Cuba, land of forbidden cigars, rum, and 1950’s automobiles. Ever thought about going? Well, I’m gonna take you on my trip back in time and show you what a week stay in Havana looks like.
First things first, if you’re planning to travel to Havana, five days is plenty of time to see all the things. And let me be the first to tell you that if you’re looking for a relaxing vacation you’re better off going to Hawaii!
If I could describe my experience in a few words it would be, art, music, coconut cocktails, colorful.
Of course, there was everything in between like mangos the size of my head, Hemingway’s house and the utter simplicity of the Cuban lifestyle. I have so much to share so lemme break it down day by day.
Me, trying to be the independent traveler, arrived a day earlier than my friends and family. A 20 something woman who barely speaks a lick of Spanish in a country that doesn’t easily get wifi or a cell signal, mehh not my greatest idea.
Tip one: definitely travel with someone, bonus points if your buddy Spanish.
First thing was to exchange my money, then grab a ride to my hotel.
Tip two: CUC is the tourist currency, 1 CUC = 1 USD but the trick is exchange your USD to Euro before leaving home to get the best rates in Cuba.
After a thirty minute drive through the slums of Cuba, I was dropped off ocean front at Hotel Copacabana.
Day two I met my friends and family for mojitos in the lobby of my hotel then headed to our new digs in the heart of Havana, Don Julio Hotel.
After freshening up, we were introduced to our chauffeur for the week, Roy. A suave Cuban local that blasted reggaeton and rapped along with it any chance he got. The guy was always full of energy and spoke way too fast, killing the slightest chance I had of understanding anything he said. But he was a damn good tour guide and made sure we had a memorable experience.
Roy dropped us off at Plaza Vieja, an area of Old Havana that’s comparable to a downtown. We found a small bar where we listened to live music, danced salsa and took shots with the waiters.
The restaurant in the photo above is Floridita, it’s a famous eatery where Ernest Hemingway came to sip daiquiris and puff on cigars back in the day. Definitely worth checking out, order a daiquiri and skip the food..trust me.
Tip three: No one travels to Cuba for the food so don’t get excited to eat.. Every restaurant is 16 CUC-32 CUC a plate and they all serve the same food; roughly 4-5 oz of chicken, lobster, fish, shrimp for protein and family style rice and beans for side…ohh yea or a ham and cheese sandwich.)
This day was dedicated to sight seeing. From 11 am to 1 am we went all over Havana.
Earnest Hemingway’s House sits atop a small hill with views of the lush tropical greenery of Cuba. No one’s allowed inside his old home, but they’ve opened all windows and doors for visitors to peek around and see where he wrote his masterpieces.
Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market offers a variety of shops that are locally owned and operated. It’s a perfect bit stop on the way back in town from Hemingway’s house, ideal picking up souvenirs and grabbing a rum filled coconut.
Back at Hotel Copacabana we watched the beautiful sunset, drank mojito after mojito then attempted dancing salsa to the all girl band rocking it in the lobby.
After spending most of our third day driving around the sites, I was stoked to take a stroll around a place called Plaza de San Franciso on day four. Plenty of to shopping, and dining to be had here but my favorite part was absorbing the true essence of daily life. Some buildings seemed like empty hotels, while others were thriving restaurants. From street artists and rum pubs to wild chickens and live music, there was so much to see and was definitely a trip highlight.
OMG, can I go back here? Varadero is an a-ma-zing beach town 2.5 hours away from Havana and 100% worth the drive. Not only is it a coastal drive but you get to see the country side full of lush greenery and wild horses too. Once my toes touched the sand I was back on familiar grounds.
After the beach, we stopped by Cuevas de Bellamar which are natural caves with mineral water in Matanzas, Cuba. A must on the way back to Havana from Varadero.
And the last couple of hours of our last day we went back to Plaza Vieja to wander the streets.