My boyfriend and I had a great time on our 4-day adventure in Cuba, and before I work on a post with all of our great photos, I’m sharing some tips and insights and answering some FAQs that I received on Instagram. We spent time in Havana and Viñales, and I have a lot  to share. I’ll start with a few photos from our explorations, and then dive right into things you should know if you’re thinking about making the trip.

{Flight + Visa} 

We flew with JetBlue out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), who is offering great prices to Havana.  Not only does JetBlue’s flight to Havana cover your travel health insurance, but they also handle all of the details for your visa, which you just pick up and pay for at the ticket counter when you arrive at the airport.

{Exchanging Money} $

If you’re traveling from the U.S., exchange your USD to Euro before you fly to Havana. U.S. Dollars are taxed highly in Cuba, so you will receive much more for your money by bringing Euros instead. You can easily exchange your Euros to CUC at the money exchange counter that is located on the outside of the airport building.  At the end of your trip, you will head to the money exchange counter inside the airport on the second floor. Luckily, you don’t get taxed when converting your CUC back to U.S. Dollars. *Note: You will only be able to use cash in Cuba. You won’t be able to pay by credit card and you will not be able to withdraw cash with your  ATM card, so be sure to bring sufficient cash for your trip.

{CUC vs CUP}

There are two different currencies in Cuba: CUP (pronounced “koop”), which is the Cuban Peso mainly used by locals, and CUC (prounounced “kook”), the Convertible Peso used mostly by tourists. When you exchange your Euro, you will receive CUC, and that is what you will be using for payment. Some very important things to note: 1 CUC = approximately 25 CUP (some say 24). Be sure to confirm which currency prices for things are in, especially if the price seems particularly high. Using the 25 to 1 conversion, you should be able to do some quick math to convert anything priced in CUP to CUC before paying.

{Taxi from the Airport}

Our Airbnb host actually arranged for a private driver to come and pick us up, however there will be taxis available once you step out of the airport. Based on what I had researched ahead of time, which was also confirmed by locals, only take private taxis (the vintage car taxis you will see everywhere) and not the yellow taxis (run by the government). Don’t pay more than 25 or max 30 CUC to get from the airport to Old Havana/Centro Havana. *IMPORTANT* You can negotiate basically any taxi ride, and definitely do so. However, be sure to negotiate and agree on a price BEFORE your ride. I cannot stress this enough, especially if there is a language barrier. We saw an incident on the street where a tourist couple must not have clearly negotiated ahead of time before the ride, and the police got involved.

{Food in Cuba}

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m a foodie. One of the first things I start researching when visiting a new city are the top restaurants and foodie spots. Doing my research ahead of time and talking to several of our friends who recently visited, we knew before going that the food in Cuba was not the place of foodie dreams. Although we would have loved some amazing Cuban food, we were happy to make the trip to explore the culture, and it definitely helped to have our food expectations lowered before visiting. I’ll be diving a bit deeper into our food adventures (we did find a few good spots) in my future post about our trip, but just note that the food is not great, and try to stick to simple dishes. You will come across many of what they call cafeterias, that are small windows in buildings where you can order, or a small little storefront where you walk in and order at the counter. Many times these are run out of a local’s home, and sometimes you can actually peek behind the counter and see directly into their living room.  Grocery stores are also extremely hard to come by. We found one a few blocks from our Airbnb, but the options were slim to none, as the shelves were mostly lined with soda, water, and a skimpy supply of random food items that we couldn’t even make use of for snacks. Knowing the food situation ahead of time, we actually brought some protein granola bars with us just in case.

{Where to Stay}

I recommend staying in Havana Vieja (Old Havana), though we stayed right in between the Old Havana and Centro Havana areas. You’ll be able to walk around in Old Havana very easily, and even at night we felt very safe (I was with my boyfriend, but even so, it seemed very safe for female solo travelers as well). You’ll also be able to inexpensively taxi around the city if you don’t feel like walking or it’s late at night. We booked an Airbnb that I highly recommend, run by professors in Cuba (feel free to email me for the information). They gave us a thorough breakdown of different areas and where to go, and also provided us with a phone that had data, so we could use the maps, though we still ended up sticking with Google maps to find our way. Besides Airbnb, the alternative is staying in Casa Particulares which are private rooms within homes, or in some cases a full apartment, and you can look these up ahead of time to arrange. I would not advise going without accommodations, but in case of an emergency, there are many available at any given time, and you will see a common blue symbol on buildings that are Casa Particulares and have rooms available. Hotels are not as common in Havana and they are run by the government, so renting accommodations from locals is much more common and provides these families with additional income.

{Going to Viñales}

We took a day trip to Viñales – the countryside of Cuba which is about 3 hours away from Havana. We booked a 5-hour horseback riding tour, which includes a private taxi driver who picks you up wherever you are staying early in the morning,  waits for you in Viñales, and then takes you back to Havana after the tour. You visit the cigar plantation (Viñales produces the cigars for the entire country), where you can see all of the dried tobacco leaves and learn the process of how the cigars are made. You also see so much beautiful countryside scenery while on horseback (I’ll be doing an entire post on Viñales) and our tour guide was amazing.

{Beaching it in Cuba}

We researched a bit on the surrounding beaches, and decided against going to one of the recommended beaches that was about 3 hours away, as it was just going to take too much time away from our time in Havana. We instead went to another recommended beach, Santa Maria, which was about 40 minutes away. It was relaxing, though I would say to decide how important a beach visit is for you during your trip. For me, Santa Maria was peaceful and very nice, though we live in Florida so I don’t think it was a necessity for us to visit. If you are definitely a beach person, then perhaps invest the journey out in the early morning to a beach farther away, and enjoy most of the day there.

I hope this helps with any questions you might have had with Havana, and stay tuned for additional posts on our Old Havana explorations and trip to Viñales.

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