First things first, Cuba was beyond words. It was easily my favorite destination since Canada, for much different reason. I celebrated my recent birthday in Havana with six of my friends. Prior to leaving, I had major anxiety about being disconnected for 5 days since the wi-fi in Havana is few and far between. American travel is still fairly new to Cuba so there are several things you need to before traveling there, but don’t worry – I covered all of that in this post. I wasn’t sure I was 100% prepared, but we showed up and wished we could’ve stayed longer. The culture hasn’t been watered down in any way, very little about it feels touristy and it’s incredibly vibrant. I hope it remains exactly the way that it is because that’s what makes it so unique.
We arrived into the Havana airport at about 5 p.m. on a Thursday evening and went straight to the money exchange counter once we got through TSA. The line was lengthy and exchanging our money took us about an hour and a half. Luckily we didn’t check any bags because we would’ve been in that airport even longer. We took a taxi to our AirBNB where we were met by our host and greeted with mojitos. The home itself was beautiful, but was in a residential area about a 15 minute drive from downtown Havana. It felt like a luxurious villa and was decorated beautifully. Having a host helped us tremendously. Ludmilla and her husband were able to give us suggestions on where to eat, where to go in the evenings and what places were a must-see. This house like any other house in Havana didn’t have wi-fi, but our host walked us about six blocks to the nearest hotel where we were able to connect. Wi-fi in Havana is generally about $1.50 CUC an hour and is pretty decent. Whether you’re staying in a hotel or a rental home, I suggest getting with either the front desk clerk or your host in order to get neighborhood suggestions regarding where to eat, what to see and how to get around.
One of our friends wasn’t flying in until Friday evening, and our other two friends went on an all-day excursion; so me, Jeanette and Anais ate a full breakfast prepared by our house-lady Sonia and got dressed to head out for the day. I have to brag about Sonia for a moment. For $10 per person, Sonia would make us a complete breakfast each morning. Fried eggs, bacon, ham, bread, butter, cheeses and salami, freshly squeezed juices, literally an entire spread. She’d even pack up and store the leftovers so that we could have them throughout the day. We walked to Hotel Kohly for wifi and then took a taxi into Old Havana. The weather was flawless and it was the perfect day to explore the city. The famous tourist bar El Floridita was our first stop but had a line out of the door. We quickly ran into a local Cuban (who I thought was American by his Ray-bans) and he led us to another bar.
Walking through Old Havana is pure magic. Everything is untouched and authentic but still so beautiful. Music flows from different restaurants and hotels into the streets and it’s a mix of natives and tourists. We danced inside of the bar while having drinks and took photos in the streets and quickly got our first dose of what a Cuban tour guide requires. When the check came for the drinks, the two gentleman who were walking us around expected us to cover theirs. When we separated our checks, the waitress asked them if they were Cuban and then charged them less for their drinks than she did for ours. Keep in mind Americans will likely be overcharged for everything because of the assumption that we have money, so negotiate everything.
Of course we had to get a photo in an old fashion car, so we found one that would take us on a city tour for $50 CUC. For an hour, they’ll drive you around to every landmark in the city. We stopped at major attractions like Havana’s Square of Revolution with famous artwork of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, The Malecon, The Capital building and Miramar, which is a beautiful neighborhood. We purchased individual cigars and enjoyed them at a rooftop restaurant we walked into. We finally ended up back at home and got ready to have dinner at Elite, an upscale black and white restaurant in an old home. The food was so, so good. Don Congrejo is a famous Friday spot known for it’s beautiful view that we didn’t get to enjoy after dinner due to rain, but I definitely suggest it for anyone else.
Dinner at Elite | Similar dress here
The next day we set up a day-trip to Varadero, which is the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen… and I’ve seen a lot of beaches. Luckily we had Sonia to set up car rides for us since Varadero is two hours away. The weather didn’t let us make it this day. It was a drizzling when we woke up but we still decided to go. It went from gloomy to consistent rain once we arrived, so we unfortunately only got to enjoy a few hours of the beach before heading back. We had originally planned to have dinner at La Guarida but didn’t realize we would need a reservation so far in advance. We ended up at Rio Mar, which is a beautiful restaurant up a hill overlooking water. We had a gooooood time. So good that management had to come over and ask us to be quiet lollll. After dinner we went to a reggaeton club called Bolabana, which was right up my alley but tiny. Not to mention we almost got into a fight with some Cuban girls. Little did they know we were from Houston and Dallas TX!
The next morning it poured hard and that of course put a major damper on our plans for the day. I spent a couple of hours at the Hotel Kohly on wi-fi before the rain finally let up. We got dressed and had a family style meal at El Aljibe. We were starving but the food was incredible. We went back to Old Havana for a few hours for my friends who weren’t with us the day we explored. That evening Sonia gave us a grand finale meal of traditional Cuban food and rum. Chicken, rice and black beans, malanga, plantains, bread and cake. Leaving her was the hardest part. Keep in mind you will likely need to make your own Sunday plans in Cuba. It’s a very slow evening seeing as most restaurants and clubs close down early, so we ended up having a little party at home.
In my opinion, nothing in Cuba other than the rum and cigars are worth bringing home as a souvenir. The majority of what you’ll find in souvenir shops will be t-shirts, handmade leather goods, and small items such as coffee mugs and shot glasses. Other things to do are cigar factory tours, a day trip to Trinidad, tour Ernest Hemingway’s house, the Museum of Revolution, and watch the sunset from El Morro. And last but not least, don’t drink the water.
I tried my best to link as many items as I could from what I wore in Cuba. Some things sold out really quickly and others I had in my closet for years and can’t find online. If you have any other questions about traveling to Cuba, drop ’em below. I’m happy to help answer them.