Cuba was one of the coolest (and definitely one of the most interesting) cities that I’ve ever been to. It’s like a time warp - a city stuck in the 1950s. The best way to describe Cuba is just simply “cool!" When you think of Cuba, don’t think “luxurious vacation” by any means - it’s definitely not one of the easiest places to travel to with it’s outdated technological landscape, lack of strong english speakers, old buildings, etc… but it’s definitely worth the trip.
I know with Trump's new policy change this summer, traveling to Cuba seems a bit harder. However, Joe and I traveled there with the Journalism visa, not the people-to-people visa that most people go on. My understanding is that Trump has removed the people-to-people (educational) visa options for Americans, but you can still apply to go under the Journalism visa, especially if you are a blogger or writer! Read more here to find out all you need to know, as I'm not fully up to date on the policy!
Playa Santa Maria
Cuba is absolutely gorgeous with its clear watered beaches, old fashioned cars, and colorful buildings, in an old and charming sort of way. While it’s buildings are old and somewhat crumbly, it is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve ever been to. It’s unique and very different from the US, which interested me a lot. I liked learning about the communist government, the Revolution, and the culture.
Most people opt to stay in a "casa particular” which is essentially a bed & breakfast - you get a room in someone’s house and they cook you breakfast, arrange airport pickup, arrange reservations, give recommendations, etc. Our host was extremely helpful! These casa particulares are now on Airbnb, so you can book through there. There are a few popular hotels like Hotel Nacional and Hotel Saratoga, where Jay-Z and Beyonce stayed. We just went to places like this to just grab drinks instead of to stay in because, to be honest, they looked pretty outdated on the inside too (as most places in Cuba are) and they were far more expensive. My recommendation is to definitely go the casa particular route when visiting. You can get private apartments too.
La Guarida rooftop bar
La Guarida rooftop bar
Prior to going, I had heard mixed reviews about the food in Cuba. After all, it’s a communist country, so there isn’t a huge divide between restaurant to restaurant as far as the public spots go - they all get the same food to work with. The private restaurants though, are unbelievable! You feel like you’re literally eating in someone's house turned into a restaurant, with someones grandma cooking for you in the back. We got recommendations from friends and fellow foodies and all the spots we went to were absolutely fabulous! I will say though, that the private restaurants are much more expensive, so keep that in mind! The seafood in Cuba was unreal!
La Playa Santa Maria
Speaking of expenses and the fact that Cuba’s technological landscape is stuck back in the 1950s - don’t expect to get wifi anywhere. You should download the Maps.me app before you go and make sure to download the Cuba maps within the app beforehand to be able to get around - this app essentially does most things you'd use Google Maps for, but offline.
Also, (this is very important!) you cannot get money out anywhere. You can’t use American debit or credit cards in Cuba, so you must bring enough cash to last you the whole trip! I’d budget $150/person/day just to be safe (although you probably won’t use that much!) We almost ran out of money toward the end of our trip, so had to be very frugal the last day! Also try to exchange enough money to CUCs (Cuban currency, pronounced "kooks") at the airport because the banks in town have long lines, and again you'll need cash immediately since it's the only way to pay!
I strongly recommend visiting Havana - you won’t regret it. Especially now that JetBlue flies from the states, it’s very accessible and pretty inexpensive to fly there. Once you get there, it’s extremely cheap too compared to anywhere in the states. I can’t wait to go back to Cuba to explore other cities like Viñales, Varadero & Trinidad. Hopefully you find this article helpful - and make sure to check out my Havana travel guide below!
My Havana, Cuba To-Do List
SEE & DO
Visit the gorgeous beaches of Cuba - Playa Santa Maria has the clearest blue water and white sand! (It's about a 25 minute drive outside of Havana. *Pro tip - instead of taking the bus where the line is extremely long, we snagged a couple people in line and took a cab for $5/person)
Visit a cigar factory
Callejon del Hamel - an art alley created by an amazing local artist that sits right in the middle of the city - great to visit on a city tour if you rent one of the old classic cars for an hour!
Museum of the Revolution - this was really interesting to hear the Cuban side of it!
Bike around the city & on the Maledron and see the Mausoleo del Che Guevara statue (rent on your own like we did, or take the Ruta bike tour)
Visit the Rum Distillery
Yoga class on the beach (email Eduardo for details)
Take a private salsa dancing lesson at La Casa del Son
Hemingway's 'first home' - Hemingway made a small room on the 5th floor of Hotel Ambos Mundos his first home, where he wrote many of his novels - now open to the public sharing the details and memorabilia of his life there.
*I recommend having your host or taxi driver call for reservations!
Los Naranjos (dinner)
Ivan Chef Justo (dinner)
El Dandy (breakfast)
El Del Frente (dinner)
La Tierra (dinner restaurant at FAC)
El Cafe (breakfast)
La Guarida Rooftop - this was one of my top 3 things on the entire trip! Stunning views.
Hotel Nacional - a gorgeous view of the sea on the lawns
The Malecon (walkway along the coast where people hang out during the nights!)
Next, checkout my travel guide for Cabo, Mexico!