Tips for vegans and vegetarians

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Cuba is not really that popular for its culinary creations. However, this is changing a lot. As it is with all things in life you have to go far, wide and deep to find the things that you want. I am someone who eats mostly vegan and living in Berlin has given me the opportunity to nourish myself this way with no problems whatsoever. However, in Cuba that was not always the case and i had to adapt and switch up my nutrition while i was there.

Cuban people found it a bit hard to understand what i meant by vegan “No meat, not even chicken?” is a question that i got asked often when i ordered rice and beans with no pollo “sin carne”.

I talked to a Cuban student and he had told me that he would love to nourish himself in a vegetarian way. However, he said that in Cuba there is not much food choice so it would make it very difficult for him to get all the proteins and vitamins that he would need to stay healthy. So vegetarianism or veganism is not necessarily shunned upon, it is  just very hard to do given the limited availability of variety of food.

I think it is doable to be vegan in Cuba if you have your own kitchen and are ready to spend some time cooking. So maybe this would be something to consider when you are looking for housing. Luckily, during my time in Cuba it was Avocado season so i got to eat tons of those. Also, guava was in season and baby bananas.

Ask the locals what fruit and vegetables are currently in season. Also go to the local market and buy fresh and cheap produce. All agricultural products at the local markets should be paid in CUP as these are national products, at the front of the market there is usually a big blackboard that shows the prices of the day, make sure to check that out before you start shopping.

I would also advice to take some Vitamins with you and to maybe take some peanut butter and some rye bread with you, most casa’s have fridges where you can store it all. Also maybe some nuts and seeds would be good to take with you.

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Where to Stay in Havana.

Staying in Cuba can be as cheap as you make it, or as expensive. Usually,  the best choice for summer school participants is a casa particulares ( private homes). A casa particulares is the cuban equivalent of a bed and breakfast. It was established in 1997 when the Cuban government allowed Cubans to rent out their rooms to tourists and visitors, as an extra source of income.

Casas (as they are often shortened) are usually equipped with a en suite bathroom, air conditioning, fan, clean towels, fresh bed sheets and the rooms get cleaned almost everyday.  Some Casas usually run like mini hotels, and are equipped with more services and luxuries for their guests such as swimming pools, meals three times a day cooked by chefs or your own kitchen. Whatever  you prefer you can find,  just watch out for the official sign which is a  blue arrow facing up (or two blue triangles) and down on a white background -which means that the household pays a tax and possess a license.

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official casa sign

Havana is divided into 6 neighbourhoods; Centro Havana, El Barrio Chino,Miramar &Sibonay, Malecon, Havana Vieja, and Vedado. During the Summer school, it is best to stay in Vedado as it is the students neighborhood, and it is in this area that the university is located at. Also, the Habana Libre hotel which is the main host of the summer school is located in Vedado, so living close to it is advised. Spending money on a taxi everyday in Havana can be costly over time and is also not very time efficient.

The casa costs can range from 25-60 CUC ( breakfast usually costs 5 CUC extra) per night. Rooms can be shared, and therefore the costs for a room can be split up. It is best to find some people that you want to live with beforehand, and then book with them. You can either book an accommodation before you leave for Cuba or you can book an accommodation upon arrival ( take note that this could be more stressful). If you are booking beforehand, make sure that you book 2 weeks to 1 week before arriving (or  as early as possible). This is advised because of Internet access problems of the hosts.

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You can book casas via Airbnb or the links that i have listed below.

http://www.casaparticular.com/ – This is a directory of all Casas in Cuba. ( good for when travelling as well)

https://www.airbnb.de/rooms/5880038– This where i stayed, Aymee has been hosting ISSEM participants for years now. She is a very sweet host, her casa is well equipped and it has a beautiful rooftop terrace as well. It is located right opposite the university building, it takes around 15 minutes to reach havana vieja ( via local taxi aka machina) and 3 minutes to the hotel habana libre.

http://www.havanacasaparticular.com/– Directory only for casas in Havana.