I promise, you'll be Havana good time in Cuba
Cuba is notorious to Americans as a forbidden land just 90 miles south of Florida. But since Obama lifted restrictions to the country, domestic carriers are starting to fly to Havana and a few other spots in Cuba. Currently, getting an American travel visa requires you fit into one of the 12 reasons for visiting Cuba including social work, journalism, & educational purposes.
Alternatively, tons of carriers are offering stop overs in Mexico City to avoid the 'American visa.' Once in Mexico, all a tourist needs to do is buy a travel visa for $20 at a kiosk in the airport. Upon arrival, Cuba customs will ask if you would like a stamp, so the choice is yours.
Where to stay in Havana is particularly tricky. Popular hotels like Hotel Nacional de Cuba (pictured above: also where Bey stayed so...) are very pricey ($400 and up). There is a local bed & breakfast alternative called casa particulars. You can search for these type of rooms here.
AirBnb is also up and running in Cuba. We went with this route, but wouldn't necessarily say you had to stay in ours (very different for Trindad, Cuba, if you go, peep that post for a must stay in AirBnb).
Unfortunately, one of the less appealing part of Cuba is the food that we found. Sticking mainly to recommendations from friends and TravelAdvisor, we were still barely able to find a great meal. One perk was the breakfasts offered by our AirBnb hosts from their (mostly live-in) housekeepers. The cost is low and finding a breakfast in Havana is hard enough as is. Another thing that has been very popular in Havana is the Paladares. Paladares are basically restaurants opened in a private home, where the hosts cook and serve limited groups meals. Get a dose of culture and add this to your list. That being said, here are some popular spots.
- La Guardia - recommended by all
- Casa Miglia - Scandinavian cuisine
- La Esperanza - The original paladare
- Havana Bohemia
- La Casa
- Star Bien
Internet & Money
Internet: First of all, don't expect to have internet strong of frequently in Cuba. It is technically illegal for residents to have Wifi in their homes and even when they do (one of AirBnbs in Havana did) you have to login the ETECSA system. To get an internet card (it has scratch off user and pin numbers), you can typically buy one (and sit to use) in most of the nice hotels in Havana in their business center. Other hotspots include selected town squares with wifi. If you see a gathering of people in their phones in a square, you've probably found it. Alternatively, you can purchase at ETECSA stores, but lines can be very long and slow. (Tip: look for the logo on the street to find the store.)
Money: There are no ATMs in Cuba that Americans can use. Also, credit cards do not work in Cuba. To get around this, you'll need to bring all the cash you could possibly spend in advance. The Cubans have 2 currencies, the CUP (or Cuban peso) and the CUC (the convertible peso). The CUC is for tourists, while the CUP is for locals. You can exchange all your cash at the Havana airport very easily though. (Tip: they take less of a fee on Canadian and Mexico currency, so exchange your American dollars for Mexican pesos in advance to save some cash.)
Go for a joy ride
One of the most dreamy parts of Cuba is the technicolor rainbow of classic cars being used a daily transportation. Pink, green, yellow and white, convertible and sedan, these cars run the roads in Havana. One of the highlights of our trip was a tour in one of these classic cars of Havana. Our Airbnb host helped us call a convertible that picked us up at our house and drove us around for 2 1/2 hours for $80 CUC. It was fantastic- the drivers spill tons of knowledge on Cuba as you slow roll through Old Havana, check out Chinatown and cruise the Melacon. I would't miss this activitey.
- Mosaic heaven Check out the neighborhood covered in mosaics on the outskirts of Havana, Fusterlandia. Located in Jaimanitas, Havana, the artist transformed his home covered in mosaic and the whole neighborhood joined in! Peep the insane and kooky art piece- it's a quick and cheap ride from Old Havana.
- Chill like a local The Melacon is a stretch of seaside highway circling Havana. Locals spend hours here chatting, and for younger Cubans making out, on the walls while the waves occasionally splash you with fresh salt water.
- Be a sport Jose Marti Stadium is situated on the Melacon and while not in use, this spot is an architectural beauty
- Go to a Cabaret show We choose Cabaret Tropicana at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. They tell the story of Cuba independence while dressed in looks Rihanna would kill for (or might have already coped). Book here. (Tip: go early as the seating is first come first serve.)
- Drink with you take in the art Fabrica de Arte Cubano is a cool space that integrates live music, performances, art and nightlife under one roof. Open only Thurs-Sun form like 8-2am, this spot is definitely one to add to the must-do list.
- Have a drink
- Floridita - Daiquiri homeland
- Cafe Musica
- Salon Rioja
- La Zorra y el Cuervo - Jazz club
- Shangri La