48 Hours In Cuba - Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Havana
Cuba is one of the most beautiful, colorful, and cultural places I have visited, but my experience there was truly a sobering one. Most Cubans are trapped in inescapable and unbelievable poverty and are completely suppressed by the communist government, making less than $200 a month. My general experience in Havana (and my personal experience with our guide) left me with a newfound gratitude for my privileged upbringing in the states.
That being said, tourism is a huge strength for their economy (and will only increase exponentially since the borders have opened up to America last month), so visiting and spending those dolla bills truly does help the Cuban people! I recommend taking a trip ASAP before the untouched & authentic Cuba starts to change...
Get A Hotel
Since Cuba opened up the borders to the U.S., a bunch of American hotel chains are popping up left and right. I think that's pretty boring, so you should swap out the Hilton for one of Havana's more traditional spots. We stayed at Hotel Saratoga, and some other awesome spots are Hotel Nacional and Iberostar Parque Central. However, I've been told that the best way to experience Cuba is staying at a family's home.
Get A Guide
I usually hate any kind of tourist trap, but the best way to see Havana is with a guide. No one really speaks English, and the city is not walkable by any means, so if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up at abandoned building after abandoned building. We were recommended Papo by a friend of mine, and it was the best decision we could ever make. Papo spoke wonderful english, was incredibly informative, and taught us about the layered history of Cuba while we visited all of the most important landmarks. If you are planning a trip to Havana, PLEASE hire Papo...he is the kindest, most hard working man, just trying to support his family in a country where everyone is struggling to barely scrape by. Also, TIP HIM WELL. This kind man works 16 hour days to hopefully make $5, so anything you can spare will truly impact his life. Papo's email is firstname.lastname@example.org...tell him Jac & Scott sent you!
Get A Car
It would be a sin to come to Cuba without driving around in a vintage car! You can rent a car with a driver for around $30 an hour (this included Papo as a guide as well). Out of all the cars in Cuba, of course we ended up in the bright pink car the Kardashians & Kanye drove around during their trip to Havana (who Papo kept calling Key West...bless his heart). Keep in mind that for a full day's work, the driver and guide make less than 10% of what you actually pay them, so again, please tip them well.
Get Some Grub
I am the most basic of the basic bitches, and nothing makes me happier than enjoying a glass of rose on a rooftop bar during sunset. And somehow, with no phone service or wifi, I happened to find the best rooftop bar in Havana! The El Cocinero rooftop is the best place to catch a sunset in the city. Great tapas, delicious cocktails (try the mojito!), and an all around cool rustic industrial aesthetic make this place a great dinner spot. Other popular restaurants are the Buena Vista Social Club, Cafe Laurent, La Guajira, Los Naranjos, & La Chucheria.
Get Your Hemingway On
Any book nerd will geek out to see Hemingway's home, Finca La Vigia, where he wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls & The Old Man & The Sea. Check out his massive estate, and don't forget to grab his signature cocktail, Coctel Vigia, which is sugar cane, pineapple, lemon juice, and lots and lots of rum.
Get a Cigar
As much as it is a sin to come to Cuba without driving a vintage car, it would be an even bigger sin to not smoke a classic Cuban cigar. My boyfriend is a cigar freak, so getting an authentic cuban cigar was at the top of his list. Scott ended up buying his in a sketchy alley way but you can get them in a way less sketchy way pretty much anywhere. Make sure to stop at the La Triada shop at the Parque Morro-Cabaña to see the world's longest cigar! And if you're lucky (like we were), you can even meet the man himself: Jose Castelar Cairo!
In the middle of a random neighborhood lies Fusterlandia, a mosaic dreamland created by Jose Fuster, who was nicknamed the "Picasso of the Caribbean". Gaudi would be proud of this incredible installation that stretches over an entire neighborhood.
The best experience you will have in Cuba is mingling with the locals! Many of the best gems are literally just the kitchens of local Cuban families. Have your guide take you to some spots off the beaten track, and make sure to get a mojito wherever you go!
Last minute tips and tricks:
- BRING CASH. I'm not sure when using cards will be allowed, but as of now American credit and debit cards are NOT accepted anywhere in Cuba. Make sure to bring more than enough cash...trust me, because Scott and I almost got stranded in Havana.
- SAY BYE BYE TO YOUR PHONE. This will also change, I'm sure, but American phones will not have service in Cuba. However, for some odd reason, Scott DID have perfect phone service in Cuba. Either Verizon just started working there or he has super-human powers...I'm leaning towards the latter.
- WIFI IS A LIE. Okay, not totally a lie, but wifi is pretty much a bomb in Cuba too. Havana has a bunch of "hot spots" which you will recognize by hundreds of people gathered in parks or outside of random buildings. This "wifi" is so fucking slow that it will take an hour to send a single email, so just disconnect and take in your surroundings.
- DON'T STRESS. There are times where you might feel a little sketched out in Havana but don't worry, the city is generally really safe and the locals are very nice and respectful.
Oh, and I can't forget the most important part! Shop my Cuba vacay look here:
Until next time! Check out my travel post about Mexico here. What city do you want me to make a "48 hours in..." guide to next?