Cuba in Four Days
Photographer/Writer: Joanne Hsu | Date: 2/24/17 - 2/27/17
Cuba en Cuatro Días
A Travel Guide
Step out of the José Martí International airport, and you’ve stepped into a vision of the past. Cuba is filled with bustling streets full of old school vehicles, aged buildings each with their own unique color and character, locals laughing and enjoying the company of one another, and a much needed absence from technology. The experience in Cuba is nothing short of refreshing, and in fact it’s this very divergence from our modern lives that makes us gain a genuine sense of appreciation for simpler living.
I spent four days in Cuba with a good friend of mine, and can say without hesitation that we’ve all been missing out on a magnificent country. Cuba’s geographical location makes way for a diverse landscape - you can find lush green agricultural land, vibrant city life, and tranquil beaches all in close proximity. In total we spent three days in Havana and a full day in Viñales Valley. It’s clear from the amount of history and beauty this country has, that our trip was far too short. A minimum of a week is definitely needed, however our brief stay was a pleasant introduction into a wonderful country. It was enough time for us to fall in love with the people, the cuisine, and the culture.
Before traveling to Cuba, order a travel guide and map of the country. Read about the country’s history and sites and get a feel for what you want to do and see during your visit. The map is a useful reference as GPS and offline maps won’t be accessible while in the country.
Create a list of all of the restaurants and sites you want to visit. Include addresses and phone numbers as you’ll have little to no internet access while in the country.
Despite what you may read online or in books, Cuba has a closed currency system and you are only able to exchange your local currency for CUCs while in the country. US Credit/Debit cards are not accepted, and unfortunately the same goes for withdrawing cash from ATMs. Come prepared with more than enough cash just to be safe, as you may run into unfortunate situations that require additional funds. The best place for money exchange is at the airport in Havana. There is a currency exchange counter right at the front doors of the airport, and you can easily do so after picking up your baggage. I would recommend doing your full currency exchange here to avoid searching for another location in Havana. We each brought around $100USD per day and found this to be more than enough for our four days in Cuba.
Each airline is different, but if you’re flying JetBlue, you can purchase your Visa at the gate before boarding your flight. The price of the Visa was $50USD, and the process was simple. A signed piece of paper in exchange for your entry into the country. Other airlines follow a similar process.
Accommodation in Havana
We stayed at an Airbnb near Hotel Nacional. The location was very central and convenient to travel between the different areas of Havana. The other locations I'd recommend finding accommodation in are: Habana Vieja (beautiful old city) and Miramar. Airbnb in my opinion, is the best and most affordable option for accommodation. You can find a nice apartment rental anywhere from $40 - $90USD per night depending on the size and number of people. Havana has so many beautiful buildings, and you'll find many apartments to rent that maintain the true design of Cuban architecture.
Hotels tend to look beautiful online and in photos but unfortunately disappoint in person. Many have experienced dissatisfactory service and cleanliness during their stay.
Must-do Activities in Havana
Get lost in the streets of Havana.
Areas to explore:
The Hemmingway House
- Cocktails at Hotel Nacional
- Tour the city in an old 1950s car - You can easily flag one down on the street or get one from a hotel.
The Napoleon Museum - A little random but a gorgeous old mansion with great views from the top floor.
- Fabrica de Arte - A must go. A huge warehouse with art galleries, live music, drinks and food. Lines start forming around 7pm and the space is open until 2am. Tons of locals and tourists come here in the evenings to enjoy a night out. 2 CUC for entrance.
El Callejon de Hamel - Located in Central Havana. Beautiful Afro Cuban murals and a rumba party every Sunday with many locals.
Watch a boxing match
Club Havana in Miramar
Explore the nearby beach at Playa del Este, which is about a 30 min drive from the city center. Veradero is another popular beach location, but will be a few hours drive from Havana. If you’re planning to visit Veradero, it would be worth staying a few days there.
Restaurants/ Drinks in Havana
Definitely try to make reservations at the restaurants you plan to go to, otherwise it will be hard to get a spot as highly-rated restaurants fill up quickly each night. Call restaurants the night before or book online if the option is available.
- Doña Eutimia - Located in Habana Vieja. My favorite and by far the best food we had in all of Havana. I highly recommend this restaurant. Dishes to try: Ropa Vieja (shredded beef), Pescados in red sauce, Arroz a la Cubana (fried eggs, rice, plantains in tomato based creole sauce), their rice and beans, garlic shrimp, and of course their mojitos.
Paladar los Mercaderes
El Biky - Simple and delicious breakfast spot in Central Havana.
El Cocinero - A cute spot next to Fabrica de Artes to grab rooftop drinks. I’d recommend staying away from the food.
Purchasing Cuban cigars
Avoid buying Cuban cigars on the street, from shops, hotels, or private homes. Many of these locations sell fake brand name cigars at high prices. For the best quality and price, I recommend visiting a tobacco farm in Viñales Valley. You can purchase directly from the farmer and the quality and price are both superb.
Must-do: Spend a Day in Viñales Valley
Viñales valley is absolutely spectacular, especially for the outdoor lover. If you have the chance to visit Cuba, you must visit beautiful Viñales. We did a private tour through Discover Viñales and were picked up bright and early in Havana in our 1957 Chevy. It was about a three hour trip into the beautiful lush green valley where we were greeted by our private tour guide. The cost of this private tour was 150 CUCs for 3 people, an extremely great value for everything the was included.
Visit the Lookout Los Jazmines, the most famous view of the valley.
Tour Viñales by horse - Ride through the Silent and Prehistoric Valley and get a lesson in the local agriculture.
Visit a tobacco sorting location where women classify the tobacco leaves according to size and quality. You’ll learn about the process of tobacco drying, fermentation and packing.
Visit the historical center of Viñales, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Enjoy lunch at a Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, an organic farm deep in the Valley. The restaurant is surrounded by an organic farm and the food is all farm-to-table. There is no menu here, the staff serves dish after dish of amazingly cooked Cuban cuisine. The experience is pure perfection. You’ll enjoy lunch amidst the beautiful backdrop of Viñales Valley.
Visit the traditional tobacco farms, learn about each farmer’s unique processing of tobacco leaves. Watch the process of cigar rolling, and have the opportunity to taste a hand-rolled cigar. Here you will find the best opportunity to purchase a box of Cuban cigars. Each farmer’s price varies, but from my experience, a box of 25 cigars costs around $60USD.