Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Caribbean Islands (
-   -   Upcoming Cuba Trip (

italynovice Feb 11th, 2017 07:02 AM

Upcoming Cuba Trip
My daughter and I are taking a trip to Havanna In early March. We have wanted to do this for a while, and came across some good prices on flights. Have our visas and booked through airbnb at "Melvis House", which has great reviews. Though we mostly want to see things on our own, we would like to do a tour on our first full day there and are considering the "I Love Cuba" tour with a private guide. I know there are mixed opinions about seeing things on your own vs tourguides, but with only 4 full days we will likely do this. Anyone with recommendations on this group or other tourguides?
We would also appreciate any restaurant recommendations in Havanna you might have. We enjoy good food and haven't come across many restaurant discussions in Cuba forums. La Guarida and San Cristobal are two that look interesting, and maybe Cafe O'Reilly for drinks/tapas? Habana 61 was another we are considering. We would welcome any suggestions!

Lois2 Feb 11th, 2017 06:49 PM

i think your plan to get a guide on the first are certain to learn alot and get orientated by doing that. You will need to book LaGuarida and San Cristobal now either have your casa owner do it or just call...they speak some English...those two places are crazy busy. We enjoyed Habana 61 and it might be good for your first night. For a lower key option Dona Eutemia is very popular ...again reservations a very good idea. You will have a great time...we went in Jan. for one week and want to go back again!!

blamona Feb 12th, 2017 03:24 AM

Mixed opinions are if you're a US citizen

If yes there are 12 reasons why you can go, you can't just show up and make it up

So if yes, definitively get guides so you show one of the12 reasons

Lois2 Feb 12th, 2017 04:26 AM

sosrry but above reply makes zero sense...did not see any inquiry about the 12 reasons which are nothing more than checking a box. Getting a guide has nothing to do with them.

SambaChula Feb 12th, 2017 05:19 AM

blamona seems to think that having a guide would help to fulfill the criteria for the educational/people to people "excuse" that many US travelers use as their reason to travel, maintaining a full time schedule of activities that fall under that particular reason of the 12.
Less sure how a tour guide might help with many of the other 12.
I've read many people saying that they think simply talking to any Cubans counts, and others trying to replicate one of the licensed tours.
Up until now, OFAC has not been checking facts (nor could they really, effectively, in Cuba, easily check Cubans) or schedules kept as "proof", so it's hard (IMO) to tell exactly what would hold up under scrutiny.

Lois2 Feb 12th, 2017 06:51 AM

given no history of "scrutiny I can't get worried about it. I do think the chance of exploring with a guide that can give some history and local perspective can be of value ...not for t he US government but for the individual travelers' cannot get a local perspective from a guide book or Rick Steves walking tour...conversations with casa owners...and any locals can be "educational". From what I have read of the fully escorted tours where they make the participants feel more like they are at boot camp and must be busy 100% of waking hours don't sound half as educational and all guides/performances etc. they arrange are very controlled. Okay for some but would not have worked for me...

italynovice Feb 12th, 2017 01:39 PM

Thanks Lois2. We just heard back from Habana 61 and have a reservation confirmed for our first night in Havanna. We're waiting to hear back from a few others. We are from the US but have Euros to bring to exchange as we travel in Europe a lot. I am really not concerned about fulfilling criteria for educational/people to people reasons for traveling to Cuba. Whether I am naive or not, I haven't had anyone tell me that was an issue. I'm sure we will have plenty of educational experiences and people to people interaction. Beyond that I won't worry about it. I still haven't booked a tour for our first full day there but have two tourguides that have responded and offer a one day tour with major tourist sites, vintage car, cigar factory, museums, lunch etc. Doing one tour when we travel out of the US to a place we've never been has allowed us in the past to get one local person's perspective, and often gets us a few tips about things to do that we haven't thought of along with restaurant and bar recommendations. Their political views, views of local economy, etc., give insight that can be invaluable, in my opinion.

Lois2 Feb 12th, 2017 04:37 PM

yes Italy...that is about how we first day...I sort of overbooked for Havana but it was is very comfortable walking around...feels safe and honestly every block is interesting. If you don't hear from the other places I would call ..San Cristobel was really nice but I did have to reply to email. La Guarida did respond to email but honestly it was crazy in there and we enjoyed it less...I think it may be better for lunch...can't see much of the view at night and maybe lunch is less hectic.

Lois2 Feb 12th, 2017 04:39 PM

Also i suggest you go to El Cocinero ...I called them easy to get an English speaking for about 730 and then go next door to FAC...Fabrica del is a very interesting place...sort of art gallery...nightclub with different types of music etc. a fun evening according to anyone that goes...very popular in was closed when we were there so next time!

annhig Feb 17th, 2017 09:40 AM

italynovice - we didn't take a guided tour and felt that we managed our 4 days in Havana pretty well but of course, we don't know what we missed! if you think that you will benefit from it, by all means go ahead.

however I would look for one that shows you things that you couldn't do by yourselves - IMO the major museums and art galleries really don't need a guide, and nor do vintage car drives. A walk through Centrale with a guide would have interested me [we drove through it in "collectivo" taxi a few times] and learning more about Santoria, though some kind passers-by did give us a lecture on it when we were looking in a shop which sold the costumes.

I found this on TA - it might help you find what you want:

Good idea to take euros, but a word of warning - make sure that the notes you take are in perfect condition. We had some notes rejected because of very small defects like a tiny tear or crease - something that at home would pose no problem at all.

Hope you have great trip.

SambaChula Feb 18th, 2017 10:19 AM

Does a Catholic priest wear a "costume"? How about an imam or a rabbi? Basic cultural sensitivity is reflected in vocabulary--- and maybe even spelling the name of the religion correctly.

annhig Feb 18th, 2017 10:47 AM

<<and maybe even spelling the name of the religion correctly.>>

Lucky you, SC, if you have never been the victim of the dreaded auto-correct.

as for my use of the word costume - as I have no faith at all, I would describe all such apparel as costumes, so I suppose that I could be described as an equal opportunities insensitive person.

[and I suggest that you look up "costume" in the dictionary before you take the moral high ground]

overall, your intention seems to be to criticise anyone who has a different experience of Cuba to the one that you had, yours being superior to theirs. This makes it very difficult for the rest of us to share information, because you invariably come along and shut down the conversation.

We might even get the idea that you don't want anyone else to go to Cuba.

annhig Feb 20th, 2017 10:58 AM

thank you lois.

the fact is that we both enjoyed Cuba in our own different ways and have no problem with SC doing his/her own thing too.

Shame that s/he does not feel the same.

Axiom2017 Feb 20th, 2017 12:07 PM

This is ADDRESSED to Italynovice: for restaurant recommendations and other pertinent areas regarding Habana--check out, a web magazine which I have recommended in the past. It's superb. Also, if you're into Jazz, go to the Jazz Club, an intimate venue, which when I went on a Sunday eve. in 2015, had a variety of jazz musicians and vocalists. I truly enjoyed this experience. On other nights, there might be a different type of music performed.

Currently, I am designing my itinerary to use when I travel to Cuba (Habana and throughout for almost a month) beginning next Thursday, the 2nd of March. I'm mighty excited about my third and longest trip which will allow for much more independent traveling than not!

You will enjoy Habana and its culture and people!

Axiom2017 Feb 20th, 2017 12:26 PM

Axiom2017 erred in the above. I should have written "Jazz Cafe." I'd also suggest that you take a short trip to Cafe Libro, a small but quaint coffee shop and book store and community gathering place. Connor G. owns and runs it. I found visiting there in 2015 to be a delight in terms of what she has done and has offered the community. If you can, take donations of magazines or boxes of teas, namely fruity ones. Why do I write "fruity?" Well, I emailed a few days ago stating of my impending visit and requested what to bring as a donation. She mentioned teas which had fruit flavors. Tomorrow I'm going to purchase.

You can find the address of this venue on

italynovice Feb 21st, 2017 02:11 AM

Lois and Annhig, great advice. Went back and read trip reports and comments and got lots of good information reading your input and others. Annhig, we looked over info on tourguides and chose a 9 to 4 tour on our first full day there with Havanna Memories. We contacted our wonderful host of our air bnb and within 24 hours she emailed back that she had confirmed reservations at La Guarida, Dona Eutimia, San Cristobal, and El Cocinero. Lois, we made sure our Cocinero reservations were on a night that the FAC is open. We have probably over scheduled restaurants, but we enjoy good food and can focus on wandering around and touring with that done. Axiom, thanks for website info. I was not aware of it and will read through site. We definitely want to go to a jazz club so really appreciate the recommendation on the Jazz Cafe. Cafe Libre sounds like a wonderful place to visit. Fruit tea and magazines will be easy to pack and bring. Annhig, crisp bills it will be. Who would have thought! Of course read all recommendations on TP, wet wipes etc!
Appreciate everything!

SambaChula Feb 21st, 2017 04:32 AM

Here is Connor's blog:

from one of her articles titles "Tourism: Killing the Cuban Encanto?":
"This is the new normal for tourism in Havana. It ain’t pretty. I figured I’d just wait until it blew over (and it will blow over ... how do I reach.... the family of four “daring” to visit Cuba, trying to keep up with the Joneses?"

I'd highly suggest some of the folks criticizing me here read and consider it.

italynovice, enjoy the lovely view over the harbor at the Jazz Café. The harbor is one of the treasures in Havana.

Make sure you use your time to talk to as many Cubans as you can. Cuba is more about experiences than sights.

annhig Feb 21st, 2017 05:24 AM

italynovice - have a great time and please come back here and tell us about it.

crosscheck Feb 22nd, 2017 06:10 AM

Hi italynovice, SC is our resident troll - please take what he/she says with a grain of sal. Happy to answer questions. We were among the first independent US travelers to go to Cuba when flights opened up. We also used Havana Memories for a guide the first day, and ate at La Guarida and Cocinero (followed by a visit to FAC).

Check out my trip report (you can skip over SC's rants).

We checked 'educational' as our reason for travel. We did have lots of cultural interaction - met with and attended events with musicians, artists, filmmakers - mostly friends of friends, but also random people we met. No issues upon our return and the trip did in fact turn out to be 'educational.' You will have a blast!

SambaChula Feb 23rd, 2017 11:10 AM

"We were among the first independent US travelers to go to Cuba when flights opened up."

As was I, on the first direct flight in September.
Previously, travel was through Cancun.

Lois2 Feb 23rd, 2017 03:31 PM

as i said before Connor's blog is really off base and not even up to date

crosscheck Feb 23rd, 2017 03:45 PM

Lois2, Yes, lots of misinformation and condescending perspective.

Re: La Guarida - we went late and loved it. We tried to get into San Cristobal before we arrived and I'm sorry we didn't try once there. We also ate at Cocinero (fun, swanky and worth it for the access to FAC), Ivan Justo (known for paella, but you need to order an hour in advance) and Esto No Es Un Café, both in Old Havana. For location, ambience and varied food that you won't find elsewhere, Esto was a winner. Great menu in a cool courtyard with excellent music. I have a friend who runs music tours and she thinks it's the best meal in Havana. We wanted to go more than once.

SambaChula Feb 23rd, 2017 04:07 PM

The condescension is on the part of any out-of-touch Johnny-come-lately who makes light of the respect earned by experience in country. Connor Gorry is a journalist living in Cuba since 2002 and is respected for her professionalism and perspective on Cuba by all the experienced posters on every Cuba forum but this one apparently, and by most foreign visitors. She has been forming her ideas about Cuba since the 1990s. Foreign visitors flock to her cafe for advice and support, and a little bit of home.

crosscheck Feb 23rd, 2017 06:38 PM

I lived in Cuba when I was about the age that Conner was when she moved there. I also have lived in Mexico and Venezuela. In those places there were always expat gringos who had a holier-than-thou attitude about US tourists, when, in fact, the locals were much more tolerant. (I'm not a fan of rowdy/ignorant sightseers either, but I respect their right to travel as they please.) Also, Connor's writing suffers from an overuse of colons, semicolons, dashes, run ons, and appalling spelling errors. I do find some of her observations interesting, especially her musings about the American election. But It's really hard to believe that she has had journalistic training.

On another note, SC, it really would be terrific if you could learn to stop trolling and have a discussion here without insulting others. A forum - especially a travel forum - should thrive on diverse opinions and yours is provocative and most welcome. But your delivery really spoils the fun.

italynovice Feb 26th, 2017 07:08 PM

Crosscheck, thanks for your input. You bring up two restaurants that I had never considered, Esto and Ivan Justo. Hopefullly we can at least fit Esto in. I enjoyed your trip report. These trip reports are very helpful in trip planning, especially with tour books not up to date on current travel issues in Cuba. Glad to know Havanna Memories worked for y'all.

Any thoughts from you travelers on what to bring our host as a token of our appreciation? She has arranged transportation from the airport and made many dinner reservations for us. I am from New Orleans but can't think of anything unique to this area that might interest them. Any ideas from you travelers?

annhig Feb 27th, 2017 03:33 AM

italynovice - we took cornish fudge and biscuits to give to casa owners and they were very appreciative. We also tipped the first one who did a lot of casa booking for us very well which you can do on departure.

You could also ask if there is anything that you can bring - it's rather different because they were being paid for them, but the slovian salsa dancers who were staying in the same casa as us brought a load of parts for the owner's husband's car, which he couldn't get in Cuba. There was much rejoicing on the night they arrived, I can tell you!

SambaChula Feb 27th, 2017 06:42 AM

@italynovice---ASK them directly what might be useful. Do you have an email address with which to stay in contact? You may assume they are lacking certain things, when normally there are just periodic shortages before products can be found again for a time, but certain things are off the market more often.
Food gifts may be received with appreciation, but never touched afterwards. For example, several casas had Canadian maple syrup on the breakfast table, clearly from former Canadian guests, and never even sampled by the casa host.

Insofar as NOLA products, however, why not bring some creole seasoning? Food is rather bland and they may appreciate the novelty. Spicy food is in the African tradition which informs Cuban culture as well as that of New Orleans.
Some colorful framed photos of Mardi Gras, particularly the Indians to illustrate the African culture shared with New Orleans, or calendars with photos to decorate walls.
T-shirts for men (size S or M) or tank tops for women (size S usually works) with a NOLA logo.

italynovice Mar 4th, 2017 01:38 PM

Great suggestionsSambaChula and Annhig. Creole seasoning is easy to come by and pack, and mardigras items likewise. We did email our host (who has been extremely helpful with restaurant reservations etc) today to see if there was anything we could bring to show our appreciation for all she's done in advance of our trip. Curious to see how she responds. Very very excited to be going to Cuba; It's a bucket list trip my daughter before she starts medical school in the fall. If there are any last minute thoughts, I would love to have any input.

PANCHOLO May 24th, 2017 03:57 PM

Hi folks,

NCL Sky is cruising to Havana and we would like to know if Havana Bus Tours offered by NCL are multilingual, even using earphones or any other method or devices, for those that English is not the primary language. Can you help us ?? Thanks folks !!

SambaChula May 24th, 2017 04:46 PM

For a question so specific to a certain cruise line, ask on the Cuba forum of the Cruise Critic site, and also find there the roll call thread for each cruise.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:24 PM.