5 Essential Places to Visit in Cuba

Ever since December when there were public comments by the government about potentially lifting the 50-year embargo on Cuba, people have been asking me non-stop about Cuba. Is it safe to go to Cuba? What’s it like in Cuba? Is everything going to change once Americans are allowed to go to Cuba? How can you go to Cuba?
Cars, Havana, Cuba
The answers to those questions could easily each be a separate post but the most important thing is it’s very safe to go to Cuba. It’s important to also remember, the issues regarding Cuba go one way: the Cuban people love Americans and want us there.
Cuban Flag, Havana, Cuba
That said here are 5 essential places to visit in Cuba once you decide to go-and you should! I did these as a weeklong road trip where we drove in a circle more or less from Havana to Varadero to Santa Clara to Trinidad to Cienfuegos and back to Havana.
Map of Cuba

A funny thing happened to me with Havana on my latest trip to Cuba. This was my third trip to Cuba although only my second to the mainland and the capital-the other visit was a memorable visit to Guantanamo Bay. Havana was a lot better than I remembered it and I had a great time in the Cuban capital.
Havana, Revolution Square, Cuba
Havana is not a great city and I still say that Americans should manage their expectations on Havana but there are a lot of good things going on and it’s a very cool place to be. First and foremost the heart of Havana is the Malecón.
Malecon, Havana, Cuba
The Malecón is a somewhat dilapidated road that goes along the coast basically the full length of the main city of Havana. This is where cars can drive, people can run, ride bikes, stroll, gaze out into the ocean, watch the amazing Havana sunsets and for locals it is also the center of nightlife. It’s where everyone gathers at night with friends and family and has a little party, a fiesta if you will, along the wall.
Havana, Malecon, Cuba
So the best thing to do is join them. Grab some Bucanero’s or Cristal’s or whatever your drink of choice and go hang out on the Malecón. Locals will come and chat with you and you really feel a part of the city.
Bucanero, Beer, Havana, Cuba
Another can’t miss experience in Havana is to go to Habana Vieja or Old Havana. This is where the beautiful crumbling architecture actually is pretty well preserved and in some parts, it’s phenomenal. When I named Havana one of the 30 best cities in Latin America, it was essentially because of Habana Vieja.
Habana Vieja, Havana Vieja, Havana, Cuba
Walking the narrow alleyways or climbing the creaky church stairs and gazing out over the city makes you realize that things are not as bad as people might think in Havana. While poverty and education is still at a very poor level, it is not nearly as bad as some other countries.
Habana Vieja, Havana Vieja, Havana, Cuba, view
The other thing about Habana Vieja that was apparent to me that wasn’t back in 2008 when I went for the first time was the amount of tourists. There were a ton of Americans, Canadians, Europeans and Asians and I mean a ton of Asians!
Habana Vieja, Havana Vieja, Havana, Cuba, Plaza de Armas
Everyone was strolling the streets of the old city and taking it all in from the numerous churches to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza taking photos. It made you feel like you were in any other foreign tourist town.
Habana Vieja, Havana Vieja, Havana, Cuba, hotel
It was very refreshing and in my opinion, no matter what happens with the embargo, it will still be 15-20 years before there is major change in Havana and the rest of Cuba-if at all.
old cars, havana, cuba
Finally do not miss the Tropicana Nightclub on the outskirts of Havana. This is one of the few remaining bastions of the flashy Havana before the Castro’s came to power, before the revolution.
Tropicana Club, Havana, Cuba, dancer
It’s an open-air cabaret that I’ve now had the good fortune of seeing twice. The pictures speak for themselves and your $110 front row ticket comes with dinner, dessert, champagne, bottle of Havana Club rum, cigar and a lot of fun. I definitely recommend ponying up and spending a few more bucks for the best seats, it’s only a few bucks more for the best seats-just do it!
Tropicana Club, Havana, Cuba
If you’re lucky or perhaps unlucky, if you have white-guy syndrome and can’t dance like me, you may be called up on stage to dance with some beautiful dancers! Whether you can dance or not, it’s an experience worth doing-trust me on that one!
Tropicana Club, Havana Cuba, stage
Also, I stayed at the Hotel Presidente each night I was in Havana. It’s not up to US standards for a top line hotel but it gets the job done and is very popular as it has the best Wi-Fi in town, a good bar and decent pool. Don’t eat the food-it’s terrible, especially the pizza, and make sure the air conditioning works in your room before you agree to stay!
Hotel Presidente pool, Havana, Cuba

Varadero is simply put, one of the 30 best beaches in the world without question. It is a 20km stretch of perfect white sand and perfect crystal clear water. It is as picturesque as the Cuba you dream about. The beach is perfect.
Varadero, Beach, Cuba
Varadero is about a 2:15hr drive from Havana and all the hotels more or less are all-inclusive. This is fine; it’s basically like Cuba’s version of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, but with a nicer beach. The hotels though are not my favorite.
Varadero, Beach, Cuba
Big European chains like Melia and Iberostar dominate the hotels along the beach. That’s fine of course but the tastes are geared toward Europeans as in the food prepared and the culture of the pool, bar and beach. That is something that will change as Americans move in and take over some of the hotels but for now, it’s very European.
Varadero, Beach, Cuba, Melia, pool
Be that as it may, just head out onto the beach and you’ll forget about the bad food, crappy drinks in little plastic cups and speedos! For me at least, a great beach conquers all!
Varadero, Beach, Cuba
The other thing that was surprising to me about Varadero is that it actually has some decent nightlife-Havana does not. My buddy Joe and I went to the Beatles Bar twice, which is by far the most popular bar in Varadero.
Beatles Bar, Varadero, Beach, Cuba
They play rock and roll covers all night long with charismatic Cuban singers belting out great vocals. The beers cost $2 and they do not stop! It’s a great time and a great place to meet people as long as you don’t mind other tourists.
Varadero, Beach, Cuba, Beatles Bar, singer
There’s not much in terms of Cuban culture in Varadero-it is plain and simple a package tourist resort with charter planes taking hordes of people from Canada and Europe direct-basically it’s a cash cow for the Cuban government-true story. If you accept that and go with it, Varadero is awesome!
Varadero, Beach, Cuba

Santa Clara was the biggest surprise of our road trip. It was fantastic. I fully admit that I didn’t know much about and went to it en route to Trinidad on recommendation from Lonely Planet-yes that’s embarrassing. However, I am so glad we did!
Che Guevara Monument, Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara, Cuba
Santa Clara was the first city liberated in December 1958; which essentially marked the end of the Batista regime. The legendary revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara or simply Che liberated it.
Che Guevara Monument, Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara, Cuba
There is a massive mausoleum, monument, garden and museum dedicated to Che. There is even an eternal flame that was lit by Fidel Castro himself. This is also the resting place of Che’s remains, which were unearthed decades after his assassination in Bolivia from a mass grave and moved to Cuba.
Che Guevara Monument, Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara, Cuba, Fidel Castro
The museum is absolutely fascinating, whether or not you feel strongly for or against the revolution, Che or the Castro’s, it is still history. The museum is full of incredible photos, artifacts from Che’s life and basically acts as a timeline of his life and the Cuban revolution.
Che Guevara Monument, Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara, Cuba
It also details Che’s activities in other revolutions around the world-even in the Congo. You’re not allowed to take photos but I couldn’t resist the photo of Che, Raul and Fidel Castro-really cool stuff!
Che Guevara Monument, Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara, Cuba, photo, fidel, che, raul
The rest of Santa Clara isn’t really worth spending much time although it’s said to have the most prestigious Cuban university outside of Havana. The state of the town is crumbling and there’s not much else to look at but do not miss the Che Mausoleum and monument-you’ll be glad you went out of your way to the very center of Cuba to see it.
Che Guevara Monument, Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara, Cuba

When the Spanish Empire moved west to the Americas centuries ago they created cities like Trinidad. Very few are still standing as they once were. Trinidad is basically as it was in 1850-less the tourists!
Trinidad, Cuba
Trinidad is a magical place that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cobblestoned streets are basically perfect. Around every corner is another picturesque scene that will leave you clicking constantly on your camera. Take some time to get onto a rooftop restaurant to get some unique views and don’t forget to chill. That’s what you do in Trinidad-you chill!
Trinidad, Cuba
The best place in town, well actually about 10 miles out of town, to chill is Playa Ancon. It is the best beach on the southern coast of Cuba. Taxis can take you out there for almost nothing and they will wait for you or come back and get you whenever you want.
Playa Ancon, Trinidad, Cuba
There is a great stretch of beach with 3 big hotels where tourists stay. We didn’t stay out there but it’s definitely worth a visit if you didn’t get enough sun in Varadero!
Trinidad, Cuba
Trinidad may be a 6-hour drive from Havana but it is definitely worth it-just watch out for horsesh*t on the streets! There’s so many horse and carriages clopping around, you can easily step in it if you’re not looking-trust me!
Trinidad, Cuba

Cienfuegos is said to be the Paris of Cuba. I was a little hesitant about that title as I once heard that Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East and Beirut wasn’t that nice! I don’t know if I’d compare it to Paris but Cienfuegos did not disappoint.
Hotel La Union, Cienfuegos, Cuba
First, our hotel, the Hotel La Union, is a must stay. It’s a block off the main square, Parque Jose Marti, and the best place in town with a great rooftop and off-lobby bar. The pool is incredible as well.
Hotel La Union, Cienfuegos, Cuba, pool
Stroll into the main square and you will be surrounded by European style, grandiose, beautiful buildings. There is also an arch, which is why I think they compare it to Paris but the Arc de Triomphe it is not!
Parque Jose Marti, Cienfuegos, Cuba
After exploring the square, be sure to walk along the coastal walk to Punta Gorda where the most beautiful buildings and mansions are along the Bay of Pigs-yes that Bay of Pigs; which is actually quite beautiful!
Punta Gorda, Mansion, Cienfuegos, Cuba
Have a look inside Club Cienfuegos. It’s the only real marina I saw in all of Cuba and also a favorite of former Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez. His picture is all over the beautiful club and it’s easy to see why Chavez liked it so much.
Club Cienfuegos, Cienfuegos, Cuba
So basically go to Cuba, go now, go soon, just go and make sure to see these 5 essential places to visit in Cuba. It’s a unique place for sure and while it won’t change anytime soon, it will change. Just picture yourself on the Malecón looking at a sunset like this…ahhhhhhh!
Malecón, sunset, Havana, Cuba

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  1. Your photos are incredible. I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba.

  2. We went to Cuba last year thru Mexico City and had the best trip to Havana and Varadero. This brought back a lot of memories. Thanks for sharing Lee!

  3. Thank you for posting this. I’ve been debating going to Cuba for years now and always chickened out.

    I want to do this exact trip, looks like you had a blast Lee.

  4. Having been to each of these places (except for the last two), I would whole heartedly agree with you here, Lee. For your American readers, I highly suggest reading Che Guevara’s “Motorcycle Diaries” before going to Cuba. It explains how a 20-something year old Upper Middle Class student from Argentina ended up becoming ardent Revolutionary. Plus, if you are into adventure travel (why else would you be reading Lee’s blog?), then you can definitely appreciate this other perspective of Che that may not always be taught in our schools.

    Che’s image can been literally seen everywhere in Cuba as he is considered to be a National Hero of the Revolution. By reading his diaries beforehand, I had a much better appreciation of Cuba history and culture, especially on my day trip to Santa Clara and the Mausoleum.

    • Ray, I agree that Motorcycle Diaries is a must read or at least see the movie which I also thought was excellent. It’s really amazing how revered Che is in Cuba and certainly by Castro-he’s turned him into a real hero.

      • Sorry you did not take the time to learn of the other aspect of Che’s persona….that of a cold blooded killer who murdered under the sanctimonious label of “revolutionary”. He was not CUBAN and was soley a disaffected affluent Argentinian with too much wealth and too much time on his hands. Now Camillo Cienfuego was a true Cuban patriot. Read about him.

        • Philippa Haselgrive says

          Agreed! I too was very taken by the brilliant photo of the trio in the mausoleum. Fidel the strongman Boss; the younger brother, Raul, looking to please his brother in any way possible (and said to be far more cruel in this endeavour) and the disaffected Che…sycophant supreme!

          • Philippa Haselgrove says

            Don’t forget Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa…
            Philippa haselgrove… note correct spelling!

  5. Michael C says

    Is it true that there is no wifi outside of Havana and also can you use credit cards yet or do you have to pay cash for everything still? Do they charge an outrageous amount to change US$? Thanks.

    • Michael, they charge 13% on USD so it’s best to change Euros or Pesos although you have to find a bank to change Pesos as hotels will pretty much only take USD, CAD or Euros. I didn’t find any wifi outside of Havana at all and in Havana only at the top hotels could you get a 1 hour scratch card for internet.

      • Lisa DeGroff says

        The Hotel de Santiago in Santiago on the eastern end of the island has computers, but I don’t think wi-fi. It was easy to buy a card and their Internet Cafe was not crowded the two times we stopped in.

  6. This is a great list Lee and I cannot wait until my visit next month. So many great suggestions here – will definitely bookmark ^_^

  7. Love to go to Cuba but I’m a lawyer and don’t want to risk being arrested upon returning. Is that a legitimate worry? How hard is it to get a legal visa or whatever you need?

    • Travis, to my knowledge and from what I was told, there has not been any fine handed out since 2007, don’t quote me on that but that’s what I’ve heard. Yes it’s pretty easy to get a visa if you apply, the down part is you have to be a part of a tour unless you have certain exceptions granted but it really isn’t hard. I went from Havana to Cancun for a wedding and half the plane was Americans going the old fashioned way so I wouldn’t sweat it.

  8. I don’t get jealous of most of your trips but this one looks pretty sweet man. Great pics.

  9. I have only been in Havana but I totally agree with you on how you described it. It is not a great city but it is a very cool city to be in and has a vibe about it that is unmistakeable. The Malecon holds a special place in my heart and where I spent each night. Great recommendations and I wish I had paid top dollar for the best seats. Your pics show me what the value was!

  10. My grandmother actually told me about the Tropicana Club. I would love to see that show someday. It looks amazing and thanks for sharing your trip with us Lee.

  11. It was very worth reading your article about Cuba. The pictures in particular, they’re real gems of the Island.

  12. Nathan Argenta says

    DUDE Lee this is awesome stuff. For sure on my bucket list (Cuba) and most likely will be visiting these 5 places when I go on that adventure! Thanks man 🙂

  13. While your assessment of Havana as not a great city is understandably subjective, stating the Cuba’s education is at a poor level is ridiculous. Cuba boasts an excellent educational system. Read up on the countries you visit before posting nonsense. It would give more credence to your subjective assessments if you did.

    • Fair enough…Just going off what I was told about the education. Not sure where the statistics are found to be honest either way…thanks!

    • Yes, thank you for pointing this out, Cubano. It’s about the only good thing Castro did for Cuba. Also, many cubans in the city do speak some English…and if you speak to them in Spanish they tend to know more about American culture than Americans themselves. Education is super strong in Cuba.

    • Miguel cabrera says

      Yes for that person the made the ridiculous comment on Cuba educational system Cuba is one of the best educational system in this part of the hemisphere! So read on Cuba and its past and present history! It\\\’s very rich and it\\\’s amazing country. It was te richest country before the revolution. It had the first of many things before other countries in the world! It will rise again like the old golden years !

  14. Try looking here for a start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Cuba
    Come on! It is not hard to find statistics on the internet. And I know what everyone says about Wikipedia, but these entries are well referenced. To give just one example, the literacy rate in Cuba is higher than in both the US and UK – something to think about.
    Overall, thanks for this article though. Nice pictures, interesting commentary. I found your anti-European comments amusing… ‘bad food, crappy drinks, speedos’! Don’t mind The Beatles though eh? Guess this is just an ongoing battle of sensibilities between the US and… well, everyone.
    I wonder what Ché would have made of your forecast for the future though: ‘That is something that will change as Americans move in and take over some of the hotels but for now, it’s very European.’ I would be interested to know your conception of what the revolution was actually about?

    • I think all he meant was if youre going and looking for Cuban food, you wont be getting that at the resorts, since they cater to Europeans.

    • Thank you for all the tips! The only comment that stroke me is when you talked about Beirut which make me now doubt all the creviews you made! Strongly recommend you re-visit with locals. I travel a lot and there is nothing better than the hidden gems of nature, the nightlife, the beach and the food in Lebanon!

    • Lots of great tips in this article – thanks! Did a bit of an eye roll ???? though when reading the comments re Cuba being Euro-centric – but that this is something that will change as ‘Americans move in and take over’ some of the hotels. Eeeks no!!!! That’s the last thing Cuba needs!! Americans ‘taking over’ is what we don’t want – strip malls, fast food chains, commercialization of culture. No thanks! I’d take the Eurocentric version any day. I agree that American culture was once ‘great’ but that era passed some time ago I’m afraid.

  15. cuba has the most ugliest beach on earth ..

  16. Great pics! Actually heading that way tomorrow for xmas as a surprise trip for my folks! How do i get tix for the Tropicana, seems like a must do event. Still trying to decide what area to stay in as we are only going to be there for 4 nights. Did you take taxis everywhere or did you rent a car? So glad for this post, it\\\’s really helpful!

  17. That seems like a great trip.
    I wanted to follow up to the above question.
    How long was your trip?
    Did it feel rushed, or was it adequate time in each location?
    What would you have changed?
    Did you rent a car?

  18. Lee, thanks for sharing your insight and pictures, sounds/looks amazing! A couple of questions for you. How worried should I be about eating the food? Is it basically as long as I stay away from the water and eat mostly cooked foods I should be fine? Also, is 8 days enough to see Havana, Vinales, Trinidad, and Santa Clara? Lastly, what are your thoughts on seeing Bay of Pigs and Cayo Largo?

    • Hi Lee, loved this guide! I’m heading to Cuba next week!!
      Did you hire a car & travel all around or do day trips? I’ve been looking into hiring a car to drive but just not sure how to work out how long you’re allowed to hire it for & if you hire from Havana & drop back to there?

  19. If you’ll allow me. .: WTF is wrong with European style? Just cuz u don’t like it does not mean is bad and crap! ;#€€=¥%,@^!!!

  20. Paul Fishman says

    Dont forget to mention Los Jardines De Cienfuegos inland to see as well.

  21. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Ryan White says

    Thanks heaps for sharing this list and the wonderful photos! Just wondering how many nights did you spend in each of the 5 places? What website did you book the hotels on? Cheers.

    • This trip, we had 3 nights in havana and the hotel was pre-booked by my Mexican travel agent who booked our flights…2 nights in Varadero and one each other place I think it was…Santa Clara we didn’t spend the night just a few hours to visit en route to the south


    Lee, did you rent a car there? Is it ok to do that? Could you give some some tips on that?

    • I did not rent a car…it’s very complicated and it’s easier and cheaper to hire a driver.

      • Hi Lee, great post – I am planning to do something very similar next month.
        Did you hire a driver from Havana for the whole trip or did you hire a driver from each location you visited? Was it very easy to do so? Can you give a rough cost for, per day or each trip?
        Many many thanks

        • Hi Will,

          Bear on a minimum of $40 per day if you are staying and eating in a private lodging. Then all the extras will keep adding. Hope you enjoy your trip.

      • Hi Lee
        Going next month and was trying to rent a car but seems the only cars available at this time are Benz @ about $250 per day, little out of my budget. They show economy cars at around $50 -$60 per day but when you try to book them it says sorry none available.
        What was the average price of the hotels you stayed at. Where the pricey in all locations or just Havana? They seem a little pricey there so we’re considering just staying at casa’s which seem fairly reasonable.

  24. Hi Lee, did you spend the night at Cienfiegos and a night at Trinindad? Do you consider worth it spending the night at Santa Clara?

  25. DenaGal4Evr says

    Hello Lee 🙂
    Thanks so much for sharing. I’m planning to visit Cuba for the first time this summer. I am a woman who will be traveling alone (as I have done many times). I’d like an opportunity to experience the dance, music and nightlife of the country. This will be the primary subject of a piece that I am writing. Any tips you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

  26. Great article. very informative. Thank for sharing!

  27. I travelled to Cuba last month with an US based agency. I heart about them through this people http://deniseandkarel.com/2015/05/30/our-trip-to-cuba/ and my trip was also fascinating.

  28. Thanks for sharing. I am planning on going to Cuba next year and I was browsing for information. Your website came out first, but a major note is that Cuba actually has the best education system in Latin America, and one of the best in the world. The same can be said about their health system. You can check the World Bank reports for more information.

  29. Jef Cognie says

    Your fotos are amazing! We’e going to Cuba for 3 weeks so I guess we’ll probably be able to see more than these 5 places. Do you recommend any other beaches/cities/cayos/etc? We would prefer going to not so super-fully-crowded-by-tourists places so if you know anything else, tell us please!

  30. Is Cuba a safe place to take some children?

  31. Sue Varnals says

    Hi Lee your photos and description both fantastic. Planning a visit to Cuba in 2017 any particular time of the year you would recommend to go or stay away from?

  32. Asa Baum says

    Hi Lee, how did you get about across your trip, did you just rent a car, is this reasonable easy cheap to do if so?

    Did you book the cabaret tickets online or just buy tickets there?

    I’m going to be there from 8th – 17th Oct, we basically have 8.5 usable days there, we are planning to do a very similar trip to yours so all your information is really useful.

  33. Hi, I literally just bought my plane tickets (I’m too spontaneous sometimes). But i just wanted to check with anybody to make sure I’m able to get my visa at the cuban airport? Jetblue offered tickets super cheap so i didnt need to go through an agency.

    Any info would help! Thanks!

  34. Hi Lee.

    Thanks for sharing. I leave for Cuba in 3 days. I was wondering how you were able to rent a car. And did you just use a map or do navigation apps work there off of satellite?

    Thanks again

  35. Hi Lee,

    Thanks for this post, looks amazing! What’s the average you spent on a driver per day? My two friends and I are going in November and we’re looking to carry enough cash with us to last the trip.

  36. there will be 5 of us traveling together will it be difficult to find driver’s with cars to fit us?
    can we pre arrange any drivers? We are planning to go the day after Thanksgiving for one week.

  37. Great Post! Any recommendations for hotels in Trinidad? I know you stated you haven’t been to Santiago (you will hit it your next trip), however, have you heard of any good hotels there in Santiago as well?

  38. Lee,

    When you say that booking through Jetblue, they “take care of the paper owls for you” does that mean they provide you the license US Citizens need for the People to People exchange? I cant seem to find information online that confirms where to obtain this license. Calling Cuban travel agencies is of no help either.

    • Hi Francis, I didn’t actually end up going on the flight itself bc JetBlue submitted my name as media which I was unaware of which is a different visa altogether. I didn’t apply bc I didn’t know I was supposed to. However, I’m told that any passenger booking with them or any other airline who will soon be flying commercial to Cuba can simply pay $50 at the US airport for the visa and sign an affidavit of some sort that they are going for one of the 12 approved reasons. I haven’t done it myself but others who went as tourists without actually admitting to being tourists said it was easy. I will be going myself later this year and will write a whole thing on how it works as a tourist. Basically it’s still confusing but I imagine it’s a lot easier in practice than finding info online. Good luck if you go and let me know!

  39. Planning to go to Cuba soon (from the UK). Really enjoyed your article & photos, made me even more keen to go!

    I was really confused by \”they charge 13% on USD so it’s best to change Euros or Pesos although you have to find a bank to change Pesos as hotels will pretty much only take USD, CAD or Euros\”.

    Had to google this, to check that you meant 13% when you convert USD to Pesos (CUC), not 13% added to the bill if you\’re using USD in hotels.

    For fellow UKers, the uk.gov site says you can also convert sterling there, but they won\’t take Scottish notes. Think I\’ll take a mixture of dollars & pounds.

    [Was also a bit puzzled as to what \”European\” food & drink would be. I\’m guessing you mean chips (fries) with everything, and drinking a lot, which I\’d like to be offended by, but couldn\’t really argue with!]

  40. Cuba is a most adorable destination for visit. I had great time there but Now my father have a plan to take trips from los angeles in coming up days for having fun. He so much excited about this tour it. I am so sure that it will be a memorable time fo him. I hope he will came back with a lot of pleasant memories.

  41. I really enjoyed when i read your adventure trip
    also i want to visit Cuba on December
    Could you please help me how can i rent a car in Havana? how much it cost daily?

    thanks in advance

  42. Hey, Lee, thanks for sharing this amazing blog! I have a bucket list to visit Cuba. Let me share favorite places about Cuba with everyone: 1. Old Havana (Habana Vieja)
    2. Varadero
    3. Trinidad
    4. Guardalavaca
    5. Playa Paraíso, Cayo Largo del Sur

  43. Lee,

    Me and a friend will be visiting Cuba Dec 7-20. We arrive in Havana and plan on making our trek to Santiago de Cuba. We considered doing the bus, but feel as though 16hrs is a lot of wasted time. We considered renting a car, but was told that is problematic. We considered hiring a driver, but was told that is very expensive. But after reading your post/comments, it seems like hiring a driver is the way to way for what we plan on doing. So how did you go about hiring a driver in the various locations. Did you have a contact in Cuba, or did you do it online?

    Thanks in advance!!


    • Hey Roxanne, I just hired local guys with cars I found on the street. Some were cabs drivers and others just regular guys. I’ve done that all over the world. Just talk to then, get a feel and go with it. Always negotiate price first as well.

      • Thanks so much for the reply Lee…Another question, pretty safe doing this? We are 2 women traveling Cuba for 2 weeks. And this would be IDEAL, however, we want to make sure we are safe.

        • It’s safe yes just use usual precautions and trust your gut instincts especially with drivers or anyone you hire who has access to you

  44. Cay Chandler says

    Hi Lee,
    OFAC application is online and lists the 12 reasons you can go to Cuba, you have to supposedly get a \’license\’ to go based on one of the 12 criteria on http://www.treasury.gov also the numbers in NY for the Cuban Embassy re Visa are 1-800-540-6322 or 1-202-797-8518. I am going to start the process and see what happens, will let you know.

  45. Hi Lee,

    Great post and by far the best one I’ve read. Thank you so much for this! For the most part you mentioned there isn’t any wifi or at least it’s hard to come by. When you were out there, did you book your hotels in advance? Normally when I travel, I just book through booking.com when I arrive at the county I’m visiting. But if wifi is hard to find that might be a problem. I randomly looked on booking.com and Orbits for hotels in January 2017 and they literally have no vacancies. Any who, if you didn’t book a hotel in advance, did you have trouble finding one to stay at? Also, did the hotels accept Visa Credit Cards? Thank you in advance!

  46. Cuba is an amazing region for visit as traveling point of view. It is also famous destination and my favorite too. I also explored your shared all these places during my journey and have sucha nice time there. It is a best place to enjoy family holidays. I am going to take westcoast tours in coming months with my few friends. I am so happy for it and I hope we will came back with many pleasant memories.

  47. Thanks for the mention in the article!

  48. Out of the 12 possible visas you can get as an American going to Cuba, which one did you get? Did you have to prove anything? Were there any complications? Cause I am going to Cuba in January and I’m not sure which visa I am going to get.

  49. Sadly yours is a typical American non-Cuban opinion which somehow only sees history from Castro Era forward. Cubas History is the oldest of the Western world and one that when you look at the current end result of the revolution should be seen through a wider lens then one of idealism. Especially when you come from a country filled with so much racial and economic disparities. I am Cuban American and can say Cuba is beautiful as and has much to offer even if only from a historical point. Since without Cuba you wouldn’t have the America we have today.

  50. This article is amazing… thanks loads, my wife and I are going to Cuba in February and you made our lives much easier.


  51. HeavenlyJane says

    Correction. “That Bay of Pigs” is the next major bay to the west and a good 90 minutes by car. Cienfuegos and the neighborhood of Punta Gorda is on the Bay of Cienfiguegos.

    We spent 3 nights in Trinidad and could have easily had 1 more night there. It is a chill town with a great night life (strolling, restaurants and live Cuban music everywhere – just let your ears lead you). We spend 3 nights in Cienfuegos and probably 2 was enough.

    We did a self tour and checked the “people-to-people” travel classifications on our affidavits. It’s difficult to visit Cuba without interacting with the Cuban people. We hired private guides in each tour to share their city during the day at a cost of 60CUC (~$60 US) for as long as we wanted. Learning about Cuba from our guides was the highlight of the trip.

    Tip: do not go to Cuba without having prearranged your lodging. To do otherwise is to set yourself up for grief.

  52. Hi,

    I’m heading to Cuba for 2 weeks at the end of this month.

    I’d like to get some beach time in, possibly in Varadero, but don’t want to stay at any of the resorts there. If I stay in a casa, can I still access the beaches in Varadero or are they all linked to the resorts?

    I’m planning on visiting Havana (4 nights), Vinales (2 nights), Cienfuegos (1 or 2 nights), Trinidad (4 nights) and last two nights in Havana but stay in a different part of the city.


  53. Just getting back from Varadero. Wish I had a chance to visit Havana as well.

  54. Hi. So you said that you drove there…? How did you find a rental car company there? I’ve been trying to look for one but I haven’t been able to find any.

  55. i love cuba and i now want to go ps im cuban

  56. great job

  57. Amazing… You must have enjoyed a lot.

  58. Hey Lee, great article!!!! Planning to go to Cuba for one week in September with my husband and two friends. Would love to do what you did as well as maybe leave 1 or 2 days to spend at the beach, if possible. So thinking about exploring Havana toward and at the end of the trip. Can you advise or guide me where we should start after arriving to Havana? Also, we are planning to stay at Casa Particulares for the most post, do you reserve the rooms from here or can we do it on the spot? For these long/overnight trips – how do we
    organize the trips? Someone suggested to go to any Hotel in Havana and reserve them, is that still the case?
    Loved your post about visiting The Tropicana and we are definitely planning not to leave without visiting that Magical place. $110.00 ticket is somewhat expensive for Cuba, but I do agree – it’s probably worth it. How do we get tickets for the show there? From here or once we arrive? Do they play shows every day or only on weekends? Thank you

    • Hi Gina and good questions. You can get Tropicana tickets at any decent hotel, they’ll have some sort of tour/concierge desk. As for casa particulars I don’t 100% know although I know several people that have done that. I’m sure you can email some via google search but what I would probably do if I was going that route would be to use Airbnb as that’s pretty prevalent now in Cuba and you feel you can trust it better. All the best!

      • Thank you. And how should I organize our trip once we fly into Havana? Start from the vary far point and keep coming back toward Havana? About the show at Tropicana, do they play them every night or only on weekends? Have decided not to go for 8 nights. Thank you

  59. Lee, can you please advise – do I need and overnight stay in Varadero or one day is enough? The same goes for Trinidad and Cienfuegos? Trying to map out my trip. We are going for 8 days and arriving on Friday and leaving the following Saturday. I would like to stay in Havana from Friday through Sunday. I am guessing and then start traveling to the places like Varadero, Trinidad and Cienfuegos and then need to come back to Havana hopefully by Thursday or early Friday. Actually, I also want to stop in Vinales and spend some time there as well. Thank you

  60. Great site, thank you. Going to Cuba in 2 weeks and have question about money. I keep hearing that mastercard works or at least you can draw money from bank ATM with a credit/debit card ? carrying all money on hand is uneasy. Traveling from USA.

    All US dollars get charged 13% exchange fee, so it is better to get Canadian dollars and then exchange them there that way you save about 13$ per 100$ exchanged…any thoughts on that ?

    Any input would be appreciated.


  61. How did you plan on getting around? Car, public trans, etc?

    My thought process is fly into Havana, rent a car. Drive to Vinales during 3-4 days Havana. Drive to Varadero for two nights, drive to Santa Clara (stay 1-2 nights), drive to Trinidad (1 night), drive to Cienfuegos (1 night), drive to Havana for end of trip.

  62. Lee, can you please advise – do I need and overnight stay in Varadero or one day is enough? The same goes for Trinidad and Cienfuegos? Trying to map out my trip. We are going for 8 days and arriving on Friday and leaving the following Saturday. I would like to stay in Havana from Friday through Sunday, this way we can see the show at the Tropicana. And then, I am guessing, start traveling to the places like Varadero, Trinidad and Cienfuegos and then need to come back to Havana hopefully by Thursday or early Friday. Actually, I also want to stop in Vinales and spend some time there as well, but I understand that you can make as a day trip from Havana? Thank you

  63. HI Lee,

    I am leaving manana from LAX, and viazul is sold out for havana > varadero. What other transportation do you suggest ?


  64. This was awesome! I like how honest you are about the locations. We will definitely be adding some of these to our Cuba guide! Thanks!

  65. You do realize that Beirut has been through 15 years of civil war right? That would explain why you didn’t find it ‘nice’ (apparently it wasn’t obvious to you so thought I’d enlighten you). When they called it the Paris of the Middle East that was in the 60’s…

  66. Varadero was nice for two-three overnights, city doesn’t have much though and this is meant for the all inclusive resorts and the beach. Santa Clara you can drive through and see and not stay over night (stayed two nights and it got boring quickly; must have missed the museum as it was closed when we went to the big Che monument, but I don’t feel I missed much here). Trinidad needs two nights (it was good for two nights only). Cienfuegos (went for two nights, could have done two nights with a very early morning departure on the third. Havana (had 4 full days, 5 nights and this was good but could have had more; one of those days was a trip to Vinales which was great).

  67. Michelle Kelley says

    could you tell me how you got around? I have been to havana, but am planning on a 5 day driving trip. Not sure how to rent a car as I cannot find a website which to do so, any suggestions? Thanks for the info, cannot wait to see some of the sights.

  68. Love this article, I’ve just got back from Cuba (Havana and Varadero) and am definitely thinking about the next trip there.

  69. Philippa haselgrove says

    The real Cuba is to be seen in Santiago de Cuba! Baracoa also interesting although it seems to be forgotten.
    Lovely photos…

  70. I would love to live on Cuba year or so. Too bad there is no stable internet.

  71. You really had fun in Cuba. We also traveled to Cuba this summer (2018) and found it pariculary children-friendly. It\’s safe, low cost and exotic.

  72. Lindsey Arroyo says

    I stopped reading the second you said that cubans were “liberated” from Batista’s regime. You obviously don’t know much about the Cuban people, for how many times you’ve been. What a shame

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