Last week, I talked about things to know before you go to Cuba. We are back with part 2 which is all about what to eat, where to stay, and what to do while you’re in Cuba! I’m taking a little break from the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale coverage today but if you’re looking for more, make sure to check out this page for the best products by category!
We went to Cuba over 4th of July weekend. We flew out first thing Saturday morning and returned Tuesday afternoon. All this to say, if you’re planning to stay in Havana the entire time, it’s plenty of time. My coworker asked me this week if I thought a weekend trip was feasible and yes, it is. Just make it a long weekend. If you’re looking to extend your stay, plan to spend a few days in other parts of the country like Viñales (jungle), Trinidad (another city), or Cienfuegos.
What to Do.
- Ride in an old car. You will see these everywhere so don’t worry about going on a quest to find them!
- Sip a mojito at Hotel Nacional at sunset. The patio is gorgeous and they also offer cigars for purchase if interested.
- Go to Fabrica Del Arte Cubano. It’s an art gallery where you pay $3 CUC to enter and get a $30 CUC credit to purchase drinks once inside. You get to look at art and pay for your beverages at the end of the night. Just make sure it’s open on the night you plan to go!
- Wander the streets in search of your favorite colorful buildings.
Where to Eat.
- O’Reilly 304. This was my favorite meal of the trip (also because we had met up with our friends for this one). But the food was absolutely delicious and the drinks were equally yummy (I ordered the watermelon mojito and it was a work of art!). There was constantly a long line outside so try to make a reservation in advance if possible. You can usually do that day of!
- Paladar Los Mercaderes. This was my second favorite spot for dinner! The ambiance was so romantic and they had live music during the meal (but it wasn’t overpowering). They had a few vegetarian options and wine. What more could a girl need? We didn’t make a reservation but also went on a Sunday night so it might have been slightly slower. It was highly rated on Trip Advisor so I’d recommend making a reservation just in case!
- Restaurante Paladar Cafe Laurent. We went here because it was highly rated and by our hotel. It was on a rooftop and you could see the sunset over Malecon while you ate. Matt really loved his food but they didn’t have much that was vegetarian! So I’d say it’s worth a visit if you’re staying in the area and aren’t opposed to eating meat. Otherwise, pass.
- La Bodeguita del Media, Donia Eutimia, and La Floridita all came highly recommended from friends of friends. We didn’t have a chance to go but I read a bunch of reviews before that said they were good!
What to See.
- Old Havana. The colorful buildings and heavy culture will steal your heart!
- Old Havana Square. Have lunch at one of the cafes on the square and people watch. We were serenaded by a 5 person band during our meal and the music was really good! I’m usually not a fan of live music – especially during meals because you can’t hear the other people – but I enjoyed it!
- Plaza de Armas. This is a really small plaza which we walked through to look out over the water. It’s nothing special but more just a marker for me of where we took the photo below!
- La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada. This is a gorgeous cathedral and it’s worth a look even if you’re not religious! View it from across the plaza to get this picture!
- Museum of the Revolution. If you’re a history junkie, stop in. Otherwise, admire from the outside. There is a $20 fee I believe and they make you check your bag at the front.
- Hotel Sevilla. This is a pink hotel that I really wanted to take pictures at! However, the outside was under construction while we were there.
- Fusterlandia. This was a bit out of the way but it reminded me of Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona, Spain! The artist, Jose Fuster, still lives at this location so it’s only open for a few hours a day but it’s free to enter. It was really interesting to walk through his home and view his skill which was just incredible. We paid $40 to have a private car take us there and back. Not a bad deal but we could have probably also gotten better.
Where to Stay.
We stayed at Hotel Nacional de Cuba. I didn’t intend to stay at a hotel but Matt went rogue and booked it. In hindsight, it worked really well for us. Every cab driver knew exactly where it was because it’s also a tourist destination. That made it incredibly easy to get to the hotel because we didn’t have to translate or explain where we needed to go. Since it is a tourist destination, you will see people being brought in on tour buses during your stay. If that makes you nervous, this hotel may not be for you. I’m somewhere in between on this issue and it really didn’t bother me at all.
The hotel had beautiful views since its right on the water as well as a few historical sites out back. There was a pool where we spent half a day relaxing before a thunderstorm rolled in (island life!). Breakfast was also included in our rate which was good because as a vegetarian, it was a little difficult to find options at times. If you have dietary restrictions, bring your own snacks from home. There are not many convenience stores or markets in Havana so if you should happen to see one, load up especially on water. It’s hot – it was 90 degrees the whole time in July!
Airbnbs are the other, more affordable option. If you’re looking for a budget friendly stay, I’d recommend airbnbs for a little more authentic experience. Read the reviews and you should be fine.
All in all, I’m really glad we got to visit Cuba before restrictions are put back into place. While it was completely different than anything we’ve ever experienced, we left feeling incredibly grateful for what we have. It was incredible to experience the widespread poverty, the lively culture, and meet the Cuban people. My heart feels for them! If you’re looking for a trip of luxury, this might not be a destination for you. However, if you want to see something you may never see again, definitely make the trip!