You probably won’t find your favorite brands or high-end stores in Cuba, and that’s exactly why you should go shopping here. Swap out plastic toys for handmade trinkets and commercial malls for open-air markets, and instead have a one-of-a-kind, cultural experience. Listed here are three markets in Havana you need to visit, and what makes each of them so unique.
Booklovers beware—one step into Havana’s Secondhand Book Market and you may not want to leave. Situated in Havana’s historic Old Town, you’ll find rows of booksellers touting their favorite reads. Expect to browse through old magazines, some Revolutionary propaganda, and a lot of Hemingway—he did live in Cuba for nearly 20 years, after all. Along with books, you can browse through stacks of retro posters, stamps, and old beer labels—any of which could make a unique souvenir. This market runs every day but Sunday, and is one of the most popular in the city. But why? Scarcity of new imports plays a role, and Cuban entrepreneurs are famous for their ability to reuse and recycle goods. The biggest reason, however, may be that Cubans love to read. Cuba’s literacy rate is 99.8—among the highest in the world.
Galerías de Paseo is a market that caters to foreigners and Cuba’s upper-class. This market features Cuba’s high-end clothes and stores, as well as Cuba’s famous Jazz Café—a club that features some of the best jazz, timba, and salsa musicians in the country. This market is all indoors, so it’s a good option for rainy weather. It also has air-conditioning, which can be a welcome break in the heat. What makes this market so interesting, though, is that it offers a glimpse into what life is like for Cuba’s wealthy—you probably won’t recognize many of the brands or designers. While everyone is supposed to be equal in socialist Cuba, Galerías de Paseo depicts a different reality.
For people wanting to leave Cuba with a one-of-a-kind souvenir, Almacenes San José is definitely worth a visit. Located in a large two-story warehouse, this market features the work of hundreds of Cuban artists. It’s the perfect market to buy original paintings, handmade jewelry, and hammocks. It’s Havana’s only covered outdoor market, so visitors can shop in the shade. Almacenes San José is a local favorite, so it won’t feel as touristy as other markets. Just be prepared to bargain for your art and ask for a certificate if it’s original.