To enter Cuba, you will need to purchase a Visa. In Cancun, this must be done at the Interjet ticket / tariff window prior to checking in for your boarding pass. You will be able to get this for about $12 USD in Cancun. Fill out both sides of the form, and head to your gate.
Changing Money: As of this writing, credit cards and ATMs do not work in Cuba as a US tourist. You will need lots of cash. There are two official currencies in Cuba, the CUC, or Convertible Cuban Peso and a local currency, CUP, which is approximately 25:1 USD. As a tourist, the only one you need to worry about is CUC, which is worth $1 USD. However, there is a 10% penalty for converting USD’s to CUC so it’s a great idea to bring Euros if you have them. You will also be able to change currency at banks or hotels in downtown Havana as well Cadecas (or official exchange windows), however, the latter can have very long lines. I have not heard of one person having too much money, so budget ~$200 per couple per day. Taxis and nicer meals add up quickly.
- 2:00pm: Arrive in Havana, Cuba. Consider starting your adventure with a taxi dive tour around the city in a 1950s classic car to get acquainted. For $25 USD – $30 USD, you’ll cruise by the Plaza de la Revolución, the Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana, and the main square in Old Havana. That square is the main part of downtown Havana, featuring cobblestone streets lined with bars and restaurants. As you may have suspected, there are several buildings that are literally crumbling and appear deserted, which are sprinkled among a few restored, architectural jems. You’ll want to make a stop at the Havana Cathedral, constructed in the 1700s in classic Baroque style.
- 3:30pm: Get lunch outdoors in Old Havana at Chacón 162. It’s an excellent outdoor lunch spot where you can get a full meal for $10 USD, which includes a Mojito, Entree and Dessert. Definitely a great value overall and excellent place to people watch in one of the many cobblestone alleyways in Old Havana.
- 6:00pm: Pay a visit to El Floridita, a historical restaurant and cocktail bar in Old Havana. While this place is crawling with international tourists, it’s famous for being one of Ernest Hemingway’s local hang out spots, most likely for their Daiquiris and Cigars. Inside, you will actually find a full bronze statue in honor of him, and a bar that is humming with blenders making daiquiris, as well as live Cuban music.
- 8:00pm: Dinner at San Juan Bar & Grill. This is actually a privately owned restaurant (opened in December 2016) that our Airbnb high recommended and made us a reservation for. It has two stories (get a table upstairs if you can) and features fabulous cocktails. The food is excellent and budget around $30 USD per person, with a full menu featuring swordfish, kebabs, grilled vegetables, etc.
- 11:00pm: Bar / Restaurant 1830, located at the intersection of El Malecon and Calle C, this historic mansion has an enormous outdoor patio situated right along the waterfront in Havana. It features a full menu as well and features a good mix of both local Cubans and tourists. With $1 USD beers and $2 USD Cuba Libres as well as outdoor seating and music along the Malecon, can’t complain about this place!
- 9:00am: Do a day trip to Viñales, a stunning valley in the Cuban countryside that is layered with tobacco plantations, dome shaped limestone rock formations you can view from a variety of perched lookout spots and situated in the midst of a small farming town.
You can hire a cab for about $60 per person (for a group of 3-4) to take you to the valley, a drive which takes approximately 2-hr 30 min from Havana. Featuring a beautiful valley landscape, the drive from Havana takes you through dozens of tobacco fields, a sugar factory, and an overall extremely picturesque rural landscape.
- 12:00pm The first stop will be the Mirador, or view point of the farming town itself. The tour buses tend to drop everyone off at this lookout, where as a result, you’ll find Cuban singers, a piña colada stand and a beautiful 19th-century hotel with a view of the landscape.
- 1:00pm From there, we had lunch at a Casita for around $15 USD per person
- 3:00pm: From there, it’s about a 30 minute drive to an original tobacco farm where you can see the cigar production process from roasting the leaves to rolling the cigars and most importantly, sampling them! Our friend Don Pepe showed us the technique of putting a little Cognac or Honey. One of the interesting pieces is that they sell 90% of their production to the factories, which consequently markets brands and sells the cigars. Visiting the actual farm is perhaps as authentic as you can get in Cuba.
- 8:30pm: Dinner at La Gaurida, perhaps our favorite dining experience in Cuba. It is a privately owned restaurant, referred to as a Paladar in Cuba and takes reservations weeks in advance. Opening in 1996, the restaurant features a rooftop bar overlooking downtown Havana, an outdoor patio on the level below, as well as an intimate, gorgeous indoor restaurant with tables on that level as well. You walk in what looks to be a deserted Cuban colonial building and climb a spiral staircase of three levels to reach the restaurant. They feature a very good international wine list and a diverse fair. Budget at least $50 USD per person, but for a three hour dining experience with multiple rounds of cocktails this is too good to pass up.
- 10:00am: Visit El Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro. Built in the last decades of the 16th century, the Morro Castle was built to defend the harbor from invasion. You can see nearly half a dozen of old cannons. Inside the fort (with a $6 USD entrance fee), you’ll find two theme rooms on the history of navigation in Havana Harbor, which contain objects salvaged from a ship that went down at the harbor entrance in the 18th century. The fort itself is lined with half a dozen cannons or so. At 9:00pm every evening, there is a ceremony where they actually fire a blank shot from a cannon.
- 11:00am: Pay a visit to the Museo de la Revolución, residing in the former Presidential Palace in Havana. It was packed when we arrived so we had to skip, but have only heard amazing things about it. The museum itself descends chronologically from the top floor starting with Cuba’s pre-Columbian culture and extending to the present-day socialist regime. The downstairs rooms have some interesting exhibits on the 1953 Moncada attack and the life of Che Guevara.
- 11:30am: Grab your first Mojito of the day at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana. Apparently you have not officially visited Havana unless you have had a Mojito here. We obviously weren’t the only ones who heard this information as the place is absolutely packed, and is of course, very small. For 5 CUC, a mojito can be yours, and inside starting at 11:00am you’ll hear live Cuban music from a band. Try to get a seat at the bar to watch the bartender make a group of 15 – 20 of these delicious cocktails in a row.
- 12:30pm: Visit Plaza de Armas in central Havana. Around the square you’ll find dozens of book stands, street souvenir shops, and cafes and hotels on the side adjacent to these. In the center of the square is Parque Céspedes, a small parquet that is features a centrally placed, white marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, initiator of the Cuban wars of independence. In colonial times, the square was the site of military parades, musical concerts and formal evening promenades, and it maintained its political and administrative role until the mid-20th century.
- 12:45pm: One last panoramic view of La Habana at Hotel Raquel before heading back to the States.