31 Aug 5 Days in Cuba
Place: Cuba (Havana & Vinales)
Cost: $600 / person (airfare not included)
The Best Parts **
Friday: Arrive in Havana (we arrived in the early evening)
Take a taxi from the airport to your Airbnb in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). We stayed here for $30/night and it was fine (hostel style with a breakfast you have to pay for separately that is not worth it,) but you can certainly spend more for more comfortable digs.
Drop off your things and take a taxi to dinner in Miramar. We had delicious lobster ceviche and lamb at La Fantana while being serenaded by a traditional band. Río Mar and El Cocinero were also on our list. Hit El Diablo Tun Tun, which looks like a nightclub/big mistake from the outside but is all about live music and full of locals. Grab a mojito, a table in the back so you have a chair to collapse in when you need it, and dance the night away. Note: cabbies will screw you over coming back from this area so make sure you set the price with them before you get in the car.
Rest your head: at your Airbnb in Habana Vieja ($30-60 / night)
Saturday: Habana Vieja
Visit The Museum of the Revolution. The bulk of the museum is en español and curated entirely on printer paper, but the uniforms, weapons, photographs, and bullet holes in the museum walls are enough to leave even non-Spanish speakers with a much better sense of how it all went down.
Wander around Habana Vieja and get a little lost. The plazas are even more breathtaking when you stumble upon them, and the less touristy sections are an eye-opening, rushing sea of locals. Pop into El del Frente and see if you can make a rooftop reservation in advance for a future night. We scored a Valentine’s reservation a few days in advance and it was fantastic.
From any of the plazas in Havana Vieja, hop in a classic car for a tour. A typical price is 50 CUC ($50) for a one-hour joyride around the city and along the Malecon.**
After your joy ride, grab drinks at Castillo de Farnes. There was an awesome traditional band playing when we discovered this pub. Then head to an extremely affordable and delicious dinner awaits you at Restaurant La Casa. Continue wandering, eventually switching from mojitos to Crystal if you’re wise.
Rest your head: at the same Airbnb in Habana Vieja ($30-60 / night)
If you’re with a group or meet a pair of fellow tourists going to the same place like we did, taking a taxi to Vinales will be about the same cost per person as taking the bus. If you’re solo or just a pair, the bus is the ticket.
It’s a seriously strange three-hour ride. We witnessed people walking with umbrellas and strings of onions along the highway and riding in horse-drawn carriages with no destination in sight, then an hour’s worth of emaciated cattle, vibrant plants, dead dirt, an entire field ablaze, and fascinating pro-Fidel signage no one was in a hurry to paint over.
Note: Make sure you have the address where you’re staying in Vinales to show your driver if you take a cab. Our driver had a tough time finding our Airbnb address, but the good news is it’s a small place and every resident is sitting out on their front porch happy to help.
Meet your host(s), reapply your deodorant, and walk into town! Our lovely host Gladys wins for best staircase and rooftop in town:
Vinales town center is all of about a half-mile strip of restaurants and souvenir shops. Visit the Information office to book a horseback tour for the next day. We recommend a 4-5 hour tour that leaves as early as you can muster in the morning. You’ll likely wait in line a while to speak with an agent, so book a bus back to Havana for the following day while you’re here. Buy as many big bottles of water as you can stuff into your backpack and pockets when you’re in town!
Pick a spot (any spot) for dinner and drinks if your casa owners haven’t invited you to a home cooked dinner, buy a bottle of Havana Club and the chaser of your choice, and follow the music to the church on the main drag where the party’s at from 9 pm on.**
Rest your head: at an Airbnb in Vinales ($15-30 / night). We stayed here and Gladys really sweet. It was a bit of a hike from town at the top of a large hill of B&Bs and she did not speak English (very few people in Vinales do,) but Aidan’s broken Spanish got us through.
If you don’t spend Night 3 in a cold sweat and run to the toilet on Morning 4 with something of the food/water poisoning varietal like Aidan did (Note: don’t even brush your teeth with the tap water,) you’ll pack a small bag and head into town to meet up with your horseback tour guide.**
Depending on the tour you choose, you’ll ride out into the valley through tobacco fields, possibly to visit the caves, a swimming hole, and a tobacco drying hut where a farmer will let you puff on a honey-dipped stogie while he explains how they pick, dry, and roll the tobacco by hand.
We hopped back on our horses feeling mighty fine and were led to a lovely little bar with fresh coconut cocktails that made us feel even finer before venturing home.
Arrive back at your casa around 3pm, shower off, and walk or ride about a mile through the town center to the most scenic and filling $10 meal you will ever have at Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, an organic farm and family-run restaurant that is literal paradise.**
Take yourself to church for another night of dancing and rum drinking or pack your bag and pack it in.
Rest your head: at the same Airbnb in Vinales ($15-30 / night)
Tuesday: Return to Havana
Board your bus back to Havana, ideally in the morning, and arrive at your final Airbnb. We stayed in Plaza Vieja and wouldn’t recommend staying right in the plaza; it was more expensive than the other options and ended up being extremely loud at night, more migraine-inducing than romantic.
Visit the Museum of Rum for a mojito and an art or history museum of your choice.
Get dolled/dappered up and head on up to the El del Frente rooftop for your reservation. It’s an extremely worthy splurge (meaning $80 for dinner for two and two drinks apiece). The head bartender is world famous (his Cubanito sends every mediocre bloody mary you’ve ever had to cry in the corner,) the food is brilliant, and the rooftop vibes are perfect for toasting a bittersweet farewell to Cuba.**
Set aside 30 CUC for your morning ride to the airport, a 3 CUC note for a keepsake, and spend the rest on cold Crystal while smoking one of your naturale Vinales stogies on the street.
Rest your head: at an Airbnb in Havana
Wednesday: Travel Home