A One Week in Cuba Itinerary

One Week in Cuba

What can you see and do with one week in Cuba?  After spending a whole month in Cuba we realized it is not a country to rush, but a country to travel slowly through and enjoy the people and the culture. Cuba is changing rapidly and if you want to experience the real Cuba now is the time to travel there.  Your trips to Cuba will be unlike any other country you have visited. It tickles all your five senses.

We get a lot of questions on ‘what to do in Cuba?’ so we have put together a Cuba itinerary which will cover 1 week in Cuba, other posts will cover  2 weeks and 3 weeks and a mega post on 4 weeks in Cuba. They will cover the best places to visit in Cuba, where to stay, where to eat, information on wifi and money changing and how to travel around safely.

Another question we get asked all the time:  “is it safe to travel to Cuba?”  From spending 1 month travelling around we can say it is a safe destination, not once did we feel insecure.  The people are lovely and incredibly helpful. Even when our bus broke down on the way to Bayamo, the locals on board who were also heading that way, took us under their wings, arranged a private taxi for all of us to go to Bayamo and another taxi to take us to our accommodation at 8 pm at night.


Our top tip is to research, research and research before you go.  This is one destination where we would recommend that you take a hard copy guide on Cuba.  The internet is still not widely available and most of the time you will be sitting in parks, open to all types of weather, just trying to login.

What Travel Guide Should I Take to Cuba?
We highly recommend the Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Cuba.

Editor Update April 2018

Map of Cuba

One week in Cuba

Destinations for One Week in Cuba – map courtesy of Google Maps

How long is Cuba?

Cuba is 1,250 km in length and at its widest point 191km.

One Week in Cuba – Havana and Vinales

Did you know…

You can now take our article with you after you have downloaded, this gives you the option to walk with our article offline, which is perfect in Cuba where the WiFi can be an issue. For more information click here.

GPSmyCity

 

Spending one week in Havana and Vinales will certainly give you a taste of city and country life. Don’t rush either of them that is why we are suggesting one week covering both.

Havana

One week in Cuba

Havana Map courtesy of bestcubaguide.com

Visa to Cuba

We found it was cheaper to fly to Cuba from Mexico, and we flew with Interjet from Cancun. Not only was it a short flight and good value but the visa cost was only USD20 which was issued to us when we were checking in.  Visa costs in the USA at the time of travelling was USD120.

 On arrival Havana Airport

When changing your  Mexican Pesos, British Pounds, Euros or Canadian Dollars at the Airport you may experience quite a queue.  These four currencies are the easiest ones to bring into Cuba.  US Dollars carry a 10% tax on them whilst all currencies carry a 3% tax when changing.

It is quite easy to change your currency at a Cadeca (money changer) your accommodation hosts usually know the closest one to you.  Check with your accommodation hosts first as they may change your currency for you.  Hotels normally have currency exchange services.

If you would like to prebook a shared shuttle in advance click here for more information.

Getting from the Airport to Your Accommodation

Our Airbnb hosts arranged a taxi service for us, this is the easiest way to arrive at your destination. There is an information desk at the Arrivals Hall on Level 2 check with them for an approximate price for your journey to Havana if you are going to use a local taxi.  It takes about 30 minutes to get to downtown Cuba which can cost anywhere between USD25 – USD30 (CUC25 – CUC30).

Our Recommended One Week in Cuba Itinerary – 7 nights/8days

Day One

Arrival into Havana and check into your accommodation.

Day Two

Havana (see below for recommended activities)

Day Three

Havana (see below for recommended activities)

Day Four

Bus from Havana to Vinales with Viazul Buses.

There are 2 journeys a day both costing USD12 per person

Depart 09.00 Arrive: 12.40

Depart 14.30 arrive 18.20

Day Five

Vinales – we recommend the horse riding tour to the tobacco fields (see below for more activities)

Day Six

Bus from Vinales to Havana with Viazul Buses USD12.00 per person

Depart 08.00 Arrive 11.20

Depart 14.00 Arrive 17.30

Day Seven

Havana (see below for recommended activities)

Day Eight

Depart Havana

Places To Visit in Havana Cuba

We stayed in the Vedado area and walked into Old Havana via the Hotel Nacional and Central Havana. Vedado is a lot less touristy than Old Havana and positioned well for being able to walk everywhere. Vedado has some of the most beautiful architecture in Havana.  Old colonial mansions that have been restored to their former glory and others that are crumbling and falling down crying out to be renovated and given a new lease of life.  There are long leafy boulevards leading down to the Malecon, with cafes and restaurants in the most unlikely places.  To walk this area gives you a feel of what Havana was like in its heyday.  Don’t rush it.

One Week in Cuba

Hotel Nacional

A visit to Havana’s Hotel Nacional should be on your ‘what to do in Cuba’ list.  The Hotel Nacional is Havana’s 5-star luxury hotel with history and stunning views over the Malecon in the Vedado area. When you arrive at the front entrance of the hotels and check around the doors and you can still see bullet holes from the battle on October 2, 1933, known as the Battle of the Hotel Nacional.  The battle took place between the non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Cuban army who supported Batista and the Cuban army.

In December 1946 the Mafia held their Havana Conference there.  If you have seen The Godfather II Movie, the Havana Conference was reenacted in one of its scenes.

Nat King Cole was due to sing in the Hotel Nacional in 1956, but because he was black he was turned away.  Many famous people have stayed in the hotel over the years including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jimmy Carter, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill to name a few.

Central Havana

One Week in Cuba

A photographers delight – Central Havana

Central Havana is a photographer’s dream for those location shots you see everywhere of Havana.  Dusty dirty streets, crumbling old buildings, washing hanging outside, classic cars and kids playing in the street whilst adults are chatting, drinking or smoking pungent cigars keeping an eye on them.

We walked through Central Havana three times and still did not have time to wander down all the back streets.  We felt that we were in an old 50’s film set and we were the extras, (unpaid of course).

Old Havana

You will need a day or two to explore this area. Here are some of the ‘must sees’:

Cathedral de San Cristobal Havana

One Week in Cuba

In Old Havana you cannot miss the Cathedral

The stunning Italian Baroque Cathedral completed in 1787 by  Francesco Borromini, an Italian architect.

The Cathedral faces the busy touristy square – Plaza de la Cathedral.  The front doors are impressive as you enter but take note of the two towers outside? Are they equal in size?

Apparently, Christoper Columbus’s remains were brought to the church and housed there until 1898 where they were moved to Seville’s Cathedral in Spain.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas is one of the oldest 4 plazas in Havana dating back to 1520.  There are is a lot to see especially museums in the Plaza:

Plaza Vieja

Plaza Vieja also was known as Old Square and was originally called Plaza Nueva where bullfights, executions took place as well as processions and celebrations.  You can enjoy an artisanal beer at La Factoria whilst enjoying the local music in the Plaza.

El Capitolio

One Week in Cuba

The Capitol Building in Havana

The Capitol Building reminds us of Washington’s Capitol building but in fact, it is modelled on Paris’s Pantheon. It was the seat of Cuba’s Congress up until 1959 when it became the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the National Library of Science and Technology till 2013.  As of 2017, it was still under reconstruction with a completion date of 2018 to be the home of the National Assembly of Cuba.

Ernest Hemingway’s Two Famous Bars

One Week in Cuba

La Bodeguita del Medio

La Bodeguita del Medio at Empedrado #207 is one of Havana’s most popular bars.  The mojitos are ok but very expensive, you can get better mojitos elsewhere.  At times it is very hard to even get to the bar!

A famous saying of Hemingway is “my mojito in La Bodeguita and my daiquiri in El Floridita”.

One Week in Cuba

El Floridita

El Floridita at Obispo #557 is another one of Hemingway’s haunts.  We attempted twice to squeeze in but it was just too packed.  Hopefully, you will have better luck than us.

There is a tour available – On The Trail of The Ernest Hemingway Tour which includes a historical tour of Cuba, a visit to the Hemingway Museum at Finca Vigia, exploration of the town of Cojimar, a visit to Floridita Bar and more. Click here for more information.

El Malecon

The Malecon stretches from 8km from the harbour at Old Havana to Vedado. Sunsets are incredible from here at night!

El Morro Castle

El Morro Castle sits proudly at the entrance to the bay of Havana.  Construction was completed in 1630 and it was used to protect the city from attack.  Opposite El Morro is La Punta Castle.  An iron chain would be raised between the two forts if an attack was imminent preventing ships from entering the bay.  Today you can visit the Fort’s museum for a small fee.  There are great views to be had over Havana.

Calle Mercaderes

Calle Mercaderes (Merchant Street) is a busy touristy cobblestoned street in Old Havana that has been restored by the city since 1980.  Today it houses cafes, hotels, boutique stores and museums.  It is definitely worth a visit.

Revolution Square

One week in Cuba

Revolution Square

Revolution Square is the site of the major political and social events held in Cuba, it is also the seat of justice.

Classic Car Ride

One week in Cuba

What a fun way to sightsee around Havana

Holidays in Cuba should include a Classic Car Ride around Old Havana.  Make sure you opt for an open top ride!  You will feel like royalty!  We negotiated our ride for 45 minutes from outside the Melia Cobiha Hotel at Avenida Paseo entre Calles y 3ra, Vedado dropping us off in Old Havana.

Hop on Hop off Bus Havana

Havana is quite spread out from Old Havana to Vedado and to the Miramar district where most of the embassies are located as well as luxury hotels.  This is a great inexpensive way to see the sights and use the bus to get you from A to B.  We boarded the bus in the Vedado district just outside The Presidente Hotel in Avenida de Los Presidentes.  We travelled through the Miramar district and got off in Old Havana.  In the late afternoon, we picked the bus back up from Old Havana and headed back to the Hotel Presidente.

Cost per person: CUC 10

Other recommended Cuba tours:

6 Hour Tour of Havana by Night

Havana City Tour

On The Trail of Ernest Hemingway

Learning the Ritual of Cuban Cigars in Cuba

Vinales

One Week in Cuba

Vinales

Vinales is 180km from Havana and  a couple of hours drive from Havana.

You can do a day trip where you can enjoy a horseback ride through the coffee and tobacco plantations and enjoy lunch at Finca el Paraiso.  Click here for more information.  The horse riding through the tobacco plantations was an incredible tour, the scenery is stunning and you can experience the sweet aromas of the tobacco fields.  A little bit different to our horse riding at sunset in the Andes around Mendoza Argentina lots of dust to experience and not much vegetation.

We would recommend staying 2 nights in Vinales if you only have one week in Cuba. Vinales was definitely one of our favourite places in Cuba.  The landscape with impressive mountains, lush green valleys, stunning sunsets over the mountains and the opportunity to go horseriding through the tobacco fields early in the morning.  The town can be very busy with tourists, which can be a bit of a downfall, especially at the peak travel season during December and May.

How to get to Vinales

We travelled by Viazul Bus from Havana.  Our Airbnb host purchased the tickets for us for a handling fee of CUC10.  It is worth it.  The Viazul Bus Station is always busy and queues are the norm when purchasing tickets.  The cost for a return ticket CUC24 per person.  The journey takes about 3.5 hours each way and the bus drops you off right in the middle of Vinales outside the main church in the square.  If your accommodation is close by it is easy to walk, our Airbnb host picked us up in a small tractor and trailer.

What to see in Vinales

Horseriding Vinales

There are many operators running the Horse Riding Tour.  Check with your accommodation hosts who are the best companies to go with.  Our hosts organized our tour for us.

One Week in Cuba

Early morning ride through the tobacco fields of Vinales

It was an early start at 7.30am when the Tour Leader walked to our accommodation, collected us and we walked to where the horses were tethered.  There was just the two of us on the tour, nothing better than your own private tour.  We noted with other tours there were larger groups. The horses looked well cared for and happy, which is important for us as we have seen some tours (not here in Vinales) where the horses were not treated well.

The ride takes you through small villages, down paths through the lush green tobacco fields until you reach the cave.  A guide was there waiting for us and we headed down into the cave.  Luckily we had torches, it was cool and damp and it could be a little slippery in some areas, but it was worth it.

By now we needed a caffeine hit, lucky this was our next stop.  After a good explanation on the local coffee grown in the area, we got to have our ‘caffeine hit’ and a cake just to get us through the next hour or so.

One Week in Cuba

Duncan enjoying a hand made cigar in Vinales

Riding through more tobacco fields we arrived at our final destination.  We had to wait about 20 minutes for the group before us to finish and then we had a private tour of the tobacco shed and a chance to roll your own cigar.  You can purchase cigars here if you would like, these are naturally rolled using natural ingredients and are a lot less expensive than shop bought ones.

We arrived back into Vinales around 12.  Cost for the tour CUC25.00 per person.

Hop on Hop off Bus Vinales

Vinales runs a Hop on Hop off Bus for CUC 5 per person.  The departure point is from the main Square in town.  There are many stops along the way the most popular being Hotel Los Jazmines for the views and you can also swim for a small fee of CUC 3.  There are 19 stops in total where you can visit the Cave de Indio, Mural de la Prehistoria and other stops along the way.

Cayo Jutias

One week in Cuba

Cayo Jutias

For CUC 15 per person which covers the transport only to Cayo Jutias, one of the popular beaches reachable from Vinales.  Although the estimated ride was 1 hour it took us longer because of the condition of the roads.

Once there you can hire sun lounges for CUC 3 each, enjoy a cold beer or cocktail and lunch before you head back into Vinales.  It is a beautiful area with silvery sands and turquoise blue water.  You can rent snorkels and canoes and go diving if time and weather permits.

Where to Stay in Havana

One Week in Cuba

The lounge room area of our Airbnb in Havana Casa Anita y Leslie

Havana has a lot of accommodation to offer the visitor.  If you want that true Cuban experience, stay in a Casa Particulares (local homestay accommodation).  Not only do you get your accommodation for a reasonable price, most have ensuite bathrooms and you can enjoy a local substantial breakfast cooked by the owner for CUC5 per person.

Vedado is our favourite area to stay in.  Locals say it is ‘mas tranquilo’ which means quiet, it is more relaxed and less touristy that Old Havana which can be pricey as well.

Hotels

Some of the worldwide hotel chains are represented in Havana such as Melia, Iberostar, Mercure, NH and Tryp. You can save up to 30% when you compare hotel prices on Tripadvisor, here are some recommendations.

Melia Cohiba

Iberostar Parque Central

Mercure Sevilla La Habana

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

NH Capri La Habana

Tryp Habana Libre

For further comparison of hotels, their availabilties and rates:

One week Itinerary in Cuba

Airbnb or Casa Particulares

Airbnb has many properties to choose from.  You can get cheap vacations to Cuba if you consider Casa Particulares or Airbnb properties.

By booking  Casa Particulares the money is going back to the Cubans.

For more information click here  Casa Particulares.

One week itinerary in Cuba

To Travel Too Tip

If you book a Casa Particulares (not Airbnb) it is recommended to confirm the booking at least 24 hours in advance.  There have been instances (because you have not paid up front) that they will let the room out to the first person who turns up on the day.

We stayed in 2 different properties in the Vedado district which we can highly recommend.  They are listed below:

Casa Anita y Leslie – Vedado District

Address: Calle Calzada #751 Apto 4 e/Paseo y 2 Vedado La Habana

Email: [email protected]

Tell Anita and Leslie that Jane and Duncan from To Travel Too recommended you.

Casa Marta – El Vedado Neighbourhood

Calle 15 #956 altos entre 8y 10 Vedado La Habana

email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Also, let them know that we recommended you.

 

Where to Stay in Vinales

Hotels

Hotel Los Jazmines

Horizontes la Ermita

Rancho San Vicente

For more hotel comparisons click below:

One week Itinerary in Cuba

Airbnb Properties (Casa Particulars)

Our accommodation for 3 nights was:

 

One Week in Cuba

Villa Nela and Juana

Villa Nela & Juana #5

Calle Rafael Trejo #5 Vinales

Email: [email protected]

We also viewed 2 others:

Casa Miguelito y Pedro

Calle Rafael Trejo #11 A e Juaquin Perez y Ramon Coro Vinales

email: [email protected]

Casa Fernandez

Calle Rafael Trejo #15 B Vinales

Email: [email protected]

One week itinerary in Cuba

Where to Eat in Havana

Two of our favourite restaurants which we frequented quite a bit were:

 

One week in Cuba

La Cathedral

 

One week in Cuba

Great value breakfasts

 

One week in Cuba

Beware the mojitos

La Cathedral – for a good value set breakfast, dinner and great mojitos (beware the jugs of Mojito!)

Address: Calle 8 entre Calzada y Quinta El Vedado La Habana

Venami Bar and Restaurant – for excellent pizzas and Italian food

Address: 435e/ Rey y Lamparilla Old Havana

One week in Cuba

Cafe Paris

We also enjoyed beers at Cafe Paris and La Factoria in Old Havana.

Make the most of your holidays and read the latest reviews from travellers like you from Tripadvisor.

Where to Eat in Vinales

We have to admit if we find a good restaurant we tend to keep going back and this is exactly what happened in Vinales.  We had read another blogger’s account of where to eat and she did the same as us, kept going back. Lonely Planet also mentioned it was the top restaurant in Vinales, that recommendation is good enough for us also the queues outside each night.

That restaurant was:

 

one week in cuba

Fish at El Olivo

El Olivo

Address: 89 Salvador Casineros

Our Casa wanted to cook a local meal for us on our last night and we are glad that we did.  You can check with your hosts they may offer evening meals as well.

One week in Cuba

Great place for beer and mojitos and people watching in Vinales

In central Vinales opposite the Church is this nondescript bar! You can access the WiFi here from the park opposite, the beer is cheap and they make great mojitos! Don’t tell everyone.

Tripadvisor has a recommended top Top Restaurants in Vinales

WiFi

WiFi is limited in Cuba.  To be able to access WiFi in Cuba you will have to locate an ETECSA shop – you will see the queues before you actually see the shop.  Be prepared to wait a while, at one place we ended up queuing for an hour before we could purchase the card. There are touts trying to sell you WiFi cards but we would recommend avoiding purchasing from them.  Once you get the card and log on you will need to enter your login details and password that is shown on the card.  Wifi Hot Spots are mostly in parks.  If there are a lot of people on their mobile devices, it can take a while to log on, it does get easier if someone logs off.  Patience is the key here!

 

 

 

One week in Cuba

WiFi Log in Screen above and WiFi card below

One Week in Cuba

Currency and ATMS

Cuba is unique as it operates with 2 currencies: the CUC – Cuban Convertible Peso (tourist currency) and the CUP – Cuban Nacional Peso (CUP).

One week in Cuba

CUP money

The CUP is also known as Moneda Nacional and it is the currency used by the locals, beware it does fluctuate.  When we arrived in February 2017 it was CUP 25 to USD1.  It was a little daunting at first until we got our head around it.  Some of the local food shops would only deal in CUP.  By using CUP we could bring our breakfast costs down to 1USD – one ham sandwich with a coffee or a small pastry with a coffee.

Note denominations for the CUP: 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 pesos

Coin denominations for the CUP: 1, 5, 20.

To Travel Too Tip for CUP

You won’t be able to change CUP back to CUC or other currencies at the airport.  Our best advice is to spend it before you leave.

The CUC is the tourist currency which can be used in restaurants, bars, taxis and accommodation. You can change it back at the airport, but we would recommend either using it all up and leaving just enough for your taxi fare or changing it at a Cadeca before you head to the airport.

Note denominations for the CUC is 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 CUC

How much money should I bring to Cuba?

We get this question a lot.  If you are an American you need to bring enough cash (not USD if you can help it) to cover all your meals, accommodation and incidentals in Cuba.  Credit Cards and debit cards linked to a US Bank are not accepted.

For non-Americans, we would still recommend bringing enough cash to cover all your costs just in case your credit card is not accepted.

If you can use an ATM expect a service fee of 10%.

To Travel Too Tip

If you book Airbnb properties before you travel, the accommodation must be prepaid.  This lessens the amount of cash you have to carry on you.

List of ATMs in Havana:

One Week in Cuba

List of ATMs in Havana as of 2017

ATMS in Vinales

Our latest information is that the 2 ATMs in Vinales are unreliable.

Weather in Cuba

June is the wettest and hottest month in Cuba whilst January is the coldest.  The rest of the year Cuba enjoys a temperate climate.  From June to November the Caribbean region experiences hurricanes which includes Cuba.

Flights to and From Cuba

You can check your latest airline schedules and airfares to Cuba via Skyscanner.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance should be purchased before you travel to Cuba.  You will have to show your travel insurance policy, if you are not insured you will be required to take our travel insurance on your arrival.

What we don’t recommend

We would not consider hiring a car to drive through Cuba.  The cars and roads are not up to standard. We chatted with a couple of distressed travellers whose car had broken down and they were having major issues with the rental car company to have it repaired.  Although they were fluent in Spanish, they were still having issues with the language and timely responses from the company as they were stranded in one city with accommodation bookings to honour for the rest of their journey.

For further research on your trip to Cuba we recommend the following:

 

 


 

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6 Comments

  • Great article and very in depth. We are hoping to visit Cuba before it changes too much and it’s good to get such well researched and helpful tips on the practical side of visiting.

    • Thanks Alan for your comments. The next itineraries will cover Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, Bayamo and Santiago de Cuba. They are in progress.

  • Nicole says:

    Great blog – thanks for the tips! We are traveling to Cuba in March and have planned a very similar itinerary. Any tips on how early we need to arrive at the airport for our return flight to Cancun? We have also booked on Interjet, leaving 10.35am.

    • Hi Nicole,
      Thanks for your comments. I would recommend arriving at the airport 3 hours before on both flights out of Cancun and out of Havana. Have fun!

  • Perry H says:

    wow… great article!…makes me want to go back… now!

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