Hello lovelies! I’m finally back from Cuba and to say that this island was magical is an understatement. It was truly spectacular and I can honestly say to some extent life changing. What started off as a fun trip turned out to be an eye opening experience. One filled with lots of joy and happiness.
Talking to the locals, immersing myself in the culture, studying the rich history (political views included) was unreal. It was definitely one of those once in a lifetime moments and I am so glad I got to experience it.
Long story short if you can go to Cuba, consider it off your bucket list! Pack your bags and head on over! And when you go…. Print out this travel guide. Yup, you have to print it out, the Internet is basically non-existent (for now, anyways!) and follow it like a book.
Before we get started, here are some things you must know.
How to get to Cuba? After some recent developments and new restrictions, if you are a U.S. citizen attempting to travel to Cuba you are only allowed to do so under educational travel and must be accompanied by a licensed group tour operator. Definitely do your homework before booking your travel. Group Tour operators can be expensive so shop around!
Can you use American Dollars in Cuba? The answer is on a case-by-case basis. Some higher-end restaurants or “touristy” locations will do so, but you must ask. Your best bet is to exchange your USD for CUC (the currency form for tourists; Cuban Convertible Peso) at the airport upon arrival. Currently the exchange rate is $1.00 USD = 0.87 CUC. Ensure to budget correctly because no bank (and I mean no bank) will allow you to use your ATM card or American credit card to withdraw/swipe for any kind of cash.
Side note: We actually started to realize we were running short on cash and decided to go to The International Bank of Cuba and withdraw money but were quickly turned away, politely of course, but simply put American banks/institutions do not do business with Cuba, and therefore something as easy as withdrawing cash from an ATM is not feasible there.
Are things expensive in Cuba? We found that what was most expensive were the cab rides. It cost us about a 20-25 CUC from the airport to Miramar (a sector of Havana), which is where we were staying. To give you perspective it’s about a 15-minute cab ride from Old Havana. So a bit far—but so worth it. More on that later!
We found that the in town cab rides weren’t much cheaper. To go from one point in Havana to another was never less than 10-15 CUC and believe me, we haggled! So, the learning here is to try to do as much research on what you want to see and pick a central location. Walking is an option but Havana is a pretty big city so not always walkable from point A to point B.
Where to stay? Air BnB all the way! Part of why our trip was so amazing is that we got to experience Cuba with the locals. We stayed at an Air BnB in Miramar and our Hosts—Geovanni and Roxana were incredible! After spending five full days with them, they truly felt like family. So much so, that since we’ve been back we’ve talked to them a few times! Ahh, I miss them!
Is there really no Internet? The answer is pretty much yes. However, in certain areas in Havana you can buy a Wi-Fi card (usually about an hour runs you 5 CUC) and go sit at a plaza or park where you will be able to log in and quickly check your email and Instagram. 🙂 As for which parks? Oh, you’ll know! It will only take a few strolls before you see the flocks of people sitting around eyes focused only on their phones.
Okay, now that we’ve got all the logistics out of the way let’s start our epic journey in Havana, Cuba!
For some rich history definitely visit these historical landmarks:
Plaza de la Revolución-This historical landmark is where Raul Castro (and Fidel Castro before he passed) address the Cuban population. Political rallies and important occasions alike all continue to be done from this plaza. Also to note, a few popes who have visited have held large masses here as well. The plaza has a museum and a viewpoint 40 floors high where you are able to see the complete city. Perfect photo op!
El Malecón- Havana’s famous sea front avenue running from Old Havana to Vedado. Pick up some Coppelia’s Ice Cream (see below), take a slow sunset stroll and admire all the scenery. The old buildings filled with intricate architecture are breathtaking!
Catedral de San Cristóbal and Plaza de la Catedral- Considered one of Havana’s most distinctive historical sites, this antique church is magnificent. The immense doors and high ceilings are extraordinary.
Capilla Central- Known as one of the five most remarkable cemeteries in the world, one must visit and take it all in. Completely covered in rich history!
Hotel Nacional de Cuba- Whether you want to stop for a cocktail or simply sightsee, this national monument is amazing! With its list of famous guests, go enjoy the old glamour!
For some yummy food and cocktails, get your “eat on” here:
La Guarida– A must go to for dinner and cocktails! This clinic turned apt. building turned restaurant is a definite must see. With spectacular views of the city and posh rooftop, you can’t go wrong! Don’t forget to make a reservation.
San Cristóbal – Famously known for when the Obamas visited and ate here, you simply can’t miss it. This home turned restaurant is a Cuban staple and another perfect dinner option!
La Bodeguita Del Medio– This small grocery store which then became a restaurant and frequent staple of Ernest Hemingway is a definite stop for a classic mojito. Not the best mojito I had, while in Cuba but between the live music, the people dancing outside and having to autograph the walls (yes, a tradition when you visit) you can’t really miss going there!
Doña Eutimia– A perfect lunch spot! Named one of the best restaurants by the NY times it didn’t disappoint. With its traditional approach on Cuban cuisine everything from their appetizers to their desserts was outright delicious. Also, can’t complain about their frozen mojito!
El Floridita– Stop, sip and listen. Known for it’s live entertainment and crowd-pleasing performances this place is the perfect afternoon pick me up!
Coppelia’s Ice Cream Parlor– This ice-cream parlor famous for it’s space ship looking center is the ideal spot to take a breather and cool off .
Note that for breakfast meals—we mostly ate at home with our amazing hosts who managed to cook up a delicious feast every morning!
Next up, Varadero, known for it’s famous beach and Viñales, the beautiful countryside of Cuba. And not to fear, a travel vlog is coming up because what trip would be complete without a full on video! Ha-Ha!
Until next time.