- Make dinner reservations at La Guarida in Havana.
- Have an infamous daquiri at Floridita, the old stomping grounds of Ernest Hemingway.
- Ride around Havana in style and go on an old car tour.
- Have lunch on the rooftop of Hotel Ambos Mundos.
- Explore the tobacco farms and mystical caves of Viñales.
- Dance the night away at Havana Club (in Varadero)
- Go to Trinidad!
- Get lost along the white sand beaches of Cayo Coco.
- Go to Varadero, unless you're on a strict time constraint/want to get to a Cuban beach near the vicinity of Havana. There are WAY more beautiful beaches to visit.
- Go for less than a week.
- Get CUP (Cuban Pesos). You'll need CUC (Convertibles) while traveling.
Here's what we managed to accomplish in 5 days. Spoiler alert: we barely made a dent.
DAY 1 - HAVANA
Flying over Havana, my eyes were glued to the window. Greenery covered most of the ground below, while vibrant little specks cruised along the streets. Other than seeing some funky old cars, I had no idea what adventures lay ahead.
Collectively piecing together the reviews of previous travelers to the island, I anticipated three things: the food would be horrible, the music would be fantastic, and the sights would be unforgettable.
Walking through the neighbourhood of Vedado to central Havana, the city seemed run down, yet, undoubtedly charming. It was hard to believe how these seemingly decaying buildings housed some of the most stunning restaurants and apartments. Meanwhile, life was happening everywhere as music and romance filled the air. There was just something so smooth about the lifestyle. Everyone was pleasant and welcoming, and the locals LOVED Americans.
STAY: Casa Maria Elena y Yanko. Email them at email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org. They will take great care of you!
After almost an hour of walking, we made one stop at Floridita, a bar notorious for their delicious daiquiris (get the kiwi flavour!). We only had time for one drink before our dinner reservation at La Guarida. The food here is absolutely AMAZING (thanks Jay-Z & B) and the rooftop bar is a great place to hang out. During your stay, you'll quickly notice there's no shortage of trendy rooftop bars in Havana.
Fun Facts: Taxis come in forms of cocotaxis or old cars from the 1940's and tourists are NOT allowed to ride in the bike taxis. Make sure you take out enough money to last you your entire trip as ATM's and Wi-Fi practically don't exist. Oh and NO ONE is out on their phones. Human beings are simply enjoying the moment and engaging with the physical human beings in front of them. It's beautiful.
DAY 2 - VIÑALES
The land of limestone mountains and tobacco farms.
GETTING THERE: Taxi to Viñales from Havana should be 15 CUC per person in a collectivo. If you want to go direct without the hassle of other people, you can get a personal taxi for 50-60 CUC. The drive is about 2.5 hrs.
Arriving in Viñales, we had no plan at all. Our driver brought us to Casa Noharis y el Chino, owned by a lovely family who made us feel right at home. They helped us hire a taxi for the day to get the full Viñales experience. Our tour brought us to Cueva del Indio, the mural (not recommended), a tobacco farm and the valley, all for 20 CUC. When we returned home, Noharis made us a traditional Cuban home cooked feast, once again disproving the myth that the food in Cuba is bad.
DAY 3 - VARADERO
GETTING THERE: a collectivo is 30 CUC (5hrs) from Viñales & 15 CUC (1.5hrs) from Havana. The lowest I've heard from Havana to Viñales is 10 CUC, but you'll need to have a good understanding of Spanish to successfully barter down the price.
This place is definitely overrun by Canadians and Europeans. If you want a semi local feel, stay in Varadero East. Varadero West is where all the government owned, all inclusive resorts are. Honestly, we didn't even venture over there. Cuba has some stunning coastline, but I would recommend spending time on the east side of the island to visit the more secluded beaches.
For nightlife in Varadero go to Calle 62 and Havana Club. These bars are walking distance from each other and the variation of music is perfection. Hip-hop jams mixed with Reggaetone/Salsa/Rumba. Need I say more?
DAY 4 - HAVANA
GETTING THERE: From Varadero 15 CUC (1.5hrs)
This day was our day of exploration. We walked EVERYWHERE. La Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, Vedado, Miramar. You name it, we walked it. I'd definitely recommend strolling along the Malecón, which is the roadway that stretches 8km along the coast of Havana.
DAY 5 - HAVANA
We finally took the old car tour of Havana, which we probably should have done on day 1. With this tour, you'll see all the major sights in Havana and learn so much about the city, just for 30 CUC or less.
In the end, our plan oddly worked as our guided tour turned into our taxi to the airport. Not only did we ride in style in our 1940's red convertible Ford, but we made a new Cuban friend, our wonderful driver Cholula.
I have to say, what I enjoyed most about this trip was the atmosphere. No Internet, Snapchat or Instagram. Just engagement. Groups of people simply creating moments not bothered by what's happening on a tiny screen. A lot of people are so intrigued by the idea of Cuba, thinking they're going to teleport back in time. Honestly, I didn't find it to be that far behind any other Central American country, and I think their way of life is extremely refreshing. Either way, I'd definitely recommend exploring Cuba for yourself.