We Are Cosmopolitours

We Are Cosmopolitours
Farewell Havana VIP, We’ll Never Forget You!

We are proud to announce that we’ve expanded our operations into Colombia and Spain! We’ve also rebranded as Cosmopolitours to reflect the addition of both destinations. Please go to Cosmopolitours Facebook page and LIKE and FOLLOW us there. As an incentive to the first 100 folks who LIKE and FOLLOW us there, we will mail you a groovy old school poster created for Cosmopolitours by our friends at La Linterna Cali. See a photo of the posters being produced at La Linterna below.

We’ll tell you the story of La Linterna very soon over on the Cosmopolitours Facebook Page, but here’s a little teaser: La Linterna is a printworks located in Cali, Colombia that is home to the oldest continuously operating off-set printing press in the Americas. Because of that rare special press, it’s also a hub where many of Latin America’s best visual artists go to print their works, so it’s a great place to purchase their original limited edition artworks. Interested to learn more? LIKE and FOLLOW Cosmopolitours Facebook page and you’ll not only be the first to know when we post the story of La Linterna, and if you’re one of the first hundred who do so you’ll get the free poster too.

Cosmopolitans Poster created by La Linterna, Cali Colombia
Cosmopolitans Poster created by La Linterna, Cali Colombia | Cosmopolitours

Expanding our operations to Spain and Colombia took 4 years of intensive in-the-field research (much during the pandemic) which entailed multiple trips to practically every destination in both countries. That wasn’t always as fun or glamorous as it sounds. Most of the process was weeding out the unsuitable destinations, vetting guides and staff, consulting with lawyers, and of course building-up our portfolio of the exclusive cultural experiences that are our signature. There was a lot of sweat, several cases of sickness including multiple trips to ERs, doctors’ offices, even some dental work. We want all the aggravating stuff to happen to us, so that we can make sure it won’t happen to you. That’s what it takes to produce flawless hassle-free travel.

Cosmopolitours’ Owners Exploring New Experiences
Cosmopolitours’ Owners Exploring New Experiences | Cosmopolitours

We are experts at producing personalized Luxe Trips to Spain, Colombia, and Cuba. We originally began as Havana VIP Tours in 2011. Cuba is one of the most demanding places on the planet to produce the kind of tourism that we do. Like the song says, if we can make it there, we can make it anywhere.

After all the grunt work we then had to test out the product on some “Guinea Pig Clients” composed of very forgiving and patient family and friends. They got a really good deal on travel to Spain and Colombia in exchange for sharing daily feedback and putting up with some bumps and hiccups along the way. After we worked out those kinks, we then sent some adventurous former clients whose trips we literally shadowed every day though we didn’t disclose that to them until several days had gone smoothly. Now we’re ready to unveil what we’ve created for you and to the general public of discerning travelers who are our clientele.

Birthday trip to Cartagena, Colombia
Birthday Trip in Cartagena, Colombia | Cosmopolitours
Private Guided Visit to The Nazrid Palaces at The Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Private Guided Visit to The Nazrid Palaces at The Alhambra, Granada, Spain | Cosmopolitours

So now that you’ve read this far we have another special bonus offer for you. If you contact us and say the magic words “Open Sesame” we’ll give you a 10% mark-down on any trip you reserve between now and November 1, 2023, with a departure any time through September 1, 2024. That’s giving you our services more or less at cost, and we encourage you to take advantage of it!

We are thrilled to bring the same devotion to detail, creativity, original exclusive cultural experiences, and tour operator expertise that we are known for in Cuba to Spain and Colombia. We offer private bespoke trips (meaning no tour buses full of annoying strangers) for discerning travelers and their friends, family, and loved-ones. No trip planning headaches, no travel hassles, we take care of every detail allowing you to just have fun and enjoy your vacation. Our reviews speak for themselves, thanks to you.

Experience The Best of Colombia's Coffee Zone

Experience The Best of The Colombia Coffee Zone

By Gustavo Espinél

Gustavo is an arts and antiquities authenticator, a curator, a self-proclaimed evangelist for the “new Colombia” resulting from the peace process, and one of Cosmopolitours clients’ most favored guides. As a former professional dancer, he is known to bust a move any chance he gets.

I love to tell people about how great Colombian arts, culture, and food are because very often visitors to our country are surprised to learn about and encounter our amazing and lovely diversity in those areas. That’s why I work in both the arts and tourism. But the topic I have the most fun explaining is the one some people think they already know the most about: coffee. In fact, Colombian coffee is a very complex topic, not only regarding the cultivation, roasting, and preparation of the various drinks, but also economically, environmentally, and socially.

A great way to understand Colombia is to understand coffee. And without a doubt the best way to do that is to visit the Colombian coffee zone. Of course, the best way to travel to the Colombia coffee zone is with Cosmopolitours because we’ll take care of every detail and make sure you’ll get the very best the area has to offer. Even if you can’t visit Colombia’s coffee lands when you travel to Colombia with us, Cosmopolitours offers exclusive coffee experiences to our travelers throughout the country.

One thing to know: there is no real Juan Valdez from the TV commercias. That is a character made-up for advertising, like the Pillsbury Doughboy, or Captain Crunch. But if there was a Juan Valdez, the way to find him would be to travel to the Colombian Coffee region.

Now, pour a cup of your favorite coffee (I live in Bogotá where the altitude is high and the weather can be chilly, so I like a strong espresso), and let me tell you where you can encounter the world’s finest coffee, as well as a plethora of experiences to kickstart your knowledge and appreciation of Colombian culture.

Travel to Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia in Colombia Coffee Zone

The Colombia Coffee Zone is also known as EJE CAFETERO, TRIÁNGULO DEL CAFÉ o VIEJO CALDAS. It encompasses the regions of Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío in the central-western part of Colombia, nestled between the Western and Central Andes mountain ranges. It is a lush green sub-tropical region of rolling hillsides bordering the Andes.

View of a Coffe Plantation in Manizalez, Colombia
View of a Coffe Plantation in Manizalez, Colombia | Cosmopolitours

Visit the Colombian Coffee Region’s Breathtakingly Unique Landscapes

Personally, I find Colombia’s coffee zone to be a magical place. Every time I visit, either with clients or for my own interest, it revitalizes my energy and spirit through its landscapes, its people, their fabulous artisanal products, and countless fun activities.

As you descend into the international airports of any of the three nearby capital cities – Manizales, Pereira, or Armenia – it’s normal to sigh as the plane gradually immerses you in wondrous landscapes adorned with unique tropical vegetation, where some of the world’s best coffee thrives. UNESCO declared Colombia’s Coffee Cultural Landscape a World Heritage Site in 2011.

Luxury Lodgings at a Coffee Plantation in Colombia
Luxury Lodgings at a Coffee Plantation in Colombia | Cosmopolitours

Where to Stay in the Colombian Coffee Zone

The lodging options in the Colombian Coffee Zone offer options for every style of travel from very well-outfitted glamping, to 300-year-old family haciendas meticulously converted into world-class boutique hotels, to sustainable eco-lodges where you wake-up to the sound of birdsong while immersed in greenery. Depending on how many nights you might visit the Colombian Coffee region, you might want to mix and match different lodgings, maybe two nights in a hacienda and a night or two glamping.

Wherever you choose to stay, you then want to traverse the beautiful towns of Salento, Filandia, Pijao, and Salamina in the area’s traditional form of transportation, the iconic Jeep Willys. You’ll discover fabulous food, centuries-old coffee farms, and captivating tropical vegetation, including wild orchids, and see colorful birds. At Cosmopolitours, we’ll guide you through a magical exploration of these areas, ensuring you understand and live this fabulous adventure!

Experience Coffee Beyond Your Morning Cup in the Colombian Coffee Region

Nestled among the mountains of the Colombian Coffee Zone are the HACIENDAS CAFETERAS, coffee farms. Some of the Coffee plantation haciendas provide travelers the highest standards of top-tier lodging, gastronomy, and service. Travel to Colombia’s Eje Cafetero is about much more than the aroma and flavor of the world’s best coffee. With Cosmopolitours we usually arrange for you to learn by participating in everything from coffee bean harvesting to artisanal production processes, through roasting, grinding, and all the different variations for coffee brewing.

It is also important to learn the economics of Colombian coffee, the role of the national syndicate of Colombian Coffee Producers, the hundred-year-old cartel that monetizes the mass production of Colombian Coffee for export to the world (these are Juan Valdez’s employers), and the recent rise of smaller scale sustainable artisanal and specialist growers since the Colombian peace process of 2016. As I said, understanding Colombian Coffee is a way to begin to understand Colombia today.

I’ve lived the complete experience on some of these Colombian Coffee Farms both the big and famous ones, and small award-winning artisanal coffee producers, and there’s nothing quite like waking up to the chorus of a thousand birds and the sounds of coffee beans being harvested and ground. You open your room’s windows to breathe pure, coffee-scented air while witnessing workers lovingly gathering and selecting the finest beans directly from the coffee plants.

Here is where you might actually encounter the real life image of Juan Valdez, embodied by a farmer “arriero” dressed in a “carriel,” aguadeño hat, and poncho, transporting the coffee on a Jeep Willys.

Colombian Coffee Farmers “Juan Valdez”
Colombian Coffee Farmers “Juan Valdez” | Cosmopolitours

Experience the Colors of the Colombian Coffee Region’s Traditional Towns

You’ll be amazed by the traditional architecture of Pijao, Salento, and Filandia, where myriad colors create a magical ensemble with the landscapes. In fact, this was the inspiration behind the Disney movie Encanto. On the weekends, the town squares or plazas, come alive with people buying fruits and vegetables, and families out for a stroll with their kids. One of the most charming things to see is little kids enjoying pony rides, or rides around the plazas in mini jeeps!

You can also journey to the Santa Rosa de Cabal hot springs, a natural wonder where you can relax with a spa session amid some of Colombia’s most beautiful mountains.

Town of Salento on the Coffe Region, Colombia
Town of Salento on the Coffe Region, Colombia | Cosmopolitours

Best Shopping in the Colombian Coffee Zone

As I have mentioned, the artisanal goods are superb. You can get up close with the work of local artisans who have crafted high-quality, design-focused products, which have become very hot export items. It’s very fun walking through the shops near the central plazas of Filandia and Salento where you can discover beautiful unique contemporary jewelry and decorative goods, and also long-established family shops which have been offering traditional goods for generations. Of course, you need to be patient and really explore to weed-out the tourist traps selling second-rate goods to find the really good buys.

A couple of pro-tips to find the best shopping in the Colombian Coffee Region:

  1. Usually any shop selling curio items, like plastic mass-produced key chains or corny T-shirts with Marilyn Monroe or even Frida Khalo poster “art” should be avoided.
  2. Look for shops that show “proof” of the original production of whatever they are selling. Sometimes they may have a small workshop demonstration area on-site, but more often they proudly display photos of their goods being produced in workshops located in the surrounding hills where they have ready access to prime materials, and plenty of space to work.
  3. Don’t always assume that the younger artisans are inferior to the old-timers. In fact, there are several younger producers who studied abroad at some of the world’s best art schools who have returned to Colombia since the peace process to re-claim traditional products by presenting them with contemporary designs.

Personally, I recommend purchasing handwoven baskets from the workshops in the small towns. You’ll have fun walking around exploring, and you can find incredible pieces from architectural scale to smaller decorative items. They are creations crafted from the fibers of the giant tropical Bamboo we call “guadua biche” using ancestral and traditional techniques, representing craftsmanship tracing back to the indigenous groups that once inhabited the area.

Colombian Aguadeño Hat by Andres Hurtando, Manizales
Colombian Aguadeño Hat by Andres Hurtando, Manizales | Cosmopolitours

I also recommend everyone, men, women, everyone, to purchase a handcrafted aguadeño hat (our far-superior version of the Panama Hat) from a master hatmaker like Andres Hurtando in Manizales. Unlike the disposable cheaply made hats available practically on every street corner of every tourism area in Colombia, a real finely produced aguadeño will handle sun and sweat and last for years – and make you look good!

The Colombian Coffee Zone Is Also a Culinary Destination

The Eje Cafetero isn’t just about coffee. Thanks to its tropical climate and continuous production of fruits and vegetables, its cuisine has been enriched with various traditions and flavors. Colombian coffee region foodie travel experiences allows one to sample tropical fruits of the area, locally produced chocolates, fruit and herb infusions, and in the last ten years locally cultivated teas that have gradually intertwined with the coffee production. There is a vast array of restaurants and places where you can savor everything from traditional dishes to contemporary creations guided by experimental chefs.

I personally love having lunch in Salento, where they serve what many say is the finest trout in South America. These wild-caught trout thrive naturally in the cold rivers and streams flowing down from the Andes mountains, including the Ruiz and Tolima snow-capped peaks, crossing through the Cocora Valley. My favorite restaurant in Salento is Restaurante Donde Laurita Campestre, in a lovely traditional home with a central courtyard. They make unique preparations of these trout combine local ingredients into sauces, sometimes enchilado red sauces, cremoso cream sauces, and sometimes grilled and sprinkled with local herbs. Of course, this feast of traditional food must conclude with a delicious dessert made from regional fruits, paired with a “tinto,” as Colombian coffee is lovingly called.

Colombian Fried Trout
Colombian Fried Trout | Cosmopolitours

I also highly recommend the chorizos from Santa Rosa de Cabal. These savory sausages undergo a special process, being infused with a variety of local herbs and slow-cooked to irresistible perfection!

As you can see, travel to the Colombian coffee region offers a multitude of experiences that you can come to know and enjoy in exquisite detail. Best still, Contact Us for a customized trip to the Colombian coffee zone that we’ll tailor to your interests and preferences. I eagerly await you so that together, we can explore this enchanting region, enveloped in the rich aroma and flavor of Colombian coffee.

Three historic dishes that define Cuban food

Three Historic Dishes That Define Cuban Food

By Lauren García

Lauren grew up in Havana. She is a Cuban Art Historian, one of our clients’ most beloved Havana arts & culture guides, a rock guitarist, huge baking enthusiast and photographer.

First Of All: What is Unique About Cuban Food?

I can’t lie to you. To me Cuban food is one of the most fascinating and delicious things in the world. As Cuban culture itself, our cuisine emerged from diverse roots, which is why it has such rich flavors and plentiful recipes. Understanding a bit about Cuban cuisine also gives an understanding of our history. So let’s start with three historic dishes that define Cuban food.

Traditional Cuban cuisine has its foundations in the foods of the Taino People, who were indigenous to Cuba and other Caribbean islands long before the arrival of Colombus. During Cuba’s colonization by the Spanish, they began to adapt their own recipes using “new world” ingredients from the Taino, like yuca, sweet potatoes, beans, and peppers. Then, with the importation of enslaved laborers from West Africa, their cooking techniques and ingredients were also mixed-in. This fusion of Taino, Spanish, and West African influences is what we call Criollo (cree-oyo), and is really the basis for understanding so much about Cuban culture: our food, our music, our visual arts, our dance, even our religion Santería is the same kind of mash-up.

This results in multiple cultures mixing. A unique flavor that certainly makes you feel alive.

One of the most popular Cuba travel experiences that we offer our clients is our Cuban Cooking Class and Marketplace Tour. This is not a fancy demonstration by a chef in a show cooking kitchen, but a fun culinary adventure with a regular Cuban mom who speaks English. She’ll take you to the Marketplace where you’ll decide what you’ll cook based on the ingredients available (not everything is always available in Cuba)

What is Cuba’s Most Traditional Food? The Question of Questions

We know this is a popular question among visitors, and as usual, we at Cosmopolitours have the answer. A plethora of Cuban dishes could be mentioned when speaking of traditional cuisine on the island, but after a lot of debate and arguing amongst the team I have made this task much easier for you: I am going to introduce you to the ultimate top three Cuban cuisine treasures that define Cuban food. You can ask any local or Cuban around the world and they would mention these next three recipes without even blinking, always present in celebrations and even day to day life, each Cuban grandma (abuelita) competing to see who cooks them better (mine is the absolute winner, by the way). Are you ready?

This is the awaited answer: Ropa Vieja, Lechon Asado and Frijoles Negros. You’re welcome.

Ropa Vieja Traditional Cuban Dish
Ropa Vieja Traditional Style Cuban Dish | Cosmopolitours

Ropa Vieja: One of The Traditional Dishes That Define Cuban Food

Cuban cuisine’s emblematic dish, Ropa Vieja, is one of the worldwide most popular dishes of traditional Cuban food. And it is like this for a reason. Ropa Vieja is a stewed, tender juicy steak, slow-cooked, mainly with tomato, pepper, bay leaf, cumin, garlic and onions. I know, your mouth is watering right now, mine too. An all-time favorite and even delicious to imagine.

The words “ropa vieja” literally translate as “old clothing”, which comes from the idea that slow cooking and shredding beef is compared to washing old clothing tossed around carelessly. Of course, Cubans never lack imagination. This flavorful and tender cooked beef is often served with tostones which are mashed fried plantains (sort of our french fries), white rice and black beans.

Ropa Vieja is a must, and immediately comes to mind when speaking about traditional Cuban food. No doubt it is authentic Cuban cuisine and that it places the name of Cuban culture all around the world, but something interesting happens with this recipe, and it’s the fact that beef is not easily accessible for el cubano de a pie (day to day average Cuban person). Beef is very expensive and not sold in every store or marketplace in Cuba. One of Cuba’s most bizarre random facts is that sometimes sales of beef have been heavily penalized to manage food shortages. Until 2021, a cattle owner who commercialized beef products without a rigorous authorization from the government could face up to 15 years in prison.

Still, we never stopped eating Ropa Vieja because of that. We Cubans always know our way around and Ropa Vieja kept circulating on the downlow.

Ropa Vieja is a memorable, palate pleasing inspiring meal. The combination of the sauce and the meat provoques an awakening of the senses. Definitely a symbol of Cuban food. It’s rich, tasty and unforgettable.

Roasted Pork Countryside Style Spit Roasting Over Fire
Roasted Pork Countryside Style Spit Roasting Over Fire | Cosmopolitours

Lechon Asado: Succulent Crown Jewel of Cuban Food

First of all: I have no words. Lechón Asado is THE. MOST. DELICIOUS type of roasted pork you will ever try. There’s a Cuban song that goes like “el puerco, mamífero nacional” which means: pork, national mammal… Totally true.

Lechon Asado (or Roast Suckling Pig) is, without a doubt, Cuba’s most celebrated dish for holidays. Roast pork is every Cuban’s dream dish and is very significant in traditional Cuban cuisine, almost considered the main course for all kinds of celebrations. On birthdays, weddings, graduations, there’s always Lechon Asado with mojo sauce (a combination of spices, sour orange juice or lime juice, vinegar and garlic, which helps create the perfect roast suckling pig). One main event where Lechon Asado cannot lack, under any circumstances, is definitely New Year’s Eve. This is a holiday where Cuban cuisine reigns, and the whole family gathers to celebrate. Some of my core memories are of New Year’s Eve: the chilly glasses of rum, ice and lemon in the hands of my aunts, uncles and grandfathers sitting on their rocking chairs while discussing who was the biggest hero of the Revolution, the smell of the sour oranges coming from the kitchen to prepare the mojo criollo, my dad peeling the yucas, my mom and grandma checking how cooked was the meat and of course me trying to steal at least just a tiny bit of some roast pork. All of us anticipating to delight our taste buds with traditional Cuban food around 8:30 or 9 O’clock in the evening, and at the very center of the table, the glorious Lechon Asado.

This Cuban crown jewel can be prepared in the oven, but the traditional Cuban way is to cook it al carbón, typically on a charcoal-powered open-grilled griddle, or, as it is done in the country side (where is mainly cooked outside the house) roasting it on a spit, rotating it right over the fire.

As special as it is for Cubans, this highly popular dish is not only reserved for holidays. You can also find it as some kind of Cuban version of fast food. It’s so common to be walking down the streets of any province in Cuba and suddenly find a Pan con Lechón little spot (the original Cuban sandwich). During my college days these were a life-saver. The best, quickest and most delicious lunch alternative, followed of course by a good cafecito.

For our clients, we often organize our Fiesta Campesina Cuban Travel Experience in virtuous locations throughout the island. We roast the pork with all the side dishes, add live music, beer, and rum, you’ve got a party.

In Havana, one of the best restaurants to order Lechón Asado is Al Carbón by Chef Iván Justo. They often sell-out, so pre-order when making your reservation. Or better still, travel to Cuba with Cosmopolitours, and leave everything to us!

Cuban Street Food Pan con Lechón, the “Original Cuban Sandwich’
Cuban Street Food Pan con Lechón, the “Original Cuban Sandwich’ | Cosmopolitours

The Heart of Cuban Cuisine, Frijoles Negros

Cuban cuisine has a very endearing characteristic, which is that it’s made mainly for the family, to celebrate with loved ones, and to make everyone enjoy the moment together. In a Cuban kitchen there always has to be a bag or two of frijoles negros (black beans), which are actually the basis of the also very famous Arroz Congri or Moros y Cristianos (a delightful mix of white rice and black beans, also key in traditional Cuban food, I must say, Chef Kiss!).

Why am I saying that Frijoles Negros are the heart of Cuban cuisine? Let me explain myself. Black beans are a constant when speaking about Cuban food. Almost every Cuban dish is served with Frijoles Negros. It is an essential dish for families in the country and one of the first dishes you learn how to cook here. It is one of the foundations of traditional Cuban cuisine and Cuban meals. A common citizen in Cuba probably wont eat Lechon Asado or Ropa Vieja as often as Frijoles Negros, as it is a more affordable dish and as delicious as these two. You can eat Potaje, as we call it, with white rice, fried eggs and sweet plantains (a common lunch). You can eat them alone as a dense soup, the exquisite Frijoles Dormidos, or as the perfect side dish for all types of Cuban dishes.

Making a good casserole of Frijoles Negros takes time and a little bit of soul into it too, as for all Cuban food, we could say. First you need to soften the beans, which takes around half an hour in more modern cooking devices. In Cuba, most people still have the old fashioned three valve pressure cookers, ones that will take around an hour and a half to finish the same process. After this you need to add a sofrito, which is an aromatic blend, slowly cooked, of stirred fried vegetables, followed by elemental spices commonly found in Cuban dishes, such as cumin and oregano. After a few more minutes cooking over a slow fire, the beans should have the consistency of a soup with a soft creamy taste.

Our black beans, our Potaje, is a nutritious and powerful magic potion. You’ll fall in love.

Lauren’s Grandmother’s Frijoles Negros
Lauren’s Grandmother’s Frijoles Negros | Cosmopolitours
Our Cuban Mom Lidice with our Clients After a Cooking Class
Cuban Mom Lidice (last on the right) with our Clients After a Cooking Class | Cosmopolitours

So, What Does Cuban Food Taste Like?

Cuban food can be described with the following expressions: passion inspiring and life filling. It doesn’t matter what traditional cuban dish you try, from Ropa Vieja to Lechon Asado to Frijoles Negros, from root vegetables to arroz con pollo or a small cuban coffee, Cuban food will make you feel alive.

Mastering our recipes requires the cook to have a will to have fun, determination, enthusiasm and a bit of ardor in the heart. And as we know you have it all, the Cosmopolitours team invites you to join our Cooking Classes. In Cuba, we won’t take you to a chef with a show kitchen. A Cuban Mom who speaks English will take you to the Marketplace where you’ll buy the ingredients, then to her home kitchen to cook everything up. It’s a total non-tourist travel experience that lets you live a bit of Cuban daily life. In Havana that’s with Lídice, in her house. What better teacher than that?

Buen Provecho!!!

An Insider Expert Havana Nightlife Guide

Clubs in Havana: an Insider Expert Havana Nightlife Guide

By Lauren García

Lauren grew up in Havana. She is a Cuban Art Historian, one of our clients’ most beloved Havana arts & culture guides, a rock guitarist, huge baking enthusiast and photographer.

Looking for Nightlife in Havana, Cuba

Havana’s nightlife is definitely one of a kind. From live music to jazz clubs, salsa dancing or discos, Havana has it covered for you. People often ask me where we young Cubans go to enjoy our nightlife in La Habana, so I created this Havana nightlife guide. Of course Cosmopolitours clients never have to ask this because we just take you to the right place on the right night. So if you want to go to the best bars and nightclubs in Havana, contact us for a free consultation to discuss planning your personalized trip to Cuba. (You might even end-up talking to me!)

Havana Nightlife, Bars & the Best Clubs in Havana

Many visitors to Cuba expect that we have only an upscale salsa dance culture. While it’s true that Cuban salsa music is the best salsa music there is (though my Cosmopolitours teammates from Colombia think theirs is better, they are just wrong – sorry not sorry) although salsa remains an important part of Cuban culture and society, Cuba’s musical diversity comes from a variety of musical styles unique to our island. Anyone can discover a particular sound they like and maybe fall in love with it depending on your taste. If you are a jazz club lover, live music enthusiast or a salsa dancing machine, you will find a Havana nightclub that will delight you.

As for different nightlife neighborhoods of the city, there are many interesting zones with live music. For tradition and great atmosphere go to Old Havana, using as a reference Cosmopolitours’ nightlife walking tour that I and others on our Havana team create and maintain. Another part of Havana nightlife territory is El Vedado, the neighborhood where you can encounter some of the city’s best nightclubs.

In this story I am going to focus on my favorite live music venues. I’m going to share where I go, when and why.

FAC Main Bar at Fabrica de Arte Cubano
Main Bar at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) | Cosmopolitours

What is a Famous Club in Havana?

Fabrica de Arte Cubano

Nowadays the answer to this question will be Fábrica de Arte Cubano or as we sometimes say for short, La FAC. As mentioned in countless international media articles, this former cooking oil factory was transformed into a vibrant center for visual arts and one of Havana’s best live music venues by the famous Cuban musician and artist X Alfonso. La FAC is a very unique night spot because within its compound you can explore a live music space, an art and photography gallery, a theater, a restaurant, and small cocktail bars are all over the place. Two floors have DJs playing records all night (from Thursday to Sunday, from 8pm until 2am). Add to that it is located right next door to El Cocinero, a super nice and popular restaurant where Ana de Armas celebrated her 35th birthday on her last trip to Cuba.

For those who don’t want to feel restricted to just dancing you are welcome to roam other areas, or Naves as they are called, including art and photography galleries, live theater/cinema and fully-stocked bars to guarantee one of the best nightlife experiences in Havana. Also, don’t miss the VIP room, a must for being the meeting point of Havana’s top celebrities and artists, but not only that, it also has THE BEST view for the live concerts. Fun fact? Our clients always have access to it.

It is recommended to arrive early as it is a very popular place for people of all ages. In terms of dress code, the philosophy here is “come as you are”, feel free and have a fun night in one of the most famous Havana nightlife spots.

My favorite night for Fabrica de Arte Cubano is Sundays because there’s always fun to be had there when other places in the city are closed. Of course, I have been many other nights if they have a special art opening or DJ session, so for sure check their Facebook page for events while you are visiting Havana.

Casa de la Música Miramar
Pascualito Cabrejas y su Tumbao Habana at Casa de la Música Miramar | Cosmopolitours
Image by @casamusicamiramar

Live Cuban Salsa Music Club in Havana

Casa de la Música de Miramar

PRO TIP: There are two venues called Casa de la Música in Havana. The one I prefer is Casa de la Música de Miramar. The other Casa de la Música is in Centro Habana on Galiano Street, which is a completely different place that I sometimes don’t like so much.

I like Casa de la Música de Miramar because it is the spot to see Cuba’s leading live salsa bands and Reggaetoneros (If you are not familiar with this term just know Reggaetoneros are as popular in Cuba as hip hop stars in America, they play Reggaeton music, which is catchy, rhythmic and very, very popular all over Cuba).

In Casa de la Musica the bands play on a large concert stage in front of a spacious dance floor that is surrounded by tables and chairs. Like nightclubs anywhere, the way to score a good table is to tip the floor host and order bottle service. Unlike clubs elsewhere in the world, a good tip is $20 bucks, and a bottle of the three years-old Havana Club rum (the best rum for mixed drinks) with ice bucket and cans of cola or lemon-lime mixers is usually $30 dollars. If you are looking to dance salsa music with Cubans (or just observe us dancing), this is one of the best spots you can find.

My favorite night to drop-by here with friends is Monday nights because you can sometimes catch some of the biggest names in Cuban music playing here unannounced as they prepare to tour. Also, Monday night is the dead night in Havana, and Casa de la Música is one of the few places open.

Café Teatro Bertolt Brecht

This place is my jam!

El Bertolt, as we call it, is a literally underground nightclub below the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center which adjoins the famous Reform Jewish Synagogue at the corner of 13th & I Streets in El Vedado. Entry is sometimes only $1 Dollar.

El Bertolt has a lounge area with a vintage 1950’s era jet-age style bar and doors leading into a small theater where up & coming Cuban Contemporary Musical Artists perform top-flight music. Still, it is a place for artistic experimentation and open to new performers. In fact, if you know how to play an instrument chances are you can share the scenario with the band and have a nice and fun music solo.

This is the go-to fave for University of Havana students of all fields of study, so it is a good place where you might strike up an interesting conversation with students looking to practice their English. I once took some clients of ours who are top administrators from NYU to El Bertolt where they spent the night in the lounge area happily drinking beer and chatting with a group of grad students from the University of Havana’s School of Pedagogy.

My favorite night to go to El Bertolt is Friday because it’s when the University students finish their weekly studies and go out to have a good time.

Cuba’s First Female Electronic Duo at Yarini Habana
PAUZA, Cuba’s First Female Electronic Duo at Yarini Habana | Cosmopolitours
Image by @yarinihabana

Old Havana Nightlife

El Floridita Bar

OK I can picture you rolling your eyes and telling me, “But Lauren, El Floridita is one of the biggest tourist traps in all of Old Havana! I want to experience the real Havana nightlife.” Please hear me out brothers and sisters, I would never steer you wrong…

It is true that El Floridita in Old Havana is a bar listed in every tourist guidebook of Havana. It was commonly visited by Ernest Hemingway, and it is known for being the birthplace of the Daiquiri cocktail, bla bla bla,,,. Whatever. Look past that – literally.

Push past the crowd of tourists struggling to take their photo with the bust of Hemingway, take a seat at one of the tables along the far wall, and then look around at the perfectly preserved 1940’s era regency style nightclub until you spot the small formal combo of live musicians in the corner. Take a deep relaxing yoga breath. You have been transported back in time.

El Floridita is one of the only places where you can experience the real Havana nightlife… of the 1940’s and 50’s! Order a Daiquiri (I take mine Papa Hemingway style – no added sugar), maybe get some croquetas or other snack, and just take it all in. This is not staged kitsch. Feel the history.

The truth that the tourist books don’t tell you is that back in the day, Hemingway was one of the least famous people to go to La Floridita. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall sat in maybe the same exact spot as you are in, and enjoyed a very similar live combo. Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Kings and Queens, Dictators and Mafiosos, everybody who was somebody loved El Floridita. And now you can too.

My favorite nights to go to El Floridita are Tuesdays and Wednesdays around 6:00 pm – what you might call happy hour time. On those nights it is not so crowded, and at this time many tourists have gone to their hotels after a long day walking the Plazas of La Habana Vieja.

Didn’t I promise I would never steer you wrong? You don’t have to apologize for doubting me, just know that the selfie-seekers nearby the Hemingway statue are missing the real experience.

Cuban Pop band Nube Roja performing in Yarini Habana
Cuban Pop band “Nube Roja” performing in Yarini Habana | Cosmopolitours
Image by @yarinihabana

Yarini Habana

This place is exceptional. For sure the most talked about rooftop terrace in Havana right now. For being such a recently opened spot its popularity has risen considerably to the point that highly respected and sought after Cuban bands such as the iconic Sintesis (the kings of fusion music in the island) or younger generations’ hot new producers like Pauzas guarantee having a show at this spot on San Isidro street. With an art gallery on the bottom floor and surrounded by graffiti, the allure of this place doesn’t just stop here. San Isidro street holds one of the most legendary stories in Old Havana as it was the main territory and deathbed of mythical pimp Alberto Yarini, a highly significant character in Old Havana’s lore and identity.

Not only you will find good live music here but also great food and a wide variety of beautifully presented cocktails for all tastes, all surrounded by a truly captivating view of Wonder City La Habana. If I were you I wouldn’t miss this place.

Cuban Jazz Clubs in Havana

Jazz Café

Cuban jazz is renowned for its excellence. This upscale spot is a must for jazz club lovers who want to enjoy great music with an enviable ocean view. Located on the top floor of Galerias de Paseo mall in Vedado right in front of El Malecón. in the heart of El Vedado. Entry and Jazz Café is comparatively costly by Cuban standards, so for us this place is a special night out.

My favorite night to go to Jazz Café is Saturday night because that’s when they present the best musicians. It ‘s also like a refreshing oasis of calm in contrast to Havana’s Saturday Night Fever.

Jazz Club La Zorra y el Cuervo

La Zorra y El Cuervo is a legendary Havana Jazz Club in a private basement lounge with dim lights and low ceilings where visitors can experience live performances of leading Cuban Jazz artists up-close and personal. It can get smoky, it can get hot and sweaty, it can get too crowded, but I once personally have seen the legendary Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdéz perform here to a room of about 40 people.

My favorite night for La Zorra y El Cuervo is Wednesday because that is open-mic night and you never know which living legends may drop-in to play.

Cuban Rock & Roll Live in Havana

The Submarino Amarillo Club in Havana
The Submarino Amarillo Club in Havana | Cosmopolitours

El Submarino Amarillo

Want to hear some Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith á lo Cubano? This is your place. This yellow corner that you will spot from two blocks away when you’re nearby is a little jewel for rock & roll lovers. I grew up listening to rock & roll music. My mom would play it all the time and sometimes she would even sing some AC/DC to me as a lullaby, literally. So you can be sure that my ear is trained when it comes to detecting good rock music, which you will find once you pass the bright yellow doors.

The bands that play the song covers here can be really awesome. You might feel the original Stairway to Heaven is being played right in front of you if you close your eyes and feel the music. And I’m not saying it because my friend is the lead vocalist of one of the best rock & roll groups in Submarino Amarillo and in Havana (they have a matinee every Saturday in the evening, wink). It is also a good place to get to see the local die-hard rock & roll fans sing all the classics at the top of their lungs, which can be a fun and interesting experience as many people won’t expect that Cuba has such an active rock & roll scene and culture.

The drinks are actually cheap, and what the place lacks in square meters, it compensates with good vibes, cool long-haired talented musicians and the opportunity to enjoy a rock concert in the heart of Havana.

Plus Info: If you walk to the park right next to the place you’ll find John Lennon sitting on a bench and you can let him know what it was like to visit the Yellow Submarine.

Bonus Little Jewel

Fangio Habana

I needed to make a special mention for this place because it combines a few interesting things that got my attention since the first time. To begin with, it is located in a small boutique hotel in Vedado called Claxon. This place is a delight to see: a traditional early 20th Century Havana’s house, beautifully decorated following the theme of Classic Cars. So for the fans of these vintage racing machines this can feel like paradise. Once you get inside, you go up to a rooftop where you find Fangio Havana, known as The place that has it all in the heart of El Vedado. Here you will have a nice restaurant, exclusive mixology and a space for musicians and artists to perform in a private and chic environment. Here, the visitors can enjoy of an attractive array of musical options, from intense jazz sessions with big big names like Ernán López Nussa to fun dancy nights with the charismatic Alain Pérez. So I would definitely try it. I think this place is a guaranteed success!

Experts in Private Luxury Tailor Made Trips

Cosmopolitours: Experts in Private Luxury Tailor Made Travel to Spain, Colombia, and Cuba

What Does Tailor Made Travel Mean?

At Cosmopolitours we specialize in tailor made fully independent custom trips to Spain, Colombia, and Cuba. We are destination specialists, meaning we don’t work in other destinations on all seven continents of the world.

We only work in Spain, Colombia, and Cuba. This means that unlike some bigger companies that resell trips from smaller local agencies on a global network, we are dedicated specialists in our chosen destination. Cosmopolitours’ totally customized trips are planned and operated exclusively by us. We are travel experts with insider knowledge that only comes from years of experience.

We will personally create the dream vacation that fits your personal interests and preferred style of travel. We are bespoke trip specialists who, since 2011, have tailored over 400 trips to Cuba, Spain, and Colombia according to the exact requirements or discerning travelers like you.

Make your next trip a Cosmpolitours tailor made vacation.

Michelin-rated Chef
Michelin-rated Chef Periko Ortega of Recomiendo Restaurant, Cordoba, Spain. | Cosmopolitours

What Is The Difference Between Ready Made and Tailor Made Trips?

The obvious analogy to explain the difference between a ready-made itinerary and Cosmopolitours tailor made itineraries is that it’s like the difference between ordering a tailor made suit from a bespoke tailor, versus buying a suit off-the-rack at your local department store. The bespoke tailor measures every part of your body, works with you to choose the perfect fabric color and weight, the buttons, everything is literally tailor made. An off-the rack suit comes as-is, maybe you can get some alterations done, but for the fabric, the lining, the buttons, you get what you get.

Since not everyone can relate to bespoke tailoring, let’s say a tailor made trip versus a ready made trip is the difference between a McDonald’s cheese burger, and one from Shake Shake or Five Guys. The McDonald’s Cheeseburger is ready-made, there’s no variety, no choices, everybody who buys one gets the same exact thing. Shake Shake and Five Guys are made-to-order just for you, and you get to choose exactly your favorite toppings.

Ready-made itineraries are cookie-cutter off-the-rack packages that are very rigid from a traveler’s point of view. If an activity that you want to experience in say, Spain, is not included on your ready-made itinerary, you’re on your own or out-of-luck. The companies who offer these ready-made cookie-cutter itineraries keep costs low by producing a uniform trip, then try to maximize profit by up-selling travelers who want something extra. Up-selling trip add-ons are particularly common with pre-packaged “adventure” tours to South America like the Galapagos Islands and Machu-Picchu, Southeast Asia, and every destination in Europe.

Customized Package Tours?

It sounds like a contradiction: customized and packaged. But by ‘”packages” what we mean are tailor made itineraries specifically designed for you by your expert knowledgeable guide: us – Cosmopolitours. A Cosmopolitours trip is a private journey itinerary we’ll tailor just for you, your family and friends based on your interests. The itinerary we create includes every detail in every destination you’ll visit: your hotel, transportation, fun activities, entertainment, meal reservations, and, of course, local guides.

At Cosmpolitours we take exactly the opposite approach than the mass cookie-cutter trip sellers. We start planning from the point of view of wanting to create your personal trip of a lifetime. Your private journey will be filled with exactly the kind of experiences that you want, led by our expert local guides, woven together by us applying our experience and infrastructure to realize your travel inspiration. It’s your perfect holiday that we’re going to spend time planning together.

We’ll give you whatever level of luxury hotels or accommodation that you prefer and fit your budget. We’ll arrange visits to destinations filled with off the beaten track local culture experiences, unique travel experiences and excursions, that match your interests so that you discover the local culture in a fun interactive adventure.

Visit to Botero’s Museum
Exclusive Visit to Botero’s Museum Guided by the Artist’s Grandson, Colombia | Cosmopolitours

You Should Take a Cosmopolitours Tailored Vacation to Spain, Colombia, or Cuba

Cosmopolitours customized holidays are based on your preferred style and pace of travel. We take into account your interests, your budget, and the particulars of who you’re traveling with. If you have a group of friends, you’ll have different needs than a family including parents, grandparents, and kids from tweens to teens to young adults.

We’re a small agency on purpose, so that when we agree to arrange your custom travel itinerary, we give you the very best trip ideas and expert advice to make your travel dreams come true. And if you’re traveling for a special occasion, like a birthday, honeymoon or graduation, there are many trip based choices that need to be made to make your private journey as close to flawless as possible. When you are a Cosmopolitours client, we’ll give you the same level of commitment and attention to detail regardless of your budget.

There are plenty of experienced travel consultants in the world. One of the many attributes that really elevates Cosmopolitours is our portfolio of exclusive experiences and activities. Add-in our attention to detail, our commitment to ethical travel

What Is a Disadvantage of Tailor Made Holidays?

Usually just cost is the big disadvantage. Simply put, tailor-made vacations cost more. Just like the McDonald’s cheeseburger, a cookie-cutter trip costs less than a tailor made customized trip. As they say, you get what you pay for.

But you also get more out of your trip because the quality of trips we produce is definitely worth more than what our clients spend, not even adding in the time and frustration they save by leaving the planning to us.

Private Coffee Tasting
Private Coffee Tasting in Bogota, Colombia | Cosmopolitours

Cosmopolitours’ Travel Agency Services

We work on every detail of our trips. We choose the perfect accommodation and hotels based on your budget, but also the property location, and even which particular rooms might better suit your lifestyle. We arrange private tours, private transfers, reserve the best restaurants, provide you with our expert advice, and choose and screen local guides who are experts in art, history, architecture, food, whomever is the best match for your interests. We even pick the local guides who we think will be the best fit to make your travel dreams come true.

Our tours and experiences, like our art tours, food experiences, architecture tours, every activity we offer is original, created, owned and operated only by us. No one can book our exclusive experiences by buying them on the internet. You’ll never find Cosmopolitours experiences and tours for sale on Viator. Though you will find many imitators
We are even licensed travel insurance agents in order to give our clients the very best travel insurance advice.

Cosmopolitours is also accredited by IATAN, the travel professional accrediting department of IATA, the same international group that sets global standards for air carriers. The few services that we do not offer is ticketing for international flights, since most of our clients prefer to make their own air reservations based on their frequent flyer programs.

feeding baby monkey
Cosmopolitours’ Client Feeding Baby Monkey at Zoo’s Nursery | Cosmopolitours

More Than Bespoke Luxury Travel

For most people, a bespoke luxury vacation is about staying at 5-star properties, being chauffeured in black cars, and eating at Michelin rated restaurants. If that’s what tailor made luxury travel means to you, then you don’t need Cosmopolitours to plan your trip. Just call your favorite luxury accommodation brand (we recommend Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, and Peninsula Hotels), reserve your stay, and ask the concierge to make the appropriate reservations.

Anyone can charter a private jet, arrange an airport transfer in a black Mercedes-Benz, and reserve a suite at Four Seasons Hotels. But not everyone can seamlessly weave in exclusive excursions and experiences based on your interests that bring your travel dream to life, creating an adventure so that you can truly discover the destinations you’ll visit. That’s just a part of what Cosmopolitours does.

Horse Farm
Exclusive visit to Dahesa Fuente Ymbro Horse Breeding Farm Cadiz, Spain | Cosmopolitours

A Dream Trip By Cosmopolitours Means Attention To Detail Before, During, and After Your Journey

We are among the very best Spain, Colombia, and Cuba travel experts in the world, and our service – the luxury we offer – is the care and detail we put into time planning each and every journey. For us, luxury is service, care, and attention to detail.

At Cosmopolitours a great trip is as close to flawless as possible. We polish every detail of your itinerary before you travel, then keep track of your trip in real time, so that your friends, family, and loved ones can relax and enjoy a flawless trip. We expect every private journey we plan to immerse you, your family, and friends into each destination based on your interests, where all the tours combine to create an adventure where you can let go of the worries of your daily life, hand-over all the hassles and trip logistics to us, and just enjoy your trip of a lifetime.

A Luxury Traveler? We Say Discerning Travelers

For us, the word luxury focuses too much on budget. But a discerning traveler is someone who sees that the value in a tailor made trip is about the content of the journey, the flexibility and opportunity of independent travel with expert local guides who act as much as friends as they do advisors and on-the-spot concierge.

Our clients are discerning travelers because they know what they want to get out of their trip. They have ideas about the destination they want to visit, have researched some excursions based on their interests, some of the hotels and attractions, and usually have perused some sample itineraries. And based on all of that knowledge, the discerning traveler is wise enough to know that they themselves can’t put all those moving pieces together to create the perfect trip itinerary.

That’s when the discerning travel affords themselves the luxury of having Cosmopolitours tailor their Cuba itinerary, design their custom tour of Spain, or plan their dream vacation to Colombia for them.

Day Trip to a Kogii Village
Day Trip to a Kogii Village in the Sierra de Santa Marta, Colombia | Cosmopolitours

Contact Cosmopolitours to Plan Your Dream Trip to Spain, Your Journey of a Lifetime to Colombia, or Your Unforgettable Holiday in Cuba

Let us know when you would like to travel. Give us a window of dates. For example “we want to spend 14 nights traveling in Colombia anytime after June 3, but we need to be home for sure by June 25. (FYI: when travel planning it’s best to count nights, not days.)

Tell us how many people are in your traveling party, and what the rooming configuration should be. Something like “we are 3 couples in our late 30’s, friends from college who always travel together, we’d like 3 rooms with king-sized beds.”

Describe your dream itinerary. Give us a sense of the destinations you want to discover, and the type of activities and experiences that match your interests.

Experience las Parrandas de Remedios

Las Parrandas de Remedios The Historic Fireworks Celebration

This is a guest blog post about the Parrandeas de Remedios is by Geovanny, one of our great guides for the Cienfuegos and the other destinations of Central Cuba.  Every Christmas he leads our clients to las Parrandas de Remedios which, as you’ll read below is one of Cuba’s great cultural events going back 200 years. Here’s what Geovanny has to say:

San Juan de los Remedios, was christened as the eighth village founded in Cuba, by the Spanish conquistador Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa, in the 19th century. Located right at the center of the Cuban archipelago, in the province of Villa Clara, Remedios as we call the town, is home to one of the most authentic popular festivals of Cuba’s Popular and Traditional Culture. Held every December 24 since the year 1820, “Las Parrandas de Remedios,” as an introduction to the Misa del Gallo or Rooster Mass, which transcends its spirituality at midnight, inside the warm ancestral walls of the church Parroquial Mayor of San Juan de los Remedios.

Every Christmas Eve, the town of Remedios mounts its celebration the Parradas de Remedios, dividing itself into two imaginary neighborhoods, “El Carmen” and “San Salvador”; who engage in a friendly fraternal challenge to show-off their aesthetic ideals, music, and popular zeal only for the pride of bragging rights, with living legacies. A whole artistic mix, is summed-up in the term “Parrandas” music, performances and dance, congas and most famously pyrotechnics, combining all of Cuba’s cultures from the aboriginals, the African slaves, the Spaniards and other Europeans, and the Chinese, all inherited through the centuries to the present. The celebrations take-over Remedios public plazas filling them with music and food and the “carrosas” parade floats of light and music every bit as vivid as the fireworks themselves. The Parrandas de Remedios nights are our national transculturation and seal this sociocultural phenomenon as a major event.

The Parrandas de Remedios are public feasts of light and sound and of course food are considered to be perhaps the most genuine and authentically Cuban of all our celebrations, preserved from the popular  and traditional culture of past centuries and declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation. Located in the North Center of the Island where the coffee and sugar, industrial economy of the area in the 1800’s a sociocultural and economic development that marks the balance between history and time.

Even if you cannot come for Christmas and the Parrandas de Remedios, on your journey through the Cuba, you should discover Remedios wan incredible small tropical town where dreams blend with reality,  magical colored energies, thus converting the city into a unique tableau for the enjoyment and spirit of one of the most legitimate and exotic festivities of Cuba.

Official Old Havana Bar and Pub Crawl

The Official Old Havana Bar and Pub Crawl

Several new privately owned and operated bars have sprouted-up in Old Havana in addition to the well-known state-owned attractions like La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita. The addition of these new locations has created a new nightlife adventure: The Old Havana Nightlife & Pub Crawl.

This is a 9-pub crawl. If you have one drink at every stop… well, do the math while you still can. Also, there are numerous other drinking spots along this route that we haven’t included.

Have fun, use your common sense: stay safe…  So here is the Official Old Havana Nightlife Pub Crawl 2019

  1. Begin at La Bodeguita del Medio the famous tourist bar near the cathedral;
  2. Have a cocktail on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Ambos Mundos;
  3. Proceed to La Vitrola on La Plaza Vieja where Madonna infamously table danced on her 50th birthday. There are some other drinking spots nearby too;
  4. Catch some live music at La Taberna del Son;
  5. Head east on Teniente Rey (Brasíl) to ArtPub;
  6. At La Plaza del Cristo is El Chanchullero, a pioneer of Old Havana’s privately-owned pubs;
  7. Kilómetro Cero is at the corner of Teniente Rey y Monserrate;

  8. La Floridita is the famous Hemingway favorite hole originator of the Daiquirí; and finally…

  9. El Del Frente is a true hotspot with locals and travelers alike.

Taxis are easily found outside El Floridita to make your way home.

La Bodeguita del Medio

Empedrado #207 entre Cuba y San Ignacio, La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 7 867-1374

Hotel Ambos Mundos Roof Terrace

153 Obispo esq Mercaderes, La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 7 860-9529



La Vitrola

San Ignacio esq. Muralla (La Plaza Vieja), La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 5 285-7111


Taberna del Son

Calle Teniente Rey (Brasíl) #104 Entre Cuba y San Ignacio, La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 5 310-5017



Calle Brasil no.306 e/ Aguacate y Compostela, La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 (7) 861-5014


El Chanchullero

Teniente Rey (Brasíl) #457A Plaza Cristo, La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 5 276-0938


Kilómetro Zero

Monserrate #437 (Bélgica) Esquina Teniente Rey (Brasíl), La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 7 860-0116


El Floridita

Obispo #557 esquina Monserrate (Bélgica), La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 7 867-1300


El del Frente

Calle O’Reilly No. 303 entre Habana y Aguiar, La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba

+53 (7) 867-4256

Can Americans Travel to Cuba Legally? Yes!

NOTE: See our latest post for more up-to-date information on 100% legal independent travel to Cuba reflecting the new Trump rules. 

Since last week’s announcement of commercial flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to some destinations in Cuba, we’ve had a surge in people emailing us questions like this:

“Hi, Now that independent travel to Cuba is permitted, I would like to do just that. Can I reserve my own airfare and book your daily tours/sessions to meet the educational requirement? Is just one educational session per day adequate, so I can go to the beach and wander around on my own? Thanks”

OK, let’s look at the exact general license (or permission) she’s referring to, to use to travel to Cuba. It’s regulation CFR § 515.565(b) otherwise known as People-to-People exchange.  According to the Federal Register, CFR § 515.565(b) was updated in March of 2016 to read: “This section now authorizes individuals to travel to Cuba provided that, among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

So the answer is that independent travel to Cuba by a US Citizen or Permanent Resident may travel to Cuba independently as long as: “among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities”.

So what does the US Government mean by a full-time schedule?  Well, they helpfully provide examples of what does and doesn’t qualify right there on the same page we linked to.  Let’s go with Example #5, because you’ll see that it sounds a lot like what our emailed question was proposing:

“An individual plans to travel to Cuba to participate in discussions with Cuban farmers and produce sellers about cooperative farming and agricultural practices and have extended dialogue with religious leaders about the influence of African traditions and religion on society and culture. The individual also plans to spend a few days engaging in brief exchanges with Cuban food vendors while spending time at the beach. Only some of these activities are educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba, and the traveler therefore does not have a full-time schedule of such activities on each day of the trip. The trip does not qualify for the general license. ”

OK so the person who emailed us is definitely not qualifying.  But let’s say you’re willing to do the legwork to DIY a true full-time itinerary, no “wandering around”, and no “going to the beach”. You just need a full-time itinerary and to keep all your records, right?

Not quite.  Because there’s something else that’s not exactly spelled out .  The regulation says “among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities”- what are  “among other things”?  Here’s where it gets trickier to DIY your travel to Cuba.  The “other things”  one has to do are: a) maintain complete records of your travel and expenses while in Cuba for five years; and b) avoid interactions with banned individuals and members of certain Cuban Government organizations including the Communist Party of Cuba, MININT, and MINFAR.

The first part about records is a bit of a hassle, but manageable. Just keep a copy of your full time itinerary of everything you did, and receipts for everything you spent doing that itinerary for five years after your trip. Remember it’s an economic embargo the U.S. is maintaining against Cuba, so everything you spend means everything – lodging, transportation, everything.

But that second part… how do you know if you’re dealing with a banned individual or whatever?   The answer is that obviously you as a foreigner don’t know.  The good news is that very few members of the MININT (the Ministry of the Interior – like the secret police) and the MINFAR (Ministry of the Revolutionaly Armed Forces – the military) are allowed to have any interactions at all with foreigners.  The bad news is those that are allowed are either spies or police. However, they want very little to do with the average traveler to Cuba.

But really, the question is why would you want to deal with all this yourself when you can have us, the experts at Havana VIP Tours do it for you? Independent travel to Cuba with Havana VIP means we’ll show you the best of Cuba. Independently. Customized itinerary.  No big tour group of strangers. No hassles.

Papa: Hemingway in Cuba

The reviews are in, and they’re pretty unanimous: Papa:Hemingway in Cuba movie stinks.  It was to be expected.  The truth about the history of Hemingway in Cuba is that he’s more of a footnote than a main character.  Hemingway was already famous when he first began drinking, writing, and fishing in Cuba in the 1930’s.  By the time the Revolution came to Havana in 1959, he had been living at his house in Havana’s outskirts, Finca Vigía, for almost 20 years.  Over the years Hemingway certainly came to know Cuba’s power players, dictator Fulgencio Batista, mob kingpins Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante, and eventually the victorious Fidel Castro, but it was because Havana was (and is) a relatively small city.  Cuba’s powerful would occasionally run into the famous writer and sometime drinker-about-town, but Hemingway wasn’t one of them, nor did either he nor they particularly wish to be chums.

The Real Hemingway in Cuba

Hemingway was usually a curmudgeon, and sometimes a full-blown asshole.  He wanted to fish, drink, and face the demons that a working writer must confront, all alone.  He reportedly wrote in longhand, standing, leaning against a bookshelf.  Beginning around sun-up, he’d manage four or five hundred words daily. By mid-morning on a good day he was off Cojímar aboard his fishing yacht, Pilar, and on a bad day he was grumping around the house simmering an argument with his wife, Mary. He enjoyed his celebrity when it suited him.  Afterall, he created it.  But he was a social loner, alone in a crowd that was more often than not gathered around him, the celebrity attraction.  If you want to read some contemporary first hand accounts of Hemingway in Cuba, there are great articles in The Atlantic and Esquire.

One of the best tidbits about Hemingway in Cuba involves him and a much more important figure in Cuban history, Meyer Lansky. Hemingway evidently enjoyed drinking on the shaded patio of the Hotel Nacional (most people do – it’s a great place for a drink or three), and when he learned that Lansky had struck a deal with Batista giving Lansky effective control over the landmark hotel, Hemingway confronted the diminutive mob boss, demanding to know if Lansky intended to “spoil the place” by installing a casino. Imagine a man set in his ways, the 230 pound 6-foot Hemingway, facing off against a man who gets his way, the 150 pound 5-foot-5-inch boss of bosses Lansky. Lansky supposedly looked up at the writer’s bearded ruddy face and replied, “Spoil the joint? We’re making it better. From what you say there’ll be one less drunk hanging around.” Game, set, match Lansky!

One scene of the movie, Papa, places Hemingway in Cuba with the younger sidekick who is the author of the movie’s story at the site of one of the most iconic actions of the Cuban Revolution, the 1957 assault by the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil against Fulgencio Batista at the Presidential Palace.  The attack involved a courageous band of grad students who commandeered delivery trucks and uniforms, pulled up in front of the Presidential Palace and charged inside, machine guns blazing.  It was a desperate, crazy act, and it almost worked.  The attackers made it into Batista’s 3rd floor office where they found a still-hot cup of coffee perched on the president’s desk.  Batista narrowly escaped.  The shooting went on for hours.  Tanks surrounded the Palace.  Gunsmoke wafted through the streets of Old Havana.  A few of the attackers escaped.  Most were killed on the spot.  And this movie conveniently places Hemingway and his little buddy on the scene, ducking bullets.

If you travel to Havana with Havana VIP Tours, we’ll give you the true story of Hemingway in Cuba.  Check out our Farm to Table (plus Hemingway) Experience, or our Fortresses, Ché and Hemingway Experience for visits to Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s home in the outskirts of Havana. We’ll show you the Presidential Palace.  It’s called the Museum of the Revolution now, and we’ll point out the bullet holes still in the portico and entry hall.  The delivery truck the student attackers used is preserved around back, right next to the Granma the small ship Fidel, Raúl, and El Ché, sailed with around 70 would-be revolutionaries from Yucatan Mexico to start their armed insurrection on the eastern end of the island.  We’ll show you Hemingway’s house, and some of the places he purportedly liked to drink. Spoiler alert: there’s one Old Havana watering hole that has been fraudulently making money on Hemingway’s name for about 70 years.  If you want to know which place that is, click the button below, and start planning your trip to Cuba with Havana VIP.

Best Cuba Travel Guide Book

Expert Reviews: Best Cuba Travel Guide Book

Best Cuba Travel Guide Book

We get this question all the time: “which is the best Cuba travel guide book?” For our clients, our answer is usually to joke that “you don’t need the best Cuba travel guide book, you’ve got Havana VIP, and we are better than the best” and then we tell them about the first book listed below, which in our opinion is the best. We also urge our clients and anyone planning to travel to Cuba to read at least one of our recommended Four Books to Read Before Traveling to Cuba, so that when you are in Cuba you will have some context of what you’re seeing and experiencing.

Our problem with travel guide books is that they quickly go out of date, and that the reader is stuck with the tastes and point-of-view of the author(s).  Even the best guide books only send an author (or team) to a given destination once every 2-3 years, and then after the editorial and production process, by the time it hits the bookstores, the fresh inside information they purport to publish is already a year old. So the guidebook you’ve purchased is filled with out-of-date information.  The biases and preferences of the authors also limit the scope and quality of the information they write too.  For example, at Havana VIP we have a big commitment to the Cuban contemporary art scene, so we have our exclusive relationship with ARTempoCuba and really try to provide the best most up-to-the-minute Cuban art experiences possible.  But in a guidebook, the authors may not really care about art and so they’ll grab the Cuban government list of official galleries, maybe visit one or two that are convenient, recommend those, and that’s it.

Obviously we’ve read every single Cuba guide book we find.  It’s our job to know everything that we can about Cuba and to offer our clients the best immersive experiences for their trip. In all our years of Cuba travel, having read dozens of travel guides, we can honestly say there is only one Cuba travel guide book that has ever provided us information we didn’t already know, and that’s the second book below.

With one exception (that we’ve noted below), we have actually traveled in Cuba with the books we’re reviewing. We are evaluating the books for content and for form as a travel companion. Our selections are below with aff-links to Amazon.  If there’s a book you think we missed, or just to send us your thoughts, contact us.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Cuba

This is without doubt the best Cuba travel guide book.  The historical facts are presented with enough detail to make the book relevant and its illustrated with excellent images. The geographic information is all accurate and well presented along with tons of well done maps.  The book is sized small enough to be easily portable and the flexi-binding is durable enough to withstand the rigors of travel.

Frommer’s EasyGuide to Cuba

This is the only Cuba guide book that has ever had information we didn’t already know. It’s written by Claire Boobbyer, who really does know what she’s talking about.  She provides little travel tips for all the destinations she covers, and her advice is generally on-the-money.  The book is a good size for portability and rugged enough to survive travel in Cuba.

Michelin Must Sees Havana

Given the worldwide reputation of Michelin Guides we had high hopes for this book. What a disappointment.  This is one of the worst of this bunch. The only redeeming factor is that it’s small, but that’s really a function of how little useful information it presents.

Lonely Planet Cuba

This is the ubiquitous Cuba guide book. We often see travelers wandering lost in La Habana Vieja with their noses stuffed in this book. It typifies everything bad about travel guides in general. It’s information is totally out-of-date, and the content itself is old.  We have several editions of this book dating back about 12 years and most of the content is unchanged.  It’s also as thick as a brick, and poorly made so that it’s hard to actually use. Save your money, buy any other book.
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National Geographic Traveler: Cuba

This is one of the better Cuba guide books.  Its written by Christopher Baker who also writes the Moon Cuba Guide (which we’re not reviewing here). Chris Baker is a real Cuba expert, and leads an occasional trip to Cuba himself. The best thing about this book are Chris’ suggestions for off-the-beaten track adventures, which are actually fairly off-the-beaten track. The format of the book is good for travel, and the materials seem good too, though we’ve never traveled with it so we can’t say for sure how it will hold-up.