It is fun to shop in Havana. Obispo is one of the busiest boulevards in the old part of the city and has several bookshops which are useful to know as they sell maps which you might need, as the internet in Havana is very limited. At one end of Obispo is Playa de Armas, which is where all the antique sellers congregate. It is fun to browse along with the stalls and there are certainly plenty of old Soviet souvenirs on sale.
If you are on a tight budget, head for Fin de Siglo which was the most popular store in the city in the 1950s. Today it houses hundreds of different traders and their prices are lower than in the souvenir shops. Happy shopping!
1. Select the perfect cigar
Hear the name Havana and beautiful hand-rolled cigars come to mind, so not surprisingly, they are top on many visitors’ shopping lists. There are many specialist cigar shops and the best-known chain of cigar shops is Casa del Habano. There are factories too, including Partagas (behind the Capitol Building), Tabacuba, and Centro Habana. Many of the shops, hotel shops, and factories are state-run so prices are the same wherever you go.
The most prestigious cigar is Cohibas made by Habanos SA. These hand-rolled cigars are made to a secret recipe with tobacco picked from ten special fields. Their production includes a stage of fermentation and the result is a smooth, full-bodied cigar.
If you want to combine your cigar buying with some exploration, why not head out of the city to the Valley of Vinales? Take a wander through the fields of tobacco and then visit one of the cigar factories where you can watch the production process. The different farmers proudly sell their cigars to locals and tourists and although they might not be the top brands they can be excellent. Each farmer uses his recipe and methods for making his hand-rolled cigars with great success. Some of the farmers dip the ends of their cigars in local honey, whilst others blend the tobacco with herbs, it is all down to a question of personal preference!
As well as getting something rather special, the cigars you buy will cost a lot less than in the shops.
* Cuban export law allows a maximum of 50 cigars per person to be taken out of Cuba and they must be in a sealed packet/box.
2. Choose some cigar essentials
If you are buying some souvenirs to take home to a cigar-loving friend, apart from some good cigars, how about some of the essential accessories too? The most important of these is the humidor which is the storage box that helps prevent the cigars from drying out. Other gifts that will be much appreciated are lighters and specially designed cigar cutters.
3. Enjoy some Cuban rum
Cuban rum is almost as well known as its cigars and is a smooth and popular drink – either served straight or whizzed into such popular cocktails as pina Coladas and mojitos. There are plenty of brands and ages to choose from and it can be quite daunting! Havana Club is a popular label and the three-year-old bottle is good and the seven-year terrific! For fun, if you have room in your suitcase, why not buy a set of Havana Club glasses? They are sure to remind you of the good times in the Havana bars.
* If you are reading this and you are traveling just with a cabin bag, you will have the opportunity to buy a bottle at the airport when you leave.
4. Admire great Cuban art
There are some great Cuban artists and artisans and finding their work in the city is not difficult as there are various craft markets – Desampardos is one and Almacenes San José is the largest and is situated in a huge warehouse off Paula Avenue. This market attracts artisans from all over the country. Paseo del Prado is another place in the city where art students and photographers display their work. Cuban art includes traditionally styled pieces, iconic images and modern art which is often vibrantly colored. Much of the work portrays Havana with its old colonial buildings and wealth of classic cars, but there are numerous studies of the wonderful local wildlife too. Amazingly, in the markets, you will find really good pieces by local artists with prices starting at just 20 dollars. Don’t be put off visiting the various galleries too, as not only will you find some wonderful pieces of art, you will be surprised and delighted by how little many of them cost.
5. And crafts
There is a myriad of different crafts in Cuba and Havana has a wealth of artisans making a colorful array of handicrafts that can be bought in the craft markets. There are colorful papier maĉhé masks that look great pinned on a wall and there are attractive pieces of jewelry made from seeds and seashells. There are plenty of different styles of woven hats made from local grasses and most of these have wide brims for protection from the sun. Casual bags are popular and there are so many to choose from including brightly colored knitted ones and printed canvas styles.
6. Buy a piece of traditional woodwork
Woodcarving using the plentiful supply of beech wood is one of the main handicrafts and there are plenty of souvenir ideas to choose from. There are smooth, rounded ashtrays that feel lovely to touch, smart desk boxes in various sizes and even models of the classic cars that can be seen in the city.
7. Buy a coconut monkey
You will see these coconut monkeys on sale at every street corner and it is fun to choose one to be your mascot! They are hand-carved from real coconuts, with detail added in paint. There is a great selection to choose from including monkeys peeling bananas, playing musical instruments or waving the Cuban flag.
8. Get musical
If you are looking for a fun souvenir from Havana, you might well think that a percussion instrument is a perfect solution! There are all types to choose from including the popular double-sided beta drums (might be too large for your suitcase!), bongos, shékeres which are shakers made from small gourds and claves which are two wooden sticks used to tap out the rhythm.
9. Enjoy some torticas de morón
If you like foodie souvenirs, you will enjoy buying some of these delicious cookies. Torticas de morón are widely available in local bakeries and you can buy them in a gift box. The cookies are round, golden and crumbly with the wonderful flavor of lime and vanilla. They taste great and are the perfect nourishment for your journey home, so buy plenty!
10. Discover Cuban fragrances
If you love perfume, Habana 1791 is a good shop to visit in the city as it is where lovely fragrances are created using local flowers and plants – including tobacco! There are fragrances to suit everyone and these can be bought in simple glass bottles. If you are planning to give the fragrance as a gift, you can opt for a stylish and colorful hand-blown display bottle.