To start off our Latin American adventure, Veeran and I decided to fly to Cuba and spend a couple of weeks touring the land of salsa, rum and cigars. For this trip, we decided to stick exclusively to the Western part of the island mainly because of time and money. Travelling in Cuba can be exhausting and challenging so we advise travellers to take it slow and try not to fit in too much. Here’s how we spent our 2 weeks in Cuba!
Havana: 2 Days
No matter how many photos you’ve seen of Havana with its crumbling pastel-hued buildings and vintage cars, nothing can really prepare you for your arrival into this iconic city. We stayed at a Casa Particular on the edge of Centro Havana and on our first night, I sat on the balcony in awe, completely jet-lagged, watching the sunrise over the Capitolio Building while the old taxis started to take to the streets. The city has an atmosphere like nowhere else I’ve ever been and it was, undoubtedly, my favourite place in Cuba.
Cubans love music and dancing but it’s not all salsa. When we walked around Havana, we were constantly hearing Despacito blaring out of ramshackle houses and old 50s car with reggaetón pumping out of them. If you’re lucky enough to spend a Sunday in Havana, don’t miss the rumba party in Centro Havana where you can see the country’s love of music and dancing for yourself.
However, on your first trip to Havana, if you only had time to do one thing, I’d make it taking a tour of the city in an old car. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s a fun way to see the city and, also, an easy way to get out to Revolution Square which is quite far away from most of the main sights. If you want to go all out and have a complete touristy day in Havana, then don’t miss the chance to sip on a grapefruit daiquiri in El Floridita, one of Hemingway’s many old haunts. This is a place to nurse your drink- with daiquiris costing $6.50 a pop, it’s not cheap! Go here for one and find a Hemingway-free zone to spend the rest of your night downing $3 mojitos!
Havana honestly has so many things to do and, if you can handle the touts, you could easily spend a week here! But, in just 2 days, you can get a good feel for the city, too!
Vinales: 3 Days
Vinales has to be one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever been but, be warned, the mass number of tourists visiting means this rustic little cigar country isn’t short of its touts. Surprisingly, this rustic town is where we spent the most money during our 2-week trip in Cuba!
Most people who come to Vinales spend a day horseback riding which we decided to do too. Maybe I’m saying this because I hate horse riding and had a terrible time but I honestly think that hiking is a much better way to see the valley. We spoke to some other travellers who said the same thing. It’s more chilled plus it’s much easier to take photos. Do you know how difficult it is to shoot straight from the back of a horse?!
I’d spend your first day in the city just getting your bearings, chilling out and enjoying a drink overlooking the mountains at Casa Mogote. Then, the next day, do your hiking tour and spend the final day enjoying more mountain views from Hotel Emirita. We never got the chance to visit this mountainside hotel and their amazing pool because of the weather but if you’re there in the dry season, it would be an awesome place to chill. If you want to spend more time being active, then you could spend your final day cycling in Vinales Valley instead.
Getting from Havana to Vinales
Most buses in Cuba are run by Viazul but the terminal in Havana is inconvenient to get to. Instead, we took the Conectando bus which we booked through Iberostar Hotel. This bus picked us up at 8 am and dropped us off in Vinales at 12 noon.
Playa Giron: 3 Days
Did you know that Cuba is home to some of the cheapest diving in the world? At Playa Giron, you can do a fun dive for a mere $25 or your open water for $150. Since I don’t dive, I decided to just hire a snorkel instead (but spent most of the morning sunbathing with a Belgian girl whose boyfriend was also diving!)
Coming from Vinales, you’ll arrive late in the afternoon, so just spend your first day scoping out the area or catching up on sleep. The beaches here, admittedly, aren’t very impressive but our Casa owners took us to a great Cenote which is perfect for swimming in.
I recommend spending one-day diving and one day visiting a place called Caleta Buena. Caleta Buena is a lake side resort where you can enjoy unlimited food, drinks, swimming and sunbathing for just $15. We loved it here and think it’s heaven for tired travellers. If you’ve made your way all the down to Playa Giron for the diving but feel underwhelmed by the beach, spend a day here and enjoy the Caribbean Sea. It’s easy to reach with buses leaving from Playa Giron in the morning and returning in the evening.
How to Get from Vinales to Playa Giron
Although there is supposedly a bus from Vinales to Playa Giron, the people we spoke to insisted that it didn’t stop there so we took a collectivo instead. We were told that we would be travelling in an old car and technically, we were- a tiny Peugeot 105 with 4 backpackers squished in it! The journey cost $35 per person- Cuba ain’t cheap!
Cienfuegos: 1 Day
We only spent one day in Cienfuegos which was more than enough time to see the city. Cienfuegos is different from the rest of Cuba since it was once a French colony and so is full of wide boulevards and French style architecture.
I recommend first spending some time exploring the main sights of the city (there aren’t many) then walking down to the coastal area. At the old building, you can take the stairs up to the roof and enjoy an amazing view of the ocean that surrounds the city and the mountains in the distance. The cocktails here were a little bit pricey so we opted for beers instead- totally worth it for the view!
How to Get from Playa Giron to Cienfuegos
You can take a bus from Playa Giron. These buses leave regularly and will have you in Cienfuegos in under an hour.
Trinidad: 2 Days
Trinidad is one of Cuba’s most popular cities to visit and was one of our favourite places on the trip. By day, you can stroll along the colourful streets and visit the little churches and museums. But, by night, the city comes to life with music on the street, pop-up bars selling cocktails for a dollar and a huge range of restaurants to eat at. There’s even a nightclub in a cave which we sadly never got to.
Since the city itself is so small, you only really need a day to explore it. On your second day, visit Playa Ancon, one of Southern Cuba’s most impressive beaches! Or, if you want to spend more time on horseback (no thanks for me!), taking a tour into the Trinidad Valley is a highlight for most travellers in Trinidad.
How to Get from Cienfuegos to Trinidad
Buses between Cienfuegos and Trinidad are both quick and frequent.
Varadero: 2 Days
Being home to the largest tourist resort in the Caribbean, a lot of backpackers stick their nose up at visiting Varadero. However, the beaches here are undoubtedly beautiful and it’s easy to visit independently, too. Away from the main hotel zone, there are loads of casa particulars and decent restaurants to visit on a budget. It’s not just all-inclusive resorts! We spent our days here swimming in the Caribbean, drinking Havana 7-Year Old and enjoying the last couple of days of our holiday!
How to Get from Trinidad to Varadero
The bus from Trinidad to Varadero takes around 8 hours and leaves twice a day. We recommend taking the early bus and find yourself a casa while it’s still light!
Havana: 1 Day
There’s no better way to spend your final day in Cuba than being back in the hectic capital of Havana. Chances are there are a few things that you missed on your first visit to the city so you can spend some time catching up on your to do list or simply sipping mojitos! We had a whole new appreciation for Havana after we returned and, really, I would recommend spending some time here both at the beginning and end of your trip! We can assure you that you won’t run out of things to do!
How to Get from Havana to the Airport
It’s possible to take public transport to the airport. This option is much cheaper but the buses are irregular and crowded if you have luggage. If you’re like me and get a bit of travel anxiety, just spend the money and get a taxi! You’ll get there much more quickly with much less hassle!
Also, we were told that we would need to pay some departure tax before we left but they’ve either scrapped it or started including it in your flight cost. There was no indication of any departure tax costs anywhere but I’d still check before you get to the airport empty handed!
How to Find Cheap Flights to Cuba
If you’re flying from Europe or The UK, the cheapest way to get to Cuba is to fly from Cologne with Eurowings. This is what we did and, although we never got much free food or drink, for £180 it wasn’t a bad deal.
Booking Accommodation in Cuba
I recommend booking just your first few nights accommodation and arranging the rest when you get there. Trust me, you’ll never be stranded! We booked our first few nights through Air BnB as their site was the easiest to use. If you’ve not used Air BnB before, click here to use my code for money off your first stay!
If you’re spending 2 weeks in Cuba, this is a simple itinerary which you’ll probably find most travellers are following. It hits most of the top sights and gives you a good mix of beach, city and nature. More adventurous travellers with more time and a bigger budget also recommend the East of Cuba. You’ll see a lot fewer tourists there than in the West but I think it’s definitely an experience worth having.
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Have you been to Cuba? Let me know what you loved about it in the comments!