Who wants to go to Cuba?! Trips to this beautiful Caribbean island have become “en vogue” since travel restrictions were lifted a couple years ago. As some of you know, I’m a proud Cuban-American and have been traveling there since I was a little girl. I’ve been looking forward to writing this post since it’s like my second home. I visit often and usually stay at my Abuela’s (grandma’s) house to experience “real” Cuba. I’m super excited to share some AUTHENTIC travel tips, favorite dishes, and places to visit!
Where to Visit?
Cuba has so many amazing places and things to do! The city, beaches, and countryside are all incredibly beautiful in their own way. It really depends on your personal preference and length of stay.
La Havana (The City)
Havana is the most famous city in Cuba, known for classic cars and bright, historic architecture. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to a simpler time. Must see spots include Plaza de la Catedral, El Capitolio, El Morro, Malecon, Gran Teatro de La Habana, and Plaza de la Revolución.
All the places I’ve listed above are worth a visit but I’ll provide a little more detail on my favorites. El Morro is a stunning fortress built to guard the entrance to Havana Bay. The ocean views from the top are absolutely stunning! The Malecon literally captures the soul and essence of Cuba. It’s a vibrant 5-mile stretch of road separating the sea and city. A walk along the esplanade at sunset is nothing short of magical. The sun lights up the pastel painted buildings to literally make the city glow. The recently remodeled Gran Teatro de La Habana (grand theater) is a visually stunning theater and makes for some amazing IG pics. Last but not least, the Plaza de la Revolución. There might not be a more iconic picture to take on your trip than the famous plaza featuring a giant Cuban flag and face of famous guerilla leader, Che Guevera.
You’re bound to get hungry visiting all of these beautiful sights. My favorite spot for great live music and authentic Cuban food is Mojito-Mojito. As the name would suggest, it’s also home to the BEST mojito in town! It’s my go-to spot located in La Plaza Vieja. If you saw the video I posted on IG dancing, it was actually taken at Mojito -Mojito. I’ve linked their site for you here
La Playa (The Beach)
If you’re going to Cuba for fun in the sun, you won’t be disappointed. Fortunately, many of the country’s best beaches are located right in and around Havana. Playas del Este is a 6 mile stretch of gorgeous coastline located about 20 minutes from the city. There are a number of different beaches there but the most popular is Santa Maria del Mar. During the busy season it can be difficult to find a spot but if you want to be where the action is, this is your beach! If you want a more relaxing and secluded beach, try Boca Ciega. It’s just a little bit further along Playa del Este but much quieter, less touristy, and the surrounding bars and restaurants are less expensive.
Most visitors never even consider venturing outside of Havana and the surrounding beaches. If you’re the adventurous type and looking for a truly unique experience, sign up for a tour of the Cuban countryside. I recommend a private or group tour from Havana to Viñales. Imagine horseback riding through lush tobacco fields where they make world famous Cuban cigars or exploring the 300,000-year-old La Cueva Del Indio (Cave of the Indians.) These are the incredibly unique things you can do in Viñales. Other exciting spots include the Jardin Botanico de Viñales (botanical gardens) and the beautiful mural called Mural de la Prehistoria. You can schedule this as a day trip but heads up its about 2.5 hours each way so plan accordingly. I recommend staying at least 2 days so you’re not rushed and can experience all Viñales has to offer.
Where to stay? Hotel vs. Casa particular
There are many hotels in Havana to choose from. Last year, Jason and I stayed at Hotel Nacional and we absolutely loved it. It’s one of the most historic and beautiful hotels in all of Cuba. The hotel has an amazing complimentary breakfast, 3 restaurants, outdoors lounge bars, Wi-Fi, and even a fitness room. If you’re looking to save money I recommend staying in “casas particularles” or private homes, which can be rented through Air BnB. They’re significantly less expensive than hotels but keep in mind these will come without many of the amenities we’re accustomed to. You should expect to pay around $50 per night for a casa particular.
How to travel to Cuba?
You can travel to Cuba by cruise or flight. Many major airlines including American Airlines, Jetblue, and Delta have direct flights to Havana. Besides your air fare, there are 2 additional fees you will need to pay…a visa fee to enter the country and an exit fee. Some Airlines sell visas and even include the exit fee in the ticket price but not all so make sure to ask to avoid any surprises.
What to bring?
Take sufficient cash to last you the entire length of your trip. You won’t find an ATM and most places don’t take credit cards. Pack sunscreen, comfortable shoes, toiletries, bug spray, a camera, hat, and sunglasses. Don’t take expensive personal items like shiny jewelry or designer bags. Keep it simple! You’re going to Cuba, not Paris ;). This is, of course, optional but every time I visit I take a bag with pencils, crayons, erasers, kids toothbrushes, wrapped candy, hair scrunchies, feminine hygiene products, anything small and easy to pack to give away as gifts. These items may seem insignificant to us but not to the Cuban locals. They will be much appreciated!
My favorite Cuban dishes
- Cuban Pizza
- Arroz Amarillo con Pollo (Chicken with yellow rice)
- Papas Rellenas (Fried stuffed potatoes)
- Picadillo (Cuban style ground beef)
- Croquetas de Jamón (Ham croquettes)
- Mariquitas (Plantain chips)
- Cuban style flan YUM!!!!!
Important travel tips:
- Stay up on policy changes with Cuba under the Trump Administration. It remains to be seen how strictly new policy changes will be enforced so do your homework before planning a trip.
- Internet in Cuba is very, very limited. Some hotels will offer Wi-Fi but be prepared to be disconnected while you’re out exploring. You can buy a Wifi card, but internet speed will be slow.
- Do NOT drink tap water as you can get very sick. Drink bottled water and make sure the seal is intact before purchasing.
- While traveling in any foreign country, take extra steps to safeguard your passport such as a hotel safe.
- Cuba charges a 10% fee to convert U.S. cash to Cuban convertible pesos (CUC). You can exchange money at any offices known as CADECAs.
- Cuba is generally very safe but be aware and vigilant. Don’t leave belongings unattended or flash money, zip up your bags, and be aware of extremely friendly English speaking locals.
- You can purchase souvenirs and gifts such as Cuban cigars at the airport but it’s very important to do so after you pass the security check point.
- If you run out of cash, someone can wire money into any one of the Western Unions in Cuba from the US.
Now it’s time to mark Cuba off your bucket list! Start practicing your Spanish and I wish you an amazing travel experience!
If you have any questions comment below, I would be happy to answer!