Hola Cuba!

Hola Cuba!

Cuba is a great place to go for a 2-3 weeks visit and is easily accessible from Toulouse. Either Iberia or AirFrance will take you there in around 13 hours. If you are looking for a trip that changes you from your day to day routine, where people speak Spanish and often no other languages, where you can danse salsa every night and enjoy some fascinating landscapes, then dare a trip to Cuba!

Places to visit during your trip in Cuba

Havana (2 full days)

There is no trip to Cuba without a stop in Havana. As your flight takes you anyway to Havana, why not stop there for two days?

We were really lucky to have met a very friendly woman from Canada on our first day, who took us on a tour around the old town. Our tour wasn’t the classical tour around a city. On this tour, our guide walked with us along the small streets of Habana Vieja, showed us art galleries and took us into people’s houses and we said hello to so many locals who were happy to welcome us in their houses (e.g. a guy of 70 years old who was in the army and was listening to American rap music – if you walk along Calle Obispo and you hear loud music coming from the first floor, then it is him). We would never have entered all these hidden places and met locals in their houses, without Lydia showing us around! A big thank you!

Tip: Don’t be afraid to go and talk to people. They are really welcoming and like to exchange with you.

Tour around old town (Habana Vieja)

One of the best ways to discover the old town and its history is to go on a free tour where a guide will tell you all about the history and makes you discover the major parts. All info on the free tour here.

If you do not like organised tours, then just go for a stroll around the little streets of the old town and also discover other parts of Havana. We had a Cuba guide book with us (the new Geo guide, which is absolutely great), however we preferred to discover the city by ourselves, just strolling around the streets. You will be amazed by all the different facets of the city and you will quickly see the contrast between the restored part by the government and the real old Havana that you discover only two streets away from the major squares like Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, etc.. The contrast was quite shocking for us honestly and after two days we were happy to leave the capital again.

Camera obscura at Plaza Vieja: Great rooftop with an amazing view over the old town. The camera obscura offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Old Havana in real-time and is the only one of its kind in the Americas. We would definitely recommend you to do this experience, as you will be amazed about the detail you can discover through the lens.
Entrance 2 CUC

Teatro nacional: We went to see the national ballet perform Cinderella. The theatre is great inside and you enjoy a show for 30 CUC for the best seats in front of the stage, a price that is never possible in Europe. Tickets need to be bought beforehand directly at the theatre.

Tip: There will be a lot of people talking to you on the road. Just friendly say “No, gracias” and a very important thing don’t believe anything people tell you in the streets ,e.g. that the cigar factory is closed and they know where you can get a good deal, etc. Just do not follow anyone to any strange places.

Art galleries

  • The art gallery Taller Experimental de Gráfica next to Plaza de la Catedral is nice as you can see the artists work. You find different styles for reasonable prices (10-100 CUC). Walk throuhg the arrow restaurant path and you will come to the art gallery. You can meet some of the artists themselves during their work. A nice gift to bring back to someone or for yourself.
  • El Ojo del Ciclon is a great art gallery next to Calle Obispo. The art gallery is founded by Leo D’Lazaro, whose art you can find a bit all around the old town.

Bars for a drink

  • Hotel Inglaterra for a drink and salsa at night (rooftop) – just next to the teatro nacional
  • Hotel Raquel for a drink in a great colonial (rooftop) house with an amazing coppola. You can also just go up and enjoy the view.
  • CafeBohemia at Plaza Vieja is nice for a jugo natural e.g. mint, lemon and honey or pineapple and mint.
  • El Dandy for some Cuban hiphop and amazing drinks (great style, but for us the less Cuban experience. However after two weeks travelling around the country, this was a great way to get back to some nice bar as we know it from Europe).
  • El Floridita – this bar is famous as it is the bar of Ernest Hemingway. We didn’t have a drink there, as there are only tourists hanging around the bar. But it is great to just walk in and have a look at Hemingway standing at the bar.

Cristo de la Habana

A great trip for an afternoon is to go to the other side of town by ferry. It leaves from the small ferry terminal and for 1 CUC one way, you can go to Casa Blanca which is an area at the other side of the river. It offers you a great view on Habana Vieja and if you are keen, you can go and visit the two fortresses that are located on this side.

Accomodation

Casa Colonial L’auberge de Raquel
Villegas 443 A e/ Teniente Rey (Brasil) y Muralla, Habana Vieja

Raquel speaks really good French and offers three great rooms, one for two and two for three people with private bathrooms. The casa is located just at the edge of the old town and next to the great bar El Dandy and next to the Plaza del Cristo which is a wifi hotspot.
The night costs 10 CUC per person.

Valle de Vinales

Stay at least two full days in Vinales. The valley offers a lot of things to do, from horse riding to mountain biking and hiking.

Horse riding over tobacco and coffee plantation farms

We went on a horse tour through the valley and stopped at a tobacco farm, which was amazing and one of the highlights of our two weeks trip. We received a tour around the drying house, the owner rolled cigars in front of our eyes and we smoked of course a natural cigar. As we were in Cuba in March, the tobacco harvest was happening when we were there, which was great as we saw the people harvesting on the fields.

We liked the horse trip, however we weren’t so sure if the horses are well treated. So, we would definitely be careful which horse trip you book or if you do not prefer to go on a walking tour around the valley.
We paid 20 CUC per person, organised by our casa.

Mirador de Los Jazmines

Cuba Girls Maren 2019 (105)

Next to the hotel Los Jazmines, you will have a great view on the valley and the mogotes. This is a real spectacular view and the sunset there is amazing. If you like a bit more luxury stay, then you can stay at the hotel next door, which has a pool overlooking the valley. The mirador is accessible by foot from Vinales villages, by car or of course by mountain bike.

Caves and prehistoric wall (Mural de la Prehistoria)

The Vinales valley has quite a lot of caves to offer, where slaves from the sugar cane fields were hiding.

Cueva de San Miguel: This is an impressive cave that you can walk through once entirely. Once you arrive at the other side, you will find a restaurant where you can also enjoy food and salsa dancing in the evenings.
3 CUC per person

They are more caves to visit, but we only chose this one to visit.

Prehistoric wall: This 120m long painting is really impressive. At the beginning we thought that it is not worth going close, as it costs another 3 CUC entrance fee, however once you approach the wall, you actually see how they painted it, which is really impressive. It took 4 years to complete and symbolises the theory of evolution.
3 CUC per person

Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanico)

This botanical garden was a great experience for us. When you arrive a guide takes you around the garden (in Spanish/English) and explains you the different plants that exists in Cuba. We found a lot of these plants again in real nature, which was great.
No entrance fee, donation at the end

Dance salsa & bachata at centro cultural

The centro cultural is on the main square in Vinales and offers great music and salsa dancing every night. It is very easy to be asked to dance by locals who adapt to your level. On Saturday nights, the centro cultural is closed and the party happens on the main road. Unfortunately, we weren’t there to experience this, but other travellers told us about the great atmosphere in town.
Entrance 1 CUC

Where to eat in Vinales

In Vinales, we had food at our casa (Casa Arian), which made the best lobster we had in Cuba.

There is one restaurant we also tested, called Oscar. Oscar offers great Cuban food for not much money. Great cocktails for 3 CUC and food for about 4-5 CUC. Spaghetti and pizza are only 2.50 CUC if you fancy that. We tried the tostones (made out of bananas plantains) and sandwich cubanito, which was really delicious. They also offer free wifi.

Accommodation in Vinales

Casa Arian, Casa Los Callardos, Dr. Yanuel y Arian; Calle Joaquin Pérez, 19 Entre 2da y 4ta, Barrio 26 de Julia, Vinales; Tel: 5292-0705; ariangb@nauta.cu

Our host was really great. He explained us everything to do, organised the horse riding, private taxi tour to all the view points and cooked an amazing meal for us in the evenings. We really felt welcome in his house. Really great value for money.

Day-trip from Vinales to Cayo Jutias

An amazing paradise beach 1.5hours from Vinales. Our casa organised a taxi collectivo for us (20 CUC return). They picked us up at 9.20am and left the beach at 4pm. It is a really bumpy road, so do not expect too much comfort. Other travellers told us about their issues on going their with their rental car and how scared they were to damage their car.

We went on a one hour snorkelling trip with a boat to see the reef (not the best snorkelling we have done in Cuba). You can also rent kayaks, eat something on the beach and enjoy the great view. A bit further down is a quite beach where not many people go to.

Las Tarrazas

Off the beaten track, Las Terrazas is definitely worth a day if you like nature and a bit of quiet time. We haven’t seen anyone during 4 hours of hike. We went first to the colonial coffee house (Cafetal Buenavista) and then by foot up the Loma del Taburete (the hike starts at the bottom of the camp zone). The hike is really nice along the forest. They tell you that you need a guide to go for hikes, but honestly you can do it alone. Along the way you will find little white papers that indicate the distance done so far, so you will always be reassured that you are on the right track. If you use maps.me the path is indicated and GPS worked for us along the way.

At the end of the hike you will arrive at Los Banos, a weekend destination for Cubans to
go for a swim in the natural cascades. Drinks and food can be bought there.

Tip: we didn’t have to show the entrance fee to the swim because we arrived behind the cascades. So don’t pay at the entrance and see once there.

Soroa

Orquideario de Soroa

This botanical garden is different from Vinales and offers more flowers like the name indicates. You can find here orchid flowers from all over Asia and the local Cuban ones. The park is huge and you can easily spend 1-2h there.
3 CUC entrance

Walk to miradors

The road next to the botanical garden goes up to a mirador with a bar. Do not expect too much. You have a great view on the valley and surroundings, but if you have done the hike up to the Loma del Taburete in Las Terrazas, this will just be another viewpoint.

There is another mirador going up at the entrance of the cascade. You can either go up there by foot or by horse if you do not like to walk too long.

Cascade

It is an easy 200m walk to the cascade, which is really nice and invites for a swim. Careful, it is really slippery around there, however the water is nice and refreshing. We went there on a Sunday and there was almost no one.
2 CUC entrance

Tip: If you like to chill for an afternoon while drinking cocktails, the swimming pool at the Hotel Villa Soroa (3CUC for entrance) is great. They have a snack bar for food and drinks (the best Pina Colada I tried in Cuba). We were the only Europeans, which was a great experience, as we really felt merged in the culture. Wi-Fi access via Ectesa.

Trinidad

Go for a stroll around the city. It’s amazing how all streets are colourful and how well-preserved most houses are. Trinidad was a great place to have a feeling of a smaller city in Cuba, however the difference between people living from tourism and people living just two roads behind the centre, striked us and made us feel uncomfortable.

Enjoying the beach

Cayo Inguanas for a day snorkelling

We would recommend you to do the full day boat trip to the Iguanas Island, that includes the trip on the catamaran, snorkelling at the coral reef, lunch, drinks during lunch and on the boat and a three hour stay on the island. You will have lunch surrounded by iguanas which is quite an experience.

The time on the island is a bit short, as you only have two hours there to enjoy and time flies. However the day was great and we would definitely recommend it again.
55 CUC per person, 10 CUC from Trinidad to the Marina (per taxi). You can book directly at the Cubatur office in town. The staff speaks English, Spanish and French.

Playa de la Maria Aguelos

A very cute small beach with not so many tourists. A local recommended this one for snorkelling and it was really nice. We saw a lot of beautiful fish only 10min swimming away from the beach.

There is a guy on the beach who sells drinks and if you like you can walk to the Punta Maria Aguilar (10min walk around the corner on the left) where you can find a real bar, rent kayaks and pedal boats or enjoy a swim in the piscinas naturalis.

7 CUC one taxi to get there, tell them what time you want them to pick you up and they will be there waiting for you.

Visiting the sugar fields in the Valle de los Ingenios

We went on a historic train trip through the sugar fields that included two stops: one at the former colonial house and view tower and one stop at the former sugar factory (now a museum. 1 CUC entrance). The first stop is really impressive as you can well imagine colonial people standing on the tour observing the slaves on the field.

You can also visit the Valley on horses are by walking. We definitely enjoyed the train, as it is an experience in itself. The guys on the train were really friendly, took pictures with us and let us drive the train.

15 CUC per person (you can buy the ticket either at the Cubatur office or directly at the train station; ticket office opening at 9.10am with train leaving at 9.30am; check before if it is operating, as it was closed one day we were there)

Tip: If you walk a bit further down from the new train station, you will come to the former locomotive from 1551 (in front of Cuartel de Dragones). There is a nice guy there that lets you go up the locomotive and bump the horn.

To eat out

Paladar Casa Malabran

Very nice restaurant for dinner as we had fish in white wine sauce with rice, salad and banana chips followed by a caramel flan for 8 CUC. The menu says more but the waiter offered us 8 CUC at the entrance (just ask him if he doesn’t). The atmosphere is nice and the decoration is really vintage. If you are looking for a great place to eat a bit away for the Plaza Major and for less money, then this is great.

Ochun Yemaya

Nice happy hour for lunch from 12-5pm. Spaghetti or pizza for 2.50 CUC including a fresh fruit juice. This restaurant is really good and we went back at least three times. You might think now, that it is weird to talk about Spaghetti, but believe us after one week of only creole food, you will like to eat something else.

For dinner, they have lobster for only 9 CUC and many other amazing dishes. Service is great and the whole restaurant looks really clean.

Dance salsa

Casa de la musica

Great place to take salsa lessons and dance straight after. The casa offers shows every night and you can dance in front of the stage to some great salsa music. After the show, the casa is open until 2 am and you can dance in one of the rooms upstairs.
Entrance 1 CUC

Palenque de Los Congos Reales

Not every night. We have been there on a Wednesday and there was great music, nice people to dance and even a magician show.
Entrance 1 CUC

El Rincon de la Salsa

A great place to dance salsa and one of the best Pina Colada on our trip.
The place is great as it is on a terrace surrounded by trees, live music is playing and you can watch or dance yourself until late at night.
Entrance 2 CUC

Go for a drink

Taberna La Canchanchara

This bar offers you great live music and the famous drink La Canchanchara, a cocktail made out of rum, lemon and honey. It is delicious and served in special cups.

El Criollo

El Criollo is a roof-top bar that offers a great view on Trinidad. This is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset over Trinidad.

Accommodation in Trinidad

Sra. Victoria Cuba Martinez, Francisco Petersson (Francisco Peterssen # 125 (Callejón del Coco) e / Colón y Rosario)
In this Casa we had a huge room with two double and one single bed and private bathroom. The location was great, as we had 5min walk to the Plaza Major.

Useful tips for your trip to Cuba

Internet

You may probably here that it is tough to get internet in Cuba. Honestly, it is not that tough. In major cities, you have wifi hotspots on major squares or in cities likes Vinales and Trinidad, some restaurants even offer wifi.

You can buy internet cards at Ectesa, the national phone company. In Havana you have several public internet hotspots in the major parks, or go for a drink at the hotel Inglaterra where they play nice Cuban music and connect there. You can buy the cards in the Ectesa official shop on Calle Obispo.

Money

Cuba has two currencies (CUC and CUP), one for the tourists (CUC = 24 CUP) and one for the locals (CUP). Normally, you will only use CUC as a tourist, as you can pay casas, hotels, taxis, restaurants, etc. with it. However, locals also pay in pesos, which is worth much less and which can be useful for you to buy some stuff like fruits in the streets, late night pizzas and much more. You can change them from CUC to CUP at a Cadeca.

Casas particulares

The casas are a great place to stay. It only costs between 10-15 CUC per night person (15 CUC is already expensive) and offers great comfort. All the casas that we stayed in were really clean and comfortable. The hosts are very nice, the rooms clean and they help you a lot with organising the day activities.
Breakfast is always 5 CUC and dinner between 8-10 CUC. We always had huge dinners with either porc, chicken or fish with rice and salad, the typical Creole food. Just note that portions are really big.

Organising accommodation beforehand: We left for Cuba with only our first two nights organised in Havana. The advantage travelling around Cuba is, that you really do not need to organise everything. You stay in a casa on your first day and tell them where you want to go next and they organise everything. Every casa works with different other ones in the other towns. All our casas were located really close to the historical centres and walking distance from all major points. We would definitely recommend to stay in casas and to trust the hosts to organise your next stops.

Travelling around

As we were three girls travelling around, the best solution for us was to take a taxi privativo or collectivo, as they only added one more person to our journeys. The first stop from Havana to Vinales cost us 25 CUC each in an old American car (how better can a trip in Cuba start). The advantage of a taxi privativo is that they pick you up and drop you off at the cases you stay.

We found that the Viazul or Transtur buses were not a great option for us, as they cost only some CUC less and do not drop you off in front of your Casa.

Cuba = safe or not safe?

We were three girls travelling and we always felt safe, even at night in Havana. Just always friendly say “No gracias” and please don’t believe anything that people tell you on the street.

The art of negotiating

You do not like to negotiate? In Cuba you have to or it is a real rip-off. Taxis will basically always give you double of the price, so always try to negotiate.

Spanish skills

I personally have never learnt Spanish in school and thought, English will be fine. Unfortunately, English is not a very common language around Cuba. In Havana, we met a lot of people speaking French and so it was easy for us to get along. In the more rural cities and villages, not many people spoke English or French, so it is really useful to have someone with you who speaks Spanish (thanks to my two travel partners) or to learn some Spanish before leaving. Cubans are really friendly and speak very slowly when they see that you don’t speak their language.

Maps.me (offline map)

We would highly recommend to download maps.me. It is a great app that allows you to download the map of Cuba before you go and to use it offline while there.

You can find all activities, restaurants, bars and landmarks mentioned in this blog article under this link.

Cuba has of course even more to offer (the country is very big), however two weeks go fast and travelling is also not as fast as in Europe. We however hope that our selection gives you first great ideas to plan your trip and as we said, the best way is to go and let you carry away by the culture and people.

If you speak French, there is a very useful Facebook group that helps a lot organising your trip.

Have a great trip to Cuba and we are happy to hear you stories once you are back!

Maren

2 thoughts on “Hola Cuba!

    1. Thanks for your comment. Great that we inspired you for another travel. I guess Cuba will have changed the last years, but there are still a lot of “untouristy” parts as well. Have a great holiday!

      Like

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