Not only is it fairly easy for Americans to visit Cuba nowadays, but it is convenient and affordable! There are many flights that fly directly from American soil to Havana for, say, $350, and applying for a $85 visa online takes only a couple minutes despite needing to specify an original reason. (I specified “journalistic activities” since I was going to write about the trip for this blog, whereas the others claimed “educational activities.”)
I went with Maureen, my friend Alex and his friend Matt. Alex and Matt stayed in Havana for four nights/five days whereas Maureen and I were there a day longer. Despite staying in Havana almost the entire time, there was plenty to see, do, and learn about.
Here is a video condensing our six-day visit into three minutes. Further below is a detailed itinerary in case you were looking for ideas to fill your own Cuban adventure in Havana.
Many of the things below are depicted in the video above.
- Arrived at Terminal 3 in José Martí International Airport in Havana and fetched Matt (coming in on a different flight) from Terminal 2.
- Took a cab (30 CUC) to El Capitolio in the center of Havana.
- Checked into our casas particulares. With the help of a local, discovered that the private home that I had reserved was in a completely location than what was shown on Homestay.com’s map. Maureen and I then went back to the street that Alex and Matt was staying on and started knocking on doors of homes with signs indicating that there were rooms for rent. Found a room only three doors down from our friends.
- Went to El Patchanka for dinner, drinks and live music.
- Went searching for bottled water. Alex also managed to get some CUP by buying some beer with CUC and convincing the vender to give him change in CUP instead of CUC.
- Bought a bunch of bananas (10 CUP) from a street vendor, looked for coffee, and bought 1.5-liter bottles of water from a hotel (2 CUC each).
- Took the T3 bus (5 CUC for a round-trip ticket) to Las Playas del Este. Got off at the third stop due to a TripAdvisor tip saying that it would be easiest to board the bus on the way back since you are virtually guaranteed there will be available seats. Hung out at the beach and in the water for a bit.
- Returned to Havana and had lunch at an a Criole restaurant off Calle Virtudes (near Calle Industria, I think) with really inexpensive entrées catered to locals.
- Maureen and I then checked out Havana Vieja—including Plaza de las Armas, Castillo de Real Forza, Basilica de San Francisco, Plaza Vieja, etc.—before meeting back up with our friends.
- Went back to Havana Vieja including an area near the train station. Spotted the pedestrian ferry that I had read about (10 CUP/person each way) and took that across the harbor to Casa Blanca when it was already dark.
- On that side of the harbor, passed by El Cristo, La Cabaña de Che Guavara, La Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, and El Morro. There were great views of Havana from here and very few people and cars were out here.
- On the way back to the ferry, passed by an outdoor bar where both gringos and locals were raving about how good the drinks made with rum and organic sugar cane were. We had some and they were in fact very good.
- Took the ferry back to Havana Vieja and began a search for dinner.
- Surprisingly, few places were serving food past 11 p.m. Eventually found a restaurant called Don Saluatore with a friendly waiter. Western pop music such as Adele blared out of the TV while the waiter told us in Spanish how most people that leave Cuba for the U.S. never come back (including his son) but that he himself would never leave since he liked the tranquil lifestyle in Cuba.
- Looked for breakfast, somewhat unsuccessfully especially since a street-side vendor ended up making us pay 2.50 CUC for small, meat sandwiches that were advertised for 10 CUP.
- Checked out of our casas particulares near El Capitolio. Stored our luggage at Alex and Matt’s casa particular for a few hours.
- Had lunch at the same Criole restaurant we went to the day before.
- Walked to Vedado, a district west of Chinatown in Havana.
- Went to El Malecón (pedestrian strip by the northern harbor of Havana), the area near the U.S. Embassy, and the to the Hotel Capri to inquire about motorbikes for rent.
- No motorbikes were available since apparently there are only 30 motorbikes in all of Havana for rent (24 at the place by the Hotel Capri) and they were all taken. Was told to come back the next morning to see if anyone returned a motorbike.
- Went back to central Havana to fetch our luggage and then checked into our reserved casas particulares in Chinatown. It took longer than expected to check in because our host did not receive my reservation from her friend in Spain who had listed the place on AirBnB for her. Took about 15-20 minutes of showing her my receipts on my phone (thank you Microsoft OneNote) and for her to make a phone call to her friend.
- Successfully found bottled water at a store near El Malecón before meeting up with our friends again.
- Took a collectivo to La Fabrica del Arte Cubano. Turned out the FAC was closed but we met a lot of nice foreigners there, including some Russians who tipped us on visiting Guanabo, a town east of Havana. A Brazilian man tried to negotiate our way into the FAC with workers there on behalf of the 15 of us waiting outside, but after 20-30 minutes, was not successful.
- Took a collectivo back to Havana Vieja to look for a restaurant we were told about on Calle Obispo with live music. Did not find it but encountered a Canadian woman named Anna who had just finished biking 500 kilometers around Cuba on her Cannondale road bike. She told us she was meeting with a friend at a place with live music and invited us to tag along. It turned out to be El Patchanka again and was standing room only, so we did not stick around for long and went to Restaurante Bosque Bologna off Calle Obispo instead for drinks. There were mostly foreigners there and many of them were trying to dance salsa to non-salsa music.
- Went out to look for dinner. Once again we found it difficult to find any past 9 or 10 p.m. in Havana Vieja despite this being a tourist destination. Finally found a hole-in-a-wall looking place in Chinatown around midnight with food!
- Walked back to Hotel Capri in Vedado to inquire about motorbikes for rent. Of course, there were none available.
- Took a city bus to the central train station to catch a collectivo we could take to Guanabo, on the tip the Russians at the FAC we met a couple days ago gave us.
- Had lunch at the Guajiro outdoor restaurant in Guanabo, and then walked around looking for beaches. Hung out at two different locations that had lots of privacy to enjoy the sun and ocean waves.
- Took a collectivo back to Chinatown.
- Rested in our casas particulares before meeting up at La Flor de Loto, a Chinese restaurant. Maureen and I had trouble finding it, resulting in being late there in meeting Alex and Matt, but at least we got a lot of practice speaking Spanish with locals asking for directions.
- Checked out Alex and Matt’s casa particular. For the same price as the room I had reserved, they got a whole house that was small but nicely decorated and remodeled. The owner of theirs lived next door and was a mechanical engineer.
- Went to La Zorra y El Cuervo jazz club in Vedado a couple blocks east of Vive Cuba Libre. Enjoyed mojitos and jazz.
- Took a collectivo back to Chinatown, where we said goodbye to our two friends who were flying back to the States one day before us.
- Went searching for coffee and brunch. Eventually found a place two blocks southwest of the National Museum of Fine Arts with great prices despite catering to both foreigners and locals alike. I was very impressed by the waiter who seemed to be doing everything except cooking.
- Went to the National Museum of Fine Arts to look at Cuban art and learn more about Cuban culture. The exhibits were very well done even if some of them were very anti-American.
- Around 3 p.m., wandered into a room where it looked like some sort of video presentation was going to start. It turned out to be an awards ceremony for the artist of the year for arte plastico (sculpture)! It seemed like a formal event with lots of journalists and photographers there. After the awards ceremony, a very good a capella group performed for about an hour. We shouldn’t have been to any of this, but no one kicked us out.
- When we finally got out (5 p.m.), glasses of wine were being served. We did not indulge since we felt funny being there, not being invitees of this event.
- Went to El Floridita for daiquiris. It was definitely a tourist trap as Ernest Hemingway had frequented this place for its daiquiris back in the 1950s. But there was a lot of energy in this place, with live music (including renditions of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me) and a party-like atmosphere.
- Went to Café Europa for dinner and more live music.
- Went to the same coffee place we went to the day before for breakfast. Caught a cab (a Renault driven by a woman) to go back to the airport.
- Exchanged money, bought lunch with remaining CUCs that we could not exchange.
- Flew back to the U.S., including a seven-hour layover in Charlotte. This was very convenient as it allowed us to visit with my buddy Dan for a few hours!