Cuba Travel Guides for Backpackers

Do's and Dont's for an Amazing Trip to Cuba

Cuba is a spectacular country, full of vibrance, color, and complexity. Despite its history of political and economic complications, the Cuban people possess an inner joy so pure and strong, it is contagious to all who visit the enchanting island. Cuba is relatively new to the tourism industry and, as such, vacationing in Cuba can be a bit overwhelming for a first time visitor. I first went to Cuba to study for a semester in university, and quickly fell in love with the island, returning again that same year. During my 4 months in Cuba, I learned several valuable insights that can help make your vacation in Cuba absolutely splendid. So, here we go— some Do’s and Don’ts of Cuba!   Do be patient A little cove near Cienfuegos. Cuba is a country with serious technological and economic disadvantages, thanks to the decades long blockade from the United States and the fall of their main ally, the USSR, in 1989. As such, things in Cuba take a lot longer than people from North America and Europe are used to. And when I say a lot longer, I mean a lot longer. Expect to spend at least two hours in any restaurant. Plans made at a specific time will almost always occur an hour or more late. Just relax and let things pass.  Don’t get frustrated, and learn to expect delays. Cubans savor every moment of life and don’t get flustered about punctuality. You should do the same.   Don’t rely on a credit or debit card Vedado from above Cuba’s access to technology is constantly changing, and the use of credit and debit cards is becoming more widespread. However, it would be completely unwise to rely on this as your sole means of money during your trip. ATMs are few and far between, queues at hotels to take out cash can last hours, and the vast majority of businesses still do not accept card. Get a hidden money purse before your trip, and travel with most or all of the cash you suspect you’ll spend while there. A debit or credit card should be your backup, not your primary form of payment in Cuba. Do enjoy the rum and cigars A marina near Flores, Havana Cuba is famous for its highly sought after rum and cigars. You should take full advantage of this during your vacation! Havana Club and Santiago de Cuba are the two best brands of rum, and can be bought cheaply in any store, restaurant or bar. Cigars are also easily accessible, but beware of street vendors selling fakes at extremely high prices. Buy cigars from your hotel or a reputable store to make sure they’re the real deal. Don’t respond to catcallers A square in Habana Vieja If you are a woman traveling to Cuba, you will undoubtedly be met with an onslaught of whistles, catcalls (called “piropos”), stares, and advances from men. Age, race, and attractiveness are seemingly not factors in attracting this kind of […]

Havana- The city of colors & rum

Cuba is always the answer if you’re looking to explore a new side of the Caribbean or maybe you would like to go years back in time!  We have all heard about the capital, Havana  or how the Latin Americans call it ‘La Habana’. The city of old cars, where nothing is taken for granted, where people assume less and where life has another meaning.  Cubans themselves refer to their country, the place where fertile land is still very abundant. Things to do in Havana I am here mentioning a list of places which one must see when in Havana. We were there for four days in the center, we actually suggest that you book your stay in La Habana Vieja (also known as Old Havana). We booked via Air B n B and we were welcomed by a cuban couple Yeni & Roly. We booked a shared room with a private bathroom in their very modern apartment. The hosts were so helpful and went off their way in several ways to make our stay memorable. El Paseo del Prado Make your way, towards the path called El Paseo del Prado which eventually leads to the famous promenade which people call El Malecon. Make it a point to be there during sunset time, as that is the perfect time to capture the best sunset shot of this picturesque area of Havana city. You can also note how kids are free to play in this area, we might think that its unsafe for them but in reality one can note how people are peaceful and free from the busy life we have. Locals meet around El Malecon, they chat, they bring their packed meal along with them and they enjoy themselves together. El Capitolio If you take the Paseo del Prado leaving behind El Malecon and keep walking straight, you will reach an avenue with a big building which looks like the United States Capitol,  however this is not its replica. I suggest you visit this area at least twice, try to make it during the day so you can go around the area freely taking pictures of the colorful old cars. Moreover during the night, the lights of this Capitol and those of Hotel Inglaterra which lies in this same avenue, they create a lovely atmosphere. Calle Obispo If you are facing El Capitolio, then behind you, you must see a small garden which leads you to a narrow street called Calle Obispo, its narrow streets create a warm atmosphere where one can enjoy a lovely meal with cuban music in the background, grab a bite or just stop for a Kristal beer or Tukola. This street is also known for its live cuban music and ropa vieja gourmet which is one of the cuban delicacies, mostly typical of Havana. La Bodeguita del Medio & La Floridita Two bars which are for sure worth visiting are the famous La Bodeguita del Medio and La Floridita. The first one is famous for […]

Havana in one day

“La Isla Grande” as they call it, located only a few miles away from Florida, Cuba lives on a time and space of its own! A great trip to Cuba starts for sure from its famous capital: Havana! Right in the moment you step out from your plane, you will feel a special air that for sure you’ll miss once back home. Havana is the larger city of the island and has many different neighbors or “Barrios” as called in Spanish, which all worth a visit! The very heart of the city is the famous Havana Vieja, where the narrow streets, the cafes, and the music spreading out from every corner make sure you have really arrived in Cuba! Havana Vieja is also the neighbor which has been restored the most in the recent years, so a lot of the buildings facades shine in bright colors, especially the ones in the main squares. Havana Vieja walking tour in the morning Parque Central El Capitolio and Hemingway’s Floridita For a great tour in this part of the city, I suggest you start from the El Capitolio Square in which this stunning white building and the “Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso” stand out with no rivals! (Tip: on the east side of the square there are some beautiful colorful colonial buildings where you can take amazing Cuba-style pics!) Then pass through El Parque Central (note: squares in Cuba are called Parque!) and start getting into the narrow streets of Havana Vieja! Right at the corner of the Parque Central there is another square on which you would find the most important hotel in town, called “Manzana” and “El Floridita” the famous bar where Hemingway was used to go! Enter then in Calle Opispo street and go straight, let lose yourselves in this magical atmosphere where Cuban people, tourists, music, souvenir shops, bars and street food shops mix all together! A must to see in this street is the old Chemist with all the white porcelain bottles ordered on dark wooden shelves! La Bodeguita del Medio A Mojito stop at “La Bodeguita del Medio” Right after the Chemist turn left and take Cuba street until “La Bodeguida del Medio” where the Mojito was born! Unless this is the most touristic crowed place in Havana Vieja, it is still a must once you are here! You don’t have to be in a hurry when waiting for your cocktail, just try to enter the Cuban slow time flowing mood! Cuba is all about getting into the right local mood and that’s this happy relaxed soul sensation that you will remember once back home! So just feel the music and sign the wall of this iconic bar! Plaza de Armas and local shopping at “Casa del Cafè” Pass then to Plaza de la Catedral, visit the cathedral and then take Calle Mercaders which, with Calle Obispo and Calle Oficios are the cutest streets in Havana Vieja! Visit then the beautiful Plaza de Armas and take a rest on the […]

8 Things You Must Experience On Cuba Right Away.

Cuba has been like a sleeping beauty these past 60 years. Time stopped and preserved bits and pieces of untold past, that make our visits to this island unforgettable. But the charm has been lifted, which means more and more tourists and capitalists will turn their heads in its direction. Parts that made Cuba special will slowly fade away into history, so if you want to visit it, now is the time. Experience the true Cuban culture with these 8 adventures. Experience the vibe of old Havana You might see Havana in old movies like Dirty Dancing, but nothing on the screen can ever picture the feelings you get when you walk down the old streets yourself. I know there is a lot to see in an old famous city, but please do sit down. Order a drink and listen to the city noises, look at people's faces and observe the old decaying buildings. The vibe of the city is truly something special, it's almost like it has a soul. Take a ride in one of the colorful old cars They say that men come to Cuba for old cars and young girls, which is not so far-fetched. The girls are pretty and cars have that old-time swagger you now only see in movies…and in Havana. You can't miss the colorful parade of old Chevrolets and there is nothing more fun than driving around in one of them – no roof over your head, wind in your hair and if you're lucky, an entertaining driver. Salsa your night away with one of the locals The hot Cuban weather is probably one of the reasons why Cubans are so fiery. They rarely say no to new adventures and because they're so open, passionate and fun, there is no need to be shy. Say yes when one of them asks you to dance and don't worry if you step on their toes a couple of times. I probably broke Elio's foot one night in Trinidad, but we laughed it off and had a great evening anyway. I never felt so free and brave in my entire life. So just let go, listen to amazing Cuban music, drink a “Cuba Libre” and liberate your wild side. Spend the night in “Casa Particular” One of the great ways to save a buck or two is to spend the night at somebody's home. It's a common practice between locals and you will see »casa particulares« sign hanging over many doorways (It looks like an anchor turned upside down and it's really hard to miss). It would be a shame to pass this kind of opportunity, as you get to see the Cuban lifestyle from another perspective. Most of the buildings are really old and nobody is taking care of them, so I know this isn't everybody's piece of cake. But even when decaying; colonial architecture can take your breath away. Plus it's really interesting to see how Cubans bring life to old walls and rooms […]

All sides of Trinidad Cuba

Salsa town Trinidad is an adorable little city in the Cuban south coast. It’s a lot smaller than Havana but it has similar colourful architecture. The houses are not so high though and that gives the town a more genuine Caribbean feeling. You can see the whole town on foot, all the little squares and street vendors. The main attraction here is the music. Live music throughout the day on some random street corner and every evening at Casa de la musica. It’s an open bar with a stage of salsa musicians and a dance floor where the old Cuban charmers show their talent to the audience. You can join the party or just watch, sitting on a theatre-like stairs and wish you knew how to salsa. Local shopping mall Trinidad is also known for numerous salsa lessons and dance instructors. Apparently they even have a disco club carved into a cave on the outskirts of the city centre. The northern part of Trinidad ends at the foot of a small hill – and there you can find this masterpiece (disco cave) and some other local specialties as well (like a butcher shop out in the open – at 30+ celsius). Like all the hot countries, they probably have all that figured out and slaughter only as much as they sell within a few hours, but still…. It was weird seeing a pigs head just hanging outside an old shack waiting for a buyer.   Charming city parks The food options (like in most tourist destinations in Cuba) are very limited. Most of this cities don't even have restaurants, so you are forced to eat in your casa particular (where you sleep). That would all be fine if they wouldn't all offer the exact same menu and the exact same amount of spices (which is none what so ever). In the two weeks of Cuba we ate roasted chicken or pork (and once a lobster) and to go with that – cooked rice, every single day.  Beef seems to be forbidden – at least that's what our landlady told us – and nobody really had it on their menu. (When we got back from Cuba, we drove straight to Ljubljana's best fast food for some burek (a balkan cheese pie) to wash of the taste of all that rice.) Outside Trinidad Playa Ancon Just a short drive from Trinidad is a nice sandy beach Playa Ancon where you can cool off in a hot day. And it’s not the only beach nearby so you can explore around a bit. The road that leads to these beaches is quite lonely and you might have to overtake a few herds of goats or other animals. They are all just free range and they can walk around and eat whatever they like. If they like the street, they’ll eat the street.   Playa Ancon Topes de Collantes We took a day […]

Welcome to Koh Tao a divers dream

If you're anything like me, the thought of scuba diving is a little bit nerve racking, I mean, humans were built to walk on land, not breathe underwater! But when you step off the ferry onto the enchanting island of Koh Tao and you look around at the mountainous scenery, palm trees and white sandy beaches, you feel like this island is a little different to any other in Thailand. Arriving in Koh Tao The bustling streets are full of locals trying to sell you their handmade trinkets, the fellow travellers have excitement and eagerness on their faces, and the many street food trolleys give off such a wonderful aroma of spices, all together mixed with the sea air is enough to make any traveller drunk with happiness for that island lifestyle they are about to experience. I jump onto one of the many taxis, and sit in the back, wind blowing in my hair as we make our way up and down the roads through the jungle towards Sairee beach, the main tourist town.   Why Koh Tao For Scuba Diving? There are over 50 Dive schools on the island, and it is one of the most popular places to scuba dive in the world, not only because of the vast choice of schools, which offer both PADI and SSI qualifications, but it is also one of the cheapest places to learn. Most open water courses will cost less than 10,000 baht (roughly 376 AUD) and that includes your accommodation for the duration of your course. I personally chose PADI as my qualification as it seemed more universally recognised, and yes the course videos are very cheesy but the course itself was very simple and more importantly, very fun and relaxed. I came travelling with a group of friends and they were all very eager to sign up for the course. I was a little nervous as I had only just got over my fear of going into the sea and it seemed a big step to go scuba diving, but I signed up anyway and told myself I could pull out if I didn't enjoy it. The next day we all signed up to Davy Jones' Locker dive school and went straight to the school's personal bar where we sat and drank Leo and made friends with the Burmese staff, where they taught us some of their local lingoes.   What a PADI course is actually like On day one of the scuba course, we mostly learnt about regulations on Diving, key hand symbols for use Underwater and general knowledge for the learner diver. We were all more excited about day two where we got to actually put together our scuba gear and get into the learner pool. We all kitted up and got in. I can't explain how surreal the feeling of breathing underwater is, you can only experience it for yourself. It almost feels like you're not breathing properly and it takes a little getting used […]

Heading to Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Get a Travel Agent

Like most couples planning their honeymoon, my husband & I turned to the internet for suggestions. We had a fair idea of what we wanted and it was simple-  we wanted to relax in the lap of nature. There were overwhelming number of options but we had our heart set on Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and so it was decided that this is where we will unwind after our wedding. At the time of planning, we knew we would really appreciate the solitude that Andaman promised to offer after our fun filled but extremely tiring wedding. We got all that and much more! We had all our bookings done through a Travel Agent including the flight tickets. Collaborating with a local agent is advisable, they can not only help out with the inter-island transport but also get the best deals on resorts, which is difficult to do if you are trying to do this via internet. We had given him a brief of what we were looking for and our budget. He then customized the trip for us, which made the whole experience even more special. Port Blair – Here we come Radhanagar Beach So, on a beautiful, cool December morning, we started on our honeymoon trip! We had our flight from Kolkata to Port Blair, which is the capital of Andaman & Nicobar Island. Port Blair is connected to major Indian cities by means of air, sea & railways. So one can chose their mode of transport based on their budget & time in hand. On arrival, we were greeted by our highly energetic travel agent, Vineet, who had come to pick us up in his fancy modified car. And we zoomed out of the airport, fast and furious style! My husband being a car enthusiast, chatted with Vineet about engines, suspension and horsepower while I stuck my head out the window and enjoyed the cool breeze and the lovely backwater lake views. We were staying at Port Blair only for a day as we wanted to spend most of our time in the remote areas of Andaman. So, we had asked Vineet to book us into a non-fancy hotel in Port Blair but luckily he managed to fit into our budget a nice, small little place away from the city and a room with a lake view. It was a perfect start to our Romantic getaway. Vineet came to pick us up later in the evening and took us to Corbyn’s Cove beach with a caveat, that this place could be crowded and not to prejudge the fate of all other beaches in Andaman based on this experience. The beach was indeed filled with people so we decided to go to Aberdeen Bazaar to do the regular touristy things like buy sunhats, “I Heart Andaman” tee-shirts and seashell souvenirs. Then we headed to the light and sound show at Cellular Jail, which to our delight was absolutely stunning. Vineet had booked our tickets in […]

CUBA and the hunt for black market lobster

Over the years I would Revel in my friends adventures in Cuba. They would rave about the people, the beaches, the music and the rich Cubano culture. I indulged in their stories of salsa parties, music festivals, and roaming the streets full of vintage Chevys and Art Deco architecture. But what they failed to include in their review was what I found to be the most interesting about the country. Communism. HAVANA  My friend and I flew to Cuba from Honduras in February 2016 and were extremely curious to explore a country that has endured such strict limitations. With a wad of Euros in our wallets (no credit cards allowed) and a stamp on a piece of paper shoved between our passports, we navigated our way to Havana for our first night at a Casa Particular in Vedado. This neighborhood is dope as the streets are lined with artsy bars and creepy, majestic, abandoned crumbling neo-classical mansions. After a few mojitos with some random gringos at Kings Bar, we craved local company and stumbled our way into Café Madrigal, a funky gay bar they kept open for us after hours. By day the bar tender is a gynecologist, but his measly $40 a month salary plus food rations isn’t enough to live on. Bartenders and Cab Drivers make more money than doctors and white collared professionals, so the combination is prosperous. And, we tip 20%. CASA PARTICULARES  If you want to live like a Cubano, live with a Cubano. Casa Particulars are private homes for rent similar to a B&B or even just a guest room for an authentic Cuban homestay. Our Vedado Casa felt more like a Parisian Boutique Hotel, but in Habana Vieja we had a room with a bath in our host’s apartment. Lucky for us he was a party boy, so we went out with him and his friends on Friday night to a jazzy piano bar and had an after party back at our Casa with Havana Club and some black market Jameson. Our host Joao, is a professional ballet dancer, and proud owner of Café Arcangel. Previously the living room of his parents home, they transformed the Café after the law passed in1997 that allowed Cubans to turn their home into a business. This additional income allowed him to buy and renovate his 2 bedroom apartment and turn into another Casa. CUBAN FOOD Bravo to Joao, Café Arcangel was the only delicious and affordable food we could find in all of Havana. It took 2 days and 2 mildy pricey meals ($15/person) for us to smarten up and save our money on the liquid diet. When two gringa meals cost the same as the monthly salary of doctor, no wonder tourism is the preferred industry to sustain a lifestyle. Cuban food is “super rica”, just not in Cuba. When you walk into a “grocery” store you can see why restaurants struggle to provide decent meals. There is a glass showcase of food to select with […]

Jazz, cigars and rock climbing: Welcome to Cuba

I can still hear myself shouting in the mexican streets of Merida: “We are going to Cuba!” My friend and I had booked a last minute flight, we were going to spend one week in Cuba only a few days later. My heart was beating way too fast. I actually didn't know it could beat so quickly. Oh Lord, we are going to Cuba, and I haven't got a clue about this country, except that they have excellent jazz musicians (and non jazz too), salsa dancing, the best cigars and the best rum. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Free education, free medical care and not so much liberty of expression. That's it. Luckily we've met many travelers who had just came back from the Pearl of the Antilles, and they gave us precious advices. I am now passing the good word to you, with my personal experience in addition.   Do I need a visa? How do I get it? Yes, you need a visa. I actually stressed out because of that (Do I need to go to the embassy? How long would it possibly take them to deliver it? etc.) Fear not, fellow travelers! When you travel to Cuba from Mexico or any Central American country (Costa Rica, Panama, etc), you can get you TC (Tourist Card) directly at the airport. It costs USD20$ and allows you to stay in the country for 30 days. Can I withdraw money from an ATM in Cuba? Tricky question. Apparently yes, but only if you bank isn’t somehow affiliated with an US bank (which seems to be almost all of the banks). So we did what we’ve been recommended so many times: filling up our money belts with cash! WARNING! Do NOT take any USD, or you will have a bad surprise: the government applies a 10% penalty for operations involving American dollars. Nobody want’s this. So take euros, canadien dollars or, like in my case, mexican pesos! Also, in case of emergency, it seems to be possible to take out money from your bank account at the bank desk. I met a couple who had run of money and they have been told to do this. But you will probably loose money in the operation penalty. How much money should I take with me? It all depends on how much you have/are willing to spend. In my case, I was on a tight budget but still wanted to enjoy my time, and as I had been told that “Cuba is so expensive!”, I calculated a amount of USD70$ per day in order to feel comfortable. But guess what? I had quite a lot of money left when I traveled out of the country. It is always better to take more than not enough. Credit cards are not an option. Nobody takes credit cards really. Speaking about money, how does it work with the two different currencies? Should I carry CUCs or CUPs? I always struggle a bit with money when I […]

Travelling in Cuba

Cuba is becoming a more and more popular destination for tourists and travellers (turista libre as a local called me, for staying in Casas instead of resorts). While there are a few beach resort towns with the biggest being Varadero, Cuba is an amazing country with so much more to explore. Accommodation Although this might be changing rapidly, there are not many hostels available yet. Even if this changes, the best option to me is to stay in casa particulares: renting a room in the home of locals. You can recognize these houses with a sign by the door that, to me, kind of looks like an anker, and usually the words arrendador divisa. You will see blue signs for foreigners, and red signs for Cubans. Depending on the season you will need to book in advance. I was there in low season and had no problems finding a decent casa, except for Havana which can be a bit more challenging. Usually I would ask my current casa owner if they knew someone in the next place I was visiting. Cubans always know somebody (who knows somebody..) and are happy to help you out. If you arrive to a city without a reservation, simply look around for the blue signs on the houses. I have paid anything between $15 and $35 per night. You can always expect a private room and private bathroom. Prices do go up in high season. Prices are per room, so sharing a room is very beneficial.  Most Casas have only a few rooms. Often they also offer meals and laundry service. In Trinidad, my casa offered even tours, taxis, souvenirs and everything else a hostel would offer. Money There are two local currencies in Cuba: CUC and CUP. CUC is the tourist money and is equal value to 1 USD. CUP is the only currency locals can get (unless they work with tourists) and 25 CUP equals 1 CUC. As the few available ATMs rarely work and if they do, only accept VISA cards, I brought enough cash for my stay of 3 weeks. Due to the long lasting embargo, the USD is still the worst currency to exchange in Cuba as they will charge an extra 10%. Canadian dollars have a decent exchange rate (I think because Cuba is a popular beach destination for Canadians) but you can also exchange euro, pounds etc. If you go to a casa de cambio do not forget to bring your passport. You will always get CUC for your money without questions asked. However, you can always ask to exchange some of your CUC into CUP. It is much easier to pay on the streets with the local currency. At first I found it quite confusing to understand if a price was in local or tourist currency, since often they just use the $ sign. Casas always state their prices in CUC as do bus companies. Restaurants outside of tourist zones state prices in CUP as are all […]
Load More