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Family and dog on the couch

5 Tips to Dating a Cuban – You’ve been Warned!

Let me guess. You went to Cuba for a long weekend and met a seemingly mysterious and charming local at Fabrica del Arte or at some other paladar in with live music. One kiss and exchange of social media handles later and you’re officially in a relationship. Welcome to Dating a Cuban.

Cubans are notorious for their charm and their confidence to show you it.  We don’t blame you for falling in lust in a weekend. No one does, not even Camila Caballo in her famous “Havana” hit song.

But, I hate to break it to you, you aren’t alone.

If I had a dollar every time someone messaged me (on Instagram) a version of that story, I could buy an overly priced motorcycle already on this damn island.

Dating a cuban and the love culture in general here is hard to explain and even more complicated to understand. Though, anyone who’s spent significant time here knows what I’m talking about.

In some unspoken language, we all do. We all know what’s happening and we all keep our mouths shut. I mean, after all, it isn’t our business. But I’m willing to share a few observations I’ve learned over the years.

So before you recharge a cell-phone or send any money through Western Union, let me try my best to describe and give you some tips on how things work here on the island of lust.

And by no means is this a blanket explanation of every Cuban-foreign relationship. I myself would be a hypocrite to state that, as I am a Cuban-American engaged to a Cuban-Russian born (its complicated…).

So no, this does not apply to everyone. But it does, indeed, apply.

Two cuban women in traditional wear kiss a foreigner on the cheek.
The Warm Up!

1. Cuba’s Bad Economy Creates Avenues of Desperation

First things first: Cuba’s economy. It’s no surprise to anyone that Cuba isn’t exactly experiencing its “Golden” age.

With wages low and opportunities even lower, for many the Cuban dream no longer is a dream inside the country.

Cubans look north. They look south. East and west. Just about anywhere but Cuba for their dreams for a better future.

It’s something everyone here seems to have in common. It unites the country in some bizarre melancholy way and everyone talks about it. It’s the social glue that bonds us all together.  

And because of this, Cubans have tried various different methods to leave the island or make their situation on it much more comfortable.

That’s where you come in.

2. Dating a Cuban 101: Jineteros

Text Jineteros en Cuba a cuban man and foreign woman on a balcony. Faces covered.
Cuban Jintereos : Dating a Cuban

To the seemingly naïve foreigner, many don’t know what a “Jinetero” is. Though, in Cuban culture, ‘jinetero” is a term we grow up with.

Jineteros or Jineteras in the simpliest form are hustlers in any way but most known for being in the sex industry. Whether for a day, a week, or for an entire relationship.

Yes, I said it- an entire relationship.

We have met some jineteros that will fake being in love to continue an ongoing relationship with a foreigner. It’s a sad truth, but it does happen. They will have their own families on the island and when the foreigner comes, their partner vacates the home and the rest of the family plays along.  They work together for the week.

Of course, like I said not every relationship is this way but if you expect to be dating a Cuban you will absolutely have to know what a jinetero is.

3. It will Be an Expensive Relationship

Expect to pay…. For everything.  Unfortunately, few Cubans have the money to take their partners on a proper date to wine and dine them.  That shit doesn’t happen here. 

If you’re used to your partners taking you different places and having them pay or sharing costs, this will definitely test you.

Because besides the costs of going out to dinner and dates, you will have to get to Cuba and most likely gift them things they and their family needs. Oh yes, the. Family is always included in Cuba. Always.

The real costs are maintaining the relationship.  Want to call Cuba? EXPENSIVE AF

Want to talk to them on the internet? EXPENSIVE AF

Want them to leave the country with you to start your life together? SUPER SUPER SUPER EXPENSIVE AFFF FOR YEARS.

But if they are worth it, then you won’t care. Here are some apps you’ll need in Cuba.

Man and Woman chatting on a videocall. Dating in Cuba
Yoel and I chatting on FaceBook Messenger

4. Cubans Cheat… A Lot

I know this is particularly hard and uncomfortable point to write, but they likelihood of your Cuban cheating on you while you’re not in Cuba is enormous.  Whether you’re okay with it or not, its really apart of the culture.

And weirdly because its so prevalent its still taboo to talk about.  Its like we all know its happening but pretending its not.

Ojos que no ven, Corazon que no siente (Eyes that do not see, heart that does not feel).

Really though: Cubans cheat and they do often.

When there’s nothing to do all day and the culture very open with sex in general, the field is wide open. Plus its also very hard to find out what you’re partner is doing inside the low connected island all day.

I recommend having an honest talk with yourself and your partner about what you expect and your values.

5. Dating a Cuban = Moving Incredibly Fast

I’m laughing writing this point up but here’s a typical storyline:

  • Day 1: You meet and have fun
  • Day 2: You Meet the Family
  • Day 3: The Proposal

Ok that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but true. Cubans date insanely fast compared to foreigners.

For example, foreigners take months to decide if they are actually in a relationship or not, Cubans are moved into their in-laws in a month, have a ring, and call each other “maridos (husband/wife). 

I’m serious.

In conclusion, don’t be weirded out (and I am warning you) If you get proposed to on your 3rd or 4th visit and already having their mom calling you her son or daughter in law.

If you think its going too fast, just try to explain to your partner how things are a bit faster than what you are used to. Don’t feel pressured into things if your gut is telling you something else.

Boys in a cuban neighborhood
Your new family isn’t just you in-laws… its the entire neighborhood too.

Overall:

If you’re traveling to Cuba as a female solo or in a group, please please read my tips on female travel in Cuba. In short, Cuba is a fun and extremely safe place for females. You’ll just get lots of catcalls! 🙂

Catching a Cuban eye is very very (extremely) easy to do, but knowing what to expect is hard.  They will charm the shit out of you but you have to be careful who really has good intentions, as in any relationship, with anyone, from anywhere.

Many Cuban-Foreign relationships are very beautiful and we know many long -lasting ones so of course take this blog with just precaution.

All I ask is that if he or she is constantly asking for money or material items to do a hard look. I advise strongly against be sending large amounts of money on the regular to your Cuban boo.

In other words, have fun and be safe!

If you need help planning, as always let us know!

Cuba Tornado: How to Help and Donations to Give

Cuba Tornado Donations and how you can help: On January 27th around 9:30pm, Havana’s outside neighborhoods were struck by an extremely rare powerful and devastating tornado.

The rare weather accident has put thousands without homes, electricity, running water, or food since the incident occurred. It has affected large areas of Regla, Guanabacoa, 10 de Octubre, and Santo Suarez neighborhoods.

Its no secret that Cuba has been facing economic struggles for the past 30 years. Those woes combined with a horrible tornado and structures that were poorly built have been toppled and infrastructure already too old, washed away.

But there are many ways you can help the Cuba Tornado Disaster. Here are some below

Donate to a GoFundMe Page who’s already on the ground in Cuba.

I have set up a gofundme page that will get food on the ground to these neighborhoods. Link here. 

We will be donating food for now. Construction materials are very hard to find here and the most needed is food and water. We will be using the money for that.

Bags that are being donated to the tornado relief

Bring Items For Those in Need

If you are on your way to Cuba, PLEASE use the extra space in your luggage (or bring a check-in) to bring supplies that are NEEDED and very very hard to find in Cuba.

Those items can be found on my page – These items never go out of style to donate to Cubans. ANYTHING IS APPRECIATED.

If you do come, please contact me and I will distribute the best way possible to affected families.

In Cuba? Donate to FAC

If you already in Cuba or coming soon but don’t know where else to donate, you can donate to Fabrica del Arte (on Calle 26 y 11) who is collecting items and sending groups to affected areas. They are accepting clothes and food as of now.

Send Hot Food to Family and Friends in Havana!

The food start-up, A La Mesa, is eliminating their service fees and taking 15% off all orders that send hot food from a Cuban restaurant directly to your loved ones in Havana.

They are doing this promotion until 4th of February.

10 Travel Tips for Solo Females in Cuba

Solo female travelers face a challenge when choosing their next travel destination.  Is the country relatively safe? Are the locals friendly? Will I be okay to travel around by myself?

Cuba not only checks off all of those concerns, but offers solo female adventures an experience they will never get anywhere else.

There is nowhere else in the world you can dance with locals until dawn and feel completely safe doing so.

And I can guarantee you there’s nowhere else in the world you can truly experience all of that without being constantly distracted with modern technology.

As someone who frequently travels around the country by myself, I have some tips for my fellow independent ladies!

  1. Go-With-The-Flow

This isn’t exclusive to female travelers, but anyone traveling here. Cuba doesn’t have internet accessible to you at all times of the day. There is wifi at the parksbut not around town.

This means you have to be open to new experiences and change of plans.  It’s okay to have a basic itinerary, but in a country where locals are always willing to invite you to places or direct you to a different spot, you have to be willing to change courses.

This is particularly true if you travel around the country.  Conception of time is not the same in Cuba as it is in western countries.  We wait in hour long lines to get nowhere or nothing. The driver doesn’t feel like driving, so you wait. Or the bus isn’t working (again) so you’ll have to take a taxi or other way of getting around.

Point is: just be open to an adventure!

  1. Machismo Culture

Cuban men are NOT shy when it comes to approaching you. And even more so when you’re a Yuma (a foreigner).

You are noticeable from the moment you get out of the airport until the minute you get back in a taxi to leave to the airport.

You’ll be stared at, cat-called, and woo’d.

Here’s my tip:  Most of the time, ignore the unwanted cat-calls.  We get them DAILY and CONSTANTLY and it’s just something you get over after a while.

  1. Be Careful of Jineteros

This is a taboo topic in Cuban culture.  Jineteros are Cubans, both male and female, that try to get money or other services from foreigners.

Jineteros in Cuban culture are associated with prostitution, but this is not always the case.  They tend to hang around tourist areas and have foreigners pay for their meals or drinks.

Jineteros sometimes like to make a romantic connections with their foreigner girl in order to get money and/or products from them when they leave back to their countries.

I’ll write more on Cuban love later, but given this, I want to say: its important not to think every local or man willing to dance with you is a jinetero.  Cubans are naturally warm and inviting people. Just be careful if they expect you to pay for everything.

  1. Stay in a casa particular

Cuba doesn’t have hostels (well, not that many) but it has the next best thing: Casa Particulares.

Casa Particulares are rooms/apartments rented by local families.  Many can be found on Airbnb or if you want my recommendations, you can email me.

Many times, if not all the time, casa owners are a great way to befriend locals. It is custom in Cuba to offer meals and coffee to your guest. They can recommend places and even sometimes offer to join you.  It’s a great way to get introduced to Cuban culture.

  1. Don’t dress like a tourist: Yes, no straw fedora hats.

As I mentioned before, its obvious you aren’t Cuban. I don’t care if you have darker complexion. Everyone knows.

But, if you want to try to blend in a bit more and not get hassled (especially in tourist areas), tone down the tourist look.

Some things that AUTOMATICALLY recognize you as the following

  1. Fedora Hats: No one wears these. No one. And Cuba isn’t the set of the godfather
  2. Off-the-shoulder ruffle dresses: Women in cuba don’t really wear flowy dresses….. at all.
  3. Travel Backpacks: Probably the most recognizable “look at me im a foreinger with lots of money” look. I never understood why travelers lug things around on their back when the invention of the wheel was over 5000 years ago
  1. Bring all your essential beauty/medical items with you

There’s no CVS in Cuba.  There’s no Sephora. There’s no Walmart.

Bring that hairspray. Bring that brush. Bring that makeup.  Bring some backup.

Beauty items, feminine products, and other essential things you can most likely pick up anywhere else in the world is not found here.  Yes, Havana has more items but to make sure you aren’t running around market to market, bring your own things and a backup just in case.

  1. Travel outside Havana

Transportation is an issue for most Cubans. We wait in lines, have to hitch-hike or plan days in ahead to get from one place to another.

Luckily, you wont have that problem.  Companies like Viazul  or Transtur  offer buses in between major tourist cities like Vinales, Varadero, Trinidad or Cienfuegos.

Book a ticket there (or at any major hotel in Havana) and go! Cuba is an entirely different country outside Havana.

I really advise anyone to use tourist transportation, especially if you are a solo female traveler.

Vinales is a beautiful picturesque country town where most of the nation’s tobacco comes from.

Cienfuegos, nicknamed the pearl of the Caribbean, is exactly that. It’s a beautioful town set on the side of a bay.

Trinidad is a UNECO world heritage site. Its combled streets and old-spanish backdrop makes it a beautiful place to visit.

And, of course, tourist favorite…Varadero.  But, there’s better beaches.

  1. Learn a bit of Cubano

You might know Spanish or you might not, but heres a few terms in Cubano (yes, Cuban Spanish) that you should know to stay safe and understand a bit of what people are telling you:

Yuma: a foreigner aka YOU.

Chavito or Fula: CUC – Convertible pesos (not moneda nacional)

Que Bola: Hey, whats up!!

Acere: friend, amigo, pal

Por la izquierda: Under the table.  You might want to indicate money exchange by using this term

Jevita: Female girl or “girlfriend”

Dale: Not only pitbull’s term, but ours too. It means goodbye or “come on, hurry up!”

  1. Knowing the Art of Negotiation

Cubans are infamous for making petty scams like charging more to foreigners. I hate this! But I only justify it for the necessities we have economically.

Given this, you HAVE to negotioate! If you are not in a taxi collective (fixed route shared taxis, these are routes that pick up other passengers on the way to the destination.. it cost 10 CUP per person or  50 cents!), you have to negotiate the rate with the driver!

If they tell you $10 to go from Habana Vieja to Vedado (neighborhoods) they are overcharging you. Always try to negotiate down. Cubans will always try to hustle, but you have to too.  Be safe with your money, many times you can’t get more of it.

  1. Do Not Over Drink

This is by far the most obvious tip for being safe in Cuba. But its also not customary for women to get extremely drunk.  It’s just not something you really see in Cuban culture.

Yes, women drink, but not to the point of no control.

And in Cuba when a drink costs around $2-$3, it can get tempting to have another one.

It’s okay to enjoy yourself, but if traveling alone always be careful of your surroundings.

Want to  see Cuba like a local? Or go on a tour with other solo female travelers? Check my tour schedule! 

Best apps for Cuba

Apps For Cuba – The Top 5 You Need to Download Now

5 Essential Apps For Cuba (Updated June 2019)

best apps fo cuba

Millenial Cubans on their phones

In an island nation where dial-up is just starting to be introduced, your 2019 digitally dependent self has to know what essential apps for Cuba you need.

As you might know, data really doesn’t exist in Cuba for tourist yet but WiFi does exist in public parks and hotels. See my guide to learn how to get on the internet in Cuba.

That doesn’t really help when you’re walking around La Habana or going to Trinidad or on the beach in Varadero now does it?

You’ll need to download applications that run while being offline. Luckily for you, there are a few essential apps for Cuba and even some developed in Cuba by Cubans (yes! tech start-ups are a thing in Havana!).

Maps.Me

If there is any app you need to download for your trip to Cuba, its this one. Maps.me allows users GPS without being connected to the Internet.

Maps.me isn’t just your normal offline map, its pretty accurate with up-to-date information on where bars, restaurants and attractions are.

To get the map of Cuba, after you download the app you must go in, zoom into Cuba and download the map of Cuba.

You’ll thank me later.

Apple. Android.

apps for cuba - offline map

Maps.me best offline map of cuba

A La Mesa

A La Mesa is yelp a lo Cubano, kind-of. It lists all the restaurants in specific cities, their prices, and their contact information.

Developed in Havana, a La Mesa is one of the first Cuban made apps.

Apple. Android.

app for cuba - food app for cuba

ALaMesa, Cuban made app

SUBE 

Cuba’s first ride-sharing app!! Sort of like UBER but Cuban style! You will need to be connected to use this one, but with 3G on phones now and many new places for Wi-Fi this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Many times as a tourist you don’t know how much transportation is and you get ripped off just because you’re a tourist. With the app, the price is confirmed beforehand without the driver knowing country of origin a rider is from.  You pay the driver in CUC upon arrival.

Transportation is already tricky for tourist and locals alike. But with Sube this makes it even better!

The app is only available through Android but they are quickly working on releasing it for iPhone.

Just another amazing story of Cuban strength despite the technological and financial challenges.

While many news publications will compare Sube to Uber, perhaps Uber might learn something from a group of four techies in a country where tech is far from modern.

You can download Sube here and check out their Instagram and Website.

best apps for cuba - video chat in cuba

Cubans using IMO to see their loved ones

Google Translate

I think this is a pretty much no-brainer if you don’t speak fluent Spanish just make sure you download the Spanish dictionary before your flight to Cuba.

But don’t rely to heavily on Google Translate for everything. Cubans have our own unique way of speaking eloquently.

Apple. Android.

Zapya

Want to share a photo with your new Cuban friend? Or perhaps get that cool reggaeton song they have? Alas, Zapya. Cuba’s version of hacking the capabilities of sharing the internet without being on it.

Zapya allows you to connect remotely and internet-freely other devices around you using Bluetooth system. Its like Airdrop for Apple but works between any system! It’s a great way to share anything from device to device.

Apple. Android.

My 2 Cents

As the internet is slowly penetrating Cuba, change is happening both socially and politically. More Cubans can see how people live outside. With apps like IMO, we can now connect with your family members everyday if we wanted to.

The emotional farewells at Jose Marti are softened now knowing you can see your loved one in just a few hours.

All this being said, apps bring the once isolated nation a little closer to 2018.

Travel Inside Cuba: The Non-Confusing Guide

How to Travel Inside Cuba: The Non-Confusing Guide to Cuban Transportation

When it comes to travel inside Cuba, the island isn’t your typical get-a-way to the Bahamas.  It isn’t even your typical eco-adventure to Costa Rica. Cuba, is unlike any place in the world in EVERY aspect, including even the most basic: getting around.

One of the biggest questions I get is how to travel while inside Cuba. How can you get from one city to another? Should you rent a car or hire a driver? Or is there public transportation?

With the lack of information out there on transportation, making plans to go around the country can seem really daunting.

Before I get into the different ways, it’s important to know why Cuba doesn’t have an easy transportation system.  Gas is expensive and well, so are cars.  Transportation is a HUGE “lio” (problem) for EVERYONE. Tourists are no exception to that.

There is silver lining, though.  You, unlike the majority of Cubans, have more money to get around. So let’s see what the options are:

how to get to city to city inside cuba

Guide To Travel Inside Cuba

 

Travel Inside Cuba by Renting a car – The most flexible option but can be the most expensive

Renting a car allows flexibility, plain and simple. You can get in your car and drive to the next city, then the next without a schedule or itinerary to follow. With that kind of freedom, you’re now open to see parts of the country the tourist route doesn’t go to.

Be aware that depending on where you’re going, roads can be pretty tough. Some roads, especially in Oriente and far west Pinar del Rio haven’t seen new pavement since Castro came along.  But between Pinar del Rio (city) to Camaguey, its pretty solid and clean.

How to reserve a rental car: There are a few companies (all government owned) where you can get your car from. Here are some

Price: Depends on what you prefer, when and how many days.   Economical cars are the cheapest and renting in low seasons (summer) is cheaper than during high (winter). Also, car companies will charge you less per day if you rent more days.

You have to rent at a minimum 3 days.  

If you rent more than 7, the price per day drops. Same with 10 and so on. Check the websites to see the price

Travel Inside Cuba Rental Car

Rental Car in Cuba

 

Hiring a Driver in Cuba- Ride around without the worry of where you’re going

Hiring a driver is an excellent option for those who really don’t want to drive or figure out the roads of Cuba.  Drivers can either stay with you during your trip (usually if you do a one day trip like to Vinales) or can take you to the next city.

If you want to hire a driver to take you on a round trip (meaning Havana to Vinales back to Havana), you can contact me here.

hire driver in cuba

Hiring a Driver in Cuba

Cuban Collectivo – cheap and fast way but not always the most comfortable

If you are planning on going to the next city and don’t mind sharing the car with other tourists or locals, here’s what you can do:

  1. Go to Omnibus terminal
  2. Outside on a side street are various cars parked outside – ask the drivers how much
  3. Don’t be afraid to barter! Make sure you want a collective car (collectivo) and be prepared to pay a bit more than your Cuban counterpart in the same car. Sorry, that’s just how it goes for tourists in Cuba!

shared taxi in Cuba

collectivo rides in Cuba

Bus in Cuba- for tourists only

Going on a bus like Viazul is your last option you have as a tourist in Cuba to see different sites.  The downfall to this is that many times bus departure times, like everything in Cuba, is not always accurate.

If you want to travel by bus, it is the cheapest option you have as a tourist for city-to-city, especially long distances. You can check out times and fares at Viazul’s website.

Note: Cuban nationals can ride with you on the tourist buses!

public transportation in cuba

Tourist Bus can take you around

Public Transportation in Cuba- inner cities only

Public busses are for everyone in Cuba but only in inner cities.  Riding the “guagua (bus)” with other locals is totally fine and you should definitely do it to get a better experience!

However, if you’re wondering if you can take a bus from city to city with other locals the short answer is “no”.

Cubans ask anyone going on a public bus for their carnet (ID) and because you don’t have one you most likely won’t be able to get on, that is, if you don’t know how to pay the chauffer off.  If you can manage to do that, you can score a bus ticket anywhere from $5 – $10 per person depending on how much you’re willing to give.

 

Just have a good time!

When in Cuba, you have to remember you’re in a totally different society with different cultural norms. It may not be easy to accept that you have to wait a couple hours to get going, but that’s just how it Is in Cuba! If you except to have an amazing time from city to city, just be sure you are flexible and have a “go-woth-the-flow” type of attitude. Anything can happen in Cuba, ANYTHING!

 

If you want to see Cuba like I do and experience it culturally (or however you want) and don’t want to plan all the confusing details, you can book a tour with me here.

Best Nightlife Havana Lounges

The Ultimate Library of the Best Nightlife in Havana

Best Nightlife in Havana includes Live Music!

Live Music in Havana

My Complete Library of the Best Nightlife in Havana

Music is constantly blasting in Havana, but the real party doesn’t begin until after dark.   Besides getting to Cuba, one of the most asked topics I receive is recommendations on best nightlife in Havana.

Luckily for you, there’s nothing more synomous than Marissa and Social Life. Soy la reina de la pachanga (party) and it extends to anything Trip Advisor could give you.

But let me warn you on a few things before I get to my recommendations.  Cuba hasn’t quiet evolved in the drinking scene like most of the world. There aren’t 200 beers on tap (there’s not even tap) or a list of fancy mixology drinks a guy with a mustache makes.

Those things come secondary to Havana’s nightlife. Cuban’s drinking culture is little to none. Our purpose for going out isn’t to drink, it’s to dance.

And if you’re thinking your tourist central casa particular in Habana Vieja is the spot to be in for music and bars, sadly you’re mistaken.

It’s all about el Vedado, a residential part of the city that’s bustling with restaurants and bars.  And while there are some places in Habana Vieja, most close early and locals aren’t found there. But don’t worry, ask any taxi to take you to the spots I’ll recommend.

 

Overall Best Nightlife in Havana:

Fabrica Del Arte Cubano – El Vedado

Let’s just get this one out of the way. Fabrica Del Arte Cubano (or FAC) is hands-down a must in Havana. If you have only one night in Cuba, it’s the only place you have to go. It’s that amazing.

Part art gallery, part bar, part club and part exhibition shows FAC is the accumulation of all Cuban culture inside a giant venue.

From its various different rooms, it has something to offer everyone.

Mari Tip: Open from Thursday-Sunday, get there by 9pm to enjoy it without waiting in long lines.  This is an extremely popular spot for both locals and tourists so make sure you can enjoy it!

FAC is modeled, cleverly, after the Cuban libreta.  Each person has a libreta and instead of paying for each drink, the bartender will stamp your card with the appropriate drink. At the exit, they calculate your consumption and charge you then.

Don’t lose your libreta or FAC charges $30CUC per person!

Best Nightlife in Havana - Fabrica Del Arte cubano

Outside FAC – A MUST in Havana

Casa de la Musica – Miramar

One of the most famous and popular music venues in Havana, Casa de la Musica hosts Cuban musicians from around the world.

Depending on the night, you can spot locals here dancing away to Cuban son and timba (a form of casino or salsa).

Mari tip: Casa de la Musica is a bit touristy and there can be jinteros outside hustling their way (especially if they see a group of girls or group of guys), but depending on the act, it’s worth it! Not all nights are created equal though and prices tend to be high for locals to get in.

 

Don Cangrejo- Miramar

Another music venue that boost rich Cubans and tourists is Don Cangrejo.  But don’t dismiss it just yet. Its outdoor restaurant and venue will have you dance the night away. Located right on the water, some of the best and famous Cuban bands play here daily.

Mari’s tip: Best night hands down is Friday.  Friday in Havana is hosted at Don Cangrejo and its no secret. It gets VERY crowded so make sure you get there at 10pm when the day restaurants becomes a night-club.

 

King’s Bar – El Vedado

Calle 23 Enre D/E

King’s bar has never disappointed me when we’re too lazy to go to the other end of el Vedado. Located near La Rampa (23rd entre D/E), it’s semi secret entrance leads its way to a nightclub with tons of locals. The small club feels intimate but the party is huge!

What I like the most about King’s bar is that the prices are reasonable and there’s a variety of different music anywhere from reggaeton to American pop to electronic music.

Best Nightlife in Havana King Bar Restaurante

King Bar in Vedado

 

Corner Café- El Vedado

Calle B y 1ra

If you want an amazing time with locals while hearing live music, there’s nothing better than Corner Café. It’s reasonably priced and offering tapas that aren’t all Cuban (a blessing being Cuban and having nothing but Cuban food ALL THE TIME in Cuba).

Mondays is jazz night. Thursday is rock.  And in between are local bands that are pop/rap.

Mari’s tip: Awesome breakfast spot too!

 

Sarao Bar- El Vedado

Calle 17 en E

Super trendy comes with super trendy music and atmosphere. This club looks like its off Ocean Ave in Miami. Seriously, it’s beautiful and modern for Cuba standards.  It attracts an equally trendy crowd with locals and tourists.

Like many places in Cuba, Sarao doesn’t start till around midnight.  Go at 11pm? Early. But unlike many places in Cuba, the prices aren’t as reasonable for tourist standards of Cuban prices (and unreachable for many Cubans, but many rich middle class Cubans are spotted here).

If you want a trendy and more upscale/fancy night out, Sarao is for you.

Best Nightlife in Havana Saroa

Saroa Bar in Vedado

Sangri-La – Miramar

Cool kids. Trendy Kids. And Local Ones.  This basement bar gets PACKED during the weekends as its currently a very popular bar. Its in Miramar so many Cubans with more $$ attend this bar as well as many foreigners living in Cuba. It get SUPER fun after 1am so drink that cafecito!

 

Espacios- Miramar

Another place where all the cool kids go.  Espacios is hidden from plain sight and what looks like a normal house. The difference? You’ll see a lot of cars and guards in the front.  It hosts local affluent Cubans and their expatriate friends. Chi Chi. It’s not for the poorly dressed or anyone not willing to party until 6 am. Yes, 6 am.

Mari Tip: Come with friends as it tapas are to share! There’s also a beer garden. I think it’s the only beer garden I’ve ever seen in Cuba,

 

BEST ROCK CLUB:

Submarino Amarillo – El Vedado

Calle 17 y 6

Calling all friki’s (Cuban for rockers)! If you love rock music or the Beatles, this is the place for you! Some of the best Cuban rock groups play here during the weekend.

I am a secret friki to be honest. I grew up with classic rock thanks to my father so when I went to Submarino Amarillo I felt right at home.

Mari tip: Check out the decorations as it matches the theme and its very unique to Cuba!

Best Nightlife Rock Club in Havana

Submarino Amarillo for the best Rock Club

BEST SALSA CLUBS IN HAVANA

Jardines 1830

Near FAC, Jardines is widely known in Havana as the go-to spot for Salsa on Thursdays and Sundays.  Although salsa is a dying trend in Cuba, it still draws crowds especially for tourists.

Live music from the stage gets everyone in the mood to dance and guaranteed you’ll be asked by locals to dance with you.  If you don’t know casino, don’t worry someone will teach you.

On the malecon, Jardines is exactly that: Jardines. Its on an old fort so while you’re taking a break from dancing, you can go out towards the fort on the water and overlook the Gulf of Mexico (romance!)

Mari tip: Be careful single tourists! Lots of jineteros here. But only as a precaution, you’ll still have an amazing time! In fact, I celebrated my 29th birthday here

La Gruta – El Vedado

If you love salsa, love Cuban culture, love dance shows, love HOT HOT HOT (literally HOT) places, La Gruta should be on your top list.

The dance floor is really a spectualar show of locals and tourists showing off their best slasa moves. Don’t know how to dance? Its Cuba. Someone will show you.  Know how to dance? Get ready for serious comeptiton.

It’s also a good mix of cubaton and salsa music. Last time I was there it was a $3CUC entrance but the $3 includes watching beautiful Cubans dance beautiful salsa. Well worth it

Mari tip: The AC is broken. Last time I was here.  Good place to burn some extra calories. Best night is Wednesdays.

Best Salsa Nightlife in Havana

La Gruta for Best Salsa in Havana

BEST OF ELECTRONICA/ LOUNGES

La Flauta Magica – El Vedado

One of few rooftop bars in La Habana with a POOL on the top. Although you cant swim in it, the ambiance is beautifully overlooking the malecon.  It has one of the best pina coladas I’ve ever had and on Sunday’s electronic music is playing from upcoming and emerging Cuban DJs.

It’s a perfect place to spend the later hours of the evening but be warned, it also gets pretty crowded.

Best Nightlife Havana Lounges

Nightlife at La Flauta Magica

EFE Bar – El Vedado

On Tuedays (I believe) EFE has local DJs spin its really charming interior. Everytime I have been its been a great place to chat and lounge with friends although I have heard it gets crowded during later hours.

Its cabana style tables are perfect for tapas and drinks with friends and we’ve never had a bad time here.

Best Nigthlife in Havana: Electronica

Inside DJ set at EFE Bar

Encuentro – El Vedado

Another rooftop bar (very close to Flauta Magia) offers a beautiful enviorment and some of the best mojitos in El Vedado. It’s also popular with locals. And the bartenders have dance moves to certain songs.

It’s a perfect place to chill, relax, and make some Cuban friends!

 

 

For more on Havana, check out my Cuban 101 Guide.

Want to come to Cuba and experience it as a Cuban? Sign up for my tour notifications. I’ll be offering tours very soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Cuba Legally in 2018: Here’s How

Malecon in Habana

View from Hotel Nacional, Tourist Hotel.

Despite Travel Warnings and Trump Reversals, You can Still Travel to Cuba Legally in 2017

Here is How:

After a significant change in US-Cuban relations under President Obama in 2015, Cuba experienced a wave of fresh Americans willing to see their closest Caribbean neighbor.

It was a new era.  People whispered quietly passed the ears of the CDR their hope Cuba’s economy would change for the better with the influx of tourism.  We waited and waited hopeful that Obama would officially end the 60 year (ridiculous) embargo.

We waited. Then waited some more.

Then Obama came. Here is comes!!!!! Finally!

…….Nope.

It’s okay, we thought. People are still coming, one day. One day.

Then November 2016 happened. President Trump months later reversed everything we had hoped for.

As if we clung on to the little hope we could finally see our families without diplomatic problems, send money to them without ridiculous fees, and call them to hear their voices only 90 miles away without being one of the most expensive places to call in the world.

President Trump, with one speech and one signature later, removed the essential visa category that made traveling to the island much easier. The individual “people-to-people” category.   This category was extremely vague in its description and did not require American citizens to officially sign up with a tour group.

Regardless of the removal of this category, going to Cuba is STILL LEGAL using different visa categories.

Legal visa to travel to Cuba

Cuban tourist visa

Let me break it down for you if you plan to come to Cuba from point of entry inside the United States or US territories.

Before we start, it is important to note that Cuba does NOT have an embargo against the United States. Regardless of what passport you carry or what country (if you come from a third country i.e. Cancun to Havana) in from, Cuba will welcome you with open arms, café, and most likely dance lessons.

Under current 31 CFR 515.560 law, Americans can use one of 12 reasons to enter the Cuba.  Here are the three most Americans can apply for:

  1. Support the Cuban-People visa

Provision found in § 515.574 of the CACR, US government.

It defines the visa as activities are recognized human rights organization, independent organizations designed to promote democracy or individual’s organization that promote independent activity intendent to strengthen civil society in Cuba. Provision § 515.574(A) to this means the traveler must have a log of their itinerary for up to 5 years.

In English?

It means this visa has to record that you kept a full schedule seeing individuals or organization that directly help or show Cuban society.

You can’t you use your bank card to it, as that evidence against “supporting the Cuban people”).

But this visa category is extremely vague.  The OFAC does not or will have a list of such organizations or individuals that promote “democracy” or “civil society” in Cuba.  Nor can the OFAC track your cash money on the island.

What you need to do to fall under this category?

Like all categories, you must have a log of your itinerary for up to 5 years (501.601).  It also means that itinerary has to show at least 8 hours of cultural experience.

Itineraries of such activities can include several tourist experiences. Curating a local tour with a local guide can be considered a “support of a Cuban” person.

Going to local paladar (restaurant) can be considered “support of the Cuban people”

Will you get caught?

There is a EXTREMELY rare chance that American customs will care that you went to Cuba. In fact, the last person who got fined was over 10 years ago.

Unless you caused extreme disturbance while on the island, you will be fine.

 

  1. Educational Activities Visa

Provision § 515.565.  This one is a bit trickier since most of you will not be enrolling in a college class in Habana or a university sponsoring a class in Cuba.

But there is a provision to the law under § 515.590( B) that states:

General license for people-to-people travel. The travel-related transactions  not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program are authorized, provided that:

(1) Travel-related transactions pursuant to this authorization must be for the purpose of engaging, while in Cuba, in a full-time schedule of activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities

(2) Each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba;

(3) The predominant portion of the activities engaged in by individual travelers is not with a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party,

(4) For travel conducted under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, an employee, paid consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization must accompany each group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities;

 

En Ingles?

Visa requirements include, like the Support of the Cuban-People, to obey the record keeping laws and record activities that engage Cuban people and have educational elements to it.

For example, if an individual plans to travel to Cuba to engage with local artists and have extended dialogue with farmers in Cuba and can demonstrate those activities in a log for up to 5 years, you fall under the visa category.

 

  1. Family Visa

This is probably the weirdest way to enter the country, but also the least recordkeeping needed.  Now, I know you’re thinking…wait, I’m not Cuban! I don’t have Cuban family in Cuba.

Well, you don’t. But that’s okay.

Under this general license, §  515.560 the US government states: “Persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and persons traveling with them who share a common dwelling as a family with them are authorized to engage in the travel-related transactions.”

You and those accompanying you can travel to a “close relative located in Cuba”

What’s a close relative?

According to § 515.339 a close relative is defined :

“as any person… who is no more than three generations removed from that person or from a common ancestor with that person”

Yes, you still don’t have anyone in Cuba.

But what is the likihood the US is going to commission a non-american to a DNA test? US has no jurisdiction to Cuban nationals.

This isn’t the “legal” way, but it is a way to get you out of logging things.

Tourists in Cuba

Americans enjoying La Habana!

 

 

Traveling to Cuba can be tricky, but we assure you that its possible and LEGAL. It can be even easier if you book a tour that provides you itineraries. I will be having set tour dates in 2018 that fall under these categories.  If you are interested, please reach out here:

And remember, you will only need the tourist visa to enter Cuba. The affidavit (where you put what category you are traveling on) will be provided to you at the embarkation point in the United States or abroad.  It’s a piece of paper you fill out and check what category. They keep the paper, you get the visa.  That is it.

 

When coming back to the US, customs MIGHT ask you where you came from and you say Cuba. They stamp your passport, and you go on your merry way.

 

For cultural and educational trips that go beyond tourist areas, check out my tours in 2018 here.

 

I can assure you, like yourself, Cubans are desperate to engage with Americans without this political nonsense.  It does nothing for either side when two nations cannot engage diplomatically.

In the end, it hurts relations for everyone.

 

But you don’t need to add to it. Come to Cuba worry free and enjoy your time in the most unique place in the world!

 

Nos vemos.

Mari.

Critical Items to Gift or Donate to Cubans

This blog post will help you know what you can donate to Cubans, how you can donate, and who you should donate to.

Updated: July 2019

First and foremost, THANK YOU.

When it comes to tourists coming to on holiday to Cuba, a question I often get is “Can I bring anything?” “How can I help the Cuban people?”

There’s probably no better question I love answering than that one.

There’s several reasons why the economic situation in Cuba is the way it is. The combination of the economic embargo alongside the internal situation has stifled the country at low monthly wages at high cost of living.

Unfortunately, many items that are easy to find in other countries become extremely hard to find in Cuba even if you have all the money in the world to buy it.

But as I sit here trying to google “donations to Cubans” that search becomes just as hard to find as the items Cuba needs.

I’m shocked there isn’t more out there in form of blog posts given the almost 2 million Cubans living in the United States alone.

So that’s why I’m here.

Here is a list of essential items you can donate to Cubans –

Many of them you’ll likely be packing for your vacation anyways.

  1. Medicine

There is nothing more necessary in Cuba than medicine. Sure, there’s free health care but care is limited when vital medicine is in low quantity. And, its really no secret.

Over the counter medication is in high demand. Some of these include:

  • Tylenol
  • NSAIDs
  • Anti-inflammatory cream (Cubans love Bengay)
  • Cough syrup for children
  • Tums
  • Bayer
  • Eyedrops
  • Cough drops (!!!!!)
  • Sudafed
  • VITAMINS OF ANY TYPE!!
  • Other over-the-counter

And Cuban Liquid Gold is always, always: BENGAY

As of 2019, pre-natal pills are in need. 

  1. Bandaids

Bandaids, gauze, and medicine tape are very expensive. A roll of medicine tape costs around $2CUC (a huge expense if you’re making $20 a month).

Bandaids are extremely light and small to pack and probably the most important item to gift a Cuban household.

  1. Toilet paper

Outside your Cuban resort and/or Cuban casa particular, toilet paper is a huge luxury for a lot of Cuban families. Its 90 cents a roll an trust me, its no Charmin.   A few rolls goes a long way.

  1. Deodorant

If deodorant was a drug, it could kill. Sweat and Smell go hand in hand on that island. That $1 bar from the 99 cent store costs nearly quadruple.

  1. Soap/ Shampoo/ Conditioner

See above for explanation

  1. Shoes

Good quality shoes are essential, especially for kids. It’s not rare to see people outside in the countryside especially barefoot or children running barefoot. Shoes are extremely expensive and very low quality.

Shoes break in 2 weeks if they aren’t an American recognizable brand. No joke. One time my shoes broke in the middle of the Olga Tanon concert in La Habana just by walking. No bueno.

Mari Pro Tip: If you want to bring shoes, working shoes in the countryside and boots are always needed. Many people in our little rural town of Pilotos have shoes with holes in them because of their long hours in the field.

  1. Brushes – Hair, Tooth

Here’s a story: It took me 3 days to find a hairbrush in Pinar. 3 days. Then it broke… 2 brushes later. #noesfacil

Toothbrushes and toothpaste are in huge demand as well. Children go nuts for the themed ones they sell outside the island.

  1. Sheet and Towels

Another two items that are in huge demand. You’ll likely see the same sheets in a Cuban home used for years.

  1. Other toiletries

Some items you’re likely already carrying are:

  • sun block
  • lotion
  • Wipes
  • Hair gel
  • Hairspray
  • Hair ties for the ladies!!!
  1. Feminine Products

Outside of high tourist areas like La Habana or Cienfuegos, many women have little to no access to choice within feminine products. Meaning, theres no tampons.

Tampons are light and small as well and will go a long way to helping any lady out.

  1. Toys

Children love toys and unfortunately toys are expensive in Cuba. The #1 item you can gift a girl of course is a Barbie. A boy? A soccer ball.   Move over baseball, soccer is HUGE in Cuba.

But most importantly are basic school supplies for Children: coloring books, pens, crayons, pencils, erasers.

13.  Diapers – Baby and Adult

Diapers are extremely expensive in Cuba. A package of 8 can cost $10! For an American salary, thats A LOT so imagine for a Cuban one.  Many older citizens, like our grandma, are bed stricken due to illnesses such as  arthritis.  Getting them cleaned is a LOT of work and causes bed sores. Diapers would really help.

Same thing for babys. While its common to use clothe diapers, many babies are sensitive and can only use diapers. Please bring if willing, a variety of sizes.

How to Donate to Cubans?

GOING OUTSIDE THE RESORTS- Tour Cuba Locally!

The biggest help you can give is is tourism.  Tourism helps the economy in so many different ways: From helping the taxi man earn more money, the the dancer on the street getting tips.  Its funnels through the economy.

There’s no better way to spend your time in Cuba than actually SEEING THE COUNTRY. Forget the cheap resorts you can find anywhere else in the Caribbean. This is a unique island with unique culture and we’d love for you to see it as authentic as possible.

Donations can be done multiple ways, but one thing is for certain. DO NOT DONATE PUBLICALLY ON THE STREETS. The Cuban government is concerned not only for saftey but its public image. No one wants to be seen as the country who needs American saviors for basic items, especially when there is already so much political tension.

Cuba is tricky when it comes to donations. If you are bringing large quantities of 1 thing, Cuban government officials might get a bit suspicious you’re trying to supply black markets than donating.

Mari tip: If you are so kind enough to donate, please bring a variety of things. Do not bring 50 USB sticks or a luggage full of shoes.  

To get customized tours email me here. For small-group tours, you can see our itinerary. 

Who to Donate To?

Cubans are inventors, but you might not know there are different economic classes on the island like any other country. Most casa particulares owners are living very well off tourism and same goes with any tourist driven employee (that’s why its so hard to get a tourist license).

We suggest going to places that are off-the-grid. In Havana alone there are several marginalized communities who would love donations. We can help in arranging that.

I also suggest thati f you don’t have time to go outside of Havana to leave donations at Cuba Libro.  Cuba Libro is a local coffee shop run by an American. They always take in donation and do their best to distribute.

Mari Tip: I suggest if you want to give to please donate items to a community project or any family living in the countryside (not Vinales because, again, very touristy). Many Cubans are not as fortunate to have family on the outside that can send them remittances. Plus, you’ll get a very local and cultural experience doing it that way!

If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. 

AND MIL MIL GRACIAS!