About 100 miles south of Florida, lies the largest Caribbean island and one we’ve all recently seen more and more photos of. This hidden gem is Cuba! After our quick weekend away to Havana, we got many questions all about our trip, and for good reason! For a long time, Cuba has been a destination that most assume we cannot travel to. Well, that is not the case anymore!
I’ve taken the most asked questions we’ve had about our trip and compiled a little Q & A for this post 🙂 Read along!
This was the most asked question when people saw we were in Cuba. We got the “how are you there?!” The truth is, it was easy, SO easy. Many airlines have opened up flights to Havana. Being from South Florida, JetBlue and Southwest both fly there for reasonably priced airfare and a short direct flight. When purchasing your flight, the airline will ask you to choose 1 of 12 choices from a list as to why you’re traveling to Cuba. The list looked something like this:
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S government
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Educational activities
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, competitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian Projects
- Activities of private foundations
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information materials
- Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
After doing some research, I found that most people choose #8, “Support for the Cuban people.” I chose journalistic activity. But regardless of what you choose, we didn’t have to provide one thing to explain our reason. Both my husband and the friends we went with didn’t have to show documentation, it seemed it was more of an airline requirement.
To get to Cuba, you must purchase a tourist visa. I’ve heard the prices on these can vary a little, but with JetBlue we paid $50 pp for a tourist visa. This was purchased at the airport prior to flying to Cuba. There was a whole section for Cuba in the terminal and we were able to check in and purchase the visas all at the same time! The line was pretty long, so I recommend getting there early. We got there in just enough time as they were shutting the visa purchase line down about an hour before the flight took off.
Once we got to Cuba, they checked and stamped our visa in customs, and that was it. I promise! Nothing else. It was super easy (going there and coming back.) We kept waiting for someone to stop us to ask questions or show proof of something, and nothing- not once!
“Did You Feel Safe?”
The people of Cuba have been through a lot. The buildings are so run down and you could be walking and see a gorgeous piece of architecture, and the next street over doesn’t have a single window or wall throughout the home. Like anywhere you travel, you have to be cautious and smart. Don’t go exploring alley ways at midnight, don’t wear flashy jewelry, etc. That being said, we found Cuba to be pretty safe. Everyone continued to reassure us over and over that Cuba is a safe place. Every taxi driver or local we met said that tourists are gold and the government says to never touch a tourist. That gave us a peace of mind but again, anywhere you travel, you want to be cautious. 🙂
“Was It Cheap?”
Cuba doesn’t do credit/debit cards. It is strictly cash! There is a currency exchange in the airport, otherwise some of the nicer hotels let you exchange money too. Tourists have their own currency (weird, I know) called CUC. So everything for us was priced in CUC. Make sure you discuss taxi and tour prices before going forward with it. Don’t be afraid to bargain with them!
We thought taxi’s and food prices were honestly pretty normal compared to what we are used to. Food might have been a little cheaper than a normal restaurant in the United States. BUT, drinks were cheap. Mojitos, Pina Coladas, and Cuba Libre’s all could be found for 3 CUCS, so about $4 USD.
“Where Did You Stay?”
The hotels were super expensive and everything I read said that staying in a “Casa Particular” was the way to go! This was one of the better airbnb experiences we’ve had for sure! The host was super informative, gave great recommendations, arranged a taxi ride from the airport, and even had some drinks in the fridge for us when we arrived. His family will make you breakfast on his rooftop for 5 CUCs pp and it came with a perfect view of the water and city. The airbnb was clean and comfortable and was a short taxi ride into Old Havana. You can find the link here!
“What Did You Do In Havana?
If you’re not planning on going outside of Havana to Varadero Beach or take some other day trips, 2 or 3 days in Havana is plenty. Havana is filled with vibrant culture, tucked away streets you could get lost in, colorful buildings, and some interesting history spots.
- Ride In a Classic Car
This is the big thing to do in Havana! These fun cars are literally everywhere. Even grabbing a taxi from one place to the other, you can take an old car. We did a 2 hour tour with “Old Car Tours. You can check out their website here. This company had great reviews and we really enjoyed hearing from our driver about all the spots around Havana. They let you pick your car of choice online if its available for your selected date and time. They were right on time and picked us up outside our airbnb. You can pay extra to have a guide that speaks your language if you prefer! If you’re not wanting to do a whole tour, you can bargain with any of the drivers of the classic cars and ask them how much for an hour ride around the city. 30 CUC an hour is the standard FYI!
2. Walk the Malecon
Just “walking along the Malecon” is one of the most popular things to do in Havana, and it is where the locals like to fish and hangout. The Malecon is a 7km seawall that you walk alongside of. Strolling along this offered us a nice breeze and beautiful views of the lighthouse and city. TIP: Wear comfy shoes as there are uneven rocks and stones everywhere.
3. Try a Cuban Cigar
They are everywhere and won’t be hard to find! I had never tried a cigar and now that I have, I can’t say I’ll do it again. But hey, when in Rome!
3. Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market
This is the market most had told us to go to, with the best prices and best quality stuff to buy. From paintings to panama hats, we enjoyed walking through it! We like to collect ornaments and paintings everywhere we travel to, and there were plenty of options here!
4. Get Lost
Not really, but just wandering the streets and finding different cute corners and old churches was fun in itself. You can stumble upon the rum museum and take a tour, or you can stumble upon some live music at Ernest Hemingway’s favorite place “Floridita.” As always, watch for people trying to rip you off. We were told from a taxi driver that locals get a commission if they bring any tourists into a store or restaurant. We saw this a few times so just be careful who you listen to 🙂
“How Was The Food?”
I am the world’s pickiest eater so I am a bad judge of food. But my husband and the friends we went with all agreed that the food, overall, was just average. Not bad, but not amazing. However, we did eat at a few really awesome restaurants that offered amazing views and ambiance.
MUST EAT RESTAURANTS IN HAVANA
- La Guarida- This place is a little fancier, but is in a beautiful building with great rooftop views and an even better rooftop bar! Prices were fare, and service was great. You will want to make reservations for this! We did 2 weeks in advance and almost all the slots were taken. You can make yours here
- O’Reilly 304- My personal favorite of the trip was this fun lunch spot! With many tapas options and large mojitos, we loved the empanadas and the lobster tacos!
- Fabrica De Arte– This place was a suggestion from our airbnb host and we are so glad we went! Very trendy and modern, this restaurant had a super cute rooftop bar and outdoor terrace.
- Hotel National- This is the nicest hotel in Cuba. It is beautiful! If you aren’t staying there and want to go hang out for the day, it costs 5 CUC pp to get in and hang by the patios and enjoy the breeze and beauty. Included in your cover fee is a drink of your choice. They also have cuban sandwiches you can order. We highly recommend coming here for an afternoon or lunch!
- Floridita- The famous Ernest Hemingway bar, their daiquiris are amazing but definitely more expensive than other restaurants!
Basically, if the only thing stopping you from visiting Cuba is fear of not getting into the country, fear no more! With a little tourist visa and a lot of research, you will be on your way to Cuba in no time! Cuba is a country that I truly believe will continue to attract more and more tourists, so go now! 🙂
Tips Before You Go:
– Make sure you bring enough cash. Better to have too much than too little!
– Bring some tissues with you! Many of the bathrooms don’t have toilet paper.
-Bring hand sanitizer
-Brush up on some Spanish before you go. In our experience, not many people spoke much English.
-Wear comfortable shoes! You’ll be walking a lot 🙂
If you have ANY questions about Havana, feel free to email me or comment down below!