This post is in response to the flood of recent requests we’ve been receiving from potential independent travelers who claim they’re too busy to plan or research their Cuba travel but want to see the country’s culture, people and beauty. Yawn. First, we’d urge you to reconsider that stance, since any wise person knows that arming oneself with knowledge about a destination’s people, services, history and even politics will only serve to make one’s independent travel experience richer and more fulfilling. Travel is as much about anticipation and expanding your human horizons as the moments one will live contemplating the sunset from a different perspective while physically present in the destination. Having a solid background or at least even just some basic information about Cuba and the (hopefully off the beaten path) places you intend to explore prior to arriving will impart greater significance to your travel experience and enable you to have more meaningful interactions once here. Put down your selfie stick for awhile, quit taking that shaky video from the top of the double decker bus that you’ll never watch again, and instead resolve to engage in meaningful activities. Observe and try to relate to what you see, smell, taste, feel and hear. Don’t be a tacky tourist but rather make a conscious decision to travel with purpose. You might even thank me for that later.
Starting with Havana…
The following two options are available for advance arrangement only as part of your WoWCuba travel package:
Cuban cooking classes
El Ajiaco Café, a Cuban specialty restaurant in the fishing village of Cojimar just east of Havana, offers instruction in Cuban cuisine. Their offer includes:
-visit to a local herb grower (and their supplier, just 3 blocks from the restaurant) where you can learn about their production process and hand-select herbs to use in food preparation.
-an introduction to Cuban cuisine and its origins, presentation delivered in the El Ajiaco patio (with a restaurant employee providing English translation if required).
-demonstration of how to prepare local dishes including ropa vieja (shredded beef), plus lobster & shrimp enchilado (in tomato sauce).
-instruction on preparation of the Cuban mojito at the bar, followed by making your own version of this, one of Cuba’s 3 signature cocktails.
-your lunch includes bread service (accompanied by several of their own sauces), ajiaco (a typical Cuban root vegetable-based soup/stew), rice, salad, beans, yucca, sample the beef/lobster/shrimp dishes that you learned how to prepare in the kitchen, accompanied by a national brand beverage, your choice of several typical Cuban desserts, traditional coffee, and aged rum to finish of the meal.
Cost: $60 CUC/person includes prepayment to guarantee the service
Schedule: begin @ 10:00 a.m.
Excludes: transportation, gratuities
Group size: 2-6 participants
Advance booking available: in conjunction with any WoWCuba land package
Escorted Art Tour
With advance notice, we can arrange for a Cuban curator as the perfect escort to squire you around the most captivating artistic corners of the nation’s capital. The curator counts on a wide range of connections in the Cuban art world including the most celebrated contemporary Cuban painters such as Kcho and Fabelo to lesser-known and more affordable up & coming artists. Stops on your itinerary can be customized to your particular interests, whether they be art galleries, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Fabrica de Arte Cubano, Cuban artist cafes, studios of Cuban designers, or browsing the wares of private antique collectors.
Cost: we offer 1/2 day or full day packages with or without transportation, on a group or private basis. A private 4-hour tour + transport for 2 travelers goes for $112 CUC/person.
Advance booking available: in conjunction with any WoWCuba land package
Following is a selection of DIY activities for cultural exploration, education and enjoyment
Online Cultural Events Guide: this is one of the best sources of current performance information including artists, details on venues, performance dates and more. Research on planning your ideal independent cultural itinerary should start here. Another option is La Papeleta. The Google translator is a tool you may need to employ for both websites. Some suggested venues:
Fabrica de Arte Cubano: for live music, drinks/snacks, art/sculpture/photography gallery
Corner of 26 & 11, Vedado (53) 7-838-2260
Privé Lounge: for mellower live music, Cuban troubadors, and drinks in a smaller venue
Calle 88A #306, between 3ra & 3raA, Miramar (53) 7-209-2719
Casa de la Musica Miramar: for diverse local acts and salsa dancing (they offer both late afternoon and late evening performances)
Avenida 35, corner of 20, Miramar, Playa (53) 7-204-0447 or 7-202-6147
El Sauce: where you can catch the most contemporary & popular Cuban acts
Calle 9na #12015 between 120 & 130, Cubanacán, Playa (53) 7-204-6247 or 7-204-7114
Jardines de 1830: for salsa on the weekends in a picturesque open air venue at the mouth of the Almendares River
Malecón & Calle 22, Vedado, Plaza (53) 7-838-3091-2
The Magic Flute for later evening jazz performances accompanied by very decent dining and a prime elevated view of the Malecón and US Embassy. Indoor & outdoor seating available.
Calzada #101 (Penthouse) between L & M, Vedado (53) 7-832-3195
La Zorra y el Cuervo is perhaps the most famous jazz venue in Havana, in a basement venue in the middle of the action on La Rampa.
Avenida 23 between N & O, Vedado, Cuba (53) 7-866-2402
Basílica Menor de San Francisco de Asís: for classical music performances at 5 pm on Sundays
Plaza San Francisco de Asís, Old Havana
Cuban National Ballet: performances are a spectacular bargain and provide insight into Cuban culture at its highest levels. National performances are currently at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba and occasionally at the newly-inaugurated Teatro Marti, but usually at the Gran Teatro (currently under restoration).
Cuban Contemporary Dance Troupe offers performances, a twice annual festival (Cubadanza) and workshops geared more towards intermediate-professional dancers.
Teatro Nacional de Cuba, Paseo & 39, Plaza, Vedado (53) 7-879-6410 or 7-879-2728
Cuban Dance Classes
La Casa del Son offers instruction for beginners to intermediate dancers in a variety of rhythms including salsa, son, cha-cha-cha, danzon, rumba, casino & folklore in a large restored colonial house.
Empedrado #411 between Compostela & Aguacate, Old Havana (53) 7-867-1537
Spanish Language Courses
The University of Havana offers morning instruction and course length as short as a couple of weeks (40 hours for $200 CUC), to a month or even up to 9 months. With the exception of the month of August, enrollment takes place at the Faculty of Foreign Languages the first Monday of every month. High level of instruction, quality instructors, social activities are often arranged amongst participating students outside of classroom time, and if continuing Spanish education upon your departure from Cuba you´ll find that the transition into your next level of study will often be seamless. More info
The animation departments of most all-inclusive hotels in Cuba offer introductory Spanish classes to their guests for free. But there are of course also a number of private instructors located around the city and country.
Eduardo Pimentel of Vidya Yoga studio is Havana’s (and perhaps Cuba’s) most celebrated Yogi. Allow him to help you find your holiday zen with a private or group class.
Calle 26 #514 between/ 5ta & 7ma, Miramar (53) 7-203-3147
Culinary / Agriculture / Wine
El Divino / Finca Yohandra: restaurant, exemplary in community integration/environmental education, 110+ fruit trees in extinction in Cuba, Cuba’s most fabulous wine cellar and in-house sommelier.
El Mediterraneo restaurant is unique in that they cultivate much of their own produce in two farms they operate in Guanabacoa, plus raise small animals, produce their own cured meats, keep goats for milk which they turn into their own cheese, and even maintain a family boat on the south coast in Batabano for the freshest of seafood.
Reading / Relaxing
If the hustle, bustle, bongos and maracas around every corner in Havana gets to be too much and you need a retreat, then Cuba Libro (corner of 19 & 24 in Vedado) is one of my personal favorites for English books, magazines and conversation. I must admit I’m partial as the owner is a friend. But Conner’s café/bookstore/oasis project is unique and a great example of an ethical business model that benefits employees, community members and patrons alike. Sip on a fresh fruit juice, try out a frappuccino, or re-fill your own travel waterbottle from their cooler (without contributing to plastic waste) and then chill out in the garden in a hammock under the shade of the almond tree while browsing your chosen reading material. Check out one of Conner’s Trip Advisor posts (on their review page) for a great list of donation material if you’re inclined to pack anything extra in your suitcase to leave behind after your travels. There’s a good bakery just around the corner (that belongs to another friend!) if you’re looking for something sweet to eat as you indulge in the Cuba Libro’s non-alcoholic beverage menu.