Havana is such a unique travel destination, unlike any other place I’ve been. Different in an unbelievably, beautiful way – I strongly recommend everyone traveling there at least once. While there, we navigated the streets of Havana with ease and this travel guide will help you do the same.
Flying from the U.S. is fairly easy. We flew Delta and purchased a Visa at the gate for $50. There are still restrictions to traveling to Cuba from the U.S., so make sure you fall under one of the 12 categories for travel: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
One of the most important things to know about traveling to Cuba from the U.S. is that they do not accept our credit or debit cards, so you must have cash. Withdraw all the cash you plan to use before you arrive. While you can exchange USD in Havana, I strongly recommend exchanging to Euros before leaving the U.S. or you will be taxed 12% of the total for exchanging USD (not worth it).
It’s also very important to be aware that they have to types of currency: CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) and CUP (Cuban National Peso). CUC is the most used currency, especially for tourists, so you want to make sure this is what you exchange to. $1 CUC = $1 USD. The CUP is not really worth anything to tourists, so make sure you getting back CUC when receiving change for a purchase – $1 CUC = $24 CUP.
When leaving Havana, exchange any left over money back to Euros and exchange back to USD when you get back to the U.S.
Where to Stay
We chose to stay at an Airbnb in Vedado (a neighborhood of Havana) based on recommendations. It’s described as one of the more modern areas in Havana and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there. I HIGHLY recommend this Airbnb.
We kind of took a gamble with this because there weren’t any reviews when we booked it since it was a new listing, although the host had great reviews from other properties. So we were surprised to find that there was a live-in host (Yoan) that stayed there to assist us. He made us breakfast and coffee every morning and helped us get taxis when needed. He was extremely polite and respectful and stayed in a separate area of the house than we did. He had been studying English for two weeks and he gave us great recommendations for restaurants and things to do in Havana. We were basically BFFs by the time we left. He was amazing. Our rooms had secure locks, safes, and controlled AC (the AC was a must – it’s HOT there). I honestly felt safer there than I’ve ever felt in America. If you choose to stay in an AirBnB with a live-in host, please leave a tip for them!
There are hotels in Havana and Old Havana as well, so it’s not necessary to stay in an Airbnb if that’s not the route you’re comfortable with.
I had heard mixed reviews on the food in Havana, but we primarily ate a restaurants based on recommendations from the locals and we were not disappointed. I ate a lot of seafood – lobster, shrimp and fish. I also had steak, pork, lamb, and chicken. The only meal I wasn’t thrilled about was the chicken, but it was a meal at the beach, so I wasn’t expecting much. A few of my favorite restaurants we ate at were Hostal El Cañonazo, Los Naranjos, and Dominica Restaurante.
Taxis range from $10-$30 CUC in Havana. As one would imagine it’s more cost effective when traveling in a pair or group, so the cost is split, but we only paid around $30 CUC when going to and from the airport. Most of the taxis we rode in where classic American cars (they will try to upcharge you for convertibles), but they have regular taxis as well. The main tip when trying to hail a taxi is to negotiate. You can almost always talk them down.
WiFi is not the easiest thing to come by in Havana. You have to purchase a WiFi card by the hour and then go to a place (hotels, parks, etc.) with WiFi to use it. Because of this, we only used WiFi one time because we were too busy on the go and it was nice to be unplugged from the social world. We purchased WiFi cards at a hotel in Old Havana – $4.50 CUC for a 1 hour card. We wound up at Hotel Capri and they had a really good WiFi signal. However, if you’re at Hotel Nacional, you have to purchase a WiFi card there as they have their own, separate from the rest of Havana.
What to Do
There is so much to do and see in Havana. One of the easiest ways to see the city is by taking a tour in a Classic American car. These tours are typically $40 CUC and last for about 1 1/2 hours. I’m not sure if all tours take the same route, but I think everyone ends up seeing the same things. Typically tours start and end in Old Havana by the Malecón. However, since we stayed in Vedado, we started our tour at John Lennon Park and ended in Old Havana.
Old Havana has a lot of great architecture and it’s a great area to walk because there’s so much to see. After walking around Havana, we went to Floridita which is one of Havana’s most popular bars. They are known for their daiquiris made with rum and they were delicious. It’s great for music, dancing, and meeting other people outside of your travel group.
If you’re looking for a beach to visit while in Havana, Santa Maria Del Mar is your place. While the sand isn’t as white as other beaches in Cuba, it’s still a gorgeous beach. It was about a 20 minute ride from Vedado for $20 CUC. We got to the beach around 10am and stayed until 3pm. You can rent a chair for $2 CUC and an umbrella for an additional $2 CUC (which we passed on because we welcomed the sun). There were servers at the beach who constantly asked us if we wanted a drink, water, food, etc. They were extremely nice and helpful and it made for a great relaxing beach day.
For a fun night out, go to Casa de la Musica in Miramar. The doors open at 11pm and the show starts around 12a. I recommend getting there closer to 11pm if you want a table. Admission can range between $10 – $25 CUC and you can get a bottle of rum at your table for $33 CUC. The show we went to opened with a dance number followed by a live band. This was one of my favorite nights of the trip, we had so much fun.
All in all, Havana was one of my favorite trips. It’s rich in culture and history and I recommend everyone taking the time to go if they can!