1) Stay in a Casa Particular These are like B&B’s, but in the home of the owner. We stayed in Casa de Acelo Hernandez Mendez (Calle 17, between 14 y 16, Vedado T.7/831-1377) and felt like we had a little home, a sanctuary to return to after a day in the city. The owners were wonderful, charming and friendly, giving us a great insight into what life is like for Cuban people. Book in advance, but be prepared that arrangements may change by the time you arrive.
2) Eat in a Paladar
These are small, privately-run restaurants, often almost hidden and in the most unusual places. Even eating out is an adventure in Cuba. You knock on the door of an ordinary residential house and are led down into a tiny restaurant in the basement, complete with a bar, or a little band of musicians. La Guarida is the famous one, and with some justification. The food is excellent, parts of the film Fresa Y Chocolate were shot here and you do feel like you have wandered into a scene in an old movie.
3) Find the Casa Del Agua (La Tinaja, Plaza de Armas)
This is a tiny gem almost hidden on a square in Old Havana. We happened upon it by accident whilst trying to find a shop to buy some water and the memory is one I really hold dear. It is literally a water shop, run by two old Cuban men who have a fantastic rapport with each other and customers. This is kind of incredible in itself, particuarly as they were reluctant to take any payment from us; however, as with many things in Cuba there is an element of risk … I’m pretty sure it’s not mineral water they’re serving.
4)Visit the Tobacco Factory
This is in every guidebook and on every website, which makes it a strange thing for me to recommend. However, were it not for a personal recommendation from some other tourists we met I would’ve discounted this experience. I have visited factories in other countries and always found the experience to be strangely dull and usually just an opportunity to sell something. This is a tour not to miss; the factory is still producing traditional, hand-rolled cigars and doesn’t feel like it has been concoted just to sell stuff or be a museum exhibit. Real people work there, it’s a well-paid, prestigious job and you learn a lot about the country from such an unusual business.
5) Hang out at the Casa de la Musica in Trinidad
Sometimes in Cuba, it can be hard to find the party. As an example we were in Havana when the carnival was taking place. We tried for three nights to see this and turned up too early the first night and as everyone was leaving on the second night and the 3rd night we stood waiting next to all the costumed dancers and floats for about an hour, only for a torrential downpour to send everyone running and effectively cancel the event. Anyway, the Casa de la Musica in Trinidad (a lovely city to visit) has music and dancing on the steps outside in good weather and the whole town gathers there to drink and salsa.
The Cultural Exposé would like to thank Becky Morris Knight for sharing her travel photography and experiences - and to see more of her images, visit her Flickr page or follow her on Twitter.