HAV: I was SO excited for our trip to Cuba! I have to be honest and say that it was a bit overwhelming to plan. There is not much on the internet so I found it difficult to arrange. With that said, I wanted to do a different type of Travel post this month and provide as much detail as possible on Cuba as a destination.
For any type of traveler, please go with low expectations and an open mind. The destination has not been “upgraded” in years but it is magical for that reason.
Find below details of Havana and a suggested 3 day itinerary!
We booked our flights with DELTA. It was a non-stop 3 hour flight from JFK direct to Havana. JetBlue also offers this route. With Delta, I was able to call and purchase a $50 per person VISA and collect it at airport check-in. They really have a system down. Make sure you keep the ‘Miscellaneous Service Receipt’ to show the agent your proof of purchase of the VISA. Additionally, keep the paper Visa with you for the entire duration of your trip – you will need it on return.
Everyone mentioned exchanging money at the airport because the lines in the city were very long. However, I don’t recall seeing these lines in the city. I would approximate 30min+ for the line at the airport. With that said, we exchanged with our Casa Particular host. We initially converted money into Euros for a better exchange rate but he was able to take Euros and US dollars -which was extremely helpful. I do suggest converting on arrival so you have money for your taxi but if you have a host that is able to do it for you, save on the time. Be careful of people on the street trying to convert for you. We didn’t have this happen to us but apparently, people will try and assist in doing this (which is considered the black market). Hotels will also exchange but have a high service fee.
Havana does not take US credit cards. I recommend bringing MORE money than you anticipate spending. If you do not pre-pay for your accommodation and tours, this is something to think about.
**When mentioning money ‘$’ throughout this post, I am referring to amount in the local CUC. Not USD.
Or lack of… Cuba does not have drugs or weapons so Havana is a very safe city. As a female traveler, I am always cautious but it is a rather safe destination, for now…
Be prepared to be “cut off”. It was kind of amazing 🙂 There are some areas that have wifi access (you will need to purchase a wifi card, similar to a calling card there) and you will know if there is access because everyone will be on their phones.
A friend of mine used AirBnB and put me in touch with the owner. Jorge and Cary own a Casa Particular (AirBnB of Cuba). You will see this Blue Symbol all throughout the city which indicates that locals are renting out a room or run a B&B.
Jorge and his wife own the building and have different rooms/apartments throughout. While the room itself was basic, Jorge was incredible. Additionally, we spent more time exploring, and on their rooftop than in the room itself.
Jorge was more of a host and concierge than anything else. He had a taxi waiting for us at the airport, exchanged dollars for us, and helped with a driver to the beach – and so much more! He really helped with the experience and wanted everyone that was staying there to have a great time in his country. If you want something central and inexpensive, with a great experience, feel free to email Jorge at: email@example.com
There are hotels all throughout the city. Some of the ‘famous’ ones include Hotel Saratoga where Beyonce stayed, Hotel Ambos Mundos where Ernest Hemingway stayed, Hotel Sevilla, Hotel Nacional (further from the city), and Hotel Inglaterra for the rooftop views.
While the lobby of these hotels seem updated, I would be cautious with the actual rooms. Additionally, through my research, the hotels were very expensive for the value that you are getting. Just remember, these hotels have not been renovated in YEARS so for $350 a night, you still may get a 3* room. For the little amount of time you are going to be in the hotel, support the locals and try an authentic experience.
Ok Ok I’m not a foodie but we had some great food experiences in Cuba, even if Rice and Beans were my only option….
Restaurants seemed to open on the later side for breakfast so we ate each morning at our B&B. For $5 per person per day we were given coffee, fresh papaya juice, bread basket, fruit platter and eggs any style. It was PERFECT! For great coffee, check out Café El Escorial.
We loved exploring the local spots which often included live music. Check out:
- Mojito Mojito: newly renovated restaurant with amazing Mojitos and authentic food
- Ria Mar: outside of the city on the water. Our tour guide drove us here
- Bien Paga: hole in the wall sandwiches
- OReilly 304 or across the street at 303. Amazing drinks and option for tacos, snacks, and more.
- Factoria Plaza Vieja: Micro Brewery with Cuban Sandwhiches and meat platters
- La Guarida: the “place” to go for dinner and for sunset. Pre book a reservation or go to the bar early and try and get a table. $5-$10 BICI taxi from downtown
- Café Laurent: AMAZING Paladar. A Paladar is a “family run restaurant”. This was literally in a home (there was a bathtub in the bathroom) but the food was incredible and the sunset was just as good. We took a $10 convertible here.
- Le Chansonnier: French spot
- El Cocinero: Located in Vedado and near Fabrica Del Arte
*Many hotels take reservations through their Facebook pages
BARS/MUSIC: Drinks are $2 for a beer to $6 for a Mojito (most expensive one but they are typically $4)
- Fabrica Del Arte: A big wearhouse/factory divided into different rooms of live music, art and more. (unfortunately it was closed for the month of May, while we were there)
- Hotel Ambos Mundos: Get the Pina Colada Pineapple with Rum
- OReily 304: Watermelon Mojito
- The Tavern: Hole in the wall bar on the corner of Plaza Vieja. You will find it by following the sounds of the live music or Flamenco dancing
- Sia Kara bar (opens at 10pm)
- Jazz Café: in Vedado but in a shopping mall. Seems odd when you are going but it was awesome. $10 cover charge.
- Hotel Nacional: great waterfront views in Vedado area.
DAY 1: When we arrived we walked around the waterfront and went into the Almacen Madera Micro Brewery and the Flea Market. We got our great Hats for $5 each so definitely go visit Tony at Stall 31.
We had lunch and enjoyed the live music scene and explored on our own to get familiar with the city. That evening, we took a BICI Taxi (bicycle taxi) to LaGaurida for dinner.
DAY 2: We had a fabulous tour arranged by Havana Journeys. The tour started as a walking tour #TravelFitLove and went through the 4 main squares of the city and through some of the hotels.
From there, we hopped in a 1955 Buick Convertible and took off!
We visited the forts, took a tour of the Rum Factory (extra $7 per person). This was a great way to learn about the industry and history in Havana.
We made it out to the home of Ernest Hemingway, (Extra $30 for the distance), had lunch at a water view restaurant and more. We stopped into Hotel Nacional and they even made an extra stop into a Cigar shop for us. We ended the day by exploring the Capital area and grabbing Pineapple Pina Colada’s at Hotel Ambos Mundos.
DAY 3: Today we went to Santa Maria Beach. It was a $40 driver round trip that was pre-arranged for us by Jorge. We probably could have spent more time there since the weather was perfect but we still had exploring to do.
Another option for this day is to go to VINALES. This is where the Cigar Farm is located and you can go Horseback riding. You can also book this tour with Havana Journeys. If interested in a pre-arranged tour, contact Ricardo at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This evening we had dinner at Café Laurent followed by Jazz Café – both in Vedado area. This was a $10 taxi ride in a classis car.
Overall, Havana was an incredible long weekend away! I recommend 3-4 nights only if you plan to stay in the city. Otherwise, you can certainly add more time by visiting the beach town of Veradero, Island of Trinadad and/or southern coast of Cienfuegos.
Please do note hesitate to contact me if you have anymore questions: TravelFitLove@gmail.com
*Please note that this post was written prior to Trump’s new restrictions. Please check Embassy websites prior to travel