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.
We booked a 6-day tour with Havana Music Tours to attend the Havana Jazz Festival in January 2020. The group went out to listen to music every evening and... read more sometimes pretty late into the night for the festival. Chaz's arrangements for transportation, seating, accommodations and meals were excellent. During the day we did several walking tours, went to a music conservatory where the students played for us, took a salsa ("casino") dance lesson and went to an organic farm where we had a delicious lunch. As a musician himself, Chaz was great in helping us understand more about the music and the Havana music scene, about which he is very knowledgeable. There were only 7 people and it was great to have a small flexible group. And Cuba is a fascinating place for many reasons. I didn't know what to expect, but this was a wonderful experience even more than I had anticipated and I recommend it highly.
Read all the reviews on this Tripadvisor site, then add our names to the list of enthusiasts! The praise for Chaz and his Havana Music Tours is well deserved. Chaz... read more knows his music, he knows Cuba and he knows how to put travelers at ease. For us, it began ahead of the trip as Chaz worked with us to tailor it to our needs. With his good suggestions, it included fabulous late-night jazz fusion, personal salsa instruction, sitting in on a rehearsal of a world-famous Rumba group, beach time and -- bonus-- a Cuban wedding. In addition we visited all the colorful, iconic Havana sites -- in vintage cars, of course. We saw the old city, the Cuban Art Museum, El Morro fortress, the markets, the residential neighborhoods and more. We enjoyed experiences with Chaz we might never have found on our own. After 5 days, we felt like Chaz and his crew -- special shout out to Rocia and Miguel -- were family. They proved that in Cuba, warmth is more than the weather. Read no further -- just sign up for a tour with Havana Music Tours now.
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