Are you looking for a Cuba itinerary for your first (or next) time in Cuba? The best places to stay or reside in Cuba are mostly in the location of the beaches. However, there is much to see in Cuba and even more to do for your Cuba Itinerary!
If you don’t come to Havana when you visit Cuba, you are doing this country an injustice. Havana is one of the most beautiful cities we have visited. Havana is indeed full of wonder and one of the best things to do in Cuba. From ruined buildings to curious narrow streets bursting with life and ingenuity, Havana is the capital of Cuba for a reason.
Here you get the perfect screenshot of a culture that the rest of the world has practically ignored for so many years.
My best advice is to take a walk through the city. You will hear some of the fantastic history and culture that exists here and discover things you would miss if you weren’t aware of it.
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Cuba Itinerary for Cuba + Things to see in Havana, Cuba:
• Make time to go see El Capitolio – National Capitol Building
• Grab a mojito at the bar on the roof of the Ambos Mundos hotel
• Bask in a lovely walk through Almacenes San Jose market
• Marvel at Havana Cathedral (plus the square of the houses of the four wealthiest families in Cuba)
• Also, if you have time, visit the castle – Castillo el Morro – on the other side of the port. It is full of history and a true icon of the city.
Vinales is a small town where the best tobacco is grown in all of Cuba. Including the most prominent brands of cigars like Cohiba, Montecristo, Cuaba – they use all the leaves grown in this valley.
From the mountains surrounding it to the small dance club located behind the main square, Viñales embodies local Cuban life.
Things to see in Viñales, Cuba:
• Sweat all night at a Cuban dance club
• Appreciate a hike through the tobacco fields
• Savor lunch at El Olivo restaurant
• Do some people watching from anywhere!
About an hour and a half west of the coast of the Bay of Pigs, this port city is full of art, culture, and history. Cienfuegos is known as the Pearl of the South, because of Bahia de Jagua.
There is a lot to do here, even if you walk the streets of the city. The inhabitants seem the most westernized, and the town itself has a much more European atmosphere. Thanks to the strong French influence on the customs and architecture of the city. Other Cubans say that the inhabitants of Cienfuegos are the most beautiful and the most cultivated.
Cuba Itinerary for Cuba + Things to see in Cienfuegos, Cuba:
• Have Dinner at El Tranvia
• Visit Plaza de Armas and the monument to the Cuban hero José Martí
• Stroll around the art galleries around the Plaza de Armas
• Adore The Arc de Triomphe in José José Martí Park – the last remaining in the country!
• View Bahia de Jagua – the bay that makes Cienfuegos the pearl of the south
Besides Havana, Trinidad must be the most historic city in Cuba. Similar to Havana, this old city is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site (as a world monument). Still, unlike Havana, this part of the town is only accessible on foot or on horseback.
The narrow, cobbled streets and low houses have bright colors and is typical of this city.
Cuba Itinerary for Cuba + Things to do in Trinidad, Cuba:
• Walk the cobbled streets of the old town
• Visit the Museo Romántico opposite the Plaza Mayor. The view of the city is worth the entry price.
• Visit other essential buildings, such as the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Plaza de Santa Ana, and the royal prison built-in 1844.
• Casa de la Musica – bar and place for drinks during the day and music and dance in the evening
• Stroll through the street markets
• Visit the beach of Playa Ancon at sunset
• Disco Ayalu – a nightclub in a massive cave!
CUBA ITINERARY AND TIPS FOR VISITING CUBA
3 WEEKS IN CUBA
DAY 1: Visit of Old Havana Fortresses, walk around the city, and visit the Partagas cigar factory
DAY 2: Go the Museum of the Revolution and take a ride in an old car
- Take a tour in the Vedado and the Vigía d’Hemingway
- Head west with a stopover in Las Terrazas and Soroa
- Stay in Viñales
• Visit of Pinar del Río and its surroundings
• Return to Havana by Puerto Esperanza, and Cayo Levisa
• Take a road trip to the Zapata Peninsula
• Enjoy a Guamá Tour for you and your friends/family
• Spend the night in Playa Larga
• Continue east to Cienfuegos for a 1-night stay
• Then, take 2 days in Trinidad with a visit to the surroundings: Topes de Collantes and Valle de Los Ingenios.
• Next, return to Havana while visiting the center of the island: cultural stages in Santa Clara (and seaside in Varadero.
THIRD WEEK IN CUBA
Planning a flight between Havana and Santiago (outward or return), or failing this several stages en route to explore the Orient, and in this case, requires at least 3 weeks of travel.
The same itinerary as for a 2-week trip, but take the time to explore the center from Santa Clara.
• Stop in the beautiful historic town of Sancti Spíritus then in Camagüey. Continue the road to Bayamo, for a foray into the Sierra Maestra
• Stay in Santiago de Cuba
• Allow three days to visit the city and its surroundings, with its old coffee plantations and stop at least 2 days at the Finca of the Castro family in Birán.
• Despite the ravages of Hurricane Matthew, we can add a stopover in Baracoa, to take advantage of the unique atmosphere of this town with its particular charm.
• Take the road through the north coast and enjoy all the beauty
• Stopover in Holguín or Gibara
• Then to the Cuban islands for 1 or 2 days of relaxation on the Coco cayo or the Guillermo cayo.
• Then reach the mainland for a stopover in Remedios.
• Return to Havana.
Cuba has always been a country on the wish list of many travelers. Still, since the recent restoration of diplomatic conversations between the United States and Cuba, the country is becoming a preferred destination for American travelers. In the past year alone, tourism in Cuba has grown exponentially.
Not only are more travelers from around the world visiting it, but now Americans have added to the tourism mix. Cuba can be fascinating but confusing if you are ignorant of these tips.
I’m going to share with you all the useful tips you should know before the first trip to Cuba.
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A CUBA ITINERARY TRAVELING TO CUBA REQUIRES A VISA
Anyone wishing to travel to Cuba for a tourist stay must have a tourist card for Cuba, whether for the first trip to Cuba or the following ones.
The tourist card is the equivalent of the entry visa for Cuba.
Online services ensure obtaining original and compliant tourist cards for Cuba for all people residing in Europe and in particular in France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
THE BEST TIME FOR A FIRST TRIP TO CUBA
Mid-November to March is the coolest, driest and busiest season. May and June are the wet seasons, but important Cuban events like the tobacco harvest and Carnival are at this time.
From July to November, it is hurricane season, so there may be a lot of wind during these months, especially later from the end of August to the beginning of October, when it is the peak of the season.
PRINT YOUR DOCUMENTS BEFORE LEAVING
Print and take your travel documents, reservations, insurance, or any other information you need before leaving.
YOU NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE
You don’t always think about it on your first trip to Cuba, but you need to have travel insurance to enter Cuba.
They may or may not ask you for proof at the airport, and if you do not have one, they can refuse your entry.
It’s better to be safe and buy travel insurance.
MONEY IN CUBA
It will be confusing at first, but you will quickly get used to understanding money in Cuba. There are two currencies in Cuba: the National Peso (CUP) and the Convertible Peso (CUC). Until 2004, Cubans used the peso (national currency), but tourists paid in dollars!
As the American dollar is no longer accepted in the country, the Government created the convertible peso, indexed to the dollar. This is intended for tourists.
You can exchange your euros in banks or in exchange offices (Cadecas) that you find at the airport, and in major cities! You can also withdraw cash with a bank card during your first trip to Cuba. But don’t forget that there are few distributors in Cuba!
Only the most important cities have them … And sometimes they are down! If you are going on an adventure, do not forget to plan enough money before leaving the main cities.
It is possible to pay by bank card in certain establishments, but payment cards are rarely accepted in Cuba. Specifically, as soon as you leave the big cities!
Currency exchange centers are known as CADECA. It is possible to exchange US dollars, euros, British pounds, Mexican pesos, and some other currencies, but the worst currency to exchange is the US dollar.
There is a 10% fee charged in addition to the current exchange rate, while all other currencies receive no additional fees.
ALWAYS FIND OUT WHAT CURRENCY IS REQUESTED ON YOUR CUBA ITINERARY
Whether it’s CUC or CUP, Cubans simply call it “pesos”. So when someone says it is 2 pesos, you need to know which currency it is referring to, because the amount is significantly different.
You can ask: CUC or Moneda Nacional? Or, if the price seems to be high, it is most likely the National Peso (CUP).
CASA PARTICULAR: THE MOST COMMON FORM OF ACCOMMODATION
There are hotels in Cuba, but the most common form of accommodation is the Casas Particulares.
These are rooms, houses, or apartments rented by the locals for a daily rate. Sometimes you can rent an entire apartment; in other cases, you can rent a room in a family’s house and share the common areas with them. Many families have transformed their homes into Casa Particular.
RESERVATIONS ARE MADE MAINLY BY TELEPHONE
Since the internet is still not widely available, most hotels and homes do not have the internet or a website. Most reservations are therefore made by telephone.
It is recommended to have at least the first night booked before arriving in Cuba. For the rest of your stay, you can extend or book elsewhere.
DON’T DRINK THE WATER
Buy bottled water.
TRY TO EAT IN THE PALADARES PARTICULARES
Cuba has two types of restaurants, state-run restaurants and private companies known as Paladares Particulares. Try to eat in the Paladares Particulares because they are about the same prices as those in the state, but generally offer better quality.
As locals say, state-run restaurants don’t care about the quality of food because, in the end, they don’t need the profits (because the government supports them). Private restaurants, on the other hand, if they are not good, go bankrupt.
How do you know which restaurant is a state or private? Either ask them before you settle in, or you observe where the locals eat and line up. Cubans (who can afford to eat out) don’t like state-run restaurants, so they prefer to line up in the Paladares Particulares.
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DON’T EAT AT REALLY INEXPENSIVE LOCAL RESTAURANTS
I usually eat street food in very cheap places, but Cuba was an exception. It is common to see shops selling pizza and ice cream or other meals for a fraction of what they should cost. These foods, although inexpensive, are considered “waste” by locals because they are made with the lowest quality local products possible.
TAKE YOUR FAVORITE SNACKS WITH YOU
It is not surprising that the markets in Cuba do not offer much variety as they focus on selling necessary items to the locals: which does not include candy and snacks. You can find a few snacks here and there, but these are rare, and there won’t be many varieties.
CUBA IS RELATIVELY ACCESSIBLE BY BUS
You can visit all the major cities on your first trip to Cuba and travel across the country by bus. Although there are a few bus companies, only Viazul is a company that ships passengers independently.
GO TO THE BUS STATION AT LEAST ONE HOUR BEFORE DEPARTURE
Although Viazul has a site with an up-to-date service calendar, it is not possible to book tickets online. You must go to the bus station in advance and wait in line to purchase a ticket. Since buses are not very frequent, they tend to sell quickly. But, there is another option.
SHARED TAXIS ARE ALSO A GOOD OPTION
Taxi drivers stand in front of the bus station, ready to transport excess passengers without tickets. They offer a shared taxi ride to some of Cuba’s most popular and well-served cities for the same price as the bus and faster. If you are going to a small town not covered by the shared taxi, you can take the shared taxi to the nearest town possible, and from there, take a local shared taxi called “Almendrones.”
In case they want to charge you more for the shared taxi ride than the bus, then you’ll have to haggle. Oh, and don’t be surprised if a local pays a little less than you paid. It’s Cuba. Foreigners almost always have to pay a little more than locals.
HAVANA IS WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE
Havana is excellent, but if you have a few days in front of you on your first trip to Cuba, you can save money on transportation by walking it and seeing things at a slower pace.
I recommend walking; That is when you see the best scenes in the city. In addition, Viñales, Trinidad, and other popular cities can easily be visited on foot.
DON’T COUNT ON THE INTERNET
Do not expect to have internet in your hotel or rental, and even if they do, it will not be accessible to you. The local telecommunications company (ETECSA) has recently started adding WiFi hotspots in major cities, which can be used with the purchase of a WiFi card that allows you to use it for an hour.
Hotspots are located in some parks in Havana and front of the ETECSA building in other cities. Cards can be purchased from ETECSA and cost 2.50 CUC for 1 hour of use. They often run out of cards quickly due to demand, so be sure to buy more when available. Oh, and don’t expect WiFi to be reliable or fast.
HAVANA IS NOT DANGEROUS, BUT COMMON SCAMS
Besides petty theft, violent crimes are not frequent. The most common scam is that someone says they are friends with you and tells you what a great party is going on in a restaurant or cafe, or some other event elsewhere.
She takes you there, chats with you, drinks/eats, and makes you pay for everything. Then, she asks for money for the “recommendations” given during your “gossip,” and she also gets a commission from the restaurant. Don’t be afraid to say NO.
That said, Cubans are generally friendly, so don’t be afraid to chat openly with them, but watch their intentions.
This will make your life easier for your first trip to Cuba. Learn at least a few essential words to communicate.
The locals are also friendlier to tourists who make at least an effort to communicate a little in Spanish.
What is your favorite Cuba itinerary?