For those you looking to take a trip to Cuba, here is some information from my trip there with my husband. If you’re not already aware Cuba is quite small, with many adventures to take part in. This guide will tell you how to explore Cuba (mostly Havana) in three days, with room for a beach day as well. Please feel free to ask any questions in if you have any!
The Spontaneous Backstory
After dinner, on the later side of Friday night, Bryant told us he was going to Cuba at 8AM the following morning. He told us that we should come. We woke up Saturday morning with a text from him saying “you can buy your visa for Cuba at the airport—you have to come, no excuses”.
At 5PM on Saturday Daniel and I booked a direct flight from LAX to Havana on Alaska Airlines (for the record you can’t book with miles, I don’t completely understand why). Shortly after that we booked an Airbnb.
Day 1: Night Out in Havana
We woke up at 5am and got to the airport at 5:45. Normally we wouldn’t have shown up this early for an 8:50 AM flight, but we were told we needed to be at the airport three hours before our flight to sort out our visas. After checking in at Alaska we walked up to the visa counter paid $100 USD each and were each given a visa slip to fill out. We were also given instructions and told if we didn’t fill them out perfectly, we would have to purchase new ones. This process took all but five minutes
We sat in the airport forever and waited to board our flight. After boarding we had to wait for a number of reasons and only ended up taking off at 10:30 AM. The flight is just about 4.5 hours and luckily the plane was virtually empty.
Landed at 6PM to humid weather. Went though customs and then security inside the airport. Daniels first impression was that it was TSA but with hotter employees. I went to the bathroom and it was as though Michigan appeared in Cuba (see below).
We walked out of the airport (though automatic doors that you have to push open) and were greeted by a driver named David dressed in monochromatic maroon. David took us to the Meliá Cuba Hotel to exchange money. The front desk said we could not use exchange because we are not staying here but we could use the exchange center. He also told us we couldn’t use the wifi but could go to the business center to do so. We walked past the lobby to learn both the business center and exchange center were closed. The guy finally let us exchange 30 Euros for CUC. We spent 10 of them on an internet card that would last an hour so we could find out where to meet Bryant. When Daniel finally logged connected, he saw a text from Bryant that said dinner was at 7:00 at Doña Eutima (at the time it was already 7:15).
David drove us another ten minutes to our Airbnb in Havana, we ran inside, checked in, exchanged money, changed and got back into the car to meet everyone at dinner. David dropped us off in an old plaza and told us how to walk to the restaurant. We walked in at 7:45 and met Bryant and eight of his friends. We ordered mojitos, chickpeas and veggies, rice and eggs-as the restaurant was out of fish.
After dinner we bar hopped around Havana Vieja. We started at a bar called El Floridita, known for both its daiquiris and Ernst Hemingway. It felt pretty touristy but the live music made it fun. After one drink we we moved to another bar with what they claimed was live Cuban music, but it ended up being 3 people playing an interesting version of Enrique Iglesias’ Bilando.
We bought beers in the street and walked to another bar where there was good live music. We spent the remainder of the night there before walking back towards El Floridita and catching a 10 CUC cab back to our Airbnb. As we got out of the cab we asked someone where to get food and he told us to go to La Concordia, the restaurant above our Airbnb.
We got upstairs around 1:00AM and ordered some rice and beans. Just as we were finishing the owner of the restaurant, his wife, and his father in law (also the landlord) came to sit and chat. They were extremely hospitable and didn’t want us to go to bed. They ordered us drinks and gave Daniel a cigar. Eventually we went down to bed around 2:30AM.
Day 2: Santa María del Mar Beach
We woke up at 7:30 so that we could eat breakfast at 8:00PM and meet the gang at their Airbnb in Vedado at 8:30AM. Breakfast was not yet available for us, so when we arrived at Bryant’s place, we joined them for a breakfast of eggs and bread.
We were met by some of their Cuban friends who drove us in tiny tiny cars to Santa María del Mar beach about 40 minutes away. The beach was absolutely magical! Some of us whet in the water but got a little beat up because of the rip tide. Nonetheless the water was super warm (compared to the Pacific Ocean). We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking coconuts and rum on the beach and eventually got lunch (rice, vegetables, and yuca chips) delivered to us on the sand.
Around 3:30PM the guy who drove us there, Leo, drove Daniel and I back to our Airbnb. I closed my eyes at several points in the ride for fear of A) running into cars B) running into people C) running into bikes and D) running into horse drawn carriages. We listened to reggaeton music on volume level 50. We were only too excited to get out of the car.
We came back to the Airbnb and napped before walking a 7:00 dinner with everyone at La Guarida (literally one block away from our Airbnb). La Guarida is one of Cuba’s most famous restaurants—the Obamas and Beyoncé have come, Usher even got married in the building—and the location of Cuba’s famous movie Fresa y Chocolate. Anyway we had a amazing dinner. We ordered the first fish on the menu and shared some appetizers. It was also the location of everyone’s favorite piña colada. Once we’d finished our meal we went up to the roof top bar and drank and danced until we decided to change scenery.
We went to The Concordia, the rooftop restaurant/bar above our Airbnb before getting in cars and driving to a cool outdoor bar in Vedado called Espacios. We stayed and drank for an hour before returning to or Airbnb.
Day 3: Havana All Day
We woke up this morning (or rather I was woken up by someone’s extraordinarily loud pet parrot) and went to the roof to eat breakfast. Little did we know breakfast consisted of sliced ham, chicken croquetas, and friend shrimp along with bread and jam. After eating a bit we had our host team call us a taxi which took forever. When it eventually came we had to barter with the driver to get the driver down to the usual “getting ripped off price of 10 CUC”.
The taxi took us into Vedado,to what was supposed to be Centro Hebreo Sefaradi, the Sephardic synagogue, on 17th and E but he ended dropping us off on 17th and I instead. So after some confusion we visited Beth Shalom, the Ashkenazi synagogue, before heading over to the Sephardic synagogue. We looked for Daniel’s relatives who lived in Cuba way back when but couldn’t find them. After a short stint of synagogue hopping we went back to Bryant and crews on Avendia Paseo.
We said goodbye to everyone but Bryant and Colbi, who joined us for a day adventure. We walked to the Hotel Nacional and stumbled upon some historical trenches, bunkers and history. After we walked around the corner to a place called California Cafe that had California—Cuban fare and “a vibe” according to Daniel. They had great vegetarian food and wonderful service. After lunch Daniel bought some hot sauce for them to bring home (which he ended up dropping on the floor 30 minutes later).
After lunch we walked the Málecon into Havana Viejo. Then we wandered the streets, found Bodeguita Del Medio (a mojito/ Ernest Hemingway bar that was too touristy to enter), and took photos in Plaza de la Catedral. We also wandered into Taller Experimental de Grafíca, a print making workshop, until Bryant and Colbi had to leave to go to the airport.
After they left Daniel and I went to Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes to see Cuban art. It was interesting to see both the Spanish and African influences over the years. After the museum we walked back into the old city and went to Café El Dandy for piña coladas and a quesadilla. Then we explored Clandestina (a cool graphic design shop) before walking back to our Airbnb in Havana Centro. All in all we walked 12.5 miles.
Upon arriving at the Airbnb we showered (from sweating due to walking, sunshine and humidity) and went back to La Guarida for drinks and appetizers (pins coladas and tuna ceviche). Then we walked back to La Concordia (the restaurant above our Airbnb) to eat dinner. Daniel ordered the fish with green sauce, I ordered fish with herbs and we split arroz congri. We also ordered more mojitos and pina coladas. Everything was delicious.
Just as we were finishing our meal, Alejandro and Lady (the owner and his wife who we met the other night) invited us to come out with them to two new clubs that had just reopened—oh also it was their 5 year wedding anniversary. Considering it was only 9PM when they asked and it was only at 12PM when we left, we had to keep ourselves up for the next few hours when all we had planned on was sleep. Not so easy.
At 11:30PM we met Alejandro and Lady upstairs for a drink—we also briefly met another large crew of Americans. Eventually we got in Alejandro’s car to go to a club in Miramar called (the stork La Cinguena). This club used to be called Sangri La but for some odd reasons it had to be closed and was only reopened tonight under its new name. It’s hours of operation were strictly 12AM —3PM. As an opening night special they had Leoni Torres perform—apparently muy famoso in Cuba and other Latin countries. All the girls in the klurb were going crazy. Alejandro and Lady got bottle service and then began our wild night in Cuba at a club that apparently foreigners don’t go to.
At 3:00AM the show ended and we walked out of the club. At that point we were told it’s time for club number two, a place called Fantasy. So in the spirit of doing everything we got in the car and went. When we arrived Ale ordered pizza at the pizza bar/outdoor patio of the club and then we went inside. It was impressive how many people were still going strong for a Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. After another hour of dancing and eating and trying not to fall asleep, Ale took us back to the start of Vedado so we could get a cab. Extremely nice considering they live in the opposite direction. We arrived back at our Airbnb at 4:30AM. Definitely not the night we imagined was in store for us while we were eating dinner that night.
Day 3.5: Streets of Old Havana
I woke up to the street sounds of Cuba around 9:45 AM and waited for Daniel until 11:15 AM to do the same. We went to the rooftop of La Concordia for a more American style breakfast than the day before (omelettes with arroz congri).
We walked along the Málecon to Old Havana and went to Museo de la Revolución. It was more artifacts with statements rather than history (e.g. this is the shirt Fidel wore when he plotted his first attack, these are the glasses a revolutionary wore when he committed a crime, this is the doll that was used to smuggle notes, etc).
I would recommend getting a tour guide if you really want to know about the history, but that’s just me.
We left the museum and walked around a few more blocks in old Havana before taking a drive in an old school purple Chevrolet convertible down the Málecon for 30 minutes. After our drive, Esteban, the driver dropped us off at our Airbnb and took some glamour shots of us in his car.
We packed up our stuff, ordered one last meal of rice and beans for the airport, and said goodbye to our incredible hosts and their staff. We took a private cab back to the airport only to learn that where we were dropped off at was a 5 minute drive away from the terminal we were supposed to be at. When we asked one of the taxis outside to take us they wanted to charge each of us 5 CUC to get there. After the taxi driver accidentally started to shut his trunk onto Daniels head, he forwent the 10 CUC—Daniel always taking one for the team. When we arrived at the correct airport we saw the group of Americans we met the night before and learned that they too had been dropped at the wrong terminal and had to pay to get to the right one. Clearly a scam!
Dan and I checked in through security and sat in the tiny airport for two and a half hours until we boarded our flight. The airport was the first place we’ve had wifi during the trip.
All in all, spontaneity made this happen and I’m so glad it did.
*10 CUC cabs: This is pretty much the average amount cabs charge to get around Havana, which is still way more than you should pay.
*Euros are the only currency to bring so you can exchange for CUC
*No credit cards
*No internet (with some very minor exceptions)