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/ Friday, March 30, 2018 / No comments

A Quick Guide to Havana, Cuba


Last week I spent three nights in Havana, Cuba (if you follow me on Instagram you definitely already know this since I've been spamming you with photos). I've received several messages asking where I stayed, ate, etc. so I thought I would create a quick guide. Havana is just as as beautiful as the photos you've probably seen, and it immediately elicits a sense of nostalgia with its colonial architecture and cars from the 1950s. Havana is only a piece of this surreal country, and I'm already planning my next trip to explore more of Cuba.

GETTING THERE

I cannot speak for everyone because I am not an expert on this, however, this is what I did as US Citizen traveling from the US to Cuba. I booked a flight on JetBlue, which automatically includes health insurance for the duration of your stay, and selected the people-to-people exchanges or educational activities travel category. You can purchase your Visa for $50 at the JetBlue counter when you are checking in for your flight (which you should definitely be 2-3 hours early for).

  


GETTING AROUND

You need cash. Because of the conversation rate, it is wise to covert your US dollars in Euros while in the States (don't be stupid like me and convert it at the airport because you will definitely get ripped off), then convert your Euros into CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) once you arrive. I converted some cash at the airport to pay my taxi driver, however there are banks in Havana where you can convert your money. I converted about $500 to spend during my stay, and that was more than enough for me to eat three meals a day, get tons of coffee, buy gifts, pay for cabs, etc. Speaking of cabs, they will definitely try to overcharge you. For a taxi ride with five people between Old Havana and New Havana, it was never more than 15 CUC, and typically most rides were about 10 CUC. Because I stayed in such a central location, most places were walking distance which was a great way to explore the city and really get a feel for it. You also will most likely not have internet access 98% percent of the time, so you will need to download an offline map to help navigate on your own as well as having locations ready to show to your cab driver. Make sure you star all the places you want to go to, and then download the map offline.

  


WHERE TO STAY

I stayed in Habana Vieja (Old Havana), which is the core of Havana. There are several beautiful hotels to choose from, but I believe that staying in an AirBnB creates more of an authentic experience. My friends and I got super lucky and stayed at this beautiful AirBnB in Plaza Vieja (Old Square). Our host was extremely accommodating, he made sure we had a taxi waiting for us at the airport to take us straight to our AirBnB, and was there waiting to give us a tour and provide us with tons of helpful information. The house was immaculate and everyday we returned to a clean home with fresh towels and beds made. We also had the option of having a homemade Cuban breakfast every morning, but we decided we wanted to try a few breakfast spots during our stay and have a homemade breakfast (which was delicious) on our last morning there since we had an earlier flight. 

  

WHERE TO EAT

Cuba has some of the best food in my opinion, and I sincerely wished that my stomach would magically expand during my stay so that I could consume more food (and coffee, always coffee). Do not drink the tap water, get bottled water wherever you go and avoid ice. A lot of people advised against eating uncooked fruits and vegetables but I decided to risk it on my last day and eat basically all the fruits and vegetables, and I was totally fine (but obviously everyone is different). Note: Unless you like waiting or risking not getting a table, contact the restaurants to make reservations ahead of time, we made all of our dinner reservations two weeks before our arrival.  

Café O'Reilly Naturally, Café O'Reilly was our first stop when we arrived, and we came back a few more times during our short stay because there coffee is that good. They do offer some food and snacks on their menu, but I stuck to their house coffee which was delicious. I also picked up a few bags of fresh coffee beans from here as gifts. 

El Del Frente We had dinner here on our first night, and came back again for lunch on Saturday. It was probably my favorite place we ate at during our stay. The staff was exceptional, as was the food. The interior aesthetic is everything, not to mention the dope rooftop situation. If you try anything here, make it the café bombón, trust. El Del Frente also has some of the best empanadas I've ever tried in my life and the most unreal pina colada.

Café El Dandy Another gem in La Habana, and your cab driver will most likely not know where it is so be sure to have the address on hand. This place will ruin every other café con leche experience for the rest of your life because it's literally the best. We came here for lunch, and came back for breakfast. This was easily my favorite breakfast spot. It has a super eclectic vibe to it which I loved. It's also parallel to a WiFi spot (which are easy to locate since they're the only places where people are glued to their phones). 

El Cocinero The New York Times raved about El Cocinero, so I obviously had to check it out, and it did not disappoint. Definitely try to get a reservation on the rooftop terrace. They surprisingly had an insanely good cheese board which is always a plus in my book. And like we did at most places, my friends and I ordered essentially the entire menu and everything was good. 

Río Mar On our last night we went to dinner at Río Mar and were completely blown away. We sat on the terrace overlooking the water and it was such a beautiful experience. Like most places in Cuba, the menu changes regularly, but I got lobster tacos and you should too. Don't sleep on the seafood pasta either. 

  


WHAT TO DO

Fábrica de Arte Cubano I use the word literally quite loosely so it doesn't tend to hold as much weight, but FAC is literally the coolest place ever. It's essentially a warehouse turned art gallery and bar, but really it's so much more than that and almost impossible to describe. Every room is a completely different experience, there's art, live music, boutiques, drinks, food. Seriously, get there.

Havana Vintage Car Tour We decided to do a car tour our first morning there so that we could get a better idea of Havana and where we wanted to go later. Luckily, our AirBnB host set it up for us and I believe it was around 40-50 CUC for five people and an hour long tour. A pretty crucial part of your car tour is that the driver actually speaks some English (if you don't speak Spanish), so definitely confirm that before committing to it. It was such a cool experience riding around the city in a vintage convertible, and also I'm a sucker for vintage cars so please believe I had a full blown car photoshoot, which is totally normal for the drivers in Havana. Our tour guide actually drove us to a cool location just so we could take photos in the car which was sick.

Museo de la Revolución The Museum of the Revolution is a must see while Havana. Definitely keep in mind that it closes earlier than most places. Also get ready to see more marble than you've ever seen in your life. This building is a huge part of post-revolutionary Cuban history and there is so much to see and learn, so you definitely need a solid two hours in there at least.

The Malecón This spot is popping' at every hour, and a definite must see. Right on the coast with giant waves crashing, it's stunning. If you are in Havana on the weekend, expect to see insane crowds of people just hanging out by the water at night. We walked around during the day and while it was warm, breezy, and perfect.

Cigar Passion Easily one of my favorite experiences in Cuba was learning about the history of cigars, followed by cigar tasting and step by step explanation of the rituals of cigar smoking. I now feel like I am basically a cigar connoisseur, and it made purchasing cigars for friends and family a lot less confusing. Don't talk to me about cigars because I'll embarrass you.

Havana Cathedral Located in the Plaza de la Catedral in the center of Old Havana is the Cathedral. Completed in 1777, built in beautiful Baroque style. We were able to walk around inside and take some photos, and it was a fairly quick excursion that I recommend in between more time consuming activities.

  


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