Do you dream about drinking Mojitos all day? Or maybe cruising the Havana streets in a vintage convertible car? Better yet, what about dancing the night away at a salsa club? If these thoughts cloud your mind then maybe it’s time to plan your trip to Cuba. I recently visited Havana, Cuba to celebrate my birthday and the experience was amazingly authentic. It was so refreshing to wake up and people watch on the balcony, salsa dance in the street and be disconnected from everything for a while. Cuba is not like anywhere that I’ve visited before and I am grateful for the experience. Before we dive into my ultimate guide, have you read my 5 Things to Know Before Visiting Cuba as yet? If not, you should definitely read it first.
Here are 3 more things to consider before planning your trip:
- Flights and Visa Requirements: First things first, you have to get to Havana. Luckily for us, Bahamasair has a direct flight to Havana every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at about $450 round trip. If you’re from The Bahamas, I know you may have many concerns about travelling on our national carrier. However, I found the flight to be quite enjoyable. There were no delays going or coming and the flight was rather smooth. Additionally, Bahamians do need a Visa when traveling to Cuba. It can be purchased at the ticket desk while checking into your flight at the cost of $20.
- Immigration & Baggage wait time in Havana: Immigration was quick and easy. Picture this, within two minutes or less, the officer stamped my passport & visa, took my photo and done. But listen to me, the baggage wait is ridiculous. It took over an hour for our bags to be dispatched off the plane and onto the carousel. I really thought they left our bags in Nassau and had to go back. The baggage claim sign was not accurate, because our bags were on both carousels and the cases of water we brought was found in Special Baggage. There was no one communicating anything with us and this was the start of the very present language barrier.
- Casa particular/ Airbnb/ Hotel: The choice is all yours. In Havana, there are numerous housing options and before you do decide make sure that you choose the right one for you. My housing style is what I’d like to call “authentically modern”. I love an authentic look and feel to my housing, but with all the modern furnishes; for example air conditioning, up to date appliances etc. My preferred home while looking from the outside, looks like any other home in the neighborhood, but it gave me exactly what I wanted. If you are new to Airbnb, I’d recommend always to thoroughly read the reviews, look at all the photos and make sure you have selected “Entire Place” and a “Superhost”. You can take a look at my temporary slice of Cuban Paradise.
Now, that you have arrived and all settled into your adorable Cuban home for the next few days, it’s time to start living your best life. Here’s my recommendations on how to do just that:
Just one block away from our home was El Biky restaurant. It was very convenient for a casual lunch and delicious pizzas for a late night snack. Their signature drink the “Biky” was absolutely refreshing. It was quite similar to a frozen mango mojito and honestly my favorite drink while in Cuba. Surprisingly, it was only $3 CUC. Yes, thank you, I’d definitely have another one.
This strip is alive all the time. Families, friends and lovers are lined off on the wall laughing, talking, people watching and even kissing. The displays of affection could not be missed. True Cuban life was right before my eyes. I saw people just hanging out enjoying each other’s company with a bottle of Havana Club Rum and some colas. Vendors were on the strip selling popcorn and colorful ice concoctions. On a ride back home one day, we even had to reference the Malecon to direct our taxi driver to our home. It is definitely a place to know and see.
3) Explore Old Havana by foot
How can you visit somewhere and not walk around, getting a taste of local life and exploring everything about the city? Havana is one of those places you should explore by foot. Visiting Old Havana was eye opening, seeing the architecture, the way of life, eating the street food and salsa dancing in the square are all memories I will cherish forever.
Start your night at El Cocinero and enjoy delicious food. I enjoyed the pork and fish dishes and even nibbled on some rabbit. It was rather tasty! The ambiance of this restaurant is quite romantic and the outside terrace was beautiful, being lit by tiny light bulbs with numerous plants adorning it.
After a wonderful dinner at El Cocinero, this is the place to be. This was probably my favorite experience during the trip. I had so much fun. The Art Factory hosts multiple sections, where Cubans and tourists alike come to enjoy a great time. In one night, I consumed amazing art in the form of paintings, sculptures, spoken word, dance performances and live music. I ended the night drinking Cuban beers, singing and dancing to my heart’s content. The dj also played Aidonia and Vybz just for me. Pure bliss.
You have to visit one of Ernest Hemingway’s famous watering holes. I went during the day around 2 pm and this place was booming. Persons were lined off at the bar ordering and others were sitting down enjoying a live band. The refreshing daiquiris are $6 CUC each and are served with the most delicious plantain chips. The flavors are Classic Lime, Mango and Strawberry. Mango was my absolute fave, it’s so good. When I tell you, these drinks are filled with alcohol, I literally watched the bartender leave the rum pouring in the blender for at least a minute… and this was after he already poured some in. Luckily, or maybe not, you can’t taste the alcohol and it’s just a fruity delight.
Simply gorgeous views. The way the trees and waterfall just all come together, I felt like I had jumped into a computer screensaver. I’m not much of a nature lover. Actually, I don’t really do the outdoors much at all, but this is a must see. It’s really beautiful and makes for some nice greenery to your next photo shoot.
Enter through a British looking red phone booth and you are transported to an authentic Cuban jazz paradise. While sipping on a mojito, I enjoyed sounds of the trumpet, bass drum, saxophone and bass guitar. This place makes for a relaxing late evening out and for just just $10 CUC (2 drinks included by the way) you honestly can’t ask for anything more.
9) Old Car Tour
Of course, you can’t visit Havana without doing a tour. Our Airbnb host arranged one for us for $40 CUC for 2 hours and it was a blast. We chose a classic red convertible and it was beautiful. It was mid October though and the ride was very hot, like I was sweating hot. I can’t imagine doing that in the summer. We made a stop at the historic Plaza de la Revolucion for photos and even stopped for free shots at a bar in Vedado.
10) Book a Cigar Rolling Class
You can’t visit Cuba without participating in a little cigar smoking pass time, right? Before this experience, I had no interest in cigars. I just never thought it was my kinda thing. The class was so fun, our instructor taught us the ins and outs of cigars. We also had two professional cigar rollers teach us all of the expert rolling tips and tricks. I honestly didn’t know what I was doing but somehow won for rolling the best cigar. Yay me! After the cigars were rolled, it was time to experience them with compliments of Havana Rum and Cuban Coffee. This experience was unforgettable and our instructor Osmel was amazing. I would definitely recommend booking this experience with them.
For $10 CUC, I had my favorite meal in Cuba. While casually strolling the busy strip up from our airbnb, we came across Woow. Well, actually Angel lured us in with his gorgeous green eyes and dazzling smile. The food was great. I’d definitely recommend trying the bruschetta for your appetizer, the grilled pork loin for entree and the baked caramel custard finishes the meal beautifully. Their lemonade is also top tier. It tastes wonderfully homemade, just like how my mommy makes it.
I ended my Cuban adventure, the best way I know how, at a show. The Cabaret Show at Tropicana was absolutely beautiful. The lights, the costumes, the dancing and singing. Even though I couldn’t understand anything that was being said (the show is in Spanish), it was a wonderful sight to see. The production of the show is exceptional and there are so many acts. There is no time to get bored. I chose the show and dinner package which was $95 USD. It included a glass of champagne, a soft drink, a bottle of Havana Rum (to be shared between two), an appetizer, entree and dessert and an after dinner snack. I would not recommend spending the additional $20 for the dinner. The food was horrid. While, I didn’t enjoy much of the food I ate in Cuba, the dinner at Tropicana was waste of time and taste buds.
I really enjoyed my birthday celebration in Cuba. I experienced a totally different culture and tried to immerse myself in all that Havana had to offer. Have you decided on your 2020 travels as yet? If not, you should definitely add Havana to your list. Cuba is waiting for you!