CUBA: VISA AND TRAVEL INFORMATION, HOW TO BUDGET, AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON WHERE TO GO





Cuba is on the radar right now. To the general traveler, there’s tons of information circulating the internet that makes it feel daunting to figure out everything...I spoke to six different groups of people who have visited Cuba in the last year for a holistic how-to view.


Liz went on an organized tour with her family through The Nation in November, Sidney went solo over Christmas and New Years and did her own planning, Schuyler went with her company, Extraordinary Journeys, Caitlin went over New Years on a Thread Caravan research trip, Dolly went in 2015, and Jason & Amy went in early December and did all their own planning...


This is a long post! It's organized into four parts:
1. Logistics of getting to Cuba,
2. Logistics while in Cuba,
3. The good stuff (thoughts on Cuba),
4. Recommendations/Itineraries





Symmetry in Santa Lucia near the beach, Cayo Jutias.



PART I: GOING AND GETTING TO CUBA


Why did you decide to go to Cuba?

Sidney: Mostly, I was intrigued by the fact that many Americans still haven’t gone. The mystery of it all drew me in. And the loom of the Trump presidency scared me into thinking this was the only window I’d be able to go freely.


Liz: I wanted to go to Cuba because I’d never been to a country like it. It may be in the Caribbean, but it is truly unique and nothing like its neighbors.


Schuyler: I decided to go to Cuba on a fact-finding mission for an art-focused itinerary that my company, Extraordinary Journeys, was creating for a non-profit organization.


Dolly: I have been lucky enough to visit Cuba twice. The first time there was spring 2015, early into Obama's plan to lift the embargo.


What were the first steps you needed to do in order to plan your trip?

Schuyler: The first step is securing flights. The second step is filling out your affidavit and visa application. Now that airlines like JetBlue have started commercial service to the island, their website even allows you to fill out your affidavit and visa application online.


Sidney: After buying my flight… I bought the Lonely Planet! In my opinion in my years of traveling, it’s always given me all the pertinent information.


Liz: I went on an organized trip. It was through The Nation Magazine. I just needed to sign a few papers and make sure my passport was up to date.


Dolly: My favorite way to research a new destination is by asking friends and family who have been there for their suggestions. Generally I love spontaneous, go with the flow travel but Cuba is a different kind of animal so I do advise a bit of understanding before you decide to wander over there.


What was difficult about planning your trip?

Sidney: It was three things. First, planning takes time. I didn’t find information readily available and felt a bit anxious before. Second, you need lots of cash. American debit cards don’t work, so buffer plenty of extra cash. And third, lodging was difficult for me because Airbnb wasn’t accessible once I arrived in Cuba. I could only access existing reservations and couldn’t book new ones.


Schuyler: There wasn’t a lot of information about travel to Cuba. In addition, the trip’s focus was art and meeting artists in their homes and studios. We were introduced to Sussette Martinez Montero, who is well-connected with the artistic community in Cuba (and elsewhere), things fell into place.


Can you explain your visa process and how you secured entry as an American?

Schuyler: Today the process is much simpler; the majority of people traveling to Cuba are traveling on a “people-to-people” vis or cultural exchange.


Sidney: I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, but mine was super easy. I bought my direct flight (JFK-HAV) on JetBlue. The airline arranged the visa for me (I chose a “people to people” visa). I just paid $50 to JetBlue at JFK before departure. Under this visa, it’s recommended you take photos, keep a journal, keep receipts for museums and such, and stay in homestays. Upon re-entry into the country at JFK, US immigration didn’t ask me to show any of these but the US gov’t recommends holding onto this paperwork 5 years after visiting Cuba.


What did you wish was easier to know or understand logistically?

Schuyler: Flights and visas weren’t clear at the time of my travels.

Sidney: AirBnb is still blocked there. And, cash is king! Can’t say it enough. I had budgeted $50CUC/day, not including lodging. That was ok for my itinerary, but given some unexpected obstacles, like full buses and taking taxis instead, paying for lodging out of pocket - I wish I’d budgeted more like $80-$100CUC/day (should be enough for young backpackers).





View of the main square in Trinidad.



PART II: LOGISTICS WHILE IN CUBA


Can you speak about accommodations - did you plan where to stay in advance?

Caitlin: We stayed at casa particulares and did not plan them in advance. Now you can book some on Airbnb, etc. in advance, but they’re about 2-3 times more expensive than if you just book them in person. Casas particulares for tourists will have a little sign at the front of the house with an image that looks like a blue “T”. You just knock on the door and ask if they have space. If they don’t, they’ll likely refer you to someone else. There are so many of these houses, that it’s pretty easy to find somewhere to stay.


Schuyler: We stayed in multiple “casa particulares” (private homes) throughout Vinales Valley, Havana and Trindad.


Sidney: I wish I had! Airbnb is a great option for booking in advance. If you’re traveling during high season, or to smaller cities with smaller supply, bring enough cash for lodging - it’s very easy to roam the streets and find casas particulares (they’re all marked on the door) and book something day-of if you’re feeling more spontaneous. Just budget for it (most cost $30CUC/night).


For many families, this is their driving source of income. As a doctor in Cuba, you’ll make $40CUC/month. As a casa owner renting out just one room at $30CUC/night (minus what you submit to the gov’t) you can make a much better living. I made time to sit and chat with my casa owners, and got to know them. Many told me that Americans don’t do this enough. This is truly one of the best ways to get to know Cuba.


Liz: The trip planned where we stayed in advance. In Havana we stayed at the Capri, which was fine. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was perfectly comfortable. In Vinales we had a homestay which was a highlight. We stayed two nights with a family and it was fantastic! The family we stayed with didn’t speak English, but were amazingly gracious and just really awesome. We loved it!


Dolly: As far as I've experienced, you can book in advance when it's an established hotel. But many young people and budget travelers will stay at guesthouses or Casa Particulares, which are hard to book in advance. The one time we tried to make a reservation, we arrived to a fully booked hotel. The manager promised he'd find us somewhere else to stay instead and sure enough he found a different room in his buddy's home. It was a perfect example of travel in Cuba.


Jason/Amy: We used Airbnbs the whole time. We chose places that had hosts present, which helped with travel and recommendations.


As an American, how did you know how much money to bring with you?

Schuyler: The exchange rate is 1:1. At the airport, the exchange was approx. 85% (subject to change). We exchanged our USD for CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). (Side note: The other currency is called the CUP (Cuban Peso), which is in limited use, and most U.S. tourists will not use.)


Sidney: I didn’t! If you book lodging in advance I’d reco $80-$100CUC/day. That’s a bit liberal, but will allow for daily tours, a sizeable dinner, and drinks daily. If you’re booking lodging in-person, in cash, I’d recommend $110-$130CUC/day. I'd recommend ordering Euros from your bank so not to be charged 10% tax on dollar exchange.


Liz: The Nation suggested bringing about $100 a day. They don’t accept credit or let you take money out using debit cards, so cash is all you can do.


Caitlin: The friend who I was traveling with had been before and made a budget for us. When he went before, it was low season though, and our trip was during high season. In low season he was able to bargain some costs but high season everything was more expensive and people were not budging with pricing. We ended up spending double what we thought we would.


Jason/Amy: We budgeted for $100/day. Get small bills for taxis and breakfasts.


Did you feel unsafe carrying around large amounts of cash?

Schuyler: When traveling abroad anywhere, it’s always advised to spread out your cash so it’s not all in one place but keep the majority as close to you as possible. It’s the same in Cuba.


Sidney: I’ve definitely never had that much cash on me before. But I split it in two, hid some in my socks and the rest in my underwear baggie.


Liz: We kept most of our cash in the room in the safe, but honestly we felt so safe in Cuba. There is very little crime and it’s a very safe city.


Dolly: One great thing about Cuba is that it doesn’t feel like an unsafe place to be, so long as you practice basic street smarts. For the most part we never felt afraid of the situations, crowds, or neighborhoods we were spending time in.


Caitlin: Not at all, Cuba felt very safe. There isn’t much theft in Cuba. Maybe that will change as tourist numbers rise and Cubans see an easy opportunity for quick money/valuable.


What would you do in a scenario where you didn’t have enough cash?

Schuyler: You will need cash. Cuba is still mostly a cash economy, and U.S. cards don’t work at all, so you will need to bring all the cash you plan to spend with you. VISA credit cards are accepted only if they were not issued by American banks.


Sidney: Towards the end of my trip I almost did. I was with my friend for the last of my three weeks. We pooled our cash, budgeted heavily, tried splitting cabs with others whenever possible, and were more budget-conscious about where we’d go to dinner the last few nights. If you actually run out of cash in Cuba - I’m not sure. Perhaps I’d contact the US embassy.


Liz: Since we were on an organized trip, I could have asked another tourist or our trip organizers. I would be careful though if traveling not on an organized trip. Do not run out!


Caitlin: I brought twice as much as I thought I needed. Some people I shared a taxi colectivo with paid our driver with Euros though, so guess that can be an option sometimes. Also, some places do accept card, particularly touristy spots in Havana. They don’t currently accept main US banks, but if you have a card with a bank like Scotiabank, that should work.


Can you speak to the modes of transportation you used to get around?

Schuyler: In Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) there are taxis, buses, bike taxis and yellow cocotaxis. For approx. 20-30 CUC an hour for up to four people, a classic vintage taxi will drive you around Havana in style.


Sidney: Within Havana, it’s a taxi or colectivo. Taxis are usually yellow and marked with “taxi” signs. “Colectivo” means a shared cab. For the longer distances I preferred AC-buses (the bus company is called Viazul). You can book Viazul tickets online in advance (which I recommend, as they can sell out ) - just be sure to print your tickets in the States before going to Cuba, and get to the bus station early.


Liz: We traveled on a bus mostly.


Jason/Amy: We took taxis in Havana, all for about 5-10 CUC. Would definitely recommend taxi colectivo between cities.


Do you speak Spanish, and how necessary would you say it is to be able to?

Caitlin: I speak pretty decent Spanish and the guy I was traveling with is a native Spanish speaker. I recommend traveling with a Spanish speaker if possible. You will get so much more out of the experience.


Schuyler: You don’t need to speak Spanish to travel to Cuba, although it certainly doesn’t hurt!


Sidney: I do speak Spanish fairly well. While you can certainly get by with English, it helped tremendously in getting to know my casa owners and hearing their stories, in interacting with locals and understanding their history and in truly getting a sense for the culture.


Liz: I don’t, but since we had a tour guide this was fine. It was a little tough with our homestay though!


Dolly: I do not speak Spanish at all, I really wish I did. I found many people there speak at least broken English and we were able to at least communicate simple thoughts and sentences with locals we met at bars, on the street, vendors, or cab drives.





Quintessential Cuban car shot.



PART III: THOUGHTS ON CUBA


You made it there, so overall what would you say about your time in Cuba?

Schuyler: Overall, Cuba is one of the most unique places I have ever been. I think everybody should go… and now is the time! It still feels authentic and untouched but not for long.


Sidney: It was truly grand. Unlike anything else I’d every experienced. Cuba felt like a time capsule. The cars were decades old, the buildings were poorly maintained and dilapidated. Yet you don’t see the extreme poverty you see in Southeast Asia, India, or Africa. There’s scarcity - yes, but the people are educated and healthy, and they’ve learned to live with little.


The Cuban people are incredibly resourceful - they consume at low rates, they use every bit of the palm tree, every bit of an animal, they MacGyver tools. More than most other cultures I’ve seen, music runs in their blood. There’s always music playing, someone dancing, others singing. The Cuban people are warm and welcoming - never once did one make me feel unwelcome because I’m American. And the country is simply beautiful - gorgeous mountain ranges, some landscapes looked straight out of Jurassic Park - others straight out of colonial Spain, and some of the prettiest beaches in the Caribbean on the north coast.


Liz: Truly educational. This has a lot to do with the type of trip I went on. We had different lectures every day and excursions that were all planned out. It was not relaxing in any way, but it was incredible fun and I learned so much


Dolly: Cuba is a helluva unique and enchanting destination, I would absolutely recommend making the effort to visit it- and sooner than later if possible. My two trips were 9 months apart and in that time I could see an increase in tourism and development such as commercial type shops being more prevalent. The country is steeped with the most fascinating political history, which has filtered down to create a culture of people and a physical aesthetic unlike any other you may have seen.


How were the vibes towards Americans?

Schuyler: Cubans are friendly, warm and welcoming people. They’re feelings towards Americans are positive (with the exception of Trump).


Sidney: I never felt objectified because I’m American. Speaking Spanish goes a long way. One cab driver told me most Americans he met felt like they turned their nose up at Cuba. I think it might be because there’s still a stigma - because Americans travel to Cuba with a bit of fear of being objectified. To those I say, check your fear at the door! And brush up on a bit of Spanish.


Liz: The Cubans I met were very interested in US. I came the day after Trump won the election and people were curious what was going to happen to US Cuba relations. We met with the group Obsesion - an activist hip-hop group and they said they were very influenced by US music/fashion and activism. On the walls of their apartment they had pictures of Malcolm X and Rosa Parks - it was really cool. I asked them if they learned about these figured in school and they said, not really, they took it upon themselves to learn about Black culture in the US. They were very much influenced by it.


Caitlin: Cuba is a place where I felt guilty for being from the U.S. For starters, it’s weird to be traveling there from the U.S. when they can’t freely go visit our country. It's important to make an effort with Spanish, even if you know a little Spanish, be patient so that you have a better experience and you don’t give people from the U.S. an entitled reputation.


Were you able to really connect and converse with people there?

Schuyler: Yes, our guides shared a lot of information and insight about daily lives and Cuba, more generally. The artists are freer to converse, particularly with respect to politics. We learned about “The Special Period” – a euphemism for the economic crisis in the early 90s, caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which decimated the Cuban economy.


Sidney: Yes! Some places, it was easier than others. Vinales felt more touristy. If you get a chance to travel to a smaller city, or get lucky in Havana even, I promise you’ll leave Cuba becoming friends with your hosts.


Dolly: We had a few deceiving relationships where we thought we were really connecting with a local, and the conversation would take a sour turn toward the end when we were expected to pay for everything. Americans are seen as rich, and often it’s assumed you will put down as much money as they expect you to.


On the other hand, we met dozens of great people that were beyond generous with us, fun and happy, simply excited to be making new friends and helping us navigate our way through the country, without asking for anything in return. A few of them we continue to stay in touch with to this day.


Jason/Amy: We used Airbnb Experience - can find it through the app once in Havana. They're for a few hours a day, you can meet up with locals around a certain topic (i.e. economics, jazz, salsa, religion, etc.). We did "Being Cuban" and it was the best part of the trip. It was led by two economic professors, and they made us fall in love with the people there and appreciate the way they live their lives. It felt like we were visiting old, really smart friends.


You’ve been to “touristy” places; did any parts of your trip feel touristy?

Schuyler: Te Rumba and Santeria Tours were more “touristy” than our other experiences. All the same, the content is fascinating and I would recommend the tours for the right people.


Sidney: Vinales did, and the main drag in Trinidad was touristy as well. But the town is bigger than Vinales - so it’s a bit easier to get away from the main strip.


Liz: Downtown Havana had a lot of tourists and even Vinales did, but not a lot of Americans. Almost none. In the restaurants it felt touristy because most Cubans don’t go out to eat. People make low salaries and often don’t have the money to go to restaurants.


Dolly: Havana is a big city and like anywhere, it has areas that are authentic and other locations that are clearly touristy (like Hotel Nacional or Parque Central in Habana Vieja). But if you associate touristy with a tourist trap like Times Square, Vegas, or Disneyland- this is nothing like it! It is still real life for many people, though a little more congested with out-of-towners snapping photos and paying a premium for mojitos.


Jason/Amy: Not big fans of Cienfuegoes - we felt heckled and targeted as tourists. Varadero is a popular beach with all-inclusive resorts, not authentic Cuba.


What type of travelers did you come across?

Schuyler: In Vinales Valley and Trinidad, we came across a lot of backpackers from a number of different countries including the U.S. In Havana, the majority of travelers were international families.


Sidney: There were tons of Europeans - German, French, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish families and young people. Lots of Canadians as well. Fewer from Latin America, but not insignificant - people from Colombia and Mexico and Argentina.


Liz: All the travelers in Cuba were there to learn and explore.


Would you say that there are things to do in Cuba for all types of travelers? (foodie, adventurer, backpacker, art lover, hiker, history buff, party seeker)

Schuyler: Cuba is full of fascinating contradictions with something for (almost) everyone.. with the exception of the “foodie.” At the moment, don’t travel to Cuba for the food or the accommodation; however, that’s likely to change as the influx of American travelers continues.


Sidney: Foodies will have trouble here. Scarcity means the cuisine isn’t so inventive. Adventurous backpackers will love. Particularly because it isn’t always so easy! I found the art collection in Havana amazing (at the Museo de Bellas Artes). There are also some wonderful smaller art galleries and art scenes in and out of Havana if you know where to look. Hikes are abundant - there are some particularly good ones in Topes de Collantes. If you’re into history - you will love it. Particularly in the past 200 years, Cuba’s history, its struggle for independence (multiple times), its series of dictatorships and poor leaders, its revolutionary spirit, its plight to shake off imperialism from multiple other world powers… my advice would be - read up (or watch docs) before you go! Being able to visit the site of revolutionary battles will mean so much more with the historical context. Partiers will find a good time in Cuba, too. No doubt :)


Liz: We had a tough time with the food. I would recommend Havana to art and music lovers. We were exposed to so much art and music that was really incredible. I didn’t hike or backpack, but I know that’s definitely do-able in Cuba. I only went to the salsa clubs one night, but from my understanding it’s a great place for parties. Also, because it’s so safe, it’s cool walking through the cities at 3am.





The beauty of cultural exchange is the forefront of why more Americans are visiting Cuba today.



PART IV: RECOMMENDATIONS/ITINERARY INFORMATION


What was your general itinerary? How did you plan it?

Schuyler: The general itinerary was 2 nights in Vinales Valley, 3 nights in Havana and 1 night in Trinidad. The idea was to see as much as possible in a short amount of time. (Note, I recommend 2 nights in Trindad!)


Sidney: For background, I was there 23 days. I visited Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Havana again, Vinales, Cayo Levisa, Havana again. Initially I wanted to start in Santiago de Cuba (all the way east) and slowly make my way back west (via Baracoa, Guantanamo state, Guardalavaca, etc.) to Havana. But because it was high season and the holidays, buses were sold out. I had to readjust my itinerary - I've heard it's not uncommon for impromptu travel changes in Cuba - things don't always run smoothly :)


Dolly: You can easily spend a month traveling around Cuba and not see everything you want to see. In my two trips combined I’ve spent about 5 nights in Veradero, 2 weeks in Havana, and 2 weeks in Vinales/Pinar del Rio (where we were filming).


Jason/Amy: Havana is worth at minimum 3-4 nights. Vinales is a good second destination, only 2.5 hours from Havana. It's uniquely gorgeous, like a Brazilian farm meets a Sri Lankan jungle. It's famous for tobacco, coffee, sugar cane, horseback riding excursions. Though we didn't love Cienfuegos, Rancho Luna beach was incredible.


Based on where you went, can you speak to each location about what you liked most/least?

Schuyler: Vinales Valley is tobacco country, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The notable mogotes, the series of tall, rounded hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley are a sight to behold. Activities include: horseback riding, biking, hiking and half day to Playa de Cayo Jutia to boat, scuba dive/snorkel, and fish. However, Vinales is a small village with limited restaurants and nightlife.


Havana is a beautiful city, with cobbled squares and vintage cars, made up of distinct neighborhoods, notably: Old Havana, Vedado, Miramar and Siboney. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the “downtown” city center. Vedado is the vibrant heart of Havana, like the Brooklyn of Havana, more locals, and less tourists. The well-heeled districts of Miramar and Siboney are more “suburban” and removed from the hustle & bustle of city life.


Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with multi colored pastel hued terraces and rust-red roofs, beaches and mountains. Believe it or not, the nightlife is better in Trinidad than Havana, with vibrant, outdoors “casa de la musica” and Disco Ayala, a subterranean disco dance club in a cave. Other activities include: horseback riding, biking, hiking, beaches, sugar plantation and catamaran tours to the Keys.


Sidney: I loved Cienfuegos and Trinidad. I spent 5 days in each. It was probably a bit much for Cienfuegos, and just right for Trinidad. I generally spent the first half of the day doing some activity (a hike, a visit to a wildlife preserve, the beach, a visit to an old sugar factory), and the second half strolling town, photographing places, meeting people, and wandering.


Santa Clara is young and hip. It’s a university town. Lots of life, good nightlife, better food, but less quaint. I didn’t spend much time in Matanzas so it’s tough to speak to - but it’s a small, sleepy marina village with lots of history. It was the birthplace of lots of industry, but economic growth has slowed in the last few decades.


Havana is a blast. I could spend a lot more time exploring Vedado and Miramar - I spent the first few days exploring Havana Vieja and the Centro.Vinales is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s worth seeing. We went on a really beautiful, quaint horseback ride through the Valle del Silencio and visited a tobacco farm on the way. We shared beers with our cowboy guide and rode back after the sunset.


I’ve heard mixed reviews about Cuban food in Cuba - thoughts? Best/worst?

Schuyler: There’s a longstanding joke about Cuban food in Cuba: “If you want to see Cubans at a restaurant, go to Miami.” Basic Cuban food is fish or pork, rice and beans. As you can imagine, the fish is fresh, and the ceviche is a popular dish. Surprisingly, we did stumble upon a vegan restaurant on the road from Vinales to Havana. The really “good” restaurants are frequented by expats, with rooftop bars for nightlife after dinner.


Sidney: Yeah, not great. Best meal was a restaurant called San Jose in Trinidad. Really great Ropa Vieja. Worst was probably not eating - it’s hard to find well-stocked supermarkets so you won’t find things like power bars or snacks. Bring those snacks with you from home.


Dolly: Cuban food has a notoriously bad reputation and I get why! You can find delicious food in the privately owned restaurants called paladares. We adored Atelier in Vedado neighborhood, and Casa Abel (which is also a cigar lounge) in Centro Habana. My favorite spot is Cafe Galeria in Vedado- it’s a great coffee shop with good food and has a cute upstairs loft area. My thoughts are, who really cares? It’s all about the mojitos...


Jason/Amy:
-Restaurants in Havana: La Guarida - great ambiance, nice dinner. Ivan Chef Justo - good for a splurge. Paladar Los Amigos - traditional food. El Dandy - breakfast and coffee. El Chanchullero - good value meal. Drinks & Nightlight: Cafe Fortuna, La Zorra y El Cuervo - for jazz, Gato Tuerto - for Cuban music, 1830 - for salsa dancing, Sia Kara Cafe - our favorite bar with live music, Fabrica de la Arte - for art/drinks/dancing, Rooftop Hotel Saratoga - for poolside drinks.


-Vinales recommendations: Cafeteria Corazon del Valle - one of our best meals. Hotel Buena Vusta on Km 23 Road to Los Jazmines (also good hotel with a pool).


-Cienfuegos recommendations: Casa Prado - live music and amazing food.


Caitlin: I liked La Guarida restaurant and Fabrica las Artes in Havana.


Any must know pieces of advice, best anecdotes, Cuban secrets, that you want to share?!

Schuyler: The best nightlife in Havana is at the Malecón, the most famous seaside avenue referred to as “the longest bench in the world.” Have a sundowner with the peacocks on the balcony at the historic Hotel Nacional. Then, pick up a bottle of rum and join the party on the “lower deck.”


Sidney: Go with an open mind! There’s nothing to be afraid of - it’s a safe country. In fact, it’s bittersweet - the gov’t regulates crime against tourists more than against its own people. So in some ways, Cuba is safer for us tourists than it is for locals. It’s a sad fact - but use this comfort and safety to get to know the Cuban people.


Liz: If you go, bring things to donate! Bring soap, bring guitar strings, bring baseballs. They have a lack of stuff there due to the embargo. It’s hard for people to get simple things!



Dolly: Top experiences in Havana:
-Habana Vieja is simply incredible- wander up and down every street then park yourself in an old square with a cup of delicious coffee and watch the world go by!

-Enjoy a Vedado day- Ice cream at Coppelia, coffee at Cafe Galeria, a mojito at the infamous Hotel Nacional, wander Paseo street and others off Avenida de los Presidentes to admire the grand mansion-like architecture. Then dance the night away at Bertol Brecht Theater which offers a diverse schedule of musical performances, including funky jazz band, Interactivo, on Wednesday nights.

-Check out what DJs/performers are at F.A.C. (Cuban factory of arts) during your stay… when we were there we were lucky enough to catch Questlove’s first Cuban performance and it was one of the best nights of my life. It’s a giant factory featuring all arts- film, music, galleries, food, all in a very cool warehouse space with patios.

-Enjoy the night as a local would, by snagging a seat on the Malecon wall (sometime post 10pm is best)- vendors selling snacks, drinks, and playing music cause people to congregate in a really natural and wonderful setting. It’s a great place for people watching, or to strike up a conversation with locals.

-For the best cigar shop, visit Casa del Habano and strike up a conversation with the owner, Carlos Robaina, son of legendary tobacco farmer Alejandro Robaina. Pro Tip: the restaurant behind the cigar shop serves incredible pina coladas!

-Paul Reyes farm in Vinales, he’s a 20 minute hike from town but makes a mean selection of drinks, sells hand grown and rolled cigars, and you can have a homemade meal with the best hot sauce.





Vegas Grande waterfall. Topes de Collantes.