We normally don't take tours... as we prefer to explore places on our own. However in the case of Cuba and the Havana music scene in particular, if you want... read more to visit for a relatively short time (i.e. can't stay for a month+) and be able to pack in a whole lot of unique experiences without being frustrated by the complexity of dealing with "word-of-mouth" music venue details, then we highly recommend Havana Music Tours run by Chaz Chambers. We went as a family with a teenager who plays saxophone in a couple of high school jazz bands. We wanted our son to be able to experience the music and be inspired by the Cuban musicians. Chaz was able to customize our tour and set up private saxophone lessons for our son with some great local musicians and arrange for him to sit in with them for a couple of performances. This was a great experience and it was wonderful to feel the sense of joy and local community among the musicians... meeting them and their families offered a much more personal experience than you would be able to get by just showing up at a jazz club. Chaz and his local Cuban contacts do a ton of work behind the scenes to make sure everything is customizable, flexible and runs smoothly. Going on the tour was like spending time with a group of friends who just happen to have inside connections in the local community to avoid tourist traps and make it pain free to maximize the musical and cultural experience. In addition to the personalized music lessons, we toured the city, took a day trip to the Vinales agricultural region, went to the beach for a refreshing swim, and had free time to explore on our own.
Writing this review because we had a great time and wish Chaz the best of luck ... but please stay small and keep it personalized. We'd like to come back when next we get the chance.
Things you should know:
* Plan to spend late nights out listening to great music (Some performances don't really get going till around midnight)
* Some clubs have age restrictions so aren't available for < 18 yr old
* In addition to music, plan to see Havana, take a day trip, and just wander around (Cuba is very safe ... a little Spanish speaking ability is really helpful but not required)
* No issues with US customs/immigration at all (we flew JetBlue through JFK... really easy)
* You can get cell service and internet, but try to disconnect for a while if possible.
My husband and I just returned from an absolutely amazing 4-day custom tour with Havana Music Tours. Chaz and his fiancée were the epitome of professionalism and warmth. They paid... read more attention to every detail and introduced us to local partners who equaled them in every way. Though HMT we were offered unparalleled glimpses into Cuban life, history, music, and culture.
We are very well traveled and generally do everything on our own. While choosing Cuba as a destination, however, and not speaking Spanish, we felt it would be best if we had a tour. We couldn’t be happier with our decision as it surpassed our expectations. We experienced the hippest restaurants and concerts, mingled with musicians, and took salsa lessons with a pro.
In all, it was an experience we could never have had without Havana Music Tours. We hope to book again with a group of friends!