were sure to receive some catcalling from the men. For me this was in some way shocking and fascinating. I just wanted to shout that them all to tell them to leave me alone and don't see me as an object… Should I actually be flatted? I don't think I will ever be. But it is part of Cuban culture, and that's want you are coming to experience, right?

10) Start your morning with a cafecito

Cubans love to share a cafecito. And there is no better way to wake up in the morning than with one of those small cups of very strong coffee with a lot of sugar. At least not if you want it the Cuban way. Most of the small cafées in the window of somebody's home sell those small cups of coffees for around 1 CUP. Just stop by, ask for a café or cafecito, you will get it and drink it quickly and continue your walk with an extra energy boost.

Cafecito is the diminutive of café. Cubans seems to adore making things in diminutive. And well, then it is a small cup of coffee, so it is just spot on.

11) Spend a day relaxing at Playa del Este

The noise and chaos of Havana can get too much even for the Cubans, so in the weekends during the summer many escape for Playa del Este (the East Beach) to relax, swim and drink rum with friends and family.

There is a tourist bus leaving from Parque Central which will take you out to the main beaches east of Havana. It is easy and convenient, and a great day trip from the city. It is possible to take a shared taxi out there but the taxi drivers are beginning to understand that it is good business to charge the tourists a lot more than the Cubans, so the price benefit for doing this compared to the bus is closing.

12) Go only to Callejon de Hamel if you are trying to sell something to the tourists

Ooh, ups! We are the tourists… Anyway, go there and try to sell something to the other tourist? No? Okay, just kidding!

Callejon de Hamel is a one big tourist trap not located in Havana Vieja. I hardly heard of Cubans going to hang out. It might just be me… During the weekend, there is usually some kind of music performance which can be fun to watch. But still… It feels very touristic.

13) You have to eat arroz y frijoles for dinner at least once – and properly together with carne de cerdo and plátano frito

You can’t come to Cuba without trying arroz y frijoles (rice and beans) at least once! It is as simple as that! Rice and beans is an essential part of the Cuban cuisine. Even though it might seem a bit boring, if you find the right place where you can get a good homemade portion, it can be quite tasty (if you are staying in a casa particular, try to ask there).

There are two versions of how to get it: separated rice and then the beans in a kind of sauce or mixed all together. Both can be nice, and then it is very Cuban! You want to experience Havana like a local, right?

Since beef is exclusively for tourists and export (read more about things nobody tells you about Cuba) for the Cubans the rice and beans usually come with either pork or chicken. And, if you are lucky there will also be fried bananas (plátano frito) on the side! Hmm. Then, you have the complete menu for a Cuban dinner!

14) For a fancy night out be cultural, and check out Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC)

Fábrica de Arte Cubano is museum-club-cultural center located in the far end of Vedado (check out the interactive map for its location). It opened about 3 years ago, and has grown ever since.

It is quite different from other cultural activities in Havana as it provides a more modern approach to Cuban culture. It offers all kind of cultural activities; concerts, exhibitions, interviews, fashion shows etc. Check out their Facebook or website beforehand to find out what is on the agenda.

Fábrica is a complete must if you want to experience some contemporary Cuban art.

And then they just got nominated for Caribbean's Leading Entertainment Venue 2017 by World Travel Award! How cool it that? Give them a vote here!

15) For the quieter night, finish the day off in a real Cuban style with a bit of baseball or telenovela in la televisión

Even though Cubans are famous for being big time music and party people, many Cubans families end of the day in front of the television with the latest baseball match or the new episode of the recent telenovela (soap opera).

Baseball (or pelota as the Cubans call it) is crazy-insanely popular in Cuba. Everybody has an opionion about the matches, their favorite team etc., etc. Maybe it is because I'm not from the US that I don't understand the passion for baseball. Or maybe it is because I'm not a sport fanatic at all that I don't get it… Anyhow, it is pure Cuban culture!

By the way: the team from Havana is called Industriales. All the rest teams more or less have the name according to their city of origin.

Around 9 pm, the streets of most residential areas are mostly empty. It is time of the its night's episode of the recent telenovela. Nobody wants to miss it! So, head to the living room of your casa particular, and ask your host family if you can join them for a real Cuban night-in.

In the end my quick guide became pretty comprehensive...

Anyway, what do you think about it? Did you get a good introduction to how to experience Havana like a local? Or have you maybe been to Havana and think I miss something? Feel free to share your thoughts and tips below!
Looking for more stuff about Cuba? Find it here!
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Quick guide to las máquinas de La Habana

How to use the collective taxis in Havana?

Cuba’s properly most well-known and popular asset are the old 50s cars. A classic tourist activity in Havana is to rent one of those iconic cars and go for a drive on the seaside drive, Malecón.

However, the cars are not only for tourists. The old 50s cars are used all around the island as taxi collectivos or máquinas as the Cubans call them. Their function can best be compared with a small version bus. In Havana, they run in a comprehensive net of routes all over the city. And you can easily jump on for a ride!

The old 50s cars in Cuba are not just for tourists. The Cubans use them as collective taxis – or máquinas as they are called – and you can jump on for a ride!
Getting on a máquina

It works the way you place yourself on the side of the street in the direction you want to go, when you see one of the older cars with a little taxi-sign in the window, you pull out your hand to signal that you would like to go with them.

Don't be offered if the car doesn't stop, it usually means that it is full. Sometimes the driver pulls out his hand on show you a half-open upright-facing hand (a bit like a cup). This means the car is already full. But mostly they will just drive pass you.

If the car stops, quickly approach the driver by addressing him by the window or opening the door and ask:

¿Para donde vas? or ¿Vas a/por…(place the name of the street your what to go to)?

If your Spanish is a rusty, go for the ¿Vas por…? as this only requires you to understand a or no. If you receive a quickly drop in, and you will be on your way.

The old 50s cars in Cuba are not just for tourists. The Cubans use them as collective taxis – or máquinas as they are called – and you can jump on for a ride!
The old 50s cars in Cuba are not just for tourists. The Cubans use them as collective taxis – or máquinas as they are called – and you can jump on for a ride!
Getting off

You will need to tell the driver yourself when you want to get off. So, you are still not so used to the streets of Havana, I recommend that you use the offline version of your map on the phone or start out using the máquinas to a place you can recognize. For example, from Vedado to Parque Central.

When you approach the place you want to get off, kindly tell the driver so. If you are in the back of the car, you will properly need to shout for the driver to hear you. Approach him with:

Déjame allá en la esquina, por favor or ¿Puedes dejarme en la próxima esquina?

Before he stops, ask him the price. The price will always be in CUP/pesos nacionales. All the máquinas charge the same price, so it is only need to ask the first time you use it. When I visited the price per person was 25 CUP (=1 CUC) within the main areas of Havana, and a little more if you are going further. But double check by asking.

The old 50s cars in Cuba are not just for tourists. The Cubans use them as collective taxis – or máquinas as they are called – and you can jump on for a ride!

Using the máquinas, of course, requires a minimum knowledge about the streets of Havana. However, the máquinas usually drive on the bigger roads in the city.

My advice is start out catching one in the beginning of calle Neptuno by Parque Central towards the university or calle 23. Or the other way, going from the university down San Lazaro towards Parque Central.

Since both the Parque Central and the university are good landmarks easy to recognize from the backseat of a car. The dialog would be something like this: 

From calle Neptuno¿Vas para la universidad o calle 23?

From the university/San Lazaro¿Vas para Parque Central?

The old 50s cars in Cuba are not just for tourists. The Cubans use them as collective taxis – or máquinas as they are called – and you can jump on for a ride!

 

A misconception of many visiting Cuban is that these máquinas are only for Cubans. I have never been denied to enter or anything, and you get a great authentic feeling for Cuba.

Enjoy, and have a great ride!

The old 50s cars in Cuba are not just for tourists. The Cubans use them as collective taxis – or máquinas as they are called – and you can jump on for a ride!
Cuban slang you should know before visiting Cuba

10 phrases of Cuban slang you should know before visiting Cuba

Are you planning a visit Cuba, and don’t you want feel like a complete lost foreigner? Wouldn't it be nice to understand a little bit more of what is going on around you?

Even if you understand some basic Spanish, it can be very hard to make sense of Cuban Spanish . Then, these 10 phrases of Cuban slang might be very useful for you, and help your interacting with the Cubans.

However, take this only as guide lines to help you understand. There is a delicate balance between when it is and isn't appropriate to use most of the phrases. And sometimes the expression can become a lot stronger when a foreigner use them than when Cuban do. As foreigners we might not get the right emphasis in the word or use them in an incorrect context.

So, just a word on caution to be a little careful before you jump out in using the expressions yourself. That said! Let's get started:

1) ¿Qué vola? is a bit like "What's up?" or “how is it going?”

An extremely popular and common greeting in Cuba is to say ¿Qué vola?.  It is though very informal, and mostly used among friends. When walking the streets of any Cuban city, you can be certain to hear this phrase many times. ¿Qué vola, hermano?

Nobody is completely sure where it comes from. Thus, several times I heard the explanation that it is a baseball term which somehow got transferred into colloquial Cuban language. The explanation is that at baseball matchs when the ball is flying through the air, the crowd should apparently shout: que voolaa ("how it flies" from the Spanish verb volar).

As most Hispanics don't have a pronounceable difference between how v and b, you might as well see it spelled like qué bola

2) Yuma is foreigner

If you are just half as  white as me, you will most likely hear that phrase used about you. For Cubans yuma is another and more common way of saying yankie - or white foreigner. 

It doesn’t direct mean anything bad. However, most Cubans are not used to foreigners knowing this slang. So, they might be saying unpleasant things about you using yuma to refer to you. If you come about revealing for them that you actually did understand that they were talking about you, they will mostly likely be very surprised - and possibly a bit ashamed as well.

3) Asere/Acere is friend 

Asere is a Cuban way of saying amigo – or friend. It can be spelled both with s or with c.

Oye, asere, ¿Qué vola la yuma esta?

4) Pinga is… Well,  a multifunctional word (keep on reading)

Well, well it this is a word with mutual usages and meanings. Literally translated it refers to the male genital organ.

However, conjugated in a wide variety of ways and placed into all sort of different contexts, it can mean anything from "it is horrible" (está de Pinga), "amazing" (empinagado), "what the hell is up with you" (qué Pinga te pasa a tí)… And, well, the list just continues.

If you have bit of more Spanish background knowledge, this video explains almost all the different usages I have heard of while in Cuba:

 

However, a word of warning: This is a very informal way of expressing one self and mainly used among friends. You should therefore not use it among people that you don't know as it will be taken as rude.

Generally, for a Scandinavian like me, Cubans tend to shout and swear a lot more when they a making fun with each other than I’m used to. But when they are serious and talking quiet there are usually big problems.

5) Candela is to be on fire

Candela basically means candle but it is mostly used as "fire", "on fire" or "flame". When used about persons it can either mean that the person is super-hot or a troublemaker (ella está candela).

You can also hear it in the exclamations: ¡Qué candela! which depending on the context can be either a positive or a negative meaning of "how great" or "how awful".

6) Papaya versus fruta bomba

The fruit that in most other countries is known as papaya, is in Cuba called fruta bomba (the bomb fruit).

Why is that? Well, because in Cuba papaya means... vagina… Now you know, so watch out what you are asking for at the market!

7) Agua is not water  –  at least not only

True, true, in plain Spanish agua means water. However, in Cuba it is also used as a type of exclamation for something incredible good. ¡Agua!

8) Coger botellas is the Cuban term for hitchhiking

The closest you get to a Cuban term for hitchhiking is coger botellas. It means going to the stoplights to stop cars and ask for a free ride.

In Havana it is not so common anymore due to the many competing taxi whose method of picking people up is basically the same.

9) Ser un mango is to be a mango… No, okay?

To be a mango (ser un mango) is in Cuba used to express that a person is very good looking or hot: la chica es una mango e.g. the girl is hot.

10) Pincha is to work

Pincha means work, and can be used both as a subjective: no hay pincha (e.g. there is no work) and as verb: estoy pinchando (I'm working).

So, ¿Qué vola, asere? (do you remember what that means? 🙂 )
Did you learn some new words for your Cuba trip?
Or have you maybe already been to Cuba? Is there any Cuban slang you I missed out on? Please share your thoughts and knowledge below!
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10 phrases of Cuban slang you should know before visiting Cuba
10 phrases of Cuban slang you should know before visiting Cuba
10 things nobody tells you about Cuba

10 things nobody tells you about Cuba

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. It is a Cuba that we don’t see with the bare eye. A Cuba that most visitors don’t see and don’t know about.

So, to help you get a deeper insight into Cuba, and everyday life here. I have put to Therefore, I put together this list of things I believe nobody tells you about Cuba:  

After saying more than four months in Cuba, I believe I have seen a thing or two. However, there are so many more things unknown in Cuba. So, if you have anything to add, an experience or anything, please share it in comments!

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
1) I have never done so many illegal things in my whole life

Everything is so controlled and regulated that I have never done so many illegal things in my whole life as my 4 months on Cuba. As foreigner, you can only legally rent the certain state-authorized casas particulares. So, when I rented a private apartment through the father of one of my Cuban friend, it had to be completely low key. I shouldn't open the door for anybody, I didn't know. I couldn't tell anybody... Oh no! I just told  you! Okay… It's only between you and me! DO NOT tell the Cuban state, okay? Oh no, they are properly already reading this post… Now I can't ever go back... No serious, what the Cuban state knows about you (foreigner or Cuban citizen) is crazy.

When I lived in a casa particular, the woman in the house told me that she had got a phone call from some state officer. The officer knew who she was dating, whom was staying with her in her casa particular (one white European looking girl (me) and two younger African looking girls). And he knew what we were going to the university for classes! How creepy is that? 

And, when I went in a private non-authorized taxi from Havana to Cienfuegos, the driver told me just to shut off if the police stopped us... As if me not speaking would cancel out the fact that my whole present screamed yuma (the Cuban slang word for foreigner)

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
2) Familiarize yourself with phrases such as no hay, no hay más or se abacó

If you are not so strong in Spanish and are planning to travel alone (or with others not speaking Spanish), do yourself the favor of familiarizing yourself with phrases such as: no hay, no hay más or se abacó meaning "there isn't more" and "it ended".

Material shortage is a reality in Cuba in all aspects; food, medicine, toiletries... You get it; EVERYTHING

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
3) Cuba and its relationship with the U.S.

Cuba was the last country to gain independence in Latin America from the Spanish empire. That was in 1898. However, so much for that independence; the Spanish colonial power handed over power to the U.S.

And, it was not until 1901 that Cuba adopted its first constitution as an independent state.

Nevertheless, that only lasted until 1906 when U.S. troops reoccupy Cuba after request from the Cuban president himself. At lasted until 1909 when the U.S. occupation ends… If you were doubting the historical relationship with the U.S.; yes, they high influnece each other. Read more about my view on the current changes in their relationship here.

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
4) Education system is free but the state decides where the newly-graduated should work 

Even though, the education system in Cuba is said to be free all the way up through university. Did you know that the first 2-3 years after graduating university, the Cuban state decides where the young Cuban professional should work?

The state can send them to anywhere on the island; close or far from family and friend. It doesn't matter, the state decides.

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
5) The younger generations choose jobs in low-qualified jobs over education

It is a common perception among Cubans that the younger generations choose jobs in low-qualified jobs such as taxi- or bicitaxi drivers over education. Simply, because they can earn a better income there than by becoming professionals.

One could say that this produces the reverse of the revolutions ambitions for free education to everyone. What does it matter to have free education if the economic situation only encourage people to stay in low-income jobs?

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
6) You can be sentenced to prison for killing a cow

 

You can be prisoned up to 25 years for killing a cow for private use. Almost all selling and buying for the meat is illegal in Cuba. The meat is exclusively for tourism and exportation.

7) It is difficult for health care professional to get the necessary equipment

Even though Cuba has a health care system well above the average of other countries with the same economy level, it is hard for the professional to get the equipment necessary. I have heard plenty of stories from Cubans working in health care, telling that they have had to "built" their own equipment.  The hygienic conditions aren't the best seen - for the same reason: lack of materials.

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
8) Remember to ask ¿Quién es última persona? or ¿Quién es última? when entering a queue 

When arriving to a queue, you will always have to ask ¿Quién es última persona? or ¿Quién es última? (who is the last person), somebody will mark that they are the last arrived and you will have to remember who they are as well as who is the person coming after you.

When you sort of know that the waiting is done all over the place; forget about some straight lines from the supermarkets in other countries.

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
9) And then; get used to queuing!

And, you have to get used to queuing – as in queuing a lot!

I once (back in 2014) waited for two hours to get inside one of the state-owned ETCSA internet cafes. And, another other time 1.5 hour to get to withdraw money at the Casa de Cambio (CADECA). And then, just as I got inside the electricity of the whole block went off...

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
10)... Leading to the next point; get used to electricity shot downs.

Apart from if you are not staying in the all-inclusive resort (which the Cuban state has been so smart to supply good with electricity), anywhere around the island sudden and without reason electricity cuts are the norm.

It has become even more frequent now due to the political crisis in Venezuela and the "little" oil-issue Cuba has with Venezuela. Beforehand, Venezuela and Cuba were good amigos, and exchanged Cuban doctors for Venezuelan oil. That went quiet well…

Until… Venezuela entered a political and economic crisis, and cut the exchange with Cuba. No more free oil to Cuba! It has taken hard on Cuba, especially cutting down supply of oil and complicating the transportation possibilities of many Cubans.

There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
Have you visited Cuba or are you planning to go? Were there anything in the list that you didn't know? Or maybe, that you did know? Please share your thoughts in the comments below! All inputs are more than welcome - I answer everybody 🙂 
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There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50’s cars. Get insight with these 10 things that nobody tells you about Cuba!
morning ride through Ciego de Ávila, Cuba

Morning ride through Ciego de Ávila, Cuba

When I visited the town of Ciego de Ávila in the central part of Cuba a couple of months ago, I pulled myself together one morning around sunrise and took my camera on a horse carriage ride in the best Cuban style through the city.

Early mornings are without doubt one of the best time to get an authentic view at everyday life in the country you are visiting. Because isn't that a part of why we travel? To see how other people live their lives and get a better understanding of their culture and everyday? At least, that is one of the big reasons why I travel.

 

Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.

 

And then the bonus about early morning is, of course, that the lighting at sunrise is astonishing

The shots that came out of that, I have collected in this photo itinerary, and I hope they will give you a insight on what Cuban life in Ciego de Ávila is like on a morning whatever. Enjoy!

 

Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.

 

Biking to work, school... Basically, biking anywhere

Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.
Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.
Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.

 

For a morning chat...

Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.
Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.

 

The sun rises over the roofs of classic communist Cuban building blocks and the writing on the wall tells people to take part in a program for educating their children ('Participa en el programa Educa a tu hijo').

Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.

 

The view from the horse carriage as the sun colors the houses...

Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.

 

And with that also my recommendation to you to get out of bed early, even though you are travelling, and take your camera for a walk through the city you are visiting. The rest of the world does not stop just because we are travelling, people continue their everyday life.

Happy shooting!

 

Waiting to sell the daily breakfast...

Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.
 
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Through this unique photo itinerary of a morning in Ciego de Ávila (Cuba) you get a special insight to the authentic everyday Cuban life.
Has Cuba changed? 5 reason of for better and for worse

Has Cuba changed? 5 reasons of for better and for worse

I visited Cuba for the first time two and a half years ago in the beginning of 2014. By the end of that same year U.S. president Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro announced that negotiation on normalizing the relations between the two cold war enemies would begin.

It was big news. It even reached the news in my part of cold Northern Europe where news about Latin America is rare. In many parts of the world people seem to believe that Cuba is changing due this new relation to the U.S. However, after experiencing how controlled and inefficient this country is, my hopes were quiet low.

Therefore, my feelings are mixed about returning Cuba here two years after. How much would actually have changed? Would it have changed for better or for worse?

Here are my 5 reasones for how Cuba has changed for the worse or for the better:

Blond girl and blue car in Cuba
1) Oil prices and Venezuela

The first thing that strikes me, is how everybody in Cuba talks about Venezuela. Venezuela is an old Cuban ally. Under Charvez Venezuela and Cuba were in front when it came to critizing the US.

However, nowadays Venezuela is on everybody's lips for another reason. Over the last few months life has become more complicated in Cuba due to the politicial and economic crisis in Venezuela.

Beforehand Cuba and Venezuela had the favorable deal of exchanging Cuban doctors for Venezuelan oil. For Cuba this meant that the Cuban state did not have to buy oil in the international oil market but could supply the population with oil from Venezuela and in exchange sent Cuban well-educated doctors to Venezuela.

The political crisis made the Venezuelan state stop this deal, leaving the Cuban government with the need of buying oil at the international market at standard price. So how is this effecting everyday life for the Cuban population?

Old red 50-style American car, Cuba
2) The transportation in Cuba

The Venezuelan crisis affects directly on transportation in Cuba. State-run gas stations in Cuba have not increased the price but they simply cannot supply the amount of oil demanded by the poplution. Therefore, many people have to turn to the illegal oil market to get the oil they need for consumption. And here prices have increased.  Since it is the illegal market it is not reported in the media or anywhere according to the Cuban state there is no problem with the oil prices.

Nevertheless, the Cuban state has cut down local bus lines to save the resources which makes it dificult for ordinary Cubans to get around. No problem, you say?

Biking in Cuba

At the same time the shared taxis running within and between many cities and villages (called “máquinas” by the Cubans) suffer under the decreased supply by state-run gas stations and the increased oil price at the illegal market. It makes their business more expensive having to buy oil on the illegal market but they cannot rely on the supply in the gas gations.

This has decreased the amount of “máquinas” running. For example, there are less "máquinas" at night time in Havana, and between the smaller villages around the island. This affects everyone with the need to commute; whether it is for pleasure or for work.

Taxi car Cuba
3) Increased tourism from the U.S. in Cuba

Over the last years the amount of U.S. tourists has increased by almost the double, and undoubtedly this has increased income for some Cubans. However, it is important to mention that this is an sector designed to give preferential treatment to retired military staff.

This creates, firstly, a strong initiative for supporting and being loyal to the state, and secondly, that the economic flows are biased towards the parts of the society with an interest in maintaining status quo of the current government. The new opening towards the U.S., in my opinion, only enforces this.

Fortunately, over the last years the Cuban government has opened up towards allowing private smaller businesses within the tourist sector such as for example restaurants and bars, read more about this here. However, this has nothing to do with the opening toward the U.S.

Cuban military and tourism
4) WIFI spots

One of the biggest changes on behalf of the state is properly the establishment of several WIFI spots in the bigger cities. However, do not mistake this: it is not free WIFI spots!

A limited amount of one hour can be purchased for approximately $2 (2 CUC), which is still an immense amount for a standard Cuban salary of approximately $20-$30.  Nevertheless, many Cubans are using the new possibility to connect with family and friends abroad, since almost every Cuban family is missing a member now living abroad

5) Family visits

And regarding family member living abroad is where the new diplomatic relations towards the U.S. really has made a difference. The travel sanctions have been loosen up, and a total of 12 categories of travel purpose have been allowed. This includes family visits. And this is a big deal because it makes it possible for Cubans living in the U.S. or now U.S. citizens to visit Cuba legally.  However, travels to Cuba for touristic purpose remain prohibited.

Read more about Cuban citizens special migrational status in the U.S. here.

Everyday there are many small changes happening in Cuba. Some for the better, some for the worse. And honestly, to the bare eye nothing has changed significantly in Cuba since I last time visited.

The new relations with the U.S. have had very little impact of everyday life in Cuba. The Venezuelan political crisis, and the subsequent increasing oil prices at the island, are generally affecting more significantly on everyday life than the increased amount of U.S. tourists and the new WIFI spots.

And finally, the U.S. trade embargo remains in place, which means that most transaction between the U.S. and Cuba still are prohibited. There is a long way to go.

Have you currently visited Cuba? Did I miss some changes that you experienced or heard off? Feel free to comment your experiences below.

Moto bike in Cuba
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Has Cuba changed? 5 reasons of for better and for worse - Becci Abroad
What to do in Havana: feel the modern vibe in Vedado

What to do in Havana: feel the modern vibes while dinning in Vedado

The neighborhood of Vedado seems to be a melting pot for the few changes visible in Cuba. I spent a lot of time two years ago, since the linguistic faculty of the University of Havana is located here. A part from the improvement of a WIFI connection in most part of Calle 23 towards El Malecon, there are several privately based improvements around this area:

Plaza Vedado

One of the changes I encountered was a small square of privately own restaurants, shops, bares, and even a playing ground for children. Under a year ago it was an abandon parking lot, today a lively modern meeting spot. The modern design and clean cuts in the architecture stand in clear contrast to the old houses with a clear need for renovation in its surrounding.

The nice waiter in one of the restaurants explained that the Cuban state around a year ago chose to sell the abandon parking lot to various private investors with the aim of recreating a variety for shops and restaurants. He smiles shyly when he comments that it properly is not such a big deal with private investments where I come from but in Cuba it is a big deal. Only a couple of years ago it was almost impossible to think of a project like this becoming true through private investment.

The Cuban state sits heavily on most businesses around the island, however, few years ago it opened up for the possible of establishing smaller private businesses.  The private restaurants, or “las particulares” as the Cuban calls things not been stateowned, can highly compete with the poor standard in many of state-run restaurants. The waiters are nice and polite, and the food and drinks are on a complete other level. The square in Verdado is a recent example of this.

A cross the street from the square, you can find another great example of these new private restaurants. “La Paila” is located on the stop of a little hill which gives it a nice little view and on hot days a pleasant breeze. They offer a great variation of food for a decent price.    

Location: Behind Hotel Habana Libre, Calle 25 between Calle M and Calle N.

Fabrica de Arte Cubano

A place I visited frequently two years ago is “Fabrica de Arte Cubano” (FAC); a by then newly opened museum-club-cultural center in the far end of Vedado. For me FAC was my first encounter with this new modern private movement in Cuba. As a friend of mine said back then: “It could be in Europe…”.  And yes, it certainly lives up to many of the standards European culture melt pots offer. Here two years after FAC has expanded with several rooms for dancing, shows… well, basically anything. The private investment and alternative (for Cuba!) approach of combining culture and bars appear to have been a success.

Location: Calle 26 on the corner of Calle 11, and Facebook here.

However, do not overdo these changes. The state is still sitting heavily on most businesses, and has a last say in many questions. Stories floating about how offers from private businesses have been turned down in favor of a state-run business offer, even though the private offer was of same quantity and a cheaper price. Rumors claim it is because the state does not want people to get too much money between their hands. However, the truth is hard to know.

What to do in Havana: feel the modern vibe in Vedado

A Cuban village from within. This is the Cuba you usually don’t see

Cuba is not Vedado. Cuba is not Havana Vieja. Cuba is not only touristic resorts a stone throw from plain white beaches. Cuba is not renovated beautiful colonial houses. Or Cuba is at least not only that...

Cuba is Encrucijada: a village as of many others all around the island. It is nothing special. Nothing special to visit, nothing special to do. And therefore, you will never have any tourists visiting here. Encrucijada is a village that most tourists visiting the Caribbean island never experience.

Here there is no extra income from tourism to sweeten the life. Here the reality of years of terrible macroeconomic management and embargo  is lived every day, even though “no es fácil” (e.g. it is not easy) as the Cuban say.

Encrucijada is the Cuba where almost nothing is frown out and everything can be repaired and re-sold. It is the Cuba, where the electricity is cut off without motive in the middle of the day, and where a cut-offs during the night are planned at federal level.

It is the Cuba where there is no water for a whole apartment block after 9pm because the tank on the roof of the building is empty. It is the Cuba, where air-condition is a luxury even though the summer months are unsupportable hot.

It is the Cuba where you can never be sure what aliments you can find, and where the most common phrase to hear during the day is “se acabó” (e.g. it is finished/sold out), and where you bring your own plastic bag when buying everything from sugar over rice to yoghurt.

It is Cuba, where the neighbor passes by to borrow water, sugar etc., because even though you did have the money to buy these things the shops are empty.

It is the Cuba where the common form of transportation is a horse carriage, and even finding a taxi to bring you to the nearby village is a challenge. It is the Cuba where the production of pigs and sugar is the main source of income of the majority of village, and where illegal businesses are ran in the shadow – even though everybody knows what is going on.

It is the Cuba, where you daily hear in the chatting on the street of acquaintances whom have been arrested by the police for one or the other more or less unknown reason.

It is the Cuba that many tourists do not see. This is the Cuba which is hidden away by strict regulations for the standards of the private touristic bed and breakfast styled casas particulares, where tourists seek to experience the authentic Cuban life.

However, the so-called “authentic Cuban life” is a lot harder than what is presented in the “casas particulares”. Encrucijada could just be any Cuban village. Encrucijada is Cuba, and this is reality that many Cubans live every day, and “no es facíl”.

“Cuba está en una encrucijada”

Cencrucijada1_wmuba is in a cross-way. The new diplomatic relations with the US and the political crisis in Venezuela have left Cuba in a cross-way. For many years Cuba exchanged well-educated doctors for oil with Venezuela. But the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela has partly cut down on this exchange, and made oil a spare resource.

At the same time the positive effects of the over a year old diplomatic opening with the US still have not manifested itself in the everyday life of most Cubans.

This leaves the population with the hope of better times but with an actual situation that every day gets more and more complicated because the instability in Venezuela. As a result the amount of buses between the villages in most parts of the island has been cut down by 50%, while it increasing oil prices makes it unaffordable for many taxi drivers to keep on with their business. This leaves it a challenge to find transportation between the villages, affecting the everyday life of Cubans living in one village whilst working in another.

Cuba is Encrucijada. Cuba is its “pueblitos” with people living, working and fighting every day. And Encrucijada is not always what tourists see