Whether you’re exploring Cuba on your own, through one of the many Cuba group tours, or on one of the cruises to Cuba, you’ll want to add these 25 things to your Cuba itinerary. Most of these will help make the most of your Havana trip, but a couple are other places to visit in Cuba.
First off, can you travel to Cuba? The answer is yes. There are 12 Cuba travel requirements that you can pick from when going to Cuba. I find the easiest to use for your travel to Cuba is the Support For the Cuban People option. More on this later, but I’ll introduce you to a great place to bring donations.
Now onto your experiences to add while you visit Cuba. Some of these are free, some require a small fee, and a couple will cost more. After we’re finished going over this list, you’ll know exactly what to do in Cuba and what to see in Cuba. Now, let’s get started on planning your Havana vacation and possibly booking some Cuban tours!
When planning a trip to Cuba, you have to include a classic car tour. I recommend that it be in a convertible too, so you can take in all the sights of the city. These are the most popular Havana tours. There are a few businesses that you can book your tour directly online with. You’ll pay anywhere from 50 CUC a hour, to 60 CUC for two hours, and so on based on what car you choose and duration of the tour. They don’t barter, so go in knowing the price is set on these tours in Havana Cuba.
Catch the Sunset at the Malecon
Wander the Neighborhood of Vedado
Stay at a Casa Particular
One of the best ways to tour Cuba is by staying at a casa particular. Here, you are fully immersed in the cuban culture. Think Airbnb. That’s what a casa particular is, but you rent a bedroom. Some casas will offer breakfast, dinner, packed lunches, and a few will even offer their own Cuba tour packages. You can find these on the Airbnb, or just by googling Havana casa particular. Folks say that this can check the Support For the Cuban People box, because you are in fact helping them directly, rather than staying in the hotels in Cuba.
Visit a Private Enterprise Market
These are located all around Havana. They sell artwork, clothing, wooden cigar boxes, or…just fruit. The fruit markets are so very colorful, and since all the fruit is so incredibly fresh, you’ll be welcomed with the sweet smells of the melons. This won’t take up much of your time, so it’s totally worth taking a peek. If you’re looking to purchase Cuban goods like the artwork or jewelry, the price is what is marked. They don’t barter, so be respectful of that.
A share taxi is exactly what it says it is. Think Uber pool. With a share taxi, you’ll wave down a taxi, and here, you can barter a price on where you’re going and with how many folks. The more foreign you look and sound, the more you’re going to pay. We got a better price when I stood away from our group and joined them after the negotiations were made…not even kidding. Best recommendation: Pay what you think is fair. Don’t get taken advantage of, but don’t be so cheap that you’re wasting valuable time over a few bucks. Every share taxi is different. The one below had party lights inside and the driver was extremely proud of his car.
Check Out the Cuban Street Art
Art is the core of Havana, Cuba, and you can see it throughout the streets. Whether you’re driving or walking the streets, you’ll come across some form of urban art. You’ll find a good bit of street art throughout central Havana and old Havana. I say be your own Cuba tour guide and just take in everything each city street has to offer.
Attend an Evening at the FAC
Speaking of art. Visiting the FAC has to be a priority for your Cuba itinerary. If there are Cuba travel packages out there, they best include a night spent here. FAC stands for Fabrica de Arte Cubano, or AKA, All the Arts in the Same Space. When you enter, you pay an admission fee, and then you’re given a card that you fill out throughout the night based on what drinks and or food you order. When you leave, you turn the card in and pay for what you ordered. Double check your change! Whether intentional or on accident, we had someone who was about to get a fraction of this money back….so always check your change!
Anyway, the FAC is a very cool space to spend any evening. Not only are there emotionally moving art exhibits, but there’s also live music. The FAC is a multi-level building that you explore at your own pace. It’s a great date night and the perfect reason to get dressed up while in Havana.
Dance With The Street Performers
The street performers in Havana don’t make it to most bloggers’ Cuba travel blog, but they should. These folks are not only entertaining, but they have a lot of tourist participation. Their costumes are elaborate, they’re talented, and they work to please you. They will come around with a hat or bucket to collect tips, so tip a little something if you feel they did a great job.
Visit Castillo De Los Reyes Del Morro
This is one of two forts side-by-side, so if you take the Havana tourist bus, you can visit both forts at the same time. Castillo de los Reyes Del Morrow was completed in the 17th century and was built by slaves. The most interesting aspect of this fort are the walls that have holes in them where prisoners were once thrown out to the sharks! Visiting the fort gives you amazing views of the Havana skyline too. Head there in the morning to have the sun behind you for better photos.
Explore the Four Plazas of Havana
Most Cuba tour packages will include a walking tour around the four famous plazas in Havana: Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis and Plaza de la Catedral. These can be walked easily, and I highly recommend you get lost wandering these streets and taking in the 500 years of Cuba’s history. Below is the ‘Girl on Rooster’ sculpture located in Plaza Vieja. From what I was told is that it represents a time in which the Cuban women had to sell their bodies in order to feed their families. Incredibly moving.
Make Your Own Perfume at Havana 1791
This is a regret for me. I didn’t make my own perfume and I’m so bummed about it. The scents they had were beautiful, and I didn’t get anything to bring home. Don’t make the same mistake I did. You get to choose your own scent and very own bottle. The bottles are cute and they have designed them to be spill proof for traveling. Plus, the prettiest room in Havana is in this little shop. If you’re prone to headaches due to strong smells, you might want to bypass this place.
Visit A Hotel Rooftop Pool
When you think of Cuba, you probably don’t think of fabulous rooftop pools, but I visited at least three of them, and oh my goodness…they’re stunning! If I take any future trips to Havana Cuba, I’m going to stay at one of these hotels! The rooftop pool areas were impressive. They were modern, clean, had amazing views of the ocean and the city, and best of all, they all had bars and the availability to order food. We didn’t stay at these hotels, but were able to relax and order drinks. To use the pool, you do have to pay a daily fee. If it’s in your budget, I recommend staying at the Grand Hotel Packard. It’s insane!
Take a Bike Taxi
This is a fun way to cover more ground when visiting Havana. Before you get in the carriage, you’ll settle on a price. We were able to barter here a little bit, however, after we saw how hard they worked, we tipped them more than their original asking price. Our drivers took us around to different sites, pulled over, and allowed to to snap some photos. Taking a bike taxi is one of the best Havana tours, because you get a different perspective of the city streets.
Visit Hotel Nacional de Cuba
You don’t have to have a reservation to explore this monumental Havana landmark, the Hotel Nacional. The most famous hotel, out of all the hotels in Cuba, is open for you to walk around the gardens, have a drink at the many bars, or to take in the artwork. Well-known people, such as, Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra have stayed here, along with many “newer” celebrities. A good recommendation: Head towards the back lawn of the hotel. Grab a drink from one of the outside bars, and relax around the patio.
Plan a Cuban Beach Day
When is the best time to visit Cuba? Well, just about anytime of the year that you can go to the beach, and for Cuba, that’s about year round. By using the bus system, and I don’t mean the local buses, but the buses through Viazul, you can easily get to the beaches. We even saw folks who had rented a car, and was exploring all of Cuba, including the beaches, on their schedules.
We visited Tropicoco Beach, and overall it was nice. However, there was NO bathroom! Although it wasn’t overcrowded like other beaches can get, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that there was no restrooms. There’s a hotel very close by, but they don’t allow outside folks to use the restrooms, so you’re either going out in the ocean or in the thick of the trees around. Just know that when researching which beach to visit.
Tropicoco Beach did have reserved seating with umbrellas for a minimal fee and a designated wait staff to bring you drinks and or food.
Bring Donations to a Grandparents Home in Havana
So, as mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to travel to Cuba legally, is under ‘Support for the Cuban People’. One of the best ways to help is to bring donations to a Grandparents Home. No, you don’t have to find a random grandparent in Havana to help out, but Grandparents Home is their name for nursing home or old folks home. They’ll accept clothes, board games, hygiene products, etc. Not only do you do your part by helping, but you get to interact with the locals. They love seeing you, and it doesn’t take much time out of your trip.
Visit the Experimental Graphics Workshop
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo here, but this is a cool thing to check out, and it will literally take just a few minutes of your time. Plus, it is right near the Plaza de la Catedral, so there’s a good chance you’ll be in that main square. Anyway, it’s where most of the local artist go to work. It’s a large room where you can walk around to observe the artist actively working on their projects. You can chat with them, buy their artwork there, or just admire the behind-the-scenes of their talented work. It’s also surrounded by restaurants, so if there’s a wait to eat, you can kill time here.
Get Ice Cream from the Famous Coppelia’s
There are two ways you can get Coppelia’s Ice Cream: One: Stand in the massive long line with the locals and pay a few pesos for your ice cream. The line wraps around the block and I’m guessing the wait is hours long. Two: Walk up to the “tourist” ice cream trailer and get your ice cream in seconds, but pay 1.50 in CUCs, which is about $1.50.
If you’re interested in seeing the inside of Coppelia’s, which was made famous from the movie, Strawberry and Chocolate, you’ll have to stand in the long line. They have security around making sure no one get in without waiting.
I will say, the strawberry ice cream is amazing!
Day Trip to Vinales Valley
If I worked at a Cuba travel agency, I’d have a trip to Vinales Valley on every single Cuba travel itinerary! Don’t get me wrong, Havana is great! However, Vinales is incredibly gorgeous. You can easily just spend one day in Vinales, but I recommend at least a night or two. There are gorgeous hotels and many casas particulars to choose from.
While in Vinales, you can go horse riding, visit the tobacco plantations, visit rivers that run through caves, and so much more! If you’re drawn more to nature and mountains, then you’ll want to add Vinales to your Cuba trip. Here’s a list of tours specially for Vinales here.
Learn the Difference between a CUC and a Cuban Peso
It’s important for Americans traveling to Cuba, and folks from all over, to learn about the difference between the CUC and the CUP currency. Both are used in Cuba, but the CUP (Peso Cubano) is used mostly by the locals. The CUC (Peso Convertible) is what tourist use.
The biggest difference between the two is that the CUCs have pictures of monuments and statues on them and the CUPs have pictures of people. When getting your change back, make sure you see statues! If you’ve been given a currency with a person’s face on it, after paying in CUCs, you are about to get ripped off…intentionally or not.
One CUC is worth about $1 and 25 CUPs is also worth about $1. After spending five days in Cuba, I only used CUPs once, and I only had CUPs because our tour guide gave us some, so we could tell the difference.
The easiest way to exchange your money for CUCs is at the airport. You use can use the money exchange machines near the baggage/pick-up area, or head right outside the airport to the CADECA where you can speak directly with a person. You can exchange USD, but will be charged 13% on the transaction. By the time I got EUROS in the states, I was still getting charged around 6% from a local bank to exchange USD to EUROS and then charged another 3% in Cuba. So, personally, it’s not worth the hassle to save 4%.
Cuba isn’t has cheap as you would think, so bring more cash than you’d think. American credit cards and ATM cards DO NOT work in Cuba, so you have to have cash on hand. You can always exchange it back at the airport before flying home.
Try Cuban Rum or Mojitio
Urgh. After all that money talk, I need a drink! Ha! Can we travel to Cuba and NOT try the Cuban rum or a Cuban original, like the mojito?! I think not. I’m not a big drinker, but I wanted to try a mojito (for the first time) while in Cuba. Let me say this, the bartenders in Cuba are not stingy with their drinks. They’re decently priced and very strong. Win win. It’s just one of those things to do in Cuba.
Have Your Photo Taken with Ernest Hemingway at Floridita
Not only famous for its daiquiris, but this over 100 year old bar is where Ernest Hemingway was known to show up for drinks. This bar is happening! It’s busy from open to close and crowded. If you want a photo with Ernest, you’ll have to wait in a line, but it goes fast!
Floridita’s is centrally located in the older part of Havana, so it’s easy to get to on foot. It’s actually less than a ten minute walk from Ambos Mundos Hotel, the hotel Hemingway had “his” room booked for about seven years. For about five CUC, you can see the room.
Well, if you weren’t sure what to do in Cuba, now you have a good list to go by. You can build your very own Cuba vacation packages just from these 25 experiences. The options to explore Havava and the surrounding areas are endless. You’ll find Cuban life to be safe, full of life, color, and culture.
Thank you Travels with Talek for amazing tour of the beautiful country of Cuba! Your insight and knowledge of the country and culture allowed me to really embrace this trip.