We had booked our first casa particular in advance and we would always do it again. We stayed with Julio in his Casa Caracol (30CUC per room per night). He was very welcoming and helped us in every situation. Best host so far! He even helped us to book our next casa particulars in other cities on our way through Cuba. His house is located in the center of Old Havanna which is called Havanna veja and the area is perfect to live in.
We loved Havanna (map) and after we adapted to the crowded, chaotic, hot and humid, crazy and overwhelming city we wanted to stay even longer. Buildings, streets, cars and nearly everything else in Havanna is pretty old and sometimes looks as if it would fall apart within the next minute. Cubans are one of the friendliest people we have ever met and we always felt save. Even at night in streets without any lights people would always greet us. We were most surprised by the lack of supermarkets and goods. There are only a few supermarkets and due to Socialism there is absolutely no choice between different products. Fruits, vegetables, meat and fish are bought on the street anyway. We were often told that people either hate or love Havana as it is such a lively city. We definitely love Havanna. Besides the centre of Havanna, we recommend to drive to the other side of the bay by taxi as you will have a wonderful view of Havanna with the sea in front of it. This part is called Casablanca. It is not really special itself and was nearly empty when we walked through the streets.
We walked a lot through Havanna which we would always recommend as you get to see much more. We did use a Coco Taxis once though, as we had to get to the Viazul Bus station which lies about 40 minutes by Coco Taxi away. It is always better to book the bus tickets before. When you decide to take a bicycle taxi, Coco Taxi or normal Taxi, always negotiate the price. Like in many other parts of the world, this seems to be part of the Cuban culture. Sometimes it is the best idea to arrange a Taxi and let the Taxi driver wait for you (for example when you buy the bus tickets at the bus station) as he will not charge you for the waiting time and there won’t always be other taxis.
Going out to eat
Food generally in Cuba is very different to what we are used to (European cuisine). You can choose between chicken, pork or fish and potatoes rice and sometimes vegetables as side dish. We had the impression that Cubans see food as a basis of life and not as a special occasion or gourmet experience. This attitude is based on the small selection of goods. We always tried to only eat cooked food or fruit that we could peel. It is always difficult for our European stomach to eat food that is fresh and washed with the local water as this is often not as hygienic as ours. We recommend to try out different dishes, but don’t expect culinary specialities.
For lunch: Jardines del Oriente. It is a very typical restaurant with a nice shady garden and huge plates full of Sandwiches, Chicken, Potatoes, Crisps, Salads and more. There are mainly locals as the dishes cost between 2 and 4,50 CUC which is very cheap and adequat for everyone.
For lunch and dinner: Granma. Amazing dishes, pretty modern, unique and cosy. As it is a very small and individual restaurant, people often queue in front of the entrance but it is definitely worth it. We had lamb and prawns and both were the most exciting and delicious dishes we have had all over Cuba. The prices for one dish go up to 6 CUC which is still really cheap for Europeans.
For dinner: Pescadore. Fish restaurant, nice atmosphere, friendly staff. The most expensive dish is crayfish which costs 12 CUC and was pretty good (no comparison to the one we had in Jibacoa though).
As many Cubans only speak Spanish, it is sometimes quite helpful to have a German / English speaking agency on-site. avenToura.de is the homepage of a German travel agency in Havanna which helped us a lot as we had booked one taxi with them. They were always available and even picked us up a day earlier as we asked for it. Very reliable!
We recommend to stay at least one week in Havanna in order to experience the special atmosphere of this city.