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Shopping in Havana

You may have heard from others who have taken a holiday in Cuba that Havana isn’t a particularly good shopping city, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, as more and more exciting shopping malls are popping up on every corner, Havana has become a more-than-satisfactory destination for shopaholics!

Here are some of the best places to find great bargains and amazing souvenirs to take back home.

The Boulevard, Calle San Rafael

Although the pedestrianised ‘El Bulevar’ really can’t compare to shopping streets in the United States or Europe, if you’ve booked Cuba accommodation in the Centro Habana district then you’ll get a front-row seat to this local shopping street. The 1950s vibe rings through the stalls of this street, and thanks to the low prices and cheap snacks, this shopping street has become a firm favourite of local Cubans, providing you with a very authentic and unique experience that you won’t find in the more westernised malls.

La Puntilla, Street A and 1st Avenue, Miramar

This may be one of the oldest shopping centres in Havana, but it’s also one of the biggest and one of the most comprehensive. By Cuban standards, this is one of the more upmarket places to shop, and there’s a pretty good supermarket here which is great for restocking the kitchen at your Havana villa. It’s an easy walk from the Vedado district, and you can’t miss it with its loud, bright blue exterior. Although the nightclub on the top floor is no more, there are still a lot of shops to explore at La Puntilla.

Galerías de Paseo, Calle Paseo

Located in the city’s Vedado district, this shopping centre is yet another that boasts a bright blue appearance, making it easy to spot from a distance. The mall is relatively small compared to La Puntilla, but it still has quite a lot of diversity inside, with shops covering three floors. There’s a supermarket, some sports shops, a few clothing stores, and even a car showroom! The best thing about this shopping centre is the cafe on the third floor (look closely and you might be able to see your Havana villa!).

Plaza Carlos III, Avenida Salvador Allende

If you’re looking for more of an American mall experience, then there’s no better place than Plaza Carlos III in Havana, which is one of 39 outlets across Cuba. Considered to be quite ‘flashy’, this is the place to pick up well-known brands like Adidas and Head, as well as sample some of the country’s most famous fast food items. What makes Plaza Carlos III really stand out, however, is that it has become one of just a handful of Cuban businesses that operates an e-commerce website, allowing Cubans to buy online.

Palacio de la Artesanía, Casa de Don Mateo Pedroso

Want to shop in one of the finest former homes in the Caribbean? The Spanish colonial-style Casa de Don Mateo Pedroso was originally built for the Pedrosos, one of Cuba’s most affluent families. Since then, the building has been used as a court, a jail, and even a police headquarters before becoming a market-style shopping centre. Today, this is one of the best places to pick up gifts and souvenirs, such as Cuban coffees and rums, t-shirts, local artwork, jewellery, and a range of antique books.


How to make the perfect Cubano sandwich

The Cuban sandwich is a staple in many homes in the Caribbean, and even further afield in the southern United States! While the origins of the ‘Cubano’ are highly debated, many agree that this variant on the classic ham-and-cheese sandwich was a quick and filling lunch for those working in Havana’s cigar factories and sugar mills, and eventually made its way to Miami by way of Cuban immigrants.

If you’re looking for a tasty and filling snack to whip up in your Havana villa, then here are the ingredients you will need:

  • Cuban bread (with a crusty outside and a fluffy centre with plenty of air pockets)
  • Olive oil (some people choose to use melted butter instead)
  • Mustard
  • Pork
  • Ham
  • Salami (debated by Cubano enthusiasts!)
  • Swiss cheese
  • Pickles (make sure they’re very thinly sliced)

Slice the bread lengthwise and lightly brush the middle with olive oil before adding mustard to both sides. Layer the fillings to assemble the sandwich. There are arguments over whether salami belongs in a traditional Cubano, but we say yes! Gently toast the bread in a panini press, lightly melting the cheese. Then dig in! It’s ideal to eat by the pool at your vacation villa in Havana after a long day!

Mojo-marinated pork

Making a Great Sandwich Better 

To make your Cubano even better, try making it with slow cooked, zingy mojo-marinated pork. You could even add lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, but be prepared to be frowned at by traditionalists! A Cuban sandwich is also great to make once you’re back home, bringing back all those great memories of your holiday in Cuba and mimicking the amazing tastes of your Caribbean islands vacations of the past. If you can’t find any Cuban bread back home, don’t worry; French and Italian breads are perfect replacements. ¡Buen provecho!


Havana’s best views

Wondering where to find the very best views of Havana? Here’s are our four top choices that are not to be missed!

La Guarida is a restaurant that’s often called the “Emblem of Havana.” It quickly shot to fame and became a top location for filming in Cuba, when it was featured in the 1994 movie Strawberry and Chocolate, and is now considered to be one of the city’s hippest celebrity hangouts. The view from the rooftop bar is absolutely spectacular, overlooking the colourful Central Havana and Old Havana neighbourhoods.

Havana Vieja

Cristo de la Habana, or the ‘Christ of Havana,’ is a tall statue similar to the famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There’s a great panoramic observation area at the statue, which offers breathtaking views across the city. The statue is located in Casablanca, so it’s a great place to watch the boats travelling in and out of the port and to see some of the more traditional homes in the Caribbean.

The Bacardi Building was once the headquarters for the Bacardi spirits company, although today it’s a blend of offices and abandoned glamour. It’s a prime example of Havana’s art deco architecture, but it’s mostly known for the incredible views from the central tower. Unfortunately, you can’t enjoy a Bacardi cocktail as you admire the views here, so you’ll need to save that for when you’re back at your Havana villa.

Bacardi building

El Cocinero is a popular bar that’s well worth a visit. If you want to see how a real Cuban home differs from the luxury vacation rental homes on the island, then this is a great place to enjoy a drink, as there are wonderful views across the Vedado residential neighbourhood, giving a glimpse into real Cuban life. You’ll need to walk up the twisty spiral staircase to access the rooftop viewing platform at the bar.


Catching the ferry in Havana

What’s the best way to get from your villa in Havana to Casablanca or Regla? While it’s possible to jump in a taxi and head through the Havana Tunnel, we think there’s an even better way: taking the ferry!

There are two main ferry routes in Havana, both leaving from the Havana Port near to the city’s famous artisan craft market. One travels north up to Casablanca, near the Che Guevara Museum, while the other travels southeast to Regla, ending up at the stunning Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Regla church.

Havana – Casablanca

The ferry to Casablanca leaves every 20 minutes or so. Casablanca tends to be quieter than nearby Havana, but a little livelier than Regla, and it’s often busiest in the mornings and evenings when visitors are either setting off for their day trip on the Hershey train or arriving back at the end of the day.

Havana – Regla

The ferry to Regla also departs approximately every 20 minutes. Regla itself is quiet and has a very local vibe; there are very few tourists here and, being quite a poor neighbourhood, there are not many vehicles on the roads. While there’s not a great deal to do here, photographers love Regla for its architecture and graffiti.

Practicalities

Havana is a very safe place to visit, and a part of that is because of a strong police presence. When you take the ferry in Havana, it is normal for bag searches to take place. To make this process quicker and less stressful, it is recommended that you leave any non-essential items back at your Havana holiday rental.

Remember that the ferries to both Casablanca and Regla depart from the same terminal, so make sure you join the correct queue! If you’re staying in a casa particular in Havana, your host may be able to help you out with some directions, but if not don’t be afraid to ask for help — Cubans are very friendly! 

Other Ferry Routes 

Now that taking a holiday in Cuba is easier thanks to fewer travel restrictions between Cuba and the United States, there has been a lot of talk about the introduction of a number of low-cost, high-speed ferries to the island. If plans continues, services are expected to begin running from both Key West and Port Everglades. 


Cuba or the Dominican Republic: Which is best for you?

Can’t decide where to take a Caribbean islands vacation? Unsure whether to rent a house in Cuba or book a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic? Let us help you choose what’s best for you! See below for factors to help you compare the two Caribbean getaways,

Nightlife

No matter where you go, you’ll always find a lively atmosphere in Cuba, a country that prides itself on its music, dancing, and discos. Said to be the ‘birthplace of the Mojito’, the island’s capital city, Havana, is a true nightlife hotspot, giving the likes of New York City a real run for its money!

There is plenty of nightlife in the Dominican Republic, too, although things to be a little tamer. Santo Domingo is very much an up-and-coming destination and has swapped its dive bars for sophisticated wine bars and well-equipped concert venues. Nightlife in Punta Cana is very much resort-style entertainment.

Winner: If you really want to let your hair down, rent a house in Havana, Cuba.

Beaches 

Although you can find absolutely stunning beaches along Cuba’s Varadero Peninsula, many travellers who stick to the central city of Havana won’t have many beach options available to them unless they hire a car. While Havana does have ‘urban beaches’, these are not your classic white Caribbean sands.

If it’s beaches you’re after, the Dominican Republic won’t disappoint. Punta Cana’s airport is conveniently located close to the resort town, with easy access to the 20-plus-mile stretch of golden sands. Santo Domingo has a few decent beaches, too, including Boca Chica, Playa Caribe, and Juan Dolio.

Winner: For great Caribbean beaches, opt for a villa with private pool in the Dominican Republic.

Shopping

With very few American influences in Cuba, it’s hard to find major stores or shopping malls here, even in Havana. However, shopping in Cuba is still a very fun experience! Be sure to check out the San Jose Warehouse near Havana Port, which is home to craft stalls set up by the local arts communities.

In the Dominican Republic, you’ll find bigger shops and department stores similar to what you may have back home. You might even find some of the world’s biggest brands here! The Agora Mall in Santo Domingo, for example, is home to Armani, Calvin Klein, Forever 21, L’Occitane, and MAC Cosmetics!

Winner: It’s a tie! Choose Cuba for local, handcrafted goods, and the Dominican Republic for big brands.


Cuba’s vibrant mix of cultures

We’ve already taken a quick look at Havana influences outside of Cuba–the famous ‘Little Havana’ neighbourhood of Miami, for example, and the mouthwatering Cuban sandwich–but how have other countries and other cultures influenced Cuba? What sort of influences will you see when you rent a villa in Cuba? For a nation that was essentially closed off for many years, it’s more diverse than you’d think!

Opt for a Dominican Republic vacation rental ,and you’ll see very distince Spanish influences, from the language to the unit of currency: the peso. Visit Tortola to find rows and rows of British-style fish and chip shops. The residents of St Thomas celebrate American Thanksgiving, while Dutch croquettes are on the menu in Curaçao. However in Cuba, influences aren’t quite as straightforward.

Although colonised by the Spanish in the 15th century, Cuba retained a heavily indigenous population and was famous for its rather unusual foreign policy under Castro which saw strong bonds form between Cuba and many African and South American countries. This history has helped Cuba become what it is today: a very diverse and colourful island that’s a true blend of customs, convention, and folklore.

There are lots of multicultural influences in everything from the Cuban food (see if you can spot a few Chinese aspects!) to the music, but some influences are much more obvious than others. No holiday in Cuba would be complete without a photograph of the classic, brightly coloured American cars lining the roadsides, while the Havana Cathedral is a prime example of Tuscan Baroque architecture.

Once upon a time, the Spanish-styled danzón would have been declared the national musical genre, but today many younger people would claim it’s the Caribbean reggaeton. Similarly, the national sport is officially American baseball, and yet European football really seems to be taking over. There really is nowhere else in the world with such a unique blend, and you can enjoy it all from your Cuba villa.


How to save money on your Havana holiday

A holiday in Cuba doesn’t have to cost as much as you think. Thanks to the low cost of living and affordable homes in the Caribbean, it’s generally advised that you only need to budget for 50 to 75 CUCs per person, per day. Here are some great ways to keep to your budget in Cuba.

Try Local Street Vendors
Depending on where you live, local street vendors may have a very good — or very bad — reputation. However, in Cuba street food is considered to be one of the favorite ways to experience local life. Not only that, but it’s also incredibly convenient and inexpensive, and you’re sure to find something delicious close to your Havana rental.

Drink at Old Town Bars
While the lively and energetic Cuban discos are famous all around the world, they can be costly. Instead, why not head to an Old Town bar for a great night and a truly authentic Cuban experience? For a bit of history, be sure to stop by El Floridita and La Bodeguita, said to serve up the best mojitos and daiquiris.

Book a Casa Particular in Havana
Rather than opting for a beachfront resort, think about booking a casa particular in Havana which can offer a more personal, more intimate holiday experience. You may have access to a full kitchen, which can be useful if travelling with children, and your casa host may be willing to share their local knowledge.

Take Your Own Tour
Unless you’re planning on travelling further afield or feel very uncomfortable getting around by yourself, there’s no reason why you couldn’t book your own walking tour of the city. The advantage is that you can start and end your tour at your villa in Havana, and can enjoy a stroll at your own pace.


All about Havana’s casa particulars

If you’re thinking of taking a holiday in Cuba, you may be considering staying in a casa particular in Havana. These private homes are a fantastic alternative for those who want a real Cuban experience and aren’t drawn to the idea of staying in a large international resort. However, as the casa particular in Havana is a very unique concept, many travellers naturally have questions about this type of lodging. So here’s your handy FAQ, telling you everything you need to know about this type of Havana accommodation.

Are Casa Particulares Located Across Cuba?

Although it is easy to find a casa particular in Havana, not all destinations in Cuba offer this type of accommodation. This is particularly true for locations dominated by big resorts, such as in Varadero.

 Do I Need to Book in Advance?

Although you do not need to book a casa particular in Havana before you set off, it is recommended you do so as Cuban immigration requires a local address where you can be contacted during your stay.

 Is There a Minimum Stay Requirement?

Caribbean Casas mandates a minimum stay of two nights at any of their casa particular in Havana. But upon prior authorization of the owner and if the accommodation is available, you may be able to stay for one night.

 What Documents Do I Need?

You will need a valid passport and visa to stay in a casa particular in Havana. This is for both the owner’s official registry, as well as for registration at the local immigration office. All documents will be returned.

 Are There Any Hidden Fees?

There are no additional fees for local registration, and use of advertised facilities and services should be covered by your agreed-upon rental fee. However, meal services, private chauffeur services, and guided tours can be booked before you arrive or on site.


Havana and the great outdoors

When you rent a villa with pool in Havana, there are plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy some swimming under the hot sun. However, if you’re staying in a smaller Havana apartment in the Old Town (Havana Vieja), for example, you may have fewer opportunities to enjoy some outdoor activities. The good news is that there are actually a lot of great outdoor activities to enjoy in Cuba, regardless of where you choose to stay. Here are a few to consider.

Bike Tours 

There are a few bike tour companies located in Havana, which provide not only the equipment you need but also a knowledgeable tour guide who can take you through Cuba’s very best bits while also filling you in on local history. Cycling in and around Havana is relatively easy as the area tends to be very flat, and popular tours travel around the city and to the bay. However, it is possible to enjoy longer tours, too, which travel to places like Viñales, Matanzas, and Trinidad, with accommodation in Cuba included.

Kiteboarding

Did you know that Havana is home to a professional kiteboarding club? Located a bit outside of the city in Cayo Guillermo, travellers flock here as it’s understood to be one of the best places in Cuba to learn this challenging water sport. The waters here are calm and shallow, yet still receive enough wind to benefit even complete beginners. The best way to get from Havana to Cayo Guillermo is to fly. There’s one direct flight each day, and the flight lasts for just 55 minutes, perfect for an overnight trip.

Windsurfing 

As well as a kiteboarding club, Havana also has a windsurfing club! Located very close to central Havana near La Concha Beach, not far from the Havana Yacht Club, the club is a great place to learn as well as further develop your existing skills. The Marianao district, where the club is located, is well worth checking out. This is especially true if you’re staying in a family villa in Cuba and are looking for child-friendly attractions, as the Coney Island amusement park is nearby!


Havana’s plazas and squares

If you ever need to ask a local for directions to your Havana villa, you’ll notice that they may use some of the city’s plazas or squares as reference points. That’s because these large, open areas of the city are not only very well known to both locals and visitors alike, but they’re also ideal places for taking a few minutes to rest and getting your bearings. They’re also great for photo ops and steeped in history!

Here’s your guide to some of Havana’s best plazas that are worth a visit during your holiday in Cuba:

Plaza de la Revolución

Also known as ‘Revolution Square’, Plaza de la Revolución covers the area from the Malecon to the Vedado district, and is perhaps the most famous plaza in Havana. Not only is this one of the largest plazas in the world, but the tall Jose Marti monument can be seen from practically anywhere! You may even be able to see the very top of the monument from your villa in Havana if you’re staying nearby.

 Plaza Carlos III

Plaza Carlos III is the site of one of Havana’s best shopping malls. If you’re looking for some great souvenirs to take back home from your holiday in Cuba for friends and family, then this is the place to browse. Opened in 1997 at the location of the city’s old agricultural market, the unique spiral design here is definitely worth checking out.

Plaza de la Catedral

Located in Old Havana, Plaza de la Catedral was once the site of some of the finest homes in the Caribbean. Today, many of these mansions have been transformed into museums, like the Colonial Art Museum. This particular plaza is the perfect place to visit for anyone interested in Cuban history or architecture, and it’s even a firm favourite of photographers who are drawn to the colonial styles.

Plaza de San Francisco

Close to the Havana harbour, Plaza de San Francisco is often the first stop for cruise ship visitors who sail into Terminal Sierra Maestra. Attractions here include the tall, looming basilica, the commercial exchange building, and the old customs house. However, the plaza is also a central point connecting many of the city’s main sights, including the aquarium, Leonardo da Vinci museum, and the camera obscura.