Just about a year ago, I had one of the best vacations of my life in Havana, Cuba. I truly cannot speak highly enough of my stay here. Even as I’m writing this blog post and going through pictures from the trip, I can’t help but feel the same sense of pure joy I felt while in Cuba. After sharing my Cuba Look Book, several people asked me to share my itinerary. So here are some of my favorite things to do during your trip to Havana, Cuba!
1. Old Car Tour
I don’t think I can pick a favorite experience in Cuba, but the Old Car Tour is definitely up there. I highly recommend doing this one of your first days in Havana, as the tour takes you around most of the major attractions in the city! That way you can pick which areas you’d like to explore further during your stay. You have the option to pick which car you want — we picked a pink 1961 Pontiac Bonneville convertible for our tour.
Viñales is a rural town in western Cuba — the perfect blend of natural beauty and traditional Cuban culture. It’s best known for its tobacco farms, laidback lifestyle, stunning caves, and colorful little houses! It’s only a short drive from Havana and I can guarantee the drive is more than worth it. During our time in Viñales, we took a walking and boat tour through the Indian Caves, rode horses through the lush countryside, learned about day to day life on a tobacco farm, walked through the process of hand-rolling cigars and had a delicious farm to table lunch with a stunning view! Looking back on this day, I have to say it’s one of the best I’ve ever had. We weren’t able to stay overnight, but if you’re able to spend a night in Viñales over the weekend, they have a club that is actually inside of a cave!
3. Fabrica de Arte Cubano
Fabrica de Arte Cubano is a MUST-DO on Havana’s nightlife scene. Part club, part art-gallery, part bar, part performance arena — need I say more? The venue is massive and covers several floors with different music genres playing on each floor. As you walk through the warehouse-turned-club, you’ll see mesmerizing creative works from local Cuban artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers and performers. There’s even an outdoor space when you need to catch some air. Honestly, I’ve never experienced anything quite like this space! I wish I took more pictures to remember it by, but I was really just enjoying the moment and no pictures would truly do the experience justice anyway. Definitely try the house mojito while you’re there!
4. Playa del Este
Yearning for a beach day? (y’all know I always am!) Playa del Esta is a gorgeous stretch of white sand beaches, just a short 20 minute drive from Havana. There are a bunch of beaches along this stretch — the best of which is Santa Maria del Mar. I truly can’t remember the last time I had this much fun just hanging out on the beach.
5. Jardines del 1830
Obviously no trip to Cuba is complete without a night spent on the town salsa dancing with some locals! If you’re looking for some authentic Cuban music, Jardines del 1830 is the place to go. The dance floor is on an outdoor patio behind a historic Cuban mansion located right on Havana’s seafront.
6. La Guarida
La Guarida is definitely Havana’s most well-known restaurant. Everything about the experience is indescribable, from the entrance to the ambience. The stunning marble staircases and Ionic columns are reminiscent of the old world. And despite the rundown look — watching a restaurant thrive in this environment is an enchanting experience.
7. Salsa Class
We took a two hour private salsa class on our last day in Havana. And it was the BEST way to end the trip. We booked our class through Salsa Express, and I honestly could not have been happier with the experience. I had so much fun dancing, the instructors were friendly and so much fun! If you’re even slightly into dancing, please take the time to do this!
Getting Your Visa:
When you buy your flight, you will be asked to mark your “purpose of visit.” Technically, general tourism is not permitted, but the qualifying reason that everyone meets is “educational activities and people-to-people exchanges,” which is a catch-all. Essentially, you need to make sure you are having “meaningful interactions” with the people of Cuba, which is going to naturally happen as you are spending time in Cuba (e.g., in your home, with your tour guides, drivers, etc)! We ordered our visa online in advance to avoid any issues. You can actually get them for way cheaper at the gate, but I still recommend getting them ahead of time just to be on the safe side. We used Cuba Travel Services to get ours.
Where to Stay:
As an American, you can’t actually stay in any of the government owned hotels, so AirBnB is your best bet. I absolutely LOVED the AirBnB we stayed in. The hosts were so friendly and accommodating — they truly made our experience so much better. It was centrally located, and the housekeeper took great care of us. For an additional $5 a day, she can make you the breakfast of your choice with AMAZING fresh fruit.
American debit cards and credit cards won’t work in Cuba, so any money you plan to spend needs to be brought from the US
There are two forms of currencies in Cuba: CUP and CUC (24 CUP = 1 CUC). As an American tourist, you’ll basically only be using CUC. The CUC is 1:1 with the US Dollar, but they charge a 13% penalty when exchanging dollars to CUC’s. It is better to bring Euros or Canadian Dollars instead of dollars, and definitely bring more money than you think you may need — and don’t convert it all at once. Converting money isn’t hard in Havana, so don’t worry about waiting in the long line at the airport.
Your cell phone definitely won’t work in Cuba. But also keep in mind that connecting to wifi is not as easy as you would expect. Cuba was definitely one of my most “off-the-grid” trips. You’ll most likely be paying for wifi by the hour using access cards similar to international calling cards. You buy a card, find a location that has a hotspot and connect using the information on your card. Luckily our AirBnB had a hot spot, and they left us a bunch of wifi cards that were pay per use. I must say, even then the wifi connection is not the greatest. It was actually amazing being unplugged, so make the most of it!
Hope this helps you plan your trip to Cuba! If you have any questions on how to get to Cuba, the visa process, where to stay or what to do — definitely message and me. Safe travels! xo