I am so excited that I am finally sharing my trip to Cuba. I went almost 2 weeks ago on a cruise there and it was so much fun. This was a bucket list destination that my dad had wanted to visit for a while, and my mom and I were pretty excited for it too. A lot of you had asked if it was safe and how we were getting there. I am going to try to answer as many of your questions as I can for this Cuba travel guide. We only went to Havana, Cuba and was actually there for 24 hours which is longer than most cruise destinations where you are normally only at a destination for 8 hours. I will say that it was for sure a destination that many Americans have actually not been able to travel too, and I am so thankful that we were able to. I am so thankful we were because who knows how long it will remain opened for the United States to visit there. Overall I actually felt pretty safe there. I have been to lots of different islands and some that have been very poor. The people in Cuba were extremely nice and the culture and architecture were my favorite part of the trip. As you know the country is communist and the government owns almost 90% of everything there it seemed like. When we were talking with the locals and understanding the culture we learned so much which I will talk about below.
- Cruise $-$$$$: This was our method of travel to Cuba and I honestly would recommend this over any hotel or Airbnb there. It is so much easier with a cruise and you don’t have to worry about anything. As I have mentioned before, I have been on 17 cruises so if you ever have any questions please read my post or ask me. You can get a cruise extremely cheap if you don’t mind not having a window in your room, which you are never in there anyway. The prices can also range to be more expensive if you end up going with a presidential suite or an equivalent. I have gone enough that I know that I am only in my room to sleep and get ready in, so having a suite is not that important to me. We normally get a balcony room or at least one with a window though. The best part about going to Cuba via a cruise is the required “people to people” excursion that you can book via the cruise. This is an allotted time frame that you have to spend in Cuba with the people there that makes up your service to the country while you are there. You have to document or take pictures either interacting with the people there, visiting their museums, taking a tour, bringing pre approved supplies, etc. Going on a cruise made this extremely easy because we were able to book an excursion through the cruise that was reputable and met this requirement. We did a classic car tour which I will talk about more in detail below. They also handled getting your required documents put together like your visa which was so helpful. I honestly would pick going via a cruise instead of a hotel.
- Hotel Inglaterra $$$: I wanted to come to this hotel for a rooftop drink on their terrace as I heard really good reviews about this hotel. We didn’t get to come here, but drove past it on our car tour. It is located in the heart of Havana and walking distance to all of the hot restaurants and bars. The decor is very traditional and you will notice that most of the furniture is gold and antique like. It has all of the amenities as well as a restaurant on site.
- Hotel Nacional de Cuba $$$: This hotel is an icon in Havana. The architecture alone makes you want to come in and stay for a while. The lobby and hallways are pretty glam and give that traditional Cuba flair. A lot of celeb icons have stayed here since it opened in 1930 including Beyonce and Frank Sinatra. There are lots of amenities at this hotel including a great bar and even a tennis court. You would find lots to do here when you aren’t exploring outside.
(Aren’t my parents precious!)
Like I mentioned earlier we were only in Havana for a total of 24 hours. We did eat breakfast on the cruise, but we ate lunch, dinner, and had some dessert while exploring. One funny thing I would recommend is do not try to order American food like a hamburger like my dad did. It is not the same and you will not be happy. He also did this same thing in Colorado when he thought that their chicken fried steak would be the same as it is in Texas. Every place we walked by seemed to be the safest bet with seafood or chicken and pork. I would recommend the seafood or go the traditional route and order beans, chorizo and pork chops if they have it. Also note since it is communist that the majority of the restaurants are also owned by the government.
- Seafood/Meat on a Skewer: My mom and I ordered this at dinner and there was plenty for both of us. This seemed like the safest and best bet and was the most fresh. We saw fishermen that would walk through the town after they had just caught fish and would have them over their shoulder on a big pole. This was very interesting to see and we had heard that their seafood was pretty popular. Out of the 2 restaurants we went to, the majority of the customers were ordering this.
- La Guarida: This restaurant has received lots of great reviews. Not only do they have an amazing menu which the food is predominantly seafood, but an even better selection of dessert too. They filmed the movie Fresa y Chocolate here which means you have to try the guava mousse. The building itself used to be a palace and the terrace overlooks all of Havana.
- El Meson de la Flota: We went here for dinner as we were exploring and honestly wanted to go somewhere not too far away from the cruise ship terminal. What attracted us here was that they had a bar area that was playing the Astros and then the flamenco dancing on the stage. It was also not too crowded and right in the middle of Old Havana. I will say I thought the food was just ok, but did enjoy the drinks and the atmosphere. It was a super authentic restaurant and watching the flamenco dancing was my favorite part. They did charge us for every little thing including bread and butter that they just brought to our table. The sangrias were really good here and the food was pretty fresh and authentic.
- Street Food-Churros: There was a couple of street food stands that we saw when we were exploring downtown Havana. When we spotted a churros stand where they were hand making them, we had to get some. I think this was honestly my first time to ever have churros and after eating them this fresh, I think I got spoiled. They were 50 cents for the entire bag which was such a great deal. They had other street food of sweets that I wanted to try too if we had more time.
- Cafe O’Reilly: This little cafe was really popular and had very cheap prices. They are known for having some of the best coffee in Havana. It is a cute place and they have lots of food options including a big breakfast for $5, or lots of varieties of sandwiches.
- Walk Around Old Havana: We did this the whole first day we were in Havana. I was so amazed by all of the architecture that I was in awe the entire time. I have never been to Europe, but my mom said it reminded her of a lot of the cities over there. There are bright colored buildings everywhere and between the different monuments and buildings, you could easily spend an entire day here. We walked and heard live music at several of the restaurants and took way too many pictures. Walking through the downtown area we got to really see the Cuban life. We even got to see school in session through one of the buildings which was so cool to see.
- Take An Old Car Tour: This was the number one thing I was most excited to see and do while I was in Cuba. The tour was 4 hours long and counted as our “people to people” requirement for visiting Cuba. We got to go all around the city in a classic 1950’s Chevrolet car in style. Almost all of the cars that are in Havana are these classic cars including the taxis. The tour took us to several different areas around Havana including the Capitol, Revolution Square, and one of the largest and most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen. The one thing that I loved almost as much as the cars was of course the architecture in this great city.
- Pay Homage to the Art Scene: The art scene in Havana I feel like is a lot more underrated then it should be. We visited an open air market on the final day and there were probably a hundred stands where they were selling not only collectibles, but beautiful art paintings as well. When we were on our tour we visited this studio where we got to see a theatrical ballet performance. I was so impressed by the talent and how unique this production was. When we were done watching you could also view some of the art in the art gallery that was just outside. Even though I did not buy a full painting, I did manage to get some magnets that were hand painted for my souvenir.
- Drive Down Malecon: This area in Havana is right near the water and is a strip of seawall which stretches across the coast. We drove this area in our old car tour. If you aren’t going on a tour, I would still recommend taking a drive down this pretty area. You will see lots of vintage cars on this road and might even spot some local bands. We got to drive down this area at sunrise, but you can also walk around it too. There are several people who like to fish in this area too. This will be a peaceful place to at least swing by.
- Visit Vinales Tobacco Farm: If I go back to Cuba again I would put this on top of my list. This is a short little day trip from Havana, but would be so cool to see how the famous Cuban cigars are made. Vinales is also a World Heritage Site which makes it even more unique. After you learn how the cigars are made you even get to smoke one yourself. A lot of people asked if we bought a Cuban cigar while we were in Havana, and we did not. It was hard to know which places were authentic or not and we did not want to risk it.
- Mojito: Every restaurant and bar serves the mojito and I am glad because it is one of my favorite drinks. It is so fresh and when you are walking around Havana in October and it is still in the high 80’s, you are going to want one to cool down. Their mojitos they tend to put the whole stem, leaves, and everything in there. They only run you about an average of $3, which is also great for your pocketbook.
- La Floridita: Now this place is very touristy and we actually did not go. I have heard it is always crowded, but it is home to the daiquiri if you love those. This bar is also famous to Ernest Hemingway, like a lot of the other places around Havana as well. If you want to cross this one of the list then I would go, but just know that there are plenty of other less crowded bars to have a drink.
- Cafe la Flauta Magica: If you love great views in a bar then this is the place for you. This bar is 10 floors up and looks over the Malecon road. You can enjoy a daiquiri here or try one of their extensive drinks made with the Havana Club range. At night they also have jazz musicians come which is even better next to the perfect backdrop.
- Bring Cash: Cuba does not accept American credit or debit cards at very many places, so it is best to bring all cash. As soon as you get to Cuba you will be exchanging it for their currency. There is the CUC for foreigners and the CUP for locals. 1 dollar is equal to 1 CUC. I exchanged my money once I got to Cuba which they end up taking a percentage for fees, etc. so you truly are not getting an equal ratio. One other thing to note is that on several occasions the Cuban people did not have change they said. I would recommend getting a mixture of large bills and some smaller bills to be on the safe side. You will probably spend no more than $100 a day, so I would budget that in.
- People Will Haggle You, Just Like Anywhere Else: I never felt unsafe on the streets when I was exploring the Old Havana area with my parents both during the day and at night. If you have ever been to Mexico or any other islands you have probably come across people who have haggled you for money or other things. If you act like you know where you are going and what you are doing, people will not bother you very much. In Cuba the average person only makes about $30 a month. This is very hard to think of so a lot of people try to sell as much as they can for any extra cash. People will constantly ask if you want to take their tours, taxis, or sell you one of their collectibles. One thing I hadn’t seen though was we would be walking and someone would be walking a close distance next to us and would start drawing our caricature, and then would hand it to us and want money. This was unique compared to anything I have seen, but just be warned.
- You Can’t Go To Cuba Without Preparing: We can now go to Cuba finally and hopefully it will stay that way if you meet certain criteria. You can’t go to Cuba just for fun and not do anything there. Everyone must pick from one of the 12 reasons you can travel to Cuba that is provided by the government regulations. This can be used for an audit by the government if they need further explanation on your visit. I mentioned on why I chose a cruise over flying is that it had certain excursions booked through them that helped you achieve your criteria for traveling over there. You might have to also fill out an affidavit whether you are flying or cruising there as well, and the cruise helps so much with this. Each traveler also has to pay $75 for a Visa which is required for visiting Cuba. There is lots of preparation that is involved before actually booking your travel.
- Forget About Wi-Fi: I kind of messed up with this little tip at the beginning of the trip and just assumed that Wi-Fi would be working at least in some of the restaurants. I was completely wrong and it doesn’t work anywhere. Since I wanted to have some video to post on Insta stories, I ended up saving them and having to post them later. The only way you are going to have Wi-Fi is basically if you pay for it and that will most likely be if you are staying at a hotel in order to even get any kind of signal. I would recommend taking screen shots of where the restaurants and sight seeing is that you want to visit before you start exploring. That is right, your maps via GPS is not going to work on your phone.
- Dress Comfortably and Wear Light Fabrics: We visited 2 weeks ago in October and it was extremely hot. I have heard from lots of people that it is pretty hot constantly. This called for lighter fabrics in light colors. I had wanted to take photos in all of these fun outfits, but had some issues with our luggage arriving from the airplane extremely late. This is why I was wearing jeans which I was burning up in. I would honestly probably wear linen if I went back again. Also wear comfortable shoes. The majority of the roads are cobblestone and if you are not used to walking on these, which a lot of us Americans are not, then this would not be a good time to bring out your new fun heels. You are in a new destination and will be exploring, so the more comfortable the better.
This was one of those unforgettable trips. I feel so blessed to have been able to explore an area that a lot of Americans have not visited yet. I hope to come back here one day and explore more of the cultural that this place has to offer. I would recommend coming here as a bucket list destination and relaxing and taking a step back in time. You will fall in love with the architecture and the slower pace lifestyle. If you have any other questions please feel free to comment below.