Travel Guide: Cuba + Important Tips to know before you book!

Travel Guide: Cuba + Important Tips to know before you book!

If you’re tempted to visit Cuba from all of the colorful scenic photos of Old Havana and classic cars you may be seeing popping up on IG, then this post is for you! I’ve been asked so many questions about my recent adventure and could not wait to publish this post on all things Cuba…

First things first, it’s important to know that…

  • American’s aren’t yet able to travel to Cuba for strictly tourism.
  • You’ll have to apply for a Visa under 1 of 12 travel categories.
  • Despite all of the colorful buildings, the city of Havana is almost falling apart :-/
  • The food is NOT GOOD, but it’s cheap!
  • It’s safe – in terms of crime (this question came up a lot).
  • The beaches are stunning!
  • The people are friendly and helpful
  • AirBnb is the way to go!

Let me further break down the bullet points above…

+ Visa Process – Getting a visa to Cuba is not a difficult process. You have several options, you can order it online at Cuba Travel services here, purchase it a designated office or you can buy one at the airport on your way out. Some airlines that fly to Cuba have special rates if you purchase through them (ie. my friend who flew Southwest got his for only $50). When you apply for your visa, you’ll have to list the reason of why you’re visiting the country. We visited Cuba as an Educational Trip (people-to-people cultural exchange)..and it truly was just that!

+ Accommodations – We chose to stay at an AirBnb while in Cuba. We stayed in 3 different areas: Vedado, Viñales and Old Havana. In 2/3 of the homes we stayed in, the families were living either on the bottom floor or second part of the home. At first it felt a bit intrusive, but the same night a few hours later we felt the complete opposite and were comforted knowing families were there since we were staying in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

All 3 AirBnb owners were very warm and welcoming. They helped us arrange pick-ups and drop-offs to and from the airport, taxi service and local tours. Each morning they cleaned our rooms and gave us the option for breakfast ($5 CUC). Although we didn’t bring anything expensive or valuable to Cuba, we were always able to lock off our private section of the homes and felt completely safe leaving our things behind while we explored. I highly recommend staying at an AirBnb Cuba as part of the full experience.

+ Currency – The Cuban peso that’s used most is called CUC. It is 1:1 with the US dollar which makes it much easier to figure out when you’re bargaining or making purchases. IMPORTANT: You can’t get CUC in the U.S., so you will have to trade U.S. Dollars, Euros or Canadian dollars, when you get to the airport in Cuba or at one of the banks in Cuba. From other bloggers and my own personal experience, it’s good to have a budget of about $100/day to feel completely comfortable with food, tours, local experiences and taxis.

+ Food – The food ain’t that great, which is disappointing for a foodie traveler like myself! I did know what I was getting myself into before I went, which definitely lessened the discouragement. Most restaurants are government owned and have the lowest quality of food. The best restaurants are privately owned as they have more of incentive to have quality meals to keep customers and stay in business. Here’s how you can ensure or experience good food in Cuba. The day that you arrive, go to the closest hotel concierge (whether you’re staying there or not) and have them make reservations for all of the good restaurants. In addition to having your own list of restaurants you’ll want to try, they will also give you great recommendations. I’ll be writing another blog post soon on the restaurants we really enjoyed in Cuba!

+ Wi-fi/Cell Service/GPS – Personally one of my favorite parts about the trip was being completely  u n p l u g g e d  for 6 days! However, there are designated WiFi zones and locations which you can purchase a card to get online access. You’ll know when you see them because every one will be head down in their cell phones (like the U.S.). It’s about $2 CUC for 1 hour. They’re easy to get, but I chose not to and waited until I got home to post about my trip.

+ Maps/GPS – You’ll definitely want to download an offline map before you go to help you get around easily. I downloaded Galileo Pro ($3.99) which was recommended by most travel bloggers as the best version. I was SO happy we did this and even saved a lot the locations of the places I wanted to visit with the exact coordinates. I can’t tell you how much this helped not only us, but some of our taxi drivers too!

+ Experiences – Our trip was 5 days total and our basic itinerary was..

  • Day 1: Vedado
  • Day 2: Varadero
  • Day 3: Old Havana
  • Day 4: Viñales
  • Day 5: Old Havana

We were able to pack in a lot of things, but still felt very relaxed for how much we moved around and got to see…

Vedado – is an upper middle class neighborhood in Cuba. Most people will debate staying here or in Old Havana. I am SO GLAD we chose Vedado. Vedado was such a nice getaway from the city and was much cleaner. It was fun walking through the neighborhood and they also have their fare share or restaurants, bars and a nightlife scene.

Varadero – is a 2 hour ride from Vedado. It’s quite the journey, but it is rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba. I had to see it! If you leave early enough and sleep in the taxi, it’s totally worth it! This was everyone’s favorite day on the trip by far. On the way, our taxi driver stopped at Saturn Cave, a beautiful hidden swimming hole. It was by far one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my travels! Varadero is so unique because it’s a very skinny Peninsula and you can literally see water on both sides as you’re driving along. Our taxi driver took us to the beach at Varadero Golf Club which we thought was a very nice area. They offer snorkeling and other water activities.

Viñaeles – The locals told us, “it’s known as the happiest place in Cuba!” This is the place to come if… you want to experience horseback riding through the tobacco and coffee fields, learn the process of cigar making from the locals and explore dark caves in  mountains.  If you decide to come to Viñales which I definitely recommend, be prepared to stay in a very deserted area. It is a 2.5 hour winding car ride from Vedado, so you will definitely want to plan to stay the night here if you can. It’s definitely doable to do it in a day, but who wants to spend 5+ hours in the car if you don’t have to? This also ended up being one of our best experiences on the trip…

Old Havana – is the most iconic part of Cuba that you see in all of the pictures with the colorful buildings and classic cars. The best thing to do in Old Havana is people watch! As you walk through the alleys and streets that are almost falling apart, you’ll get to see a beautiful blend of travelers and locals. The main busy street to walk down in Havana is Obispo. I also recommend wandering into beautiful hotel lobbies whether for a bathroom or cocktail break.

A must see in Old Havana is ‘La Guarida‘. It’s a restaurant that’s almost impossible to make reservations at. I tried to make one 3 weeks in advanced and still couldn’t get one. However, even if you can’t, it’s still worth going and checking out the amazing views! There are three gorgeous levels to see great views of the city during the evening.

+ Overall Budget – 

  • $100/day for food, local tours, taxi’s, etc.
  • $25-$35 for taxi ride to/from airport to Havana/Vedado
  • $10-$15 for meals $3+ per cocktails
  • $150  private taxi to Varadero from Vedado
  • $7-$10 taxi rides from Vedado to Old Havana
  • $160 private taxi van ride from Vedado to Viñales
  • $20+/night for AirBnbs in Havana/Vedado/Viñales

**MUST DOWNLOAD this free app –>  Cuba Travel Guide**

All in all, my visit to Cuba was an amazing cultural experience. I wouldn’t recommend this trip for someone who wants pure relaxation and resort style amenities. At least, it wouldn’t be my first choice…

Stay tuned for a more detailed guides about restaurants and hotels worth visiting plus my daily itinerary! Feel free to leave any comments or questions about my trip below or on IG: @anastacia.kasmer

Thanks for reading – XX


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