Distant Guide Havana: A vibrant embroidery of history and culture
Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca once wrote, "If I get lost, look for me in Cuba..."! Deteriorated but majestic, decrepit but dignified, fun and exasperating at the same time, Cuba has an indefinable magic. Prepare yourself for 7 exciting days filled with surprises!
You’ll get to see the leafy Parque Central, people watch at the Plaza de la Catedral, revel at the Capitol Building and you’ll fall in love exploring Old Havana’s winding streets.
The bustling atmosphere of Playa del Este, the grandeur of the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabana, the endless streets to discover, the lively plazas - there’s no doubt that you’ll run out of things to do!
From trying out the ropa vieja to have huge portion of lobsters, and snacking on mariquitas, there’s no shortage of food to try in Havana!
Hotel El Nacional has long been considered a symbol of history, of culture and of grandeur. Enjoy staying at the embodiment of Cuban culture on your trip.
Flights & Transport
Flight costs are annoyingly unpredictable. You’ll save the most money if you book 3-6 months out. Intercity bus services are the cheapest and most convenient transport option. Renting a car is expensive all across Cuba. Recommended booking websites and hire companies are listed in Additional Resources.
Although we advise you to book some of your hotels and excursions before you depart, it’s always good to keep some things spontaneous! Allow yourself the flexibility (and the budget!) to rent a vintage car to go on a road trip out of the town, enjoy a live music concert, or practice some salsa moves.
Insurance & Passport
Give yourself peace of mind, and take out some travel insurance for your trip. Although Cuba is a safe destination, it’s still best to be covered for the unexpected. Be sure to inform your insurance company if you plan to do some adventure sports.
US citizens need a Visa (also known as Tourist Card) before arrival. Most countries need a Visa to travel to Cuba. You can check the exact requirements at your nearest Cuban embassy. Make sure your passport is valid for six months after departure and you have two blank pages for stamps.
A few months before your trip is the best time to secure your flights, tours and accommodations. Take a look at our hotel and activity recommendations for each location and book now to ensure your trip is exactly what you want it to be! This way, you’ll save a lot of time and stress. Plus, you’ll avoid the disappointment of your favorite places and activities being sold out.
An adapter is a basic tool that retrofits your plug to ‘adapt’ to the outlet in the wall. This is what you’ll use to charge your phone and camera. Cuba uses type A, B, C, and L plugs. A power converter actually transforms the current to match the voltage coming from the wall. Keep in mind that the voltage in Cuba is 110/220 volts and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.
If you’re planning on doing any souvenir shopping, make sure you do so before you get to the airport. There are almost no shops there.
Havana is very easily explorable by foot.
There are very few ATMs around, so make sure you always have cash on hand.
A local guide is invaluable - there’s simply so much history to learn and having someone introduce you to the rich history of Havana is the best way to get to know the city.
• Traveling light is always ideal. Roll your clothes to save space and avoid creases. If you want to take it to the next level, use vacuum compression bags to maximize space.
• Choose your footwear wisely. Bring a pair of walking boots for hiking and trips out into the beautiful scenery. Pack sandals for the beach, and a pair of comfy sneakers or canvas shoes for
walking around town.
• Try to blend in as much as possible. Flashy outfits might make you stand out as a tourist and attract unwanted attention from vendors.
• Pack your shampoo, toothpaste and any other liquids in ziplock bags in case they spill in transit. However, these are items you can always acquire once you’re in Cuba.
• Don’t forget your sunscreen, aftersun and sunglasses. The sun is quite intense in certain parts of the country, so take care of your skin.
• You’re going to encounter some beautiful beaches, so make sure you pack your swimming gear.
• Remember your camera, charger, memory card and power adapter. Be well equipped to capture all of the beautiful sites when wandering the city.
• Cuba Travel | Travel guide and points of interests
• Tripadvisor | a favorite resource for finding off-the-beaten-path restaurants and things to do. However, all reviews are subjective, so don’t obsess over scores
• Whatsapp | free text messaging to other Whatsapp users
• XE Currency Converter (app) | your go-to guide for up-to-the minute
currency exchange rates.
Transit Booking Sites
• skyscanner.com | easy to use website for finding low air fares
• google.com/flights | helpful fare prediction technology
• https://www.viazul.com/ | for bus timetables and bookings for Cuba
• www.solwayscuba.com/transfers/ | Havana airport shuttle service
• www.carrentalcuba.com/ | find hire cars with this safe and secure service
Tipping is expected in Havana, specifically due to the fact that salaries are very low and many people depend on tips to cover their cost of living.
Your trip starts in Havana, whose majestic squares and cobbled streets narrate ages-old stories of opulence and intrigue. White sandy beaches on the north coast of the island are sublime. But a deeper incursion will reveal a different terrain—a land of lush forests and swamps infested with crocodiles, uninhabited fields and rugged mountains as famous for their revolutionary folklore as for its endemic species.
Havana Jose Marti International Airport is located about 12 miles to the south of the city. Bus 12 runs from the walking distance from the airport to Parque El Curita in the city. This is the cheapest and most convenient option. You can also book an airport shuttle that offers door-to-door service.
Nothing better than starting the first day in Old Havana, the beautiful colonial interior of the city. Although it may be crowded with tourists during certain times of the year, this is one of the must-visit places in the city. The architecture is different from anything you might have seen, and the place is always active, be it day or night. Do not miss the Cathedral of San Cristóbal and the Capitol building.
ABSORB THE ATMOSPHERE
To close the first day, there is probably nothing better than a night walk through El Malecón, that promenade in front of the sea, where people gather to fish, have a drink or just socialize with anyone passing by.
Morning and Afternoon
DAY AT THE SEA
Cuba is famous for its white sand beaches and turquoise waters, but none of these beaches is located in the center of Havana. While you will see people swimming in the waters along the Malecon, the waves can be a bit dangerous as there are many rocks.
Playa del Este is the closest beach from the city; going by taxi is around 20 minutes, and it is really worth the trip as you’ll enjoy a memorable day at these beaches. With warm, turquoise waters, this palm-lined beach is beautiful but is somewhat unkempt. You can find several beachside bars and restaurants in the area that are frequented both by the locals and tourists.
DINNER WITH A VIEW
Dine at the elegant Hotel Nacional, which offer splendid views of the city, Havana Harbor, and the sea along with delectable Cuban and international delicacies. The building is declared the national monument and holds great historical significance.
Take the scenic route on day three by hopping onto the ferry on the pier (in Old Havana) that departs for Casablanca. The ferry is worth 1 CUP (very cheap, about 4 cents) each way. You will certainly like the journey as you will see the city from another point of view.
Arriving at the other side, you have several options to enjoy spectacular views. First climb to the hill where there is a marble statue of the Christ and two beautiful fortresses: the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña and the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro.
Walk to the point where you will find the lighthouse of Castillo del Morro, which was visible throughout the walk. From here, you will enjoy the panoramic views of the city, entire bay and the sea.
Head to Old Havana to one of its beautiful squares to sit back and enjoy people watching. Old Havana is a charming neighborhood and although its tourist streets are full of restaurants and expensive shops, it is also easy to get into local life.
In the evening, stroll through the Obispo Street, which is full of life with its bars with Cuban music heard from the street..
Today is a great day to jump on a bus or take a taxi to Varadero, a picturesque seaside town perfect for sunbathing, relaxing, and swimming with the dolphins. Zapata Peninsula is the largest wetland in the Caribbean and offers virgin forests, marshes, centennial mangroves
ARRIVAL IN VARADERO
Take the Viazul bus (costs $10) from Havana (the first one departs at 8 am). Make sure you catch the last bus that leaves for Havana at 6 pm. Alternatively, hiring a taxi costs 8-10 times more but takes half the time and allows flexibility to stop on the way.
BEACH, JUNGLES, AND HISTORY
The beach of Varadero is located on the Hicacos peninsula and extends to almost 27 kilometers. It has fine white sand and turquoise blue waters making an idyllic setting to walk around it. Along the beach, you will find several places to eat, drink and dance to the rhythm of the Cuban songs.
Cayo Blanco, located near Varadero, gets its name because of its white sands. Here you can swim with dolphins—one of the highly recommended activities in this trip. Under the supervision of an instructor, you can get close and personal with these intelligent animals.
Travel to the Zapata Peninsula in the final leg of your day-trip to Varadero. This lush green forested and swamp land is home to a wide range of plant and animal species. Within this natural enclave, you can visit the Taína Village to know how the Cuban aboriginal inhabitants lived during the old times. There are cabins and life-size sculptures that show
RETURN TO HAVANA
Catch the last bus or drive back to Havana in time for a few drinks at any of the emblematic bars of Old Havana—the same places where Hemingway used to visit.
This has been a long, adventurous day and most likely, you are longing for some rest. Call it a day and get off to sleep early to recharge yourself for tomorrow’s exploration.
PAST AND PRESENT
Near the Marti Promenade, you can find the Museum of the Revolution which was once the Presidential Palace and from whose balcony Fidel Castro made one of the most prominent speeches during the revolution. This is a true example of history that still breathes through the streets of Cuba. Return from history to have lunch at El Rum Rum (rum rum means gossip in the local lingo). This chilled-out place has would fascinate the lovers of Cuban cigars, tasty
Another jewel of Havana that deserves a place in your itinerary is Parque Central—a place full of life. Here around the statue of José Martí, you will find several spots to sit back and relax. There are two groups here: one of the "dancers" who you would readily have a salsa session with you, and another one of the “sports”—who meet to discuss baseball with a great interest.
There are few places in Cuba that summarize the essence of their revolution as well as the square that bears this name. In the Plaza de la Revolución, a gigantic square, you will see several prominent symbols of the Cuban revolution. The most famous of these is the image of Ché Guevara with the famous phrase "Hasta la victoria, siempre".
Apart from Che, another huge image is the face of Camilo Cienfuegos with his mythical phrase "Vas bien Fidel.” In the center of the square, you can climb the large statue of José Martí
After lunch, head to Vedado, a much quieter neighborhood than downtown and Old Havana. This part of the town has large houses with lots of green spaces. While you are in Vedado, it’s worth visiting the University of Havana. The campus is made up of beautiful buildings surrounded by gardens with palm trees.
Not far from the university is another peculiar place, Callejón de Hamel, an alley that represents the heart of Afro-Cuban culture in Havana. The streets are decorated with graffiti and sculptures of vibrant colors, all made of recycled material . It is recommended to walk here and a drink in one of the charming bars in the alley.
Spend the last evening in Havana at the Jazz Café, located in Vedado and ideal to enjoy drinks listening to incredible musicians.
Choose to fly out of Havana in the evening so that you can savor your last day. Was there something you read about that didn’t have time to do or see? Get out there and do it! You may have just enough time to make one last memory or see one last attraction. But, beware of traveling too far out of the city; missing your flight home is not how you want to end your magical trip! Check out the Plaza de la Cathedral if you haven’t done so already. Here you will find the UNESCO heritage towers from where you can enjoy some beautiful views of the square and Old Havana.