I’m so excited to finally share my Cuba travel guide with you! I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many beautiful countries but I can honestly say Cuba ranks very highly amongst them. Since the embargo was lifted, Americans citizens can now fly directly to Havana from most international airports. Cuba’s main months for tourism are from November-early May, so I took advantage of the last week in April to indulge in all the Cuban culture I could soak up in one week.
Since there are so many good tidbits to share, I’m going to be sharing travel tips and itineraries over the next few days. Below you’ll read some of tips I picked up on while traveling to Cuba…
cruising down the streets of Havana in classic cars
Visas– Americans are still required to carry a visa and list one of 12 reasons to visit Cuba. Most tourists are able to obtain an Education/ People to People visa. Check your departure airport but most airports have designated areas to get your visa on the day of your departure for $50 or $75. Just plan to arrive earlier than normal as there is usually a line.
Checking bags– Not something I recommend. I had heard not to check bags but alas, my flight was full so several passengers had to check their bags and I was one of the lucky few that were chosen. Bags that are checked are subject to extensive search and Cuba hasn’t quite conquered the amount bags coming through security.. it took over an hour and a half for my bag to come out. My recommendation would be to plan to carry on and make sure you have priority boarding so you can absolutely take your bag with you.
Currency– despite what anyone may tell you, Cuba does NOT accept ANY American credit cards so be prepared to bring a stack of cash. Most airports do not keep CUCs in their currency exchange so it’s best to exchange to Euros or Canadian dollars in the US and then exchange in Cuba.
Tours– I was skeptical about scheduling tours as sometimes I feel they can be a bit of rip off . For this trip, I wanted to make sure I got my bearings of the city so I scheduled a tour with Locally Sourced Havana Tours (formally known as Havana Tour Company) for our first full day. I’m so glad we did. Not only was the tour incredible, local and authentic, our whole group ended up going out together that night and danced the night away. Saul, our tour guide, was incredible I highly recommend booking a day with him. We also did a private tour of Viñales, which was incredible. I never even saw other tourists the entire day. Yaniel, our tour guide, took us to an incredible organic farm for lunch, the underwater caves, horseback riding through an organic tobacco field and the Silent Valley. It was incredible. More to come on Viñales this week, too!
our airbnb front courtyard was so dreamy
Airbnb– another issue was a skeptical on but Casa Particulars (aka Airbnb) are 100% the way to go in Cuba. The hotels are nice but overall outdated, very expensive and several are own by the government. Casas are a perfect way to see Havana like a local. I could NOT recommend our Airbnb more. Sonmy and her husband were fantastic hosts and their home is beautiful. Just make sure to choose a Casa with air conditioning- you’ll want a little relief from the heat at night.
Where to Stay– There are a plethora of Casas to choose from in the various neighborhoods of Havana but we chose to stay in Miramar which was perfect. It was just a short ride in a taxi colectivo to Parque Central and it was quiet at night. Note that Havana nights are very lively (read: loud).
Cabs– getting around Cuba is incredibly easy. There are always taxis in populated areas, especially near hotels but it’s must easier to get a taxi colectivo from the side of the road. Think of it as Cuban Uber. You hail a taxi colectivo on the side of the road, let the driver know where you are going and pay a fraction of what you’d pay for a regular cab. There are also many classic cars you can take as a taxi too, which I definitely did a few nights for dinner. They’re pretty cool.
Reservations– with the influx if tourists from all around the world, many of the restaurants fill up quickly. Be sure to make reservations prior to arriving so you won’t miss out. Check back tomorrow for a list of my favorite places to dine.
Cuban architecture is all in the details
Language– make sure to brush up your Spanish before landing in Cuba. While many restaurants have English speaking waiters, almost all cab drivers or taxi colectivo drivers do not.
Wifi– Wifi is still VERY hard to come buy in Cuba. Most hotels in Havana have wifi cards available but they are for guests only. There are also wifi parks every few blocks in Cuba where you can purchase a card (about 3 CUCs) for an hour and log on there. You’ll know how to find these parks because you’ll see a large group of people on their phones. In all honesty, disconnecting and indulging in the culture (versus scrolling through Instagram) is the way to see Cuba.
People of Cuba– The Cuban people are incredible. They are excited to see their country boom with tourism and are one of the more friendly cultures of places I have visited. I recommend bringing a few extra toiletries with you as the stuff we take for granted is hard to come by or very expensive in Cuba.
The Beach– While planning this trip- I kept reading the beaches of Veradero were not to be missed. Veradero is about three hours from Havana and while we had a trip to Viñales planned, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to accomplish both. Once in Havana, we heard that Playa del Santa Maria was just as beautiful and only a 40 minute drive. The ocean is literally five different shades of blue! We spent Sunday at the beach which is what many local Cubans do as well. Don’t feel like you’re confined to Havana if you’re only staying for a short trip – definitely recommend a trip to Playa del Santa Maria.
Tomorrow I’m sharing my Havana itinerary and all the best spots for sips and eats. You don’t want to miss it!