Ever seen these plane ticket giveaways and wondered if you could win these tickets for real? We never believed it until Pascal won two tickets to Havana, Cuba!
We planned a roundtrip of two weeks and tried to see as much as possible of the west part of Cuba. In this blog we share our travel schedule and provide you all the information you need to know before you go to Cuba!
First things first – organize the required documents
Cuba can only be entered when a visa has been issued. We ordered our visa’s online on Cubavisa.net for 25 euros. It’s cheaper to buy your visa online but you have to be careful that you don’t make any writing mistakes! If you make any mistake while filling in the form, the visa will be useless..
Cuba is one of the few countries that could ask you for a health insurance-policy letter. It is said that if you haven’t arranged anything before arrival, you could sign up for a local insurance. Personally we haven’t seen anything like this at the airport and we weren’t asked to provide our organized papers as well. But just to be on the safe side; ask your travel insurance company if you have a health insurance-policy included. If not, ask your health insurance company to provide you a letter which states that your policy “covers full reimbursement of the costs of unforeseen and urgent medical care as provided worldwide including Cuba.. etc.”.
Our travel schedule
We decided to visit Havana, Viñales, Trinidad and Varadero. Havana is the city where we started and ended our trip. In total we spent six full days in Havana which is actually more than enough to enjoy the city. You have enough time to feel the relaxing Cuban vibe, explore the hotspots and wander around in the colorful streets.
Click here to read more about Havana.
After we enjoyed our first weekend in Havana we moved to Viñales. This is only a two hours’ drive and can be done by the Viazul bus, a collective taxi or a private taxi. Since we had no experience with the local transportation at that moment we decided to go by a collective taxi. We paid 35 cuc per person and the ride was okay. The nice thing of using the collective taxi is that you have the possibility to meet new people. We were lucky that we met a nice couple where we could share our experiences with.
For Viñales we reserved four days; one and a half for traveling and two and a half for exploring Viñales. These two and a half days were sufficient; Viñales isn’t a big village and there are only a few main things which are fun to do.
Click here to read more about Viñales.
After spending a few days in the beautiful nature, it was time to head to the city again. Trinidad it is!
This trip took us almost seven hours by car and is approximately ten hours by bus. We started our trip with a collective taxi (35 cuc per person) but when we arrived in Havana (which you will pass before you head to Trinidad) we decided to switch to a private taxi. Our ride was horrible! The car was very old, the seats were not comfortable at all and we didn’t have much space. Switching to the private taxi costed us 140 cuc but it was definitely worth the money! After this terrible experience we highly recommend to use a private taxi if you have to travel more than two / three hours.
Click here to read more about Trinidad.
We really looked forward to visit Trinidad because of all the good stories and the amazing pictures we have seen. Therefore we reserved three and a half day to explore this city.
However, during our stay we experienced that Trinidad is fully focused on tourists. It is literally a tourist trap! Even though the streets look charming and the architecture is lovely, everything is quite expensive, the quality of the cocktails is low, food lost its soul, people are pushy, on every corner you will be asked if you need a taxi, drink or WiFi card and the WiFi connection is terrible.
We definitely didn’t enjoy Trinidad and if we knew this upfront we probably would have skipped this destination. If you still have the desire to visit Trinidad, we recommend you to stay just one night.
We were so happy that we had some beach days in Varadero planned after four days “surviving” in Trinidad.
Every time we told a local that we would go to Varadero, they shaked their heads and told us that this isn’t a good place to visit. True, for the locals this isn’t a nice place (anymore) because Varadero is way too touristic. There are more state-owned hotels than casa particulares and it completely lost the “Cuban vibe”. Even though we understand their point of view, Varadero was the perfect place for us to relax and do nothing!
We stayed two and a half days in Varadero and this was more than enough! There is nothing to do besides going to the beach.
The trip from Trinidad to Varadero took us almost three hours and a private taxi costs 80 cuc.
Instead of going back home after Varadero, we decided to spend our last weekend in Havana.
We found out that it is difficult to arrange a collective taxi in Varadero, especially if you stay in one of the all-inclusive resorts. There is no host to arrange a taxi and therefore you have no other option than to use the regular yellow taxi’s (the classic old timers only drive around in Varadero).
A trip to Havana is a two hours’ drive and costs 100 cuc. We started to negotiate and we got the final price of 80 cuc. If you want to pay even less, you have to take the bus. The bus costs 25 cuc per person but takes longer than two hours.
Where to stay?
There is actually one answer for this question; casa particulares, booked through Airbnb or Mycasaparticular.
Hotels are state-owned and the money you spend here, goes directly to the state and not to the local people. Another good reason to stay in a casa particulares is the quality; this is much better than any state-owned hotel! Every casa particulares we stayed in was so clean, the hosts were amazing and the food (diner and breakfast) was freshly made for us.
These are the casa particulares we stayed in during our trip:
- Cuba Dreaming 2 and Havana Dream 2 in Havana (both highly recommended!)
- Casa Norma Y Carlos in Viñales (highly recommended!)
- Enjoy Authentic Cuban Culture in Trinidad
Transportation in Cuba – how to get around?
In Cuba you have several options to go from A to B. In general you can use the Viazul bus, a collective taxi (taxi shared with four persons), a private taxi (a taxi only for you) a bicycle taxi, coco taxi, a horse taxi (only in the city centers) and a classic car taxi.
If you travel from one city to another, you could use the Viazul bus, a collective taxi or a private taxi. The choice really depends on how much time you have and how much money you wish to spend on transportation. There is actually not a big price difference between the Viazul bus and the collective taxi, but the Viazul bus takes much longer.
Although we mostly used the private taxis, a collective taxi is a good second option if you have to travel less than two hours.
Things to keep in mind
- Transportation is not cheap!
During our preparations we checked if we could rent a car for two weeks. But within a few minutes we found out that rental cars are expensive, the roads aren’t well maintained and GPS is not allowed in Cuba. Therefore we decided just to go to Cuba and make a plan along the way. Luckily for all of us there are so many possibilities to get around.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on taxis, please use the Viazul bus and accept the fact that it will take a little bit longer. If you don’t mind to pay a little bit more and have a comfortable trip, we highly recommend you to use a private taxi.
- Ask the host of your casa particulares to arrange transportation to your next destination.
He / she often knows a taxi driver who could take you there for a reasonable price. If you have difficulties trusting your host (like we did in Trinidad; they asked us 35 cuc for a 20 minutes’ drive to Ancon beach, while the taxi driver only charged us 14 cuc!), ask a few taxi drivers in the city center for their prices or ask fellow travelers what they paid to get a better understanding of the prices before you book a taxi.
- Make sure you schedule your travel days properly.
Every time we traveled to our next destination something unexpected happened; a car broke down so our taxi driver decided to help his poor colleague, long queues at gas stations, picking up other people (their “amigos”) to bring them a little bit closer to their destination etc. Just schedule the whole day and you will keep calm and relaxed during traveling!
Cuba has two currencies; the Cuban peso (cup) for the locals and the convertible peso (cuc) for the tourists.
Compared to other (Western) countries, Cubans don’t have a large income per month. Locals often earn around 250 to 300 euros per month. This is the main reason that the cup prices are much lower than our cuc prices. It can be up to 25 times less!
It must be said that locals can only buy the necessary things with their currency; beauty care products are definitely not affordable by everybody. The government also still provides the Cubans coupons for food (this clarifies the long lines in front of the local supermarkets as well).
One of the couples we met during our trip told us that they converted their cuc’s into cup’s. The main reason was because they sadly lost their suitcases when they arrived in Havana. They had to buy new clothes and their host told them it’s much cheaper to buy then in cup. Since the quality of the clothes is not that good, it was a very good deal to convert their cuc’s into cup’s. But on the other hand, when they wanted to pay their drinks at a gas station, the owner didn’t accept their cup’s. We personally didn’t convert our cuc’s into cup’s, because it’s not always possible to use them since we aren’t locals.
There are many ATM’s around where you can withdraw money. Don’t worry if you get an error; the ATM is probably empty (we experienced this in Havana). Just try the next one.
We acted like the typical tourist; we gave tips in restaurants after a great meal.. We completely forgot that tips aren’t required since the 10% is already included in the service costs. It will be written in the menu or on your receipt if the service costs aren’t included.
Internet / WiFi
Some hotels offer computers with internet and otherwise it is possible to use the WiFi provided by Etecsa, the telecommunications company of Cuba.
In order to use the WiFi, a WiFi card is required. We always used a card for one hour which can be bought for one to four cuc. We paid one cuc for one hour in Havana, Vinales and Varadero, in Trinidad we had to pay one and a half cuc.
Some hotels even charge four cuc for one hour. Therefore we highly recommend you to buy the WiFi cards only at Etecsa buildings. It is easy to recognize them; they are all painted in light blue and you will see a lot of people with their phones standing around the building. This is also the way to find the WiFi hotspots; most of them can be found in touristic places, like squares or restaurants. Just look for the people with phones in their hands!
If you want to buy WiFi cards, make sure you do this early morning since the cards will be still available and the lines are (hopefully) not that long. You can buy as many cards as you wish and therefore we always bought ten in one time. In Vinales we had to show our passport, in the other cities we could buy them without any official procedures.
The speed and stability differs from city to city. The connection in Havana, Vinales and Varadero was good, the connection in Trinidad was terrible.
Some of us don’t care about toilets at all when traveling but there are people (mostly woman, Denise is guilty as well) who do care. Therefore we decided to share a little bit more information about the Cuban toilets.
In Cuba there aren’t many public toilets. If you need to go to the toilet it is recommended to go to a hotel, gas station of restaurant nearby.
In front of the toilet you will immediately bump into an interesting fact; you always have to pay one cuc. Not only to use the toilet, but to get a small piece of toilet paper! (yep, sometimes the toilet lady also decide how much you will get). If you don’t speak Spanish or you wish to avoid painful discussions, we highly recommend you to bring your own toilet paper. And please be prepared; not all toilets are very clean..
Let’s give something back!
We decided to give something back every time we travel to a new country. As a tourist or traveler it is easy to “take” and it’s often forgotten to give something back to the country, nature, animals or locals. We would like to change this and decided to check what we could give back to Cuba!
In Cuba it’s not hard to give something back:
- Stay in casa particulares (hotels are state-owned) and support the locals.
- Bring old clothes and give them to the local people.
- Feed the street dogs (discuss this first with your host or restaurant owners, because sometimes there is already someone whom take care of the street dogs).
- Eat in local restaurants or at your casa particulares.
- Only buy products or souvenirs in local shops.
- Bring beauty care products like soap and shampoo to leave behind.
- Bring souvenirs from your country as a gift for the hosts you stay with.
- Share your pens with the locals. Some locals would love to receive a pen since this is something they could sell and make some money with.
- Follow salsa classes, cocktail workshops, join a horse riding tour, visit local tobacco- and coffee farms etc.
- Meet the locals on the street, in restaurants, bars etc. They will be more than happy to share information about their lives, culture and Cuba. Invite them for drinks and you will both have a great time!
In this blog we shared all the information you need to know before you head to Cuba. Sometimes a video says more than 1000 words and therefore we created a video as well.
We enjoyed our time in Cuba and we hope you will do the same! Please send us a message if you need help with anything or if you want to know more. We would love to help you!