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What can you see and do with one week in Cuba? After spending a whole month in Cuba we realized it is not a country to rush, but a country to travel slowly through and enjoy the people and the culture. Cuba is changing rapidly and if you want to experience the real Cuba now is the time to travel there. It is unlike any other country we have visited. It tickles all your five senses.
We get a lot of questions on ‘where should we go and stay in Cuba?’ so we have put together a Cuba itinerary which will cover 1 week in Cuba, other posts will cover 2 weeks and 3 weeks and a mega post on 4 weeks in Cuba. They will cover the best places to visit in Cuba, where to stay, where to eat, information on wifi and money changing and how to travel around safely.
Another question we get asked all the time: “is it safe to travel to Cuba?” From spending 1 month travelling around we can say it is a safe destination, not once did we feel insecure. The people are lovely and incredibly helpful. Even when our bus broke down on the way to Bayamo, the locals on board who were also heading that way, took us under their wings, arranged a private taxi for all of us to go to Bayamo and another taxi to take us to our accommodation at 8 pm at night.
Our top tip is to research, research and research before you go. This is one destination where we would recommend that you take a hard copy guide on Cuba. The internet is still not widely available and most of the time you will be sitting in parks, open to all types of weather, just trying to login.
- 1 Map of Cuba
- 2 One Week in Cuba – Havana and Vinales
- 3 Havana
- 4 Our Recommended One Week in Cuba Itinerary – 7 nights/8days
- 4.1 Day One
- 4.2 Day Two
- 4.3 Day Three
- 4.4 Day Four
- 4.5 Day Five
- 4.6 Day Six
- 4.7 Day Seven
- 4.8 Day Eight
- 4.9 Places To Visit in Havana Cuba
- 4.10 Central Havana
- 4.11 Old Havana
- 4.12 Other recommended tours:
- 5 Vinales
- 6 Where to Stay in Havana
- 7 Where to Stay in Vinales
- 8 Where to Eat in Havana
- 9 WiFi
- 10 Currency and ATMS
Map of Cuba
How long is Cuba?
Cuba is 1,250 km in length and at its widest point 191km.
One Week in Cuba – Havana and Vinales
Spending one week in Havana and Vinales will certainly give you a taste of city and country life. Don’t rush either of them that is why we are suggesting one week covering both.
Visa to Cuba
We found it was cheaper to fly to Cuba from Mexico, and we flew with Interjet from Cancun. Not only was it a short flight and good value but the visa cost was only USD20 which was issued to us when we were checking in. Visa costs in the USA at the time of travelling was USD120.
On arrival Havana Airport
When changing your Mexican Pesos, British Pounds, Euros or Canadian Dollars at the Airport you may experience quite a queue. These four currencies are the easiest ones to bring into Cuba. US Dollars carry a 10% tax on them whilst all currencies carry a 3% tax when changing.
It is quite easy to change your currency at a Cadeca (money changer) your accommodation hosts usually know the closest one for you. Check with your accommodation hosts first as they may change your currency for you. Hotels normally have currency exchange services.
Getting from the Airport to Your Accommodation
Our Airbnb hosts arranged a taxi service for us, this is the easiest way to arrive at your destination. There is an information desk at the Arrivals Hall on Level 2 check with them for an approximate price for your journey to Havana if you are going to use a local taxi. It takes about 30 minutes to get to downtown Cuba which can cost anywhere between USD25 – USD30 (CUC25 – CUC30).
Our Recommended One Week in Cuba Itinerary – 7 nights/8days
Arrival into Havana and check into your accommodation.
Havana (see below for recommended activities)
Havana (see below for recommended activities)
Bus from Havana to Vinales with Viazul Buses.
There are 2 journeys a day both costing USD12 per person
Depart 09.00 Arrive: 12.40
Depart 14.30 arrive 18.20
Vinales – we recommend the horse riding tour to the tobacco fields (see below for more activities)
Bus from Vinales to Havana with Viazul Buses USD12.00 per person
Depart 08.00 Arrive 11.20
Depart 14.00 Arrive 17.30
Havana (see below for recommended activities)
Places To Visit in Havana Cuba
We stayed in the Vedado area and walked into Old Havana via the Hotel Nacional and Central Havana. Vedado is a lot less touristy than Old Havana and positioned well for being able to walk everywhere. Vedado has some of the most beautiful architecture in Havana. Old colonial mansions that have been restored to their former glory and others that are crumbling and falling down crying out to be renovated and given a new lease of life. There are long leafy boulevards leading down to the Malecon, with cafes and restaurants in the most unlikely places. To walk this area gives you a feel of what Havana was like in its heyday. Don’t rush it.
A visit to Havana’s Hotel Nacional should be on your ‘what to do in Cuba’ list. The Hotel Nacional is Havana’s 5-star luxury hotel with history and stunning views over the Malecon in the Vedado area. When you arrive at the front entrance of the hotels and check around the doors and you can still see bullet holes from the battle on October 2, 1933, known as the Battle of the Hotel Nacional. The battle took place between the non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Cuban army who supported Batista and the Cuban army.
In December 1946 the Mafia held their Havana Conference there. If you have seen The Godfather II Movie, the Havana Conference was reenacted in one of its scenes.
Nat King Cole was due to sing in the Hotel Nacional in 1956, but because he was black he was turned away. Many famous people have stayed in the hotel over the years including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jimmy Carter, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill to name a few.
Central Havana is a photographer’s dream for those location shots you see everywhere of Havana. Dusty dirty streets, crumbling old buildings, washing hanging outside, classic cars and kids playing in the street whilst adults are chatting, drinking or smoking pungent cigars keeping an eye on them.
We walked through Central Havana three times and still did not have time to wander down all the back streets. We felt that we were in an old 50’s film set and we were the extras, (unpaid of course).
You will need a day or two to explore this area. Here are some of the ‘must sees’:
Cathedral de San Cristobal
The stunning Italian Baroque Cathedral completed in 1787 by Francesco Borromini, an Italian architect.
The Cathedral faces the busy touristy square – Plaza de la Cathedral. The front doors are impressive as you enter but take note of the two towers outside? Are they equal in size?
Apparently, Christoper Columbus’s remains were brought to the church and housed there until 1898 where they were moved to Seville’s Cathedral in Spain.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is one of the oldest 4 plazas in Havana dating back to 1520. There are is a lot to see especially museums in the Plaza:
- City Museum
- Template Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Maritime Museum
- Castle of the Royal Force
- Automobile Museum
- Statue of Carlos Manuel Cespedes – a Cuban revolutionary and who claimed independence for Cuba in 1868
- 2nd hand book market
Plaza Vieja also was known as Old Square and was originally called Plaza Nueva where bullfights, executions took place as well as processions and celebrations. You can enjoy an artisanal beer at La Factoria whilst enjoying the local music in the Plaza.
The Capitol Building reminds us of Washington’s Capitol building but in fact, it is modelled on Paris’s Pantheon. It was the seat of Cuba’s Congress up until 1959 when it became the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the National Library of Science and Technology till 2013. As of 2017, it was still under reconstruction with a completion date of 2018 to be the home of the National Assembly of Cuba.
Ernest Hemingway’s Two Famous Bars
La Bodeguita del Medio at Empedrado #207 is one of Havana’s most popular bars. The mojitos are ok but very expensive, you can get better mojitos elsewhere. At times it is very hard to even get to the bar!
A famous saying of Hemingway is “my mojito in La Bodeguita and my daiquiri in El Floridita”.
El Floridita at Obispo #557 is another one of Hemingway’s haunts. We attempted twice to squeeze in but it was just too packed. Hopefully, you will have better luck than us.
The Malecon stretches from 8km from the harbour at Old Havana to Vedado. Sunsets are incredible from here at night!
El Morro Castle
El Morro Castle sits proudly at the entrance to the bay of Havana. Construction was completed in 1630 and it was used to protect the city from attack. Opposite El Morro is La Punta Castle. An iron chain would be raised between the two forts if an attack was imminent preventing ships from entering the bay. Today you can visit the Fort’s museum for a small fee. There are great views to be had over Havana.
Calle Mercaderes (Merchant Street) is a busy touristy cobblestoned street in Old Havana that has been restored by the city since 1980. Today it houses cafes, hotels, boutique stores and museums. It is definitely worth a visit.
Revolution Square is the site of the major political and social events held in Cuba, it is also the seat of justice.
Classic Car Ride
Holidays in Cuba should include a Classic Car Ride around Old Havana. Make sure you opt for an open top ride! You will feel like royalty! We negotiated our ride for 45 minutes for USD30.00 from outside the Melia Cobiha Hotel at Avenida Paseo entre Calles y 3ra, Vedado dropping us off in Old Havana.
Habana Bus Tour – Hop on Hop off
Havana is quite spread out from Old Havana to Vedado and to the Miramar district where most of the embassies are located as well as luxury hotels. This is a great inexpensive way to see the sights and use the bus to get you from A to B. We boarded the bus in the Vedado district just outside The Presidente Hotel in Avenida de Los Presidentes. We travelled through the Miramar district and got off in Old Havana. In the late afternoon, we picked the bus back up from Old Havana and headed back to the Hotel Presidente.
Cost per person: CUC 10
Other recommended tours:
Vinales is 180km from Havana. Vinales is a couple of hours drive from Havana and you can do a day trip with certain tour companies. We would recommend staying 2 nights in Vinales if you only have one week in Cuba. Vinales was definitely one of our favourite places in Cuba. The landscape with impressive mountains, lush green valleys, stunning sunsets over the mountains and the opportunity to go horseriding through the tobacco fields early in the morning. The town can be very busy with tourists.
How to get to Vinales
We travelled by Viazul Bus from Havana. Our Airbnb host purchased the tickets for us for a handling fee of CUC10. It is worth it. The Viazul Bus Station is always busy and queues are the norm when purchasing tickets. The cost for a return ticket CUC24 per person. The journey takes about 3.5 hours each way and the bus drops you off right in the middle of Vinales outside the main church in the square. If your accommodation is close by it is easy to walk, our Airbnb host picked us up in a small tractor and trailer.
What to see in Vinales
Horseriding through the Tobacco Fields and Cave Visit
There are many operators running the Horse Riding Tour. Check with your accommodation hosts who are the best companies to go with. Our hosts organized our tour for us.
It was an early start at 7.30am when the Tour Leader walked to our accommodation, collected us and we walked to where the horses were tethered. There was just the two of us on the tour, nothing better than your own private tour. We noted with other tours there were larger groups. The horses looked well cared for and happy, which is important for us as we have seen some tours (not here in Vinales) where the horses were not treated well.
The ride takes you through small villages, down paths through the lush green tobacco fields until you reach the cave. A guide was there waiting for us and we headed down into the cave. Luckily we had torches, it was cool and damp and it could be a little slippery in some areas, but it was worth it.
By now we needed a caffeine hit, lucky this was our next stop. After a good explanation on the local coffee grown in the area, we got to have our ‘caffeine hit’ and a cake just to get us through the next hour or so.
Riding through more tobacco fields we arrived at our final destination. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the group before us to finish and then we had a private tour of the tobacco shed and a chance to roll your own cigar. You can purchase cigars here if you would like, these are naturally rolled using natural ingredients and are a lot less expensive than shop bought ones.
We arrived back into Vinales around 12. Cost for the tour CUC25.00 per person.
Hop on Hop off Bus
Vinales runs a Hop on Hop off Bus for CUC 5 per person. The departure point is from the main Square in town. There are many stops along the way the most popular being Hotel Los Jazmines for the views and you can also swim for a small fee of CUC 3. There are 19 stops in total where you can visit the Cave de Indio, Mural de la Prehistoria and other stops along the way.
For CUC 15 per person which covers the transport only to Cayo Jutias, one of the popular beaches reachable from Vinales. Although the estimated ride was 1 hour it took us longer because of the condition of the roads.
Once there you can hire sun lounges for CUC 3 each, enjoy a cold beer or cocktail and lunch before you head back into Vinales. It is a beautiful area with silvery sands and turquoise blue water. You can rent snorkels and canoes and go diving if time and weather permits.
Where to Stay in Havana
Havana has a lot of accommodation to offer the visitor. If you want that true Cuban experience, stay in a Casa Particulares (local homestay accommodation). Not only do you get your accommodation for a reasonable price, most have ensuite bathrooms and you can enjoy a local substantial breakfast cooked by the owner for CUC5 per person.
Vedado is our favourite area to stay in. Locals say it is ‘mas tranquilo’ which means quiet, it is more relaxed and less touristy that Old Havana which can be pricey as well.
Some of the worldwide hotel chains are represented in Havana such as Melia, Iberostar, Mercure, NH and Tryp. You can save up to 30% when you compare hotel prices on Tripadvisor, here are some recommendations.
Airbnb or Casa Particulares
Airbnb has many properties to choose from. You can get cheap vacations to Cuba if you consider Casa Particulares or Airbnb properties.
By booking Casa Particulares the money is going back to the Cubans.
There are particular sites for Casa Particulares.
To Travel Too Tip
If you book a Casa Particulares (not Airbnb) it is recommended to confirm the booking at least 24 hours in advance. There have been instances (because you have not paid up front) that they will let the room out to the first person who turns up on the day.
We stayed in 2 different properties in the Vedado district which we can highly recommend. They are listed below:
Address: Calle Calzada #751 Apto 4 e/Paseo y 2 Vedado La Habana
Tell Anita and Leslie that Jane and Duncan from To Travel Too recommended you.
Calle 15 #956 altos entre 8y 10 Vedado La Habana
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Also, let them know that we recommended you.
Where to Stay in Vinales
You can save up to 30% when you compare hotel prices on Tripadvisor, here are some recommendations.
Airbnb Properties (Casa Particulars)
Our accommodation for 3 nights was:
Calle Rafael Trejo #5 Vinales
We also viewed 2 others:
Calle Rafael Trejo #11 A e Juaquin Perez y Ramon Coro Vinales
Calle Rafael Trejo #15 B Vinales
Where to Eat in Havana
Two of our favourite restaurants which we frequented quite a bit were:
La Cathedral – for a good value set breakfast, dinner and great mojitos (beware the jugs of Mojito!)
Address: Calle 8 entre Calzada y Quinta El Vedado La Habana
Venami Bar and Restaurant – for excellent pizzas and Italian food
Address: 435e/ Rey y Lamparilla Old Havana
Make the most of your holidays and read the latest reviews from travellers like you from Tripadvisor.
Where to Eat in Vinales
We have to admit if we find a good restaurant we tend to keep going back and this is exactly what happened in Vinales. We had read another blogger’s account of where to eat and she did the same as us, kept going back. Lonely Planet also mentioned it was the top restaurant in Vinales, that recommendation is good enough for us also the queues outside each night.
That restaurant was:
Address: 89 Salvador Casineros
Our Casa wanted to cook a local meal for us on our last night and we are glad that we did. You can check with your hosts they may offer evening meals as well.
In central Vinales opposite the Church is this nondescript bar! You can access the WiFi here from the park opposite, the beer is cheap and they make great mojitos! Don’t tell everyone.
Tripadvisor has a recommended top Top Restaurants in Vinales
WiFi is limited in Cuba. To be able to access WiFi in Cuba you will have to locate an ETECSA shop – you will see the queues before you actually see the shop. Be prepared to wait a while, at one place we ended up queuing for an hour before we could purchase the card. There are touts trying to sell you WiFi cards but we would recommend avoiding purchasing from them. Once you get the card and log on you will need to enter your login details and password that is shown on the card. Wifi Hot Spots are mostly in parks. If there are a lot of people on their mobile devices, it can take a while to log on, it does get easier if someone logs off. Patience is the key here!
Currency and ATMS
Cuba is unique as it operates with 2 currencies: the CUC – Cuban Convertible Peso (tourist currency) and the CUP – Cuban Nacional Peso (CUP).
The CUP is also known as Moneda Nacional and it is the currency used by the locals, beware it does fluctuate. When we arrived in February 2017 it was CUP 25 to USD1. It was a little daunting at first until we got our head around it. Some of the local food shops would only deal in CUP. By using CUP we could bring our breakfast costs down to 1USD – one ham sandwich with a coffee or a small pastry with a coffee.
Note denominations for the CUP: 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 pesos
Coin denominations for the CUP: 1, 5, 20.
To Travel Too Tip for CUP
You won’t be able to change CUP back to CUC or other currencies at the airport. Our best advice is to spend it before you leave.
The CUC is the tourist currency which can be used in restaurants, bars, taxis and accommodation. You can change it back at the airport, but we would recommend either using it all up and leaving just enough for your taxi fare or changing it at a Cadeca before you head to the airport.
Note denominations for the CUC is 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 CUC
How much money should I bring to Cuba?
We get this question a lot. If you are an American you need to bring enough cash (not USD if you can help it) to cover all your meals, accommodation and incidentals in Cuba. Credit Cards and debit cards linked to a US Bank are not accepted.
For non-Americans, we would still recommend bringing enough cash to cover all your costs just in case your credit card is not accepted.
If you can use an ATM expect a service fee of 10%.
To Travel Too Tip
If you book Airbnb properties before you travel, the accommodation must be prepaid. This lessens the amount of cash you have to carry on you.
List of ATMs in Havana:
ATMS in Vinales
Our latest information is that the 2 ATMs in Vinales are unreliable.
Weather in Cuba
June is the wettest and hottest month in Cuba whilst January is the coldest. The rest of the year Cuba enjoys a temperate climate. From June to November the Caribbean region experiences hurricanes which includes Cuba.
Flights to and From Cuba
You can check your latest airline schedules and airfares to Cuba via Skyscanner.
What we don’t recommend
We would not consider hiring a car to drive through Cuba. The cars and roads are not up to standard. We chatted with a couple of distressed travellers whose car had broken down and they were having major issues with the rental car company to have it repaired. Although they were fluent in Spanish, they were still having issues with the language and timely responses from the company as they were stranded in one city with accommodation bookings to honour for the rest of their journey.
For further research on your trip to Cuba we recommend the following:
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