Havana, Vinales, Varadero
Cuba was a place we had wanted to visit for the longest time. The unbeliveable architecture and Carribean beaches were what made us want to travel here, and it certainly lived up to our expectations.
There are so many rumours about how difficult it is to travel to Cuba. There is a lot of misinformation online and from travel agents regarding accommodation, internet, currency etc. So here is our little guide on Cuba – what we did, where we stayed, and cool stuff to check out!
WHERE TO STAY:
Accomodation in Cuba is a lot different to any where we have ever been. Basically, the government controls the hotels and takes the majority of the money. To fight this, the Cuban people run air bnbs out of their home, called casa paticulars. Cuban people make very little money, and rely on tourism to survive. Staying in a casa not only supports the locals but is a great way to have an authentic Cuban experience.
The host of our casa, Armando, was the friendliest and most helpful person we have ever met. He was one of the highlights of our trip. His home was located right in the centre of Old Havana and was walking distance to absolutely everything. If you are visiting Havana and are looking for somewhere to stay we would highly recommend his casa. (He didn’t pay us to say this, we just really loved him!)
If you are a first time air bnb user you can use our code, and save some money to spend on mojitos!
WHAT TO EAT
Ham ham ham.. with some cheese and bread. Be prepared to go back to school lunches, and have a good old ham and cheese sammy for every meal of the day. Cubans have very limited resources due to their political state. A ham and cheese sandwich is easy and cheap to make which is why every restaurant/cafe will sell one. Other popular foods include rice and beans, grilled chicken, shredded beef, pizza, fish, and root veggies. Although the food is basic, it’s good value for money and made with love.
WHERE AND WHAT TO DRINK
If you know us, you know we love a drink. Heading to Cuba, we couldn’t wait to drink mojitos all day, and we sure did. Rum is cheap ($4 for a litre), and the bartenders use it in everything. Rooftop bars are popular in Havana and provide amazing views over the city. A couple we loved were:
- Hotel Nacional
- El Surtidor Pool Terrace and Bar
These bars are on the rooftops of hotels, but you don’t need to be a hotel guest to use them. We literally just walked into hotel lobbies and took the elevator up to the roof. Skkkrrrt.
Another famous bar in Havana is Floridita. It was a popular hang out for Ernest Hemingway, and claims to be the “birthplace of the frozen daiquiri”. Because of these reasons, you’re going to pay a lot more for a drink here. Most people go for the experience, and the fact that the bartenders pour a bottle of rum into a blender to make your drink.
Mojitos are sold everywhere, and they are insanely cheap. Most bars will sell them for as little as $3. Havana has no liquor zones – meaning you can buy a mojito at one of the cute street stalls, and walk around the city with it!
The local beer (Cristal) is about $1 a can and we often took a few too many of these out to watch the sunset on the beach.
- Classic car ride (the instagram car) – an hour tour of the city will cost you around $40. These cars are everywhere, so there’s competition between drivers. Don’t take the first fare they tell you! Negotiate first, and then agree on a price. We decided to use it as a taxi from the city across the bay and it cost about $15. Our car was a 1955 Chevy convertible and for nearly 65 years old the old girl still had some speed.
- Craft market – awesome place to pick up some locally made crafts such as cigar holders, paintings, bracelets, clothing, and the good old general souvenir. If you are good at haggling, it’s pretty fun.
- Sunset at the Cuban Jesus statue – from Old Havana you can take a ferry for 10 cents across the bay and watch the sun setting over Havana.
- Walk around the city! Honestly, just walk down little alleyways and get lost. There is so much to explore and we never felt unsafe.
We took a tour out to Vinales, which is about 2.5 hours drive from Havana. Vinales looks like a town that’s literally still stuck in the 1800s. People ride horses on the motorway, and live in tiny colourful houses. They were some of the coolest, happiest people we met. If you are looking to see more of Cuba than just the touristy parts, we definitely recommend a day trip out there. We booked a sketchy looking tour through airbnb but it was totally legit and one of the best parts of our holiday!
The tour included: round trip transport from our casa to Vinales, a boat ride through an ancient cave, horseback riding, smoking and seeing how cigars were made, drinking cuban rum with farmers, and lunch overlooking the entire valley.
Here’s the link to the tour if you wanna check it out:
A cute beach town about 2 hours drive from Havana. We travelled to Varadero by a ‘taxi colectivo’ (shared taxi) , which is basically the Cuban version of Uber Pool.
You could just do a day trip to Varadero if you are short on time, but it’s a really nice place to spend a couple of nights as well. The beach in Varadero is exactly like every beach you see on a Caribbean advertisement. White sand, and warm blue ocean water.
If you have a bit of money to spend, Varadero is also famous for its all inclusive resorts.
The Air Bnb we stayed in:
https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/22828628?guests=1&adults=1 (pictures do not do this place justice! It’s directly across from the beach and had everything we needed, including a cute dog!)
- Cuba has two currencies: the local currency (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Currency (Cuban currency for tourists). This can get confusing, so it’s a good idea to have a read about these currencies before you go.
- Cuban Convertible Currency is about dollar to dollar for USD
- Cuban money can only be purchased in Cuba (there is a currency exchange in the airport once you land)
- When receiving money from anyone in Cuba (including currency exchange), check that you are given the correct change in the correct currency.
Internet in Cuba is run by the government, so it’s hard to get. There is no free wifi! The only way to get internet as a tourist in Cuba is to line up and pay for 1 hour ‘internet cards’. The lines for these cards were crazy, so we didn’t bother. An entire week with no internet or contact to the outside world was really refreshing, and we were surprised how much free time we had when not mindlessly scrolling social media! Take a break, you will feel better 🙂
Try to learn some basic Spanish before you go! A lot of the locals in Havana can speak basic English, but we found the further out of the tourist towns we went, the less English was spoken or understood.
REALLY HELPFUL APPS TO DOWNLOAD
These apps honestly saved our life so many times. Since there is no internet, you can’t use google maps or search anything if you get lost. Both of these apps work offline!
Our biggest takeaway from Cuba was how welcoming and genuine the people are. They literally open their homes to tourists, for very little money, and are incredibly proud and passionate about their island (a lot like kiwis). Also no wifi was also pretty sweet!
We hope this blog helps out anyone who is planning a trip to Cuba and encourages others to check it out!
- Kristina and Cam