A Weekend in Cuba | Havana Style
Travel Tips for Havana, Cuba
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In case you were ever looking to visit Cuba, NOW is the time to go! We flew out of Miami, FL via Delta Airlines — it was a piece of cake, not to mention, affordable. (Speaking of cake, a passenger on board lost an arguing battle between himself and the flight attendants about a whole box of CAKE he had on his lap, while seated in an emergency exit row. Beyond random, and better question would be, how in the world did he get a cake through TSA security? I guess we will never know. After 45 minutes in the air, we had arrived to our destination of Havana, Cuba, our home for the weekend.
Below are some of our recommendations for Havana! We were there for 3 days, and did not have a chance to do any other cities. We purposely tried to take it a bit slower this trip rather than be go-go-go, so this a lighter itinerary. This mostly focuses on things to do and restaurants, with my strongest recommendations at the top of each section. I also included some travel tips for Cuba passed along to me by a good friend who had made the trip a few months prior to ours.
Note that she had a guide and driver, but you could still do a lot of these things without either, especially if you or someone you’re traveling with has family or friends still in Cuba to help get around. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments! IF you are heading there soon, you are going to have an amazing trip!
Things to Do:
- Walk Around Old Town – walked around Old Town and learn a bit of the history of the city. Some of the highlights to see are Cathedral de San Cristobal, Neoclassical Capital Building / El Capitolio, Great Theater, Plaza del Cristo. If you don’t have a guide, there may be walking tours but it was a nice way to get our bearings the first day.
- Malecon – this is the sea wall that stretches for quite a while, but it’s a gorgeous walk. We started around Plaza de Armas and walked northwest for a while. Highly recommend at sunset! (Sit outside the Hotel Nacional for drinks and sunset views)
- Classic Car Ride – we had a driver with a beautiful red car for the classic car experience and photos. If you don’t hire a driver, there are still plenty of classic cars all over Havana! You can either pay them like a cab to take you places or pay them a little bit for a photo. You’ll see a ton of them on Paseo de Marti by the Capital building or there is a lot where they park near Malecon / Plaza de Armas.
- Fusterlandia – this is an outdoor public art space by an artist who was inspired by Gaudi (the guy who did all of the cool art in Barcelona). The art is all around the streets, on houses, on fences, etc., and then you can walk into his house which is decorated in all of these mosaic tiles.
- Grand Theater Tour / Ballet – we did a short tour of the Grand Theater during the day (where the Cuban Ballet performs)and ballet show in evening. $35 each for private box seats – and the performance is absolutely incredible.
- Cigar Factory Tour – if either of you like cigars, the cigar factory tour was really cool! There are a few of the factories that you can tour including Partagas, Romeo & Julieta, Habanos S.A.
- Beach Day – there are a few nice beaches a short drive away. We spent half day in Guanabo (30 minute drive away) and then stopped at La Terraza de Cojimar on the way back (another Hemingway spot with a famous blue drink). Kind of a touristy place but it was a cool little pit stop on the way back to Havana.
Restaurants / Bars:
- El Cocinera – new, hip restaurant, menu changes based on availability, outdoor terrace area is beautiful; suggest making reservations online beforehand; right next to Fabrica de Arte Cuba (FAC) so recommend doing dinner here and then going to FAC around 10 pm on a weekend night
- Fabrica de Arte – this is art space / museum that turns into a club / party scene on the weekends; you buy a ticket and get 4 or so drinks included and wander around all of these cool art spaces; I thought it sounded weird beforehand but it ended up being so much fun! I think it’s only open Friday and Saturday nights
- Restaurante Trofeo – our guide took us there for lunch and it was the best Ropas Viejas (traditional Cuban beef dish) that I had the whole time in Cuba. We went all of the way the top floor; there seemed to be different levels with different restaurants.
- La Bodeguita de Medio – this was Hemingway’s favorite spot for a mojito in Havana; kind of touristy but fun to stop by for one drink when walking around the Old Town area
- Hotel Nacional – a swanky hotel for a cocktail and hanging out by the ocean; all of the famous people who have visited Cuba stay here; amazing views of the ocean and the Melacon from the back patio. We also stayed here and recommend it.
- Plaza Vieja Restaurants – we stayed in the Old Town area and could easily walk to Plaza Vieja. There were some cute restaurants with second floor patios that overlooked the plaza. We ate at one for dinner; I can’t remember the name but they all kind of looked the same!
- La Guarida – one of the upscale, fancier restaurants in Havana; suggest making reservations online beforehand; this is recommended by every American but was a bit over-hyped in my opinion; the building itself is really cool though
Travel Tips: You guys may already know some of this, but there are some nuanced things about traveling in Cuba that are unlike other countries. Below this are also some websites that I read before traveling there.
- Money: Cuba is a total cash-based economy and has two currencies – one for locals and one for tourists. Bring as much cash as you think you’ll spend. I think that we budgeted ~$100 per person per day for meals, drinks, activities, etc. If you want to buy cigars or rum to take back, that will be a bit more. In general, Cuba is inexpensive but bring a little buffer just in case. We exchanged currency at the airport (outside of the building at an exchange desk).
- Safety: In general, Cuba felt very safe. Chris and I were mostly with our guide or a driver, but at the times that we were alone, it still felt safe. Without our guide, we noticed that the locals heckled a little bit more (e.g. offering taxi rides), but never anything dangerous.
- Wifi: If you want Wifi, you need to buy a card at a telecom store. It’s fairly inexpensive, but the lines are long (we arrived at 8 am before it opened and had to wait outside the door for 30 minutes after it opened). You need a card even to use Wifi at an Airbnb. We just did most of our research / planning before we arrived, so that we didn’t have to look many things up while in country.
- Guides / Drivers: We organized our trip through a family friend who runs a Cuba travel service out of the US. She explained to us that under Trump’s latest laws as of November 2017, Americans needed a guide and driver to be compliant with the “Supporting the Cuban People” visa. It made the trip a bit more expensive ($400 per person for 4 days), but it also made things hassle-free.
- Visa: Regardless of what type of visa you’re traveling under, Americans need a Cuban visa that can be bought at the airport the day of your flight. Most likely, you are connecting through Miami. At the airport, they have special Cuba visa desks for the airlines before and after security. The visa is $100 and can be paid on a credit card.
- Customs: Both arriving in Cuba and coming back to the US were much less climatic that I expected! I thought there might be a different customs process, but it was fairly similar. We brought back some cigars with no issue.