US Citizens Cuba Trip Overview
|Things to do||Believe it or not, there are so many different activities to do in Cuba. From Havana’s fun culture, Vinales’ beautiful countryside, to the beautiful beaches and cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad.|
|Lodging||As an American, you are not allowed to stay in any Cuba-owned hotels. However, there are other hotel options. We chose to do an Airbnb, which had a lot of beautiful and affordable options.|
|Getting Around||It was pretty easy to get around. We either caught a taxi (cash only and get the price before you go) or walked (we stayed in Old Havana). We used a tour guide for our day trip to Vinales (about a 2 hour drive each way).|
|Getting There||It’s honestly easier than expected, especially as an American. The only potential downside is that you have to fly into Havana from the US. That’s normally not a problem because who doesn’t want to visit Havana? The “biggest” thing you have to do is purchase a visa ($50/person) and declare a travel category (we chose “support for the Cuban People”) when arriving at the airport leaving for Cuba.|
|Affordability||For us, this was the challenging part of Cuba. Not that things necessarily cost more than in the average US city, but the EXCHANGE RATE, it’s a killer…12% for USD. To make matters worse, no US debit or credit cards are accepted. Therefore, you have to calculate IN ADVANCE how much cash you may need and bring that WITH you.|
Late November 2019, hubs and I took our first #baecation since we had our twin boys. We knew we were going to be in Miami for our annual vacation to visit my husband’s family. Being in Miami afforded us the opportunity to take advantage of leaving our kids with family and direct flights to the Caribbean. Therefore, I went to Google Flights to see which country we could go to using my Delta points. Cuba had the best flight deals to use my Delta Airline points. However, we were not sure if US citizens could travel to Cuba. After some research, we discovered that Cuba was the perfect option- and man did it make for an awesome couples trip.
Checkout my “How To Catch A Flight Deal” post for the strategy I used to catch this flight deal.
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Getting To Cuba From Miami
Since we were already in Miami, our journey to Havana was super simple. Once we arrived at the airport, we checked in at the Delta counter to purchase our Cuban visa. All we had to do was pay the $50/visa fee and declare “Support for the Cuban People.” That’s it! Ninety minutes after our plane departed, we were in Havana! Once there, passing through customs was like any other place. We showed our passports, got the stamp, and we were on our way.
We scored the cutest Airbnb, which you find here, in Havana Vieja (approximately 20 minutes from the airport). It was pretty amazing, offering an awesome view of the happenings in Havana Vieja below. The hosts, a Swedish/Cuban couple, own the entire building and run it as a bed and breakfast where you can purchase a healthy continental breakfast with an amazing view of the city. Additionally, they ironed our clothes on request (an immediate gold star in my book), made our reservations, and gave great activity and restaurant suggestions.
Airbnb has been my lodging go to when traveling with others, especially family. You can save $55 on your first Airbnb Trip with this code.
Cuban Baecation Itinerary
Early morning direct flight from MIA to HAV, 90 minutes
Toured Museo de la Revolucion
African Cuban Culture Tasting
Fabrica de Arte
Bar hopped in Old Havana
Visited all of the plazas in Old Havana
Photoshoot and tour
Dinner at La Guarida- nice upscale restaurant
Bar hopped in Central Havana
Plaza de la Revolucion
Santa Clara Beach, 30 minute bus ride
Museo de la Revolucion
After lunch we took a short walk up to Museo de la Revolucion to see “the other side of the coin” in regards to the Cuba/US relationship. In all honesty, the sentiment of the museum is “The US ain’t shit!’ There were a few galleries that explored the Cuban history- key players, influencers, etc.- but the majority of the galleries (at least it felt that way) detailed how the US attempted to sabotage their country. The remaining exhibits reinforced how much the Cuban government helps and supports its people. Personally, it was a great way to start the trip, getting an understanding of the Cuban government’s perspective. Our next adventure of the day, The Afro-Cuban Culture Tasting was the opportunity to get the actual local Cuban people’s reality.
Afro Cuban Culture Tasting
There is no better way to learn about a culture than to go to their home, cook, and eat with them. This is exactly what this experience with Beyond Roots (~$65/person), which you can find here, is about. We had first hand exposure to the Afro-Cuban religions, learning the various customs, and foods they offer to the gods. I must admit, I was a bit nervous as we entered the house. I mean, we were at a stranger’s home, in a foreign country. To make the experience even more “interesting,” they instructed us to wash our hands at the outdoor sink. We were greeted by live chickens. Being city people, it took us for a bit of a surprise.
I’d recommend this experience to anyone, hands down! Beyond the religious enlightenment and delicious food, our hosts, two local women and a few others that would stop in occasionally, were so open. We honestly could ask them anything. This gave us great perspective into how the Cuban people live. Having a true, local, Cuban experience was a key goal of our trip. This experience gave us just that.
Fabrica de Arte
Fabrica de Arte is such an interesting place- art museum, meets performing arts center, meets concert hall, restaurant and bar. Literally, every form of art is represented. We went a bit early, around 9 PM, right after our Afro-Cuban experience. There was art work, structures, live music, DJ dance hall, and even a live play- and of course bars and a couple of restaurants. In all my travel, I haven’t been to one location that had such a variety of artistic entertainment.
Vinales Day Tour
Pinar del Rio is located on the Western-most part of Cuba, the beautiful countryside known for the country’s tobacco production. It’s about a two hour drive from Havana. We took a private tour with VC Tours, which you can find here, at a cost of $200/car. Our tour guide picked us up from our Airbnb in Tiffany, a beautiful 1954 Tiffany Blue Chevy. This car was pretty dope- until after the first hour on the interstate and my mid-30’s body started to feel every bump we drove over. But honestly, it was “vale la pena”- worth the pain.
Cuban Mogotes: Limestone Formations
After a short break at Las Barrigonas Travel Plaza with a fresh pina colada, we arrived at the beautiful limestone formation, Mogotes. Man, what a beautiful view! We spent a few minutes taking in its beauty before we headed to the main event, the tobacco farm.
Cuban Tobacco Farm
As we neared the tobacco farm, we saw huts without any windows which are used to dry the tobacco leaves. 90% of the farmer’s tobacco leaves go to the Cuban government. The remaining 10% is used by the local farmers to make their own cigars, which are actually organic and 90% of the nicotine is removed.
After rolling the cigars, we had the opportunity to smoke one. I WAS SO NERVOUS as I had never smoked a cigar, cigarette, blunt, nothing! My mind kept telling me that I was going to choke and make a fool of myself. So I dipped my cigar in the honey (a Cuban method which helps filter the remaining nicotine), put it to my lips, and to my surprise, I was fairly good at smoking a cigar (once I realized you blow with the exhale…don’t judge me!)
I must mention the Irish gang that was on the tour with us. When they say the Irish can drink, wellllllll geez O Peters. A free shot of the local Guayabita del Pinar Rum is included in the tour. Well, a shot was NOT enough for them. They bought a bottle and between the five of them, they dang near finished it within the 30 min cigar lesson. I was shocked and impressed at the same time…okay, back to Vinales.
Cuban Indian Cave and Prehistoric Mural
After the tobacco farm and lunch, we explored the Indian Cave and Prehistoric Mural. The Indian Cave was a pretty amazing short boat ride experience; I recommend it. On the contrary, the Prehistoric Mural, which is basically roped off to the public, only allows you to see the mural from afar, on a funky side angle. This makes the experience pretty mediocre.
Couples Vacation Photoshoot
We had to document this experience, our first couples vacation since our twin boys! And oh man, our Airbnb Experience Photoshoot with Manuel at Cuban Soul Pictures, which you can find here, was A-MAZ-ING! It was worth every penny of the $60/person. Not only was it a photoshoot where he took BEAUTIFUL pictures of us (like magazine worthy) but the tour by itself was worth the money. We toured Havana Vieja, actually very close to our Airbnb. The real experience for us was two things: 1) the convertible car ride to The Ancient Fortress of San Carlos de Cabana and 2) Chatting with Manuel to learn the Cuban history and experience from a young local that has lived in Europe and visits the US frequently. I’ll dive into the first one as the second is pretty self-explanatory.
The Ancient Fortress of San Carlos de Cabana
The Ancient Fortress of San Carlos de Cabana is an 18th century fortress complex, located on the elevated seaside of Havana. The history. The Beauty. Man it’s something to take in (and a romantic place for couples). You can also witness groups of locals hanging out and enjoying the scenery and their families and friends. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see a lot of tourists there. If you want a calm, relaxing, and historical place to relax in Havana, THIS IS IT!
La Plaza de la Revolucion
La Plaza de la Revolucion is not walking distance to the other plazas in Havana Vieja. In fact, it’s about a 10-15 min ride from Parque Central (right outside Havana Vieja.) We (well actually my husband) felt like it’s something we must visit. It’s basically the location where Castro and other political figures address Cubans (by the way, we learned that Castro gave a 7 hour speech from here!!) The key attractions are the steel memorials of Che Guevara and Camilo Cinfuegos. It’s also the location where the classic cars line up for tourists to take pictures. In all honesty, I wasn’t very impressed.
Cuban Baecation Beach Day
Nothing is like a beach day during a couples vacation, especially with Cuba’s great weather. Unfortunately, with our limited time in Cuba we didn’t have time to take a day trip to Varadero Beach (about a 2 hour drive from Havana.) We were happy to find out there is a bus (T3) that leaves from Parque Central in Havana to a cluster of beaches about 30 minutes or so away from the city, and the best part, the bus is only 5 CUC (about $5) for a round trip! It’s recommended to get off at the last stop, Santa Clara Beach.
Santa Clara was a nice beach with beautiful water. If you’re looking for the resort treatment with beautiful cabanas and what not, this is not the beach. It’s not touristy at all. You can get beach chairs and an umbrella for only $6. The same guys who sell the chairs will grab food for you, for a fee of course. We realized they were going around the corner to the restaurant, a 3 min walk, where the food and drinks were 25% cheaper. At this point, we were super broke (I’ll talk about that more later), so every dollar made a difference.
How to Enjoy Cuba ‘Stress Free’
When we travel, especially on our first #baecation since becoming parents, we want to live- eat, drink, do activities, and buy stuff freely. Well, we did just that the first day until we realized that if we kept spending at that rate, we would run out of money. US Citizen have to bring all the cash that they think they will need while in Cuba. Unfortunately, no US credit cards, debit cards, or access to US banks is available from Cuba. To make matters even more stressful, most activities have to be paid in cash, excluding those booked via Airbnb. Therefore, between 12% currency conversion rate, giving tips, and buying souvenirs to support the locals, we were spending more money than we expected. The day before we were supposed to return to the US, we were literally counting our pennies.
PRO TIP: Do not convert all of your money. Before paying for something in CUC, ask if they accept USD (or Euros) and at what exchange rate. If they do accept your currency, it’s most likely at a 1:1 rate- saving you the astronomical fee.
The other challenge is the Wi-Fi. It is not readily available. First, you have to find a place with Wi-Fi (luckily our Airbnb had it.) Secondly, you have to purchase a WIFI card to actually access the internet. It costs about $5 for one hour. Perhaps, it doesn’t sound ridiculous, but as a mom of then one-year-old twins back in the US, I needed to see them. Unfortunately, the connection is pretty slow, so FaceTime cut in and out. Honestly, I think if I didn’t have the boys and I was still on #baecation, I wouldn’t have mind the limited and slow internet.
Is It Okay To Travel To Cuba with Toddlers?
Honestly, I would travel with my boys to dang near anywhere that’s safe, of course. Cuba is very safe. It may look a bit shady, but that’s because some of the buildings are worn down & some streets aren’t necessarily the cleanest.
With that said, I would bring the boys to Cuba. However, our itinerary would have been different. We probably would’ve exchanged the Vinales/Tobacco Tour for a day trip to Trinidad or Varadero Beach- because ummm toddlers at a Tobacco Farm just doesn’t seem right. The museum, the walk to the plazas, and majority of the other things on our itinerary would’ve worked with the boys. Yes, the streets aren’t the smoothest. Therefore, using a stroller may have been a challenge; however, that’s not a big deal to me. I live in New Orleans and our streets aren’t smooth here either but that doesn’t stop us from going out.