A guide through Havana and Vinales

Cuba was so much more than anything I’ve had expected! To be honest, a few weeks before our trip, we considered switching for Columbia. I simply did not think that there was so much to do in Cuba for 8 full days. Boy was I wrong! Not only did this trip surpass anything I could have hoped for but I actually would not mind going back and exploring other cities. Havana and Vinales have been a dream and I can’t wait for you to go through this post so you pick up some useful tips in case you plan on visiting soon.

Booking you flights

We booked our flights at the Sunrise Airways in Petion-Ville, Haiti in the Big Star supermarket building. The roundtrip ticket cost $495 each + $20 for the visa. The visa is issued directly from the airline desk and it only takes a few minutes to get it.

Extra Tip: Always make sure you check your information online first. The lady at the desk said we could not book our flight for Saturday but when we checked online we realized that they did have flights on that day. Many employees do not really know what they are talking about and can mislead you.

Also, expect your outbound flight to be delayed. Our flight was supposed to leave at 9:00 AM but we did not leave Port-au-Prince until 4:00 PM! Thank God we were staying 9 days in Cuba. Some travelers were only going to spend 3 days and lost their entire first day…bummer!

If your flight gets delayed and you are flexible, you can ask the airline to change your return flight so you have 1 or 2 extra days in Cuba. No fees asked.

 

A few things to do before you leave:

–          Change your entire USD into Canadian Dollars or Euros. Cuban government takes a tax on USD and you will lose 10% of your money when converting your USD in CUC. A few days before your departure, convert your money in euros or Canadian so your heart doesn’t break while converting in CUC at the airport in Cuba.

–          Print your reservation. Because you will most likely not have the time to do this once you are in Cuba, it is important to print your reservations before leaving so you do not encounter any trouble while leaving the country

–          Write down the addresses of the places you are staying in or planning on visiting. Because Internet is not available everywhere, you might have trouble retracing some of the information on your phone. It is time to go back to the old ways and write everything down in a little notebook (or on your phone notes). This will make your life way easier once you need to communicate an address to a taxi driver. They will also ask you the address where you will be staying at the immigration.

–          Have all your money in cash. Do not wait till you get there to withdraw money. You might encounter some difficulties to get your money from an ATM depending on the country your card is issued from. Plus you cannot use debit or credit cards to pay for activities, food etc.. ALL CASH

Arriving in Havana

Once you get to the Jose Marti International airport, you can catch a cab to reach your destination. The yellow cabs will ask for about 25 CUC to get to the central area. Local taxis are cheaper and easier to negotiate but we arrived late due to a delayed flight and had no energy to look for a local cab. The best thing is to find people who are going in the same area and to split the fees.

Havana

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Where to stay?

If you are up for a local experience, staying at a Casa Particular is a good option. We did not book a place to stay before arriving (yea… my husband and I are pretty impulsive and last minute) and we ended up making some friends on the flight who told us where they were staying. We took a cab with them, hoping that there would be a free room at Theodora’s Casa (where they were staying). A casa particular is simply a local’s home with rooms available for rent for tourists. Casas particulares are not fancy but they are clean and allow you to feel like you are a part of the culture.

Our host Theo (Theodora) was very nice and did her best to make us feel at home.

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Theo trying some Haitian Kremas

On the night we arrived, she did not have a free room but offered to give us her own room for the first night as a Mexican girl was leaving the next day.. Yup you heard that right. She took everything out of her room and changed the sheets. This shows you just how important this source of income is to these families.  We paid 25 CUC a night for a room that could accommodate 3 people. But she allowed us to pay 20 CUC instead of 25 for our last 3 nights since we stayed a total of 6 nights with her 😉 Find Theo’s info below

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If you are not up for this type of experience, you can book a hotel but I would not know how help with that as it was not a part of our experience. However, the plaza hotel and La Inglaterra, located near El Capitolio seemed pretty decent. We had breakfast there twice and the staff left us with a good impression.

Where to eat?

Plaza Hotel for breakfast. We recommend a sandwich cubano for 5 CUC.

Get some bread and lomo at a street corner about 1CUC (make sure you get it a local corner)

La vitrola in Havana Viaje.

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This is where I have had the best pork, rice and black beans in Havana. Also, their pina colada is amazing! The service was absolutely great and the ambiance with live music just makes the experience so much more enjoyable

Los Nardos. A restaurant offering Spanish, creole and Italian cuisine in front of the Capitolio. There is usually a line but you do not spend too much time waiting. This is where I have had one of the best sangrias of all time. The paella was also super good.

 Food from your casa particular

Food is the way to the heart and our hosts sure knows it. Once or twice, let your host cook you some breakfast, lunch or diner. It is made with love and is a great way to help them gain extra income while you truly get a “food at grandma’s house” feeling.

 

Transport

Depending on where you are going, you can either take:

 A local classic car 🙂 

Purchase this headwrap here!

Shop my sandals here!

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Or a bicicleta.

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Transport using these 2 means is quite cheap and is even cheaper if you share with friends. 2 to 3 CUC is usually enough for a bicicletta to take you where you want in Havana (within 20 minutes distance of course).

Where to get internet?

Finding internet was not as complicated as I had expected. Not sure how it was a few years ago but when we went, the process was quite simple. You need to go to an ETECSA store and buy an internet card for 1 CUC. The card comes with a username and password and gets you connected to the internet for 1 hour. However, you cannot just get connected anywhere. You need to go to a park, hotel or restaurant that offers Wi-Fi services. You can log out of the internet and sign in again to use your card until you have been using the internet for a total of 1 hour. The internet at Plaza hotel was very fast. Not so much at the park. It is all about knowing the best spots.

Where to go?/What to do

F.A.C  Fabrica de Arte Cubano

This was definitely a highlight of my trip.   F.A.C is a museum/bar/concert/cine/theater/etc…. all in one place. ! Each room has something different to offer. From the intriguing art, the sangrias, the DJs, the salsa dancing, the concerts, you can spend all day over there without getting bored.

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Havana Vieja captured my heart at first sight. It reminded me of the streets f Barcelona, with it’s mixture of old and new. There are many outdoor sittings in front of restaurants, live bands playing in the public space, artists and pigeons everywhere. That is where la Vitrola is located! Get lost in these old streets and let your feet wander to unfamiliar places.

Souvenir shopping

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Of course, you cannot go to Cuba and not buy some souvenirs for your friends and family. Thank God this is the easiest thing to do! There are so many little shops where you can find key chains, paintings, wood work, leather bags and many different things your loved ones can enjoy.

Ride a convertible

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For 40 CUC, a driver will give you a 1 hour in a convertible so if you are a group of 3 or 4, it is pretty cheap. We personally did not do it but a nice driver let me sit on his car to take this picture with my Creations Dorees Sandals 😉

A tour of the city

You can either do this by red open roof tour buses or by carriage ride. We did the red open roof bus for 10 CUC per person. You get a ticket and are free to go down at the stop of your choice (museum etc) and jump back on the next red bus doing the same trajectory. It is a good way to get to see the city and some famous sites.

Snorkerling

Theo booked us a tour with a guy who picked us up and took us to a beach 1 hour away for some snorkeling. Jean-Luc was quite disappointed with this experience because they had told us it was a catamaran that would be taking us. When we arrived it was a very small sailboat (with no inside space, just somewhere to lay down for max 4 people). However the snorkeling was a great experience and the food afterwards was also nice.  However, they only offered beer with the food… no water, no juice. Perhaps if they had told us what to expect from the beginning, we would not have felt like they had lied to us. Overall, I personally enjoyed it but be aware when Cubans say ”Catamaran” haha!

 

Vinales

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If you are staying long enough to get out of Havana, Vinales is a great place to visit.

 

From Havana to Vinales

The best way to do this is by taking a taxi collectivo. Usually taking 4 people total and charging 20 CUC per person. Your host at the casa particular can help you with booking one!

It takes about 2 to 3 hours to reach Vinales and the ride there is so beautiful. The landscape is green and dreamy and will will help you relax while you get there.

 

Things to do in Vinales

  • Visit a cigar and coffee plantation + horse back riding
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  • Go see the prehistorica wall

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  • Visit a cave
  • Wander on the main street and try different restaurants

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  • Buy souvenirs

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The restaurant you should absolutely NOT miss in Vinales

La cachurra is an absolute must. It is the best foodie experience I have had in Cuba, next to La vitrola. I recommand the pork ribs and Ropa Vieja! Add a side of frenchfries and get sangrias with it. AMAZEBALLZZZ

The staff is so friendly. Just let them Know Ann-Sophie and Jean-Luc from Haiti sent you there for extra good treatment. You will probably spot a polaroid picture of us with the staff on a wall 😉

Activities’ average price

For 20 CUC, a driver picked us up and took us to the cave and prehistorical wall. Once you get to the cave, you pay 5 CUC to get in and 3 CUC for the wall with a virgin pina colada included. The trick is to always negotiate the price whenever possible. You will end up getting some very good deals.

Where to stay

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A casa particular of course! We had the best host, Cary, and the cutest little room. Here are her info below so you can contact her and book your stay. She is lovely, friendly and helps you book your excursion and I should not forget to mention that her food is delicious!

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Last points

 

How much cash should you carry in Cuba?

100 CUC per person per day is a great budget for rooms, food, activities, souvenirs and transport. If you are a couple, you could go for CUC 150-175 PER DAY for the booth of you. However 100 CUC per person is safest and allows you not to feel restrained and enjoy more.

 

A few other things to know:

  • It is important to have  a picture of your passport and Visa on your phone so you do not have to carry them with you all the time. It might be required sometimes to convert money or reserve a tour
  • Keep in mind that Cubans use 2 different currencies, the CUC (for tourists) and pesos for the locals. 1 CUC is about 0.90 USD while the peso is worth wayyy less. When asking for prices, make sure you specify if they are talking about CUC or national money. If something sounds way too expensive, then they are probably talking in pesos, not CUC.

 

  • Even though you can buy internet cards, be intentional about limiting your time on your phone. Having limited internet was  a blessing in many ways and helped us realize how much time we waste on it when it is available 24/7. Make the most of your detox time 🙂

 

  • Do not plan too much. Yes it is important to plan (especially for Cuba where internet is limited) but also leave room for activities you had not thought of. Cuba has so much to offer. Be open

 

  • Be aware of scams! Some people take advantage of tourists’ innocence to get money. A few things you should not fall for:

1) In Havana A lady in front of a supermarket asking you to buy milk for her baby. First of all, she might get you because she is not asking for money but milk. The trick is… she knows the owner and returns the milk as soon as it is bought so they can split the cash. Thank God Theo had warned us about her since day 1.

2) People telling you to come in bars for a salsa festival. Most of the time, there is no salsa festival and you sit there waiting and buy drinks. They charge you more than the regular drink price and ”the nice person” who had invited you gets a drink and let’s you pay for it. This happened to us but my gangsta side came out real quick lol.  I want to the cashier and ask to see a menu as I suspected what they had charged us was too high (obviously they had no menu) but I made some calculations with him and asked for the rest of our change immediately. which he did. Of course, the lady who had brought us in let her cocktail bill slide on ours and after 40 minutes sitting, the ‘salsa festival’ still had not started. I only let it pass because my husband asked to let it go but… hopefully this post will keep this form happening to you. Do not resist slapping them if it does haha (joking) Do not end up in Jail.

 

I hope this blog post will be useful to you and will help you plan your trip better! If you have more questions, do not hesitate to ask them in the comment box below!

 

xoxo

A Travel Lover

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