What To Do Where: Havana, Cuba
After hearing about the new travel regulations, I was worried that Americans would not be able to visit Cuba. However, I was extremely relieved to hear that travel to Cuba IS still legal and that Americans can still experience the magic of Cuba like I did, with the help of Hasta Cuba.
What I love most about Hasta Cuba is that they offer tours customized to YOUR preferences, as opposed to a pre-set list of offerings. Here are some of my favorite tour stops and recommendations for your visit to Havana:
1.) Vintage Car Ride
Where else can you take a spin in a 1954 Chevy El Dorado? Do it for the Gram! Lol and potentially for your grandma who would probably be super envious! Plus you get to comfortably see parts of the city that you couldn't cover on foot.
2.) The Firing Of The Cannon at The Fortress of San Carlo de Cabana
At 9 PM each and every evening, you can witness a tradition that began in the eighteenth century- the Firing of the 9 O’clock Cannon. According to the Cuban people, you're not a true Cuban unless you have attended the shooting of the cannon of 9 O’clock at least once in your life. There is also a really cool Ché Guevara museum at the Fortress. I especially enjoyed this because many locals still participate in this tradition as well as tourists.
The Malecon is the sea wall that stretches across the coast of Havana. It's commonly shown when referencing Havana. You can pass by many important monuments along your way, like the José Martí Memorial and giant Ché Guevara mural that is a popular photo op.
4.) Salsa Dancing at Florida Hotel Bar
Doors open at 9:30p every night. No cover. Wear your dancing shoes or just go to watch in amazement! Our tour guide, Andrés told us that a lot of professional dancers come here to practice- which explains why everyone was so darn good! But don't be intimidated. I danced with someone who had never danced salsa before and the crowd cheered us on for the effort
5.) Cha Cha Cha Restaurant
Andrés, our tour guide recommended this spot for dinner and it did not disappoint. The owner welcomed us in and the staff was extremely friendly. The food was tasty and the menu had a variety of offerings. We enjoyed the food so much that we went back again for dinner the following night! The second night, there was live music to enhance the experience! The drinks are also really good. Be careful, the Cuba Libre packs a punch
Gran Manzana Kempinski Hotel
This is one of the new hotels in Old Havana and it offers a swanky rooftop pool and bar with great views and photo ops! Drinks were ok, not the best we had in Havana, and the majority of the pool lounge chairs are reserved for hotel guests. We did stay here and I would highly recommend, especially if you want modern accommodations. If you don't stay here, you can still check out the rooftop!
This was the cigar shop that I purchased cigars from. Its located in the shops area of the Gran Manzana Kempinski. Our tour guide suggested that we buy cigars from one of these shops to ensure high quality. Many people on the streets will solicit cigar sales but I have heard the quality of these cigars is often questionable and was advised against purchasing from street vendors. Beware! I was going to buy a Cohiba, simply because that's THE Cuban cigar that everyone always talks about, but my tour guide recommended his favorite cigar, Monte Cristo, which he prefers over Cohiba and described as "smooth" and complementary to a glass of rum. As a non-cigar connoisseur, I was sold and I wasn't disappointed.
Generic Cuba Tips
1. Cash is King
U.S. credit cards are NOT accepted in Cuba. ANYWHERE. No exceptions. Therefore, you have to plan accordingly. For example- I was able to book my hotel reservation online, which required that I enter a credit card number. However, my credit card was never charged. When I looked at my confirmation email *in very FINE print* it stated that reservations were held using the credit card, yet payment for the room was due in person upon arrival at the hotel. In CASH! So make sure you find out what your hotel's policy is before arrival (I have a friend that booked their hotel online and their card was charged), and bring enough cash for spending and any unexpected expenses as well. Also, there is a 10% tax on currency exchange for U.S. dollars, so I changed out my U.S. dollars for EUROS prior to arrival in Cuba and exchanged my Euros for the local Cuban currency when I got to Cuba.
2. Internet Is Sketchy
If you planned to be in Cuba scrolling your Instagram timeline the whole time, think again! My hotel had wifi cards included in our stay, however I understand that this is not the case for all/most hotels. Additionally, for me the wifi worked fairly well, but my mother kept getting kicked off. She spoke with another guest who mentioned that people with iPhones have a harder time staying connected. Be aware and mentally prepare. I knew this in advance, so I planned to use this trip as a much needed social media and electronics detox.
3. You Can Get Your Visa In Miami
Although you CAN apply for and get your Cuban Visa in advance through postal mail, you do NOT have to. If you are stopping in Miami, you can get your Visa at your gate! Its $100, its fast, and its easy. I highly recommend it! You can pay with credit card also. :-)
4. Computer Printed Boarding Passes Are NOT Accepted
My mother and I went through a lot of hoops to print our boarding passes before we went to the airport to leave Cuba. We weren't checking any bags and we wanted to have our boarding passes ready so that we could go straight to customs and get through security. NOT! They do not accepted printed boarding passes. There is no getting around going up to the counter and getting the official airline printed boarding passes. That line was fairly long, but moved quickly. However, the security line was empty. Therefore, the Havana airport experience was painless.
Because I was only in Cuba for four days, I decided to spend my entire time in Havana. Cuba is huge! If I had more time, I would have definitely ventured out to Viñales, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba for starters! The good news is that Hasta Cuba can plan tours that include visits to these places as well! Visit Hasta Cuba on Instagram to see more pictures from their awesome tours, plus mention promo code: LONI SWAIN to get $100 off the next tour you book with them!
See more pictures from my trip on My Instagram Page
Happy and safe travels! Xo