Earlier this week, we brought you our guide to booking a trip to Cuba, especially as an American. You can read it here. Today, we bring you our Cuba Travel Guide, which has day by day itineraries. Read on below to get some ideas for your trip. Our guide is about 60% fun and boozy, 40% cultural, so feel free to mix and match and amend to suit your needs.
Morning: The best way to get a feel for Havana is by getting a car tour in a classic 1950s convertible. Trust us on this one, it was a definite highlight of the trip. You can arrange and book this ahead of time, or you can hire cars in Old Havana right near the Iberostar Parque Central. This should cost around $40/hour and two hours is perfect. The car will bring you to each of Havana’s neighborhoods (see our neighborhood breakdown in the post linked above) and should come with a tour guide. During the tour, ask to see the famous Plaza de la Revolucion in Vedado. Ask them to bring you to Vedado’s famous ice cream parlor, Coppelia. You will also see Mirimar’s mansions and other iconic parts of Cuba along the way. By the end of the tour you will have a great feel for Havana and its history and feel well situated.
After, do a Hemingway-inspired bar hopping tour. Hemingway was a fixture in Havana, having written some of his most famous works there. Added bonus: the guy knew how to drink. Start at Floridita, where daiquiris were invented and they taste better and unlike anything else you have ever tasted. There is a live salsa band playing music as you sip on daiquiris. We wound up staying here for way more drinks than we anticipated.
Next, walk down Obispo street which is bustling with shops and bars and live music. Walk a bit until you get to La Bodeguita del Medio, which was Hemingway’s favorite bar for Mojitos. A famous saying of his is on the wall behind the bar: “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.” So, you know, this counts as being cultural.
After you finish your mojito, keep walking down Obispo until you reach the famous Hotel Ambos Mundos. Their rooftop is to die for and has wonderful views of Havana and the sunset. Order pina coladas in a pineapple and take in the view. The food here is also great if you’re feeling hungry. On the way up to the rooftop or on the way down, take a tour for $2 to see the room in the hotel that Hemingway lived in for ten years. His fishing poles and type writer are still in the room. Havana’s famous plazas are walking distance to Ambos Mundos, so check the four of them out before or after you are here.
Pre-dinner drinks: Head to the famous Hotel Nacional where old Hollywood and diplomats stay. The hotel has 50s glam everywhere you turn. Sit out back on the patio and order a pina collada. It was the best we’ve ever had. (Pro tip: it’s also a great spot for late-night Cuban sandwiches and also has a wonderful cigar shop with Cohibas, Montecristos and other offerings at great prices)
Dinner: Head on over to La Guarida in Centro Habana for dinner. It is in a stately crumbling mansion that is beautiful. It’s also Havana’s best and most famous restaurant. That means, the second you book your airfare, start calling and emailing La Guarida to try and get a reservation for around 9:30pm or 10 p.m. Ask for a table on their rooftop, but if they only have indoor tables, take it. The food is delicious and you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. You can book a table at La Guarida by clicking the link above. Other places will require phone calls and hounding to make a reservation, so be prepared.
Drinks: Go to Buena Vista Social Club, Casa de la Musica (there are two locations both with live music) or Havana’s jazz club.
During the day we suggest a mix of culture with some pool hopping. Start with the Museo de la Revolucion in Old Havana, which retells the history of the revolution (but from Fidel’s perspective). Next, walk next door to the Museo de Belles Arts, which is a mix of modern Cuban art, classic portraits and other exhibitions. You can do both museums in two hours.
Next, take advantage of Havana’s beautiful rooftops. We swam in the rooftop pool of Iberostar Parque Central and The Hotel Saratoga. If you’d rather explore during the day, Grab a sunset drink at Hotel Saratoga.
Salsa — one of the highlights of the trip was salsa lessons at La Casa del Son. Make a reservation ahead of time. Lessons are around $10/hour. We learned SO much and had so many laughs and even tried to go back for lessons another day but they were booked.
Dinner: Head to El Cocinero near Miramar for dinner. Make a reservation ahead of time and sit on their roof which is strung with lights. The drinks here are delicious and the food is even better. Bring some Cuban cigars to smoke while you wait on the food. Everything we ordered was amazing, especially the special lobster. The rooftop is super chic and sexy, and gives you the perfect vibe for what is set to be your wildest night, since Havana’s Fabrica de Arte is right next door. (To make a reservation at El Cocinero, email: email@example.com)
Drinks: Head to Fabrica de Arte, an amazing space right next to El Cocinero that is part bar, art exhibit, live music etc. I’ve never been to anything like it, and the vibe is so fun and amazing. Everywhere you look is sensory overload because the art is beautiful and the music is great and upbeat. Go early (around 9pm) as the line extends around the block. Be prepared to wait in line, or you can do what we did and pay off the bouncer. This is THE place to go in all of Cuba and it is only open Thursday–Sunday, so make sure to plan and earlyish dinner at El Cocinero one of those nights so that you can do both on the same night to be efficient.
Head to the beach. Either arrange for a car ahead of time, or hire a taxi to bring you to Playa del Este, which is about a 35 minute cab ride from Old Havana. Ask to be brought to Santa Maria beach where the water is turquoise, the sand is soft, and everything is dirt cheap. We drank pina coladas out of pineapples for $3 each and renting our sunbeds were just $2. Ask your driver to come back and pick you up at a certain time, because getting a cab home can be challenging. We had a big cab for all of us and it was about $40 each way. There are also buses that go to the beach that are cheaper.
Depending on what time you get back, head to one of the rooftop bars you didn’t get to check out the day before for sunset.
Dinner: We loved both El Atelier in Vedado and Los Naranjos, also in Vedado. Both are Paladares — or restaurants run by Cuban locals out of their homes. But neither are quaint. They are housed in stately mansions with eclectic artwork and finishings that make you feel both elite and cozy.
Los Naranjos is in a beautiful setting. First, you walk through an entrance blooming with exotic palm trees and plants. The interior has gilded mirrors, glistening chandeliers and high ceilings with crown molding. We sat on their terrace (sensing a theme yet?), but the inside was just as beautiful. All of our food was delicious and they have nice bottles of wine and champagne, too. This restaurant dripped with opulence and the food was great.
Atelier is known for its flavors. There is a food scarcity in Cuba and one of the common knocks against the food is that it can be bland. Atelier’s owners stock up on spices when they make trips to the U.S. so the food is full of flavor. I had the absolute best ropa vieja here. Get it even to share for the table. The menus are handwritten and they have great offerings. We sat on their terrace, because obviously.
Drinks: Head to Cafe Bar Madrigal nearby for live salsa and great drinks. Or, head to Serai, a high-end club in the neighborhood.
If you have more than three nights in Cuba, consider leaving Havana and checking out Vinales (two hours by car and doable in a day trip) or Trinidad (four hours each way and better to do over night for one or two days).
If you decide to stay in Havana longer, we spent a day in Vedado, where we booked lunch at Cafe Laurent on its terrace and then walked over to the 50s ice cream parlor, Coppelia. We loved both. You can also do the Canon Ceremony which happens each night at 9pm where a cannonball is shot into the sea. (You can take a cab there or pay less than a dollar to go by boat). We also recommend doing a sunset walk along the Malecon.