Havana is a unique place, a city frozen in time. I spent there a week, meeting locals, partying in very Cuban places, eating street food and listening to the incredible stories of the people who live there. Here are a few tips on how you can live a truly local experience, avoiding tourist traps.
Read my book on Amazon!
First of all, apart from reading my tips here, if you are planning a trip to Cuba, I highly recommend to read my travel memoir. It’s a short book (available in digital and paperback edition) about my experience in Havana, the people I met, their stories and how they live.
You can download it here for less than $1: In the Land of Salsa: Living Like a Local in Havana.
But now, let’s start with the tips!
1. Learn how the double currency works
Cuba has two different currencies: the CUP (Peso Cubano) and the CUC (Peso Convertible). Basically, the difference is that the former is mainly used by locals, while the latter is used by tourists.
1 CUC = ~$1 USD = 25 CUP
You will discover that locals and tourists are treated in a very different way: many restaurants have two different menus in the two currencies and all the museums have a different price for tourists or locals. You will notice that if a tourist has to pay 10 CUC for the entrance, a local just pays 10 CUP. That means that we pay 25 times the price for Cubans!
That being said, be careful when you check your change as someone may try to scam you giving you CUP instead of CUC. It’s easy to visually distinguish them: CUC has always pictures of buildings and monuments, while
Anyway, when you pay street food or in a restaurant for locals, it can happen that you pay in CUC and they give you the change in CUP. Save them and use for taxi (as per next section) or for other street food.
2. Stay at a casa particular
Don’t stay in a government-owned hotel. Stay with a local family at a casa particular and feel the true local life. A casa particular is a private homestay similar to a bed and breakfast in Cuba, that locals get the permission to rent out to tourists.
Sometimes they also offer home-made meal options, that allow you to try the local cuisine.
I had been recommended to stay at Jose’s house by his cousin, friend of mine. As soon as I arrived, Jose’s family treated me as if I were a relative and he became my best friend, introduced me to his friends and hung out together. You can read more on my book!
3. Learn how to get a taxi in Havana
There are two kinds of taxis: the official ones, yellow, can be quite expensive. Mainly because they always try to scam tourists! If you have no other option than taking one of those, always negotiate a price before. Especially during the night, you could be asked to pay 30 CUC for a few kilometers drive. Try to negotiate by
Even better: learn how to get the local unofficial taxis! Cubans call them
You might think that catching one of those cabs is very expensive, but it’s actually not as pricey as you’d think. The standard price is 10 CUP (Pesos Cubanos), which is equivalent to 0,50 CUC.
4. Walk along the Malecón during the evening
The seaside drive of Malecón is very popular among Habaneros during the evening. Head down there around sunset to get some amazing photos and stop to speak with locals, join them in drinking a local beer, try a
As you will discover in my book, I met the most fun locals just randomly walking along the Malecón. I’m sure something interesting will happen that will make your holiday.
5. Dance salsa with a Cuban
Try to avoid bars and locals full of tourists. Instead, head to the places where Cubans go like Melen Club or La Casa de la Musica. In my case, I hung out with Jose and his friends, and they brought me to the most local places where I was the only gringo!
Be brave and invite a Cuban to dance, it’s an experience you will not forget!
6. Access to the internet from a public square
Internet in Cuba is a luxury! It’s nearly impossible to find. However, if you happen upon a square full of people—tourists and locals alike—sitting on benches or sidewalks with their cell phones out, that’s when you know you’ve found the WiFi. But in order to connect, you’ll need to log in with your credentials, which you’ll receive when you buy a special card that gives you a limited amount of hours of internet, at the cost of 1 CUC per hour.
It’s really not cheap! I bought a five-hour card, and that was enough to last the entire week, allowing me to connect from squares, hotels and also from Jose’s house, one of the first and few to have internet access.
7. Get used to Cubans asking for money or catcalling you
One of the most annoying things of Cuba is when a friendly local approaches you and starts to talk, asking about your
Cubans are poor, that’s the truth. Many of them look at tourists as rich people that can help them. If you can, do it, but don’t believe to all their stories.
And don’t give up on them. Not everybody is like this. Don’t stop to interact with them just because of this as you may loose the best part of your trip. Just kindly refuse and walk away if you feel like they are going in that direction.
If you are a woman, on the other hand, be prepared to be catcalled by almost every single man on the street (included bartenders and waiters). It’s just part of their culture. Get used to it.
8. Eat street food as a local
I had been told that food in Cuba is awful. That’s not my experience. I have been in various touristy restaurants in the Old Havana or in the Vedado neighborhood (fish at El Biky was gorgeous!) that left me totally satisfied.
Apart from that, you should also try local street food. I would recommend the 2 CUC hamburgers on the corner in front of the Capitol and the cangrejito for 1 CUC just close to that. Cangrejito literally means little crab, but it’s just a deep-fried Cuban pastry filled with cream. No crabs involved.
You should also check out a very small shop in Calle Obispo, among other touristy restaurants, where you can buy a sandwich and a juice for a total of 2 CUC. But in general, this is the main rule: when you see locals queuing up, it means it’s a cheap and decent place for eating.
9. Drink a mojito or a Havana Club Rum with locals
I will not tell you not to drink the 5 CUC mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio or the 6 CUC daiquiri at El Floridita. Go, do it as every tourist does. So I did.
But after that, make sure to join locals for happy hours in places like La Esencia, where from 4 pm to 8 pm you can party with locals and enjoy the happy hour: two mojitos for just 1 CUC!
10. Get lost in the streets of Havana
Walking the Old Havana and Center Havana‘s street, it’s incredible to see the contrast between the buildings where people live, which are almost ruins and the restored buildings like hotels, government palaces, museums and important places, which show the ancient power and beauty of Cuba
Get lost in the streets Of Havana and observe how people live: Children playing football with a deflated broken ball. Shirtless guys transporting building materials. Old ladies sitting on the stairs in front of their houses hoping to get some chill air, as they have no AC. People playing dominoes on a table directly in the street. Sidecars and old Chevrolets crossing the street. Street vendors selling vegetables.
Havana is magic. Take your time to visit it, interact with locals and dive deep into its culture, music