A Week Exploring Cuba

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Published March 1st, 2017

Everyone’s traveling to Cuba for good reason – it’s an amazing place!

It’s definitely a developing country with a lack of amenities you’ll find in other Caribbean countries. But that’s part of what makes it so special along with the culture and natural beauty.

I spent a week traveling around Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.  Below you’ll find some of my top tips to prepare for a great trip in Northern Cuba including advice for American travelers, mobile apps to make your trip easier, great places to stay, visit and eat.

My Itinerary

I was in Cuba for 8 days/7 nights.

4 days/3 nights were spent in Havana. 2 days/1 night was spent in Vinales, ½ day and 1 night was spent in Cienfuegos and 1 day 1 night was spent in Trinidad.  Check out this Google map of our route.

We easily got around by hiring a driver or a taxi collectivo (shared cab) for each destination. These cars were most often arranged by our Airbnb host. We never had an issue finding a car service and most of the rides were about $35 per person. I’ve heard good things about the bus service in Cuba (but never took it myself) and it’s apparently easy to rent a car. If I went back I would probably still do it the same way and get drivers btwn the destinations because it made things a lot easier. That being said – note that most cars don’t have seat belts and that made me a bit nervous on several of these rides as they cars are old and people drive FAST.

I think you would need at least 6 nights/7 days to complete the itinerary that I did.  That being said, if you have less time than I did, I think it’s still worth a trip to Cuba.  If you have less than a week, I would spend your time in Havana (for a taste of city life) and Viñales (for a taste of country life) .  Even if you only have time to go to Havana, I think it will still be a wonderful trip.

Americans Traveling to Cuba

If you’re an American traveling to Cuba, here are some things you should know before you go.

  • VISA – The visa is easy to get.  All American airports that fly directly into Cuba allow you to buy the visa before you check in to your flight. The fee was $75 and it was a breezy easy process to get as we checked in.  I got the “people to people” visa.
  • CASH – You must bring cash! You cannot use American credit cards or debit cards in Cuba so the only way to pay when you get to Cuba is with the cash you brought with you from the states. Definitely bring more than you would plan to spend to be safe. I brought $900 for a 7 day trip (and pre-paid for all my airbnb stays) and I spent every last dime of what I brought and probably should have brought more to be safe.
  • EXIT FEES – There are no exit fees at the airport but be sure to have enough cash left when you depart to pay for checking your baggage. You can always spend leftover CUC at duty free or exchange it back to American dollars once you check in for your flight.
  • EXCHANGE MONEY – I brought Canadian money down to Cuba with me. I got a bit of a better exchange rate than my friends with American dollars. But it didn’t save me an extraordinary amount of money.  There are exchange services at both airport terminals that American planes fly into so you can exchange your money into CUC on arrival.

Other Advice

  • There are absolutely no Western  products/chain stores/advertisements. And very few stores to buy food. I would highly recommend bringing a few power bars as you won’t really find any grab and go food options for longer road trips.
  • Safety – I felt incredibly safe the entire time I was in Cuba. We kept hearing from locals and other travelers that Cuba has very low crime and I truly felt safe at all times – even late night walking the quiet streets of Old Habana.

Mobile Apps That Will Make Your Trip Easier

There is very limited wifi in Cuba – I didn’t connect to the internet the entire time I was there so I really depended on a few offline apps to help make traveling easier.

Remember to download these before you arrive in Cuba!

Maps.me – Amazing app that I used a lot! Google Maps didn’t have an offline map of Cuba so I downloaded maps.me app AND downloaded a map of Havana, Trinidad and Viñales that they had available. It was fansastic and really helped us get to key points of interest and our Airbnbs when our taxi drivers didn’t know where to take us.

 

Google translate – Keeps getting better and better. Download the Spanish language. The camera feature let us easily translate menus from Spanish into English. It also helped us converse with our Airbnb hosts in Spanish. My Spanish is very weak and very few people in Cuba spoke English from my experience.


Google Trips
 
– Always a great app that stores offline details of the places I’ve booked including Airbnb addresses and flight information.

Check Out My Other Cuba Posts

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Havana, ooh na-na

I am OBSESSED with Havana. There is so much soul to this city and is really unlike any place I’ve ever been before.

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