How to Book Cheap Flights for Cuba Travel

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that traveling to Cuba is hot, hot, hot right now. You can’t open an issue of Travel + Leisure without seeing another gorgeous spread on the country. Cuba travel has always been a dream destination for many people, and what’s not to love about it? Those classic cars, colorful houses and cheap rum, who could resist?!

Thankfully, that dream destination is now becoming a reality for travelers as the local tourism industry has exploded in the last few years. Especially now, as the US begins to open up talks with Cuba (finallllly), it is easier than ever for US citizens to visit Cuba legally. For non-American travelers, it has always been legal, but the lack of information and infrastructure kept Cuba shrouded in a cloud of mystery.

When we went for the first time in 2013 there was limited info online and we kept coming across the same old myths about what a dangerous and difficult place it was for travelers. Now that bad rap has faded and travelers are itching to make Cuba their next vacation spot.

While there may be more information than ever, planning a trip to Cuba can still be a bit confusing. Well worry not, dear traveler, we’re here to talk you through step by step exactly how to book fights to Cuba and start planning your trip to one of the most unique countries in the word.

How to Get a Cuba Visa

We receive almost daily emails from readers asking us how to get a Cuban visa. Put simply, apart from a few lucky countries, everyone needs a visa to Cuba.

Luckily it’s very easy to organize a Cuban visa and doesn’t need any planning before your trip. The Cuba visa costs $25 USD and you’ll pay for this from your departing airport just before boarding your flight to Cuba. It’s possible to obtain a Cuba visa from the embassy in your country, but it’s usually not necessary if you only want a 30-day tourist visa. Both times that we’ve left from Cancun they handed us the visa in the check-in line, we paid and that was it. It really is that simple.

US to Cuba Travel: What’s the Deal?

Good news fellow Americans, it’s now easier than ever for US citizens to travel to Cuba legally. Obama hooked us up big time by opening up talks with Cuba in late 2014 and his March 2016 Cuba tour pretty much sealed the deal from there.

But before you pack your bikini and salsa dancing shoes, there are a couple things to be aware of. It’s still not a free-for-all. Technically Cuba is still illegal for the average American tourist. BUT you can legally go if your trip falls into one of 12 types of travel. It sounds complicated, but more than likely you’ll be able to find a way to squeeze yourself into one of these types.

For all US to Cuba travel information, including details on these 12 categories, as well as getting your passport stamped, exchanging money and buying travel insurance be sure to check our How to Legally Travel to Cuba an an American Guide.

And Everyone Else?

Non-US citizens have always been able to go to Cuba legally, except those with permanent residency in the US. Even if you’re traveling through or studying in the States, if you have a foreign passport you’re good to go. You’ll still need to purchase the $20 visa, but you don’t need to plan ahead for this. The only thing you’ll need to organize before you go is travel insurance. Having travel insurance for Cuba is mandatory for everyone entering, so if you don’t buy it beforehand you may be forced to buy their national insurance when you land.

Booking a Flight to Cuba


Finding the Right Airport in Cuba

As more tourists begin to travel to Cuba, the main airport in Havana is starting to feel the strain. It took us over 4 hours to get through immigration and customs last time, and that was in the middle of the night. As a result of Havana’s stretched resources, more regional airports are slowly opening up to international flights.

Havana may seem like the obvious choice to fly into, but you can often find sweet deals flying into smaller airports. There are actually 8 (!) international airports on mainland Cuba. Ranging from the far east in Santiago de Cuba to beachside resorts in Veradero. Depending on your Cuba itinerary it might make more sense to fly into one of these airports instead of Havana.

Pro Time-Saving Tip

Instead of individually searching each airport, taking notes and comparing prices, on Skyscanner you can actually search for all of the Cuban airports at once. The results will rank from cheapest city to most expensive, which makes it super easy to find smashing deals like this 290 pound ($426 USD) direct flight from London to Veradero, one of Cuba’s gorgeous beach towns. This is just one of the many deals you’ll find on Skyscanner when you utilize their flexible destination search.

Seriously, if you live anywhere close to England, cancel your plans and take this deal immediately. Heck, I might fly to England just to grab this deal.

Direct Flights to Cuba or Layovers?

There is an absolute frenzy going on right now between airlines competing to get approved for direct flights from the US to Cuba. As of May 2016, there are a few direct charter flights, but for the most part flights include at least one layover outside the US, commonly Mexico.

Open and direct US to Cuba flights are scheduled to begin as early as September 2016 and there’s no doubt that when the flights open there is going to be a mad rush of Americans traveling to Cuba. If you want to get in before the floodgates open, you can still book a flight from the US to Cuba, but it’s going to come with a layover. But before you get disheartened imagining yourself stuck in an airport for hours, think again. If you have a bit of extra time, consider booking separate flights for each leg of your journey to explore another city along the way.

Great deals pop up all the time. And as more US to Cuba flights open up this will be on the rise. For example, you can book a flight from NYC to Havana in November for $541 R/T OR you can fly from NYC to Miami ($160 R/T), then take a flight from Miami to Havana for $334 R/T.



For those of us that are mathematically challenged (*pulls out calculator*), that’s almost $50 cheaper and includes a free plane ticket to Miami! Plus some spending money for happy hour drinks in Havana (#freemojitos)! There are tons of other awesome deals just like this that’ll save you money on Cuba flights. All you gotta do is start looking!

Making the Booking

With all the mystery surrounding booking flights to Cuba, it’s surprisingly easy to master. Hop on Skyscanner and enter your departing airport and dates. Make sure to take advantage of their awesome features of searching flights to Cuba instead of individual airports, or searching for the entire month instead of specific dates. Being flexible with your trip is the best way to score awesome flight deals.

If you are booking flights from the US to Cuba you’ll be prompted with a message reminding you that you need to be traveling for one of the 12 reasons. Simply click “confirm & continue” to accept that you understand the restrictions on Cuba travel for US citizens.

After choosing your flight, Skyscanner will direct you to one of their partners’ sites and you can put in all your information and pay! Easy as pie.

Now that we’ve gone through the step-by-step process of finding flights to Cuba, you should feel more comfortable searching for and purchasing your ticket. So what are you waiting for? Those cuba libres aren’t going to drink themselves! Find an awesome deal on Skyscanner (download the Skyscanner app and let it do the work for you!) and let us know when you’ll be in Cuba. Maybe we’ll meet you down there…

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How to Legally Travel to Cuba as an American

It’s no secret that Cuba has been all over the news recently. For the first time in decades, the US has eased up its travel restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba, leaving many Americans wondering, “how can I travel to Cuba?”

In preparation for the masses, US airlines are now competing like crazy to secure non-stop flights to Cuba from the US, with the first flights already starting in September 2016. But regardless of the airlines, Americans are already beginning to visit in hordes, and it’s only going to get crazier in 2017. And while it may seem like a free-for-all, there are still some restrictions for US citizens.

You may have already done a little research and scanned some relevant articles; hopelessly trying to translate the government jargon explaining exactly what these restrictions are. Maybe you heard that there are 12 types of travel, but can’t figure out if your trip falls into these categories. Maybe you heard that you can travel through Mexico, but are worried about getting your passport stamped. We don’t blame you. Information is vague at best and is pretty confusing.

US to Cuba Travel Categories: What’s Up With That?

So USA travel to Cuba is not entirely lifted. Instead they’ve changed the process from a lengthy bureaucratic headache to basically an honor system. There are now 12 travel categories in which you can legally travel to Cuba as an American. Whether you’re flying from the US to Cuba, or passing through a gateway country, you must qualify for one of these categories:

(1) family visits

(2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations

(3) journalistic activity

(4) professional research and professional meetings

(5) educational activities

(6) religious activities

(7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions

(8) support for the Cuban people

(9) humanitarian projects

(10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

(11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials

(12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

In accordance with the law, all of your trip should be spent doing one of these activities. This means that taking a trip to Cuba for a holiday and kicking back with a mojito on the beach is still not technically allowed for Americans. However, in reality, there are already thousands of Americans visiting Cuba for just those purposes. Good luck trying to take the mojito out of their hands!

The bottom line is that the Cuba travel categories are extremely vague, I mean, have you seen that list? It could just about cover anything. Maybe doing ‘educational activities’ requires you to test the water quality at different beaches, or perhaps your ‘professional research’ involves sampling which rum you like best.

Need more info on traveling to Cuba as a US citizen and getting a visa? Check out our new Cuba travel guide!

Don’t Fit Into One of These Categories?

What? You mean you’re not headed to Cuba for “exportation, importation or transmission of information?” You’re going simply to enjoy the Cuban culture and explore a uniquely interesting destination? Well luckily you’re not alone. If you’re not feeling game enough to fly from the USA to Cuba under a self-appointed license, you have a couple of other options.

Flying to Cuba From Mexico or Canada

First, you could just go through a gateway country. There are very few direct flights from the States at the moment, so chances are you’ll be entering from another country away. Depending on where you live in the US, you can easily book a flight to Cuba from Canada or Mexico. Once you pass through the gateway country you can go directly from there without ever having to worry about the US government.

Join a ‘Person to Person’ Cuba Tour

Second, you can join a “person to person” tour company that takes Americans down to Cuba under “educational activities.” If you don’t mind being on a tour this is a perfectly legal, albeit somewhat expensive, way to visit Cuba.

Pick a Cuba Travel Category

Third, you could just pick a category that you think you could get away with. Okay, that sounds a bit sketchy, but considering how open-ended some of the categories are, it’s pretty easy. Seriously, one of them is simply “support for the Cuban people.” What does that even mean? Surely buying cocktails helps support the economy… and therefore support the people. No?!

We went as “journalists.” The categories are very general, so you’d be very hard pressed to find a type of travel that you didn’t fit into. What I’m trying to say is, just go. You won’t be thrown in jail, you won’t be fined. Obama’s down with it, Cuba is definitely down with it, you’re good to go.

Using Social Media in Cuba

Another thing not to worry about at all! The government isn’t going to track you down via your social media accounts to see if you’ve been to Cuba. Heck, if they do, Obama might even Like a couple of your photos.

We blasted out Tweets, sweet Instagram pics and updates constantly while in Cuba.

What About Money?

Oooh, the money in Cuba! Well, according to the US embassy site, all US debit and credit cards, as well as cards from US-based banks, will not work as of yet. Even attempting to log-on to your US bank online could lock you out of your account until you leave the country. This will most likely start changing in the future, but it’s better not to bank on it. See what I did there?

Instead of using a debit card, most people bring cash. Yes, bringing 3 weeks worth of cash can be a little scary, but as American there aren’t many options. To make matters even more frustrating there is a 10% fee added to all exchanges using US dollars (although I’m pretty sure we heard rumors of this being changed soon).

Your best bet is to come to Cuba with Euros, Canadian dollars or Mexican pesos. You can exchange these for the local currency with no extra fee at a local cadeca, aka a money-changing facility.

Exchanging Cuban Currency

There are two types of currencies in Cuba. The first is the Cuban convertible or CUC (pronounced kook or say-ooh-say) and it is always 1:1 with the US dollar. CUC is generally used more by tourists. The other type is the Cuban peso or CUP, referred to simply as pesos or moneda nacional (national money). This type is used more by locals and worth much less than the CUC. In Cuba they exchange 25CUP for 1CUC.

Other Things to Note

It’s mandatory that all travelers have travel insurance for Cuba. And believe me, after spending a week in the Havana hospital with Dengue Fever, I highly recommend getting it. If you don’t have travel insurance you may be stopped at the airport and forced to buy the local insurance.

Americans buying travel insurance in Cuba can be a bit tricky. The easiest and most reliable one we’ve found is World Nomads. They cover American travel to Cuba and they are one of the most well-known in the travel industry. We use them and have for years.

Now that we’ve explained how to travel to Cuba legally as an American, you’re all set to go! But don’t rush off just let and book your flight, there are still many things to know about traveling to Cuba! For all the most updated and relevant Cuba travel information be sure to check out our new book, The Authentic Cuba Travel Guide! You can even get a FREE chapter of the book, “Top 10 Cuba Travel Hacks”, by entering you’re email below!

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Due to the high volume of inquiries and questions on this post we’ve not turned off ‘comments’. If you have any specific questions related to Cuba visas, US travel to Cuba or anything else please refer to our new publication, The Authentic Cuba Travel Guide, where we answer all your questions and so much more in over 100 pages of expert Cuba travel information and recommendations.

Train Travel in Cuba: A How to Guide

Whether you’re looking for an alternative mode of transport in Cuba, or you’ve left your bookings too late and planes and buses are full (like us), the train network in Cuba offers a unique experience that adds to Cuba’s already quaint characteristics.

And what an experience it is! Comfortable? Not really! On time? Definitely not! Authentic Cuba? Definitely! Worth it? Absolutely!

Regardless of how stinky the toilets are, how annoying the regaetton music is, or how long it actually takes compared to the ‘schedule’; train travel in Cuba provides a real eye opener to how Cubans travel across the country and is an experience well worth the surface-level difficulties.

Cuba Train Schedules

Here comes the first challenge. Finding the correct train schedule in Cuba is about as realistic as the scammers in the street selling you real ‘original’ Cuban cigars!

If you do a quick Google search you won’t find anything official from Cuba, but you’ll come across a few websites that have listed some tentative schedules. However, even they’ll be the first to tell you, ‘take Cuba’s train schedules as nothing more than a guide’.

Train schedules in Cuba can change from month to month, making it hard to really plan ahead. If you’re thinking of a trip it’s always best to visit the station and see in advance before making too many plans. Which is exactly what we did with our train trip from Havana to Camaguey. Whether you’re leaving from Havana, or any other Cuban city, make sure to check in advance.

Taking a Train From Havana

In Havana the central train station is located in Habana Vieja (Old Havana), but that station is currently under renovation and not scheduled to reopen until at least 2018. In the mean time La Coubre, which is conveniently located right next door to the central station, is the alternative station for all trains leaving from Havana.

When you get to La Coubre train station there is a booking office and a main departures area. At the booking office they should be able to help you work out the next available train for wherever you want to go, but if they’re not open go into the departures lounge and either ask around or check out the departures board.

Above is a picture of the departures board for Havana in March 2016. What appears to be cryptic code is actually relatively easy to decipher upon further inspection. There are four trains departing, each with their own designated number and destination. Of those four trains each has their own specific departure days (most leave every three days), which correspond with the dates in the top left corner.

After you’ve worked out the trains you’ll need to find out which one actually stops where you want to go, then you can go back and figure out the date and time that it will leave.

For example, we were headed to Camaguey so we asked around to see what trains pass that station. For us the next available train that passed Camaguey was the Number 15 to Guantanamo. We then check the Number 15 schedule, saw it was leaving on the 28th of March at 6:53pm and booked our corresponding ticket. See, it’s easy!

Traveling by Train in Cuba: The Experience

After eagerly anticipating if the train to Guantanamo would actually depart at its ridiculously precise time of 6:53pm, we weren’t surprised that it finally kicked off more than two hours later than scheduled.

While we weren’t too fussed about the delayed departure, the time spent waiting on board the train was unbelievably hot and stuffy. In all seriousness a doctor actually came on board at one stage to check on someone who had appeared to pass out only a few seats in front of us. Once they’d been given the all clear and received due medical attention (a few men waving homemade cardboard fans at them) it was time to hit the tracks!

After a clunky start, the train finally settled into a rickety rhythm and the night air began to fill the carriages and filter through the suffocatingly thick air surrounding us. At this stage a couple of girls behind us thought the whole train might be interested in listening to some pumping regaetton tunes for the first couple of hours, but by midnight the train was pretty subdued.

As the train chugged away throughout the night any temporary periods of sleep were interrupted by frequent stops. For all the major stations, where you’re likely to be visiting, an attendant comes up and down the aisles to shout out the next spot. Don’t be worried about missing the call; they’ll be no chance of you sleeping through the actual stop as the train makes an ever so gracious clank and jolt, almost enough to throw you from your seat, every time it comes to a halt.

In the morning the vendors emerged from their slumber and begin to trawl the aisles hawking their wares. Anything from crackers and ham sandwiches, to slabs of cheese, milk powder and 40-watt light globes. As they paced the train we watched on in admiration of their perseverance.

Cuban Countryside and Views

One of the best things about the train being so late, and taking twelve hours instead of the supposed eight, was that it gave us some daytime to view our surroundings. As the sun rose above the horizon, and shone its light on a new day, we got a look at Cuba’s beautiful countryside and small railroad towns that passed before our eyes.

Wide open fields and farms stretched as far as the eye can see. The occasional campesino (farmer) can be seen in the distance hacking away at some crops, or rounding up cattle. As the train passes some of the smaller towns you can see what a real Cuban town looks like without any tourist infrastructure in place.

Traveling by train in Cuba is an experience that really accentuates the uniqueness of Cuba. It might sound like a bit of a mission, but experiencing life as a local is what makes traveling to Cuba so special. Sure you could pop aboard a nice air-conditioned bus or jump on a flight, but train travel in Cuba is about as authentic as it gets if you want to really see how the locals live. And for us, that’s what traveling is all about!

The Best Cuba Travel Itinerary: Part 2

Updated January 2017 after our second four week trip to Cuba and sending writers to Cuba in late 2016. All information is based on our own personal travel experiences and investigations to provide you with the most up-to-date Cuba information.

Missed Part 1? Check out the best Cuba Travel Itinerary for One or Two Weeks.

So after reading the first part maybe you’re starting to think that two weeks isn’t enough time for your Cuba travel itinerary. Hey, if you’re traveling to Cuba, you might as well make the most of it right?!

Luckily for you we’ve put together a bit of an extension for those with a little more time and a few extra places on their list. In the last article we mentioned what to do in Havana, Viñales, Varadero, Matanzas and Trinidad (we really recommend reading the first part). So now let’s delve deeper into Cuba, as we show you how to spend that extra time in Cuba and see all the most authentic spots!

Three Weeks in Cuba

Now you’re talking! This is starting to become a pretty solid amount of time in Cuba. Aside from the locations already mentioned you can now take your time and travel a little slower, stopping at smaller cities along the way to get a different perspective on the country. On your way down to Trinidad be sure to stop by Santa Clara, the final resting place of iconic, and somewhat controversial, revolutionary hero Che Guevara.

Apart from a huge tomb erected to commemorate Che you can also check out some famous battle locations from the Cuban Revolution. There’s a train line, as well as old museum, that runs past the edge of town that is famous for being Che’s most notorious victory against Batista. You can see the real remnants of the battle, along with some information about what went down. If you’re a fan of Cuban Revolution history its a fairly important battle location and interesting to check out.

While cruising the streets of Santa Clara be on the lookout for delicious bootleg yoghurt being sold from resident vendors. They sell it in any form of bottle they have laying around, but don’t let that put you off. It’s some of the best Cuban streets snacks we found in our travels. It’s a perfect mid-afternoon treat when the sun is beating down, your tired and just want something cold and sweet.

In Santa Clara you can also take check out a Cuban cigar factory tour for a really interesting insight to Cuban work life. The tours are ran by one of the employees of the cigar factory and you get to see the real pros at work, as they bunch, fold and cut one of Cuba’s finest export.

Unfortunately there’s no photography allowed inside, but it’s a worthwhile experience to witness the workforce. And while it may feel a little like a sweatshop in there, cigar makers are among some of the best paid jobs in all of Cuba: especially if they’re good.

On route to Trinidad, after leaving Santa Clara, be sure to drop by Cienfuegos for something different. Kind of like Matanzas (close to Havana), there aren’t a whole lot of attractions compared to neighboring cities, but it’s nice to visit a smaller city and experience true Cuban life.

You can take a public bus down to the water front (Cuban transportation is so cheap and easy to use), where a beautiful park overlooks the ocean. Or if you want to get even closer to the ocean there’s a ferry that can take you around the bay.

In Cienfuegos there’s also the opportunity to visit the nearby beach Playa Girón, located in the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), which is famous for being one of the locations in which CIA backed troops tried to dismantle the Cuban Revolution. Stories of the battle are widespread in Cuba, and the victory is constantly used in propaganda to reminder the people of Communist resistance to the ‘evil’ Capitalist world.

At this stage you might also be thinking about heading further east to Cuba’s second largest city Santiago de Cuba, a city famous for it’s Afro-Cuban Santeria culture, among many other interesting historical attractions. It’s another vibrant city that’s full of life and traditional Cuban culture, but with a little more Afro-Cuban flare!

Santiago de Cuba, because of its long distance to the capital, has also been a traditional place for revolutionary forces to commence their march towards liberation. The Cuban War of Independence from the Spanish and the Cuban Revolution both started out east and there is plenty of interesting history of battles around Santiago de Cuba as a result. Revolutionary names like Marti, Gomez, Maceo, Guevera, Cienfuegoes and Castro still ring through the streets and reminders can be found all over the city.

In Santiago de Cuba a lot of the action is centered around the main plaza at Parque Cespedes. There’s a gorgeous old church that you can visit and walk up to the top towers for a unbelievable view of the city below. Around the plaza you’ll find more classic Cuban nightlife, salsa clubs, live music and other historical sites.

Just outside the main city center you can also visit the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia, a cemetery containing many famous and historic graves of iconic Cuban figures. Pay tribute to music legend Compay Segundo, have a shot of rum with Mr. Barcardi himself, or give a salute to revolutionary heroes Martí and Cespedes. And don’t miss the ‘changing of the guard’ for Jose Martí that takes place every 30mins, all day, everyday! It’s a fitting tribute to such a beloved Cuban figure.

Another great attraction is the Castillo de Morro, about 30mins out of town. It’s a huge old fort that sits on the entrance to the Bay of Santiago de Cuba. It’s definitely worth a visit if you love old forts, and the views are amazing!

Making the trip down is a fair old hike from Havana, especially if you’re going by road. It’s a 15 hour bus trip with Viazul for $51, which basically kills a whole day because the bus leaves Havana at 9:30am. Check the schedules on their website to see if any additional buses are available now that tourism routes are getting busier.

There’s also a train that takes you all the way through Cuba. It’s one hell of an experience, but traveling by train in Cuba is definitely an authentic experience worth trying out at least once. If you can afford it, taking a flight will cost you around $130USD (check out the best way to find Cuba flights) for just over an hour flight one-way and it’ll really help you maximize your time.

One Month in Cuba (And More)

Recommended for the die-hard Cuba fans and people really wanting to get away from the usual tourist locations and into the smaller countryside spots. Also, if you’re interested in taking a course in salsa dancing or Spanish language this is a great amount of time.

If you can already speak Spanish you’ll get a lot more out of this experience, because it will give you time to stop in places for a while and make connections with the people. You’ll be able to talk to them, learn about history and hear their thoughts on the future of Cuba.



All the above locations are on offer, and you can stay as long or as little as you want. Move slowly through each place, challenging yourself to only take local transport or hitch along the way. Or, if you’ve got the money, rent a car and take yourself on the journey. If you can manage the crazy driving you’ll be fine!

On your way down to Santiago de Cuba stop along the way in Camaguey, Bayamo and Holguin to break up the trip and add to your Cuba travel itinerary.

Camaguey is provincial town about half way between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, so it’s good to break up the long journey. The town has some gorgeous colonial architecture, impressive churches and amazingly windy streets to go exploring through. The street plan (with twists, turns and dead-ends) for the town was designed to confuse marauding pirates, which has also succeed on unsuspecting tourists. But getting lost in Camaguey is a fun activity!

Bayamo is another cute provincial town that doesn’t get as much tourism and the rest of the east. There’s a main central plaza (also named Parque Cespedes) that gets most of the action. A pedestrian only walking street passes through town and shows you authentic Cuban life. Bayamo is also a great jumping off point if you’re planning on a trip to the Sierra Maestra mountain range to explore the beautiful views and hiking. It’s also famous for being the hideout of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the others at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

All along the way be sure to stay with local families in casa particularesNot only is it cheaper, but it’ll give you an amazing insight into a Cuban family household. It’s a great way to get insider tips, learn about where you’re going next and see the real authentic Cuba!

The Best Cuba Travel Itinerary: One to Two Weeks

Updated January 2017 after our second four week trip to Cuba in 2016 and sending writers to Cuba in late 2016. All information is based on our own personal travel experiences and investigations to provide you with the most up-to-date Cuba information.

Welcome to our Cuba travel itinerary! At this stage you’re either thinking about traveling to Cuba, or you’ve already booked! Either way, congratulations, you’ve come to the right spot! Cuba is a magical country, full of rich history and all the idealistic aspects of a country truly stuck in a time warp. But, things are beginning to change quickly, so now really is time to travel to Cuba! (If you’re an America and worried about how to travel to Cuba, we’ve got you covered for that as well in our Americans Traveling to Cuba Legally Guide.)

One of the biggest questions we get about traveling to Cuba is “where should we go?” And while it might seem like a pretty straight forward question (anywhere because the country is amazing!), it really all depends on how much time you have and what interests you.

Cuba has something for everyone, whether your a backpacker on a budget, or a luxury holidayer. But regardless of your style of travel it’s important to have a solid itinerary mapped out before taking off on your trip. And although internet is slowly becoming more accessible in Cuba, that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of places/people have access to it. Because of this it’s important to do plenty of research before you go.

So with that being said, “how much time do you have?” Whether you’re planning on a week, two weeks, three weeks or over a month, you’ll easily find a number of destinations that will give you the true Cuba travel experience. Check out our Cuba travel itinerary to see what suits your schedule best, and if you haven’t already, we’ll show you how to book cheap flights for Cuba travel right now!

7 Days in Cuba

Experiencing this incredible country within the week is a tight squeeze, but if you haven’t got a lot of time it’s definitely better than no time in Cuba. The key to planning a short trip is being able to find a balance between visiting lots of destinations and spending your whole time on a bus. With only a week you want to take the time to actually see things properly, because there’s no point cruising past everything just for the sake of saying you went there.

This really applies to Cuba, because you need to live it to really understand how special it is. Sure, Cuba is a beautiful travel destination, but the real appeal to Cuba is being able to experience authentic life. The more places you jump between, the less you’ll be able to see the real games of dominoes happening in the backstreets of Havana; the men tinkering away on old Chevys, breathing life into them for another couple of years; and the old buildings that have yet to see the restoration coming from tourist money.

Exploring Havana

If your first stop into Cuba is Havana, then you’ve picked a great place to experience Cuba at its best. Between leisurely days on the cobbled streets of Old Havana, and lively nights at the Malecon, you could spend weeks in Havana and still have plenty of places to explore.

The Malecon, the waterside esplanade that runs along Havana, is a highly recommended activity if you want to see some authentic Cuban nightlife happening most nights, but particularly on the weekends. All along the stretch you’ll see all kinds of people congregating over a couple of beers, a bottle of rum and most likely a guitar or pair of speakers.

During the day walk the streets (which are extremely safe) and take in the old architecture, the vibrant street culture and, of course, the classic cars. Get lost among the backstreets and stumble across authentic Cuban life that you can’t see along the main tourist strips. For history buffs, or those interested in learning about the Cuban Revolution, you can check out the Museo de Revolucion to see plenty of memorabilia from the battles.

Another top locations to explore is the second hand market set up in the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana, where you can find legit remnants of Cuba’s past, including watches from the Soviet era, old Communist literature/propaganda and Revolution memorabilia.

After taking a time warp through old Cuba take a walk down to Plaza Vieja (Old Plaza) and grab a cocktail or beer La Factoria Plaza Vieja, Cuba’s moderate attempt at brewing a craft beer. There’s usually live music going on in the evenings jamming out anything from Cuban salsa classics to old American rock (which of course is exactly what you came to Cuba for no?).

Honestly if we only had a week in Cuba we’d almost be tempted to just stay in Havana for the whole time. There’s no shortage of classic Cuba on offer. Cruise around the streets and sample some of Cuba’s best street food, which is not only delicious, but also incredibly cheap. You’ll feel like a real local sipping tiny little coffees on the side of the road, watching men play checkers and kids kick soccer balls around the streets.

Day Trip to Viñales

After your time exploring Havana you can take a day, or overnight, trip down to the tobacco fields of Vinales. Here you’ll get to see the year round process of growing, cutting, drying and preserving tobacco leaves (depending on the season you’ll only get to see one or two of these processes). Cuba is famous for cigars and it’s one of their top exports around the world, so even if you’re not into cigars it’s an interesting process to observe.

If you’re thinking about picking a few up for souvenirs be sure to stick to the official government run shops. It’s a common scam in Cuba to sell tourists fake Cuban cigars made from a little tobacco and a lot of banana leaves. And unless you really know your cigars it’s very hard to tell the difference.

If cigars aren’t your thing there are plenty more activities to do in Viñales. The whole countryside that surrounds Vinales is a beautifully scenic sight of lush green fields of crops and rustic dirt trails. You can take a hike through the countryside, experience some caving and enjoy the quiet life compared to Havana. If Havana is the bustling city life, then this is definitely the country getaway.

Alternatively, if white sand beaches and tropical Caribbean coast is more your thing, you can take a bus out to Varadero to experience a very different side of Cuba. Here you’ll find high-rise resorts, fancy restaurants and lots of tourists, but the beaches are spectacular. It’s not exactly what you’d picture when thinking about classic Cuba, but the beaches are superb and the atmosphere is exciting.

Varadero could be visited on a day trip, or you could stay for a night or two if you wanted to take in the sun and sand. Personally for us we found Varadero to be a lot like any other beachside resort town, and not a true reflection of the Cuban culture. But it all depends on what you’re looking for on your trip.

Two Weeks in Cuba

Like the first week in Cuba you’ll most likely start and base yourself in Havana. Along with spending some quality time in this bustling city, you still have the options of Vinales and Varadero, but this time slow down the pace and spend an extra night or two in each spot.

For Varadero, if the tourist scene is too much, stay in nearby Matanzas for a quirky little Cuban city that has a couple of historical forts and landmarks. There isn’t anything spectacular about this city, but it’s real Cuba life and fun to explore without the busy tourist scene.

The main plaza in the middle of the city is always buzzing with locals dashing around, going about their daily business. It’s also great for people watching! In Matanzas you’ll also find the famed Hersey Train Station, where an electric train runs between Matanzas and Havana. It’s famous for transporting sugar to the refineries and being the only electric train in Cuba. The train trip gives you an authentic insight into real Cuban life.



With extra travel time, when you’re in Viñales, go and explore the outer area with hikes to the ‘pre-historic mural wall’ (which isn’t pre-historic, but instead a massive painting of dinosaurs). There is a $1 entrance fee to see the wall, but you can probably view it better from the road without paying! Either way it’s a beautiful walk out there.

Also, while in the area, search for the illusive and slightly exaggerated powers of the ‘water healers’ that reside in the mountains. Apparently they have been residing in the mountains performing miracles (as the story goes), but the locals don’t buy into it too much.

The walks aren’t strenuous and it’s really nice to just cruise the countryside and take in the culture. The main street in Viñales is a surreal contrast between tourist restaurants and residents kicking it on rocking chairs selling guava jam sandwiches and cheese pizzas from their porch.



In addition to Vińales, Havana, Varadero and Matanzas, you can now find time to take a trip down to the gorgeous colonial city of Trinidad. In Trinidad you’ll get to explore the cobblestone roads lined with houses painted in all different shades of pastel colors. Drink fresh mojitos in the street, while dancing the night away at free salsa shows. You can also party the night away in a cave, how cool is that!

If you feel like getting out of the city for the day hire a bicycle and take a trip down to the gorgeously isolated beaches of Playa Ancon. It’s about an hour to the beach (mostly downhill), but the ride back takes a little longer. For those wanting to get back quickly there are conveniently placed taxi drivers along the way (with bike racks) who know you’re over it. Trinidad is a city that shouldn’t be missed during your trip to Cuba.



Bare in mind, although you’ve only got two weeks, don’t underestimate the amount of time you should spend in Havana. It is not only the capital city by location; it’s the capital of all that’s Cuba. We’ve spent a lot of time there and still feel like we could have had more to explore, but that’s always the nature of travel. Any amount of time in Cuba is going to be awesome, so what are you waiting for?

Convinced you need to spend longer in Cuba? We think so too! Click to read the Cuba Travel Itinerary for Three Weeks or More!


Travel To Cuba Now, And How To Do It Responsibly

Updated May 2016 after Jules’ second four week trip to Cuba. All information is based on our own personal travel experiences and investigations to provide you with the most up-to-date Cuba information.

I’d been meaning to write this article ever since we stepped off the airplane in Cancun, fresh off our 4 week adventure in Cuba. Cancun, an over-the-top flashy tourist playground, could not have been more different from the old school vibrancy of Havana. As soon as we got back to internet we screamed the praises of Cuba, urging everyone we knew to get to the island before the trade embargo is lifted and Cuba completely changes! Little did we know that day would come so soon!

Okay, so the embargo hasn’t been lifted, but the US and Cuba have opened formal talks for the first time in over 50 years. Guys, this is HUGE. Like, historic stuff right here. I’m not going to get too political because this a travel blog, but this decision on the part of President Obama is the potential beginning of an incredibly new and bright future for Cuba.

This also doesn’t mean the US and Cuba are now besties and Obama’s going to be posting selfies with Raul Castro on his Instagram (although that image in my head is pretty awesome). Americans are still restricted on travel to Cuba unless you have a specific purpose that fits in certain categories (visiting family, working as a journalist, performing, etc.). Back in 2011 Obama loosened restrictions on travel and deemed specific, government approved educational tour companies the right to take a limited number of Americans to Cuba. With restrictions already laxed, it seems like only a matter of time until general tourism is allowed.

What This Means for Cuba

Like I said, I’m not going to get too political here because I am by no means an expert on the subject and this is a travel blog. There’s a ton of really useful information out there if you’d like to learn more.

Whether you agree or disagree with America’s use of the trade embargo as a pressure tactic for a change in Cuban political climate, you have to admit its not working so well. Cuba and the US have had a stalemate for the past 50 odd years and much of Cuba has remained the same. Cuba is still communist and a Castro is still in power. Some things have changed – many Cubans have cell phones and there is some (albeit expensive) access to internet. But I doubt these were these were sacrifices Fidel gave into because of the enormous pressure from the US government.

Instead, the tense diplomatic relations have had a devastating effect on the Cuban population. As a traveler it’s hard to tell how much of that is caused by the trade embargo and how much by the oppressive government. Still, it’s not difficult to see that the trade restrictions are adding to an already difficult reality for the population.

It’s been estimated the embargo has cost Cuba over 1 trillion dollars over the past five decades. The opportunities that could open up once the US embargo is lifted, are enormous. After all, the US is just a short 90 miles away.

Obama needs Congress’ approval before lifting the embargo and that’s not going to be easy. But the normalization of the relationship between the US and Cuba is no doubt the very beginning of an immense change for both Americans and Cubans.




What this means for travel to Cuba now




But why go now? Why not wait until restrictions have been fully lifted? Because Cuba is changing everyday and this policy change is only going to increase that. If you want to see the original Cuba, the one that so many travel writers have referred to as “stepping into a time machine,” then you better go now. I promise you, Cuba will be one of the most, if not the most, interesting country you’ve ever been to. Go now while there’s no McDonald’s, Starbucks or Burger King obstructing the view of Havana’s gorgeous coast-line. Go while taking a taxi means piling yourself into the backseat of a ’55 Chevy. Go while young Cubans are still drinking Havana Club by the esplanade, practicing their salsa moves in the street and shouting over rowdy chess games in the plaza, instead of being inside on Facebook and Youtube.




That being said, I don’t want to romanticize the poverty in Cuba. Because a lot of these “quaint” and “refreshing” traits that tourists love are the flipped side of the coin that creates a very difficult realty for Cuban citizens. It’s all fine for us travelers to enjoy a Starbuck-free vacation, as long as we can go home to our iPhones when we’re done, right?

Trade embargo or no, Cuba is an incredibly special country. Go now and enjoy the vibrancy of city life in Havana, smoke a cigar dried by a neighbor down the road in Vinales, dance with a local at the Casa de Music in Trinidad, share a bottle of Havana Club, well, anywhere in Cuba. Travel to Cuba now before the embargo is lifted, and continue going to witness this country change and grow. I promise, you won’t regret it.


Planning a trip to Cuba? Find out where to stay, the best street food and cheapest transportation





Top 5 Reasons to Backpack Cuba

When you picture Cuba, a few quintessential things come to mind: old school cars, cigars and Fidel’s big beard. But there’s a lot more to the country than just the iconic images repeated in TV and movies. Cuba has a rich and complicated history, a rapidly changing and exciting future, and for the present it’s one seriously awesome country to explore. Check out our top 5 reasons to backpack Cuba to find out why it’s still one of our all-time favorite countries!

The Time Warp

One of the best things about backpacking through Cuba is the feeling that you’ve just stepped back in time. Aside from the iconic classic cars there are so many other things that just scream vintage. We’re not saying everything in Cuba resembles a set from Happy Days, but compared to the rest of the world they’re a mile behind. The biggest difference is probably through technology. Mobile phones have only recently been legalized in the last 5ish years, computers are scarce and the Internet (at $4-$8 an hour) is completely unattainable for most citizens whose average wage is $30-40 a month. Instead of letting technology consume their lives people actually talk to each other face to face. Cubanos set up on the sidewalk to play chess or checkers, while big crowds of men huddle around the park benches to chat about sport, and the kids kick a soccer ball around the streets. Very refreshing!

The Street Food

It’s cheap; actually it’s really cheap. And surprisingly it’s not that bad. Pizzas, ice creams, fried egg sandwiches, guava milkshakes and tiny espressos. You find no shortage of ‘holes in the wall’, where people quite literally open up their front window and sell you food out of their house. Travel with Cuban pesos and pick up these delights for under $1.

The History

From the Batista dictatorship and revolution, to Fidel’s 50 year reign in power, Cuba has one hell of a history. Don’t worry if you’re not a history buff; Havana’s Museum of the Revolution, located in the former Presidential Palace, will definitely spark your interest. Although the display descriptions are a bit confusing to non-Spanish speakers, the museum itself is fascinating. There’s the assortment of bullet holes still visible from the failed uprising of March 1957 and the original Granma yacht that Fidel & Che used to sneak into Havana displayed out back. Located throughout the rest of the country are museums and monuments dedicated to the revolutionaries, reminding citizens of a violent but triumphant not-too-distant past.

The People

The people of Cuba are definitely one of the main drawing cards to this incredible country. Despite all their challenges, and the disadvantages of the blockade, they’re incredibly generous, hospitable and friendly. All along our travels we met people who loved to stop and have a chat with us and offer up their hospitality. We met people on the street who’d invite us back to their house for coffee and cakes and then they’d just chat to us for hours about anything and everything. I even made an awesome pen pal, who I still write to today!

The Party

With music and dance such an important part of Cuban culture, it’s no wonder there’s always a party to be found in this country. Cubans practically dance right out of the womb, and they love to show off their moves.  With a little practice, and just enough cheap rum, you might even be able to bust a cha-cha on the dance floor. Whether you’re partying it up in a cave nightclub in Trinidad or salsa-ing your way across the dance floor at one of Cuba’s Casa de Musicas, don’t miss your chance to get down in the country of rhythm!

Making a top 5 reasons to backpack Cuba was a hard task when there’s so much to love! What else could you add to the list?

How To Stay With Local Families in Cuba

Cuban Casa Particulares

Cuba is a bit tough to plan out accommodation wise. Because of strict laws, traditional hostels are basically non-existent. And can I just say, thank god! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good backpacker hostel. But after your eighth consecutive month of sleeping in yet another disgusting dorm bed you really need a break. The Cuban accommodation system is a breath of fresh air.

So how does it work?

Instead of traditional hostels, families are allowed to rent out rooms in their homes to travelers, Cuban casa particulares. Families with registered casas pay taxes to the government and they can be identified by the little casa symbol- a white square with two blue triangles. Of course, not all the casas are registered and unregistered ones tend to be a bit cheaper but you can get in trouble with the police if they find out.

Some casas are fancier and more expensive, others simple and more budget friendly. We stayed in the cheaper ones, which were still lovely. We started our trip in Havana and stayed at Hamel Hostel. This was the only “hostely” spot that we stayed at but it was a perfect jumping off point. The dorm beds are only $5 and Magnolia and her husband, the owners, it will sit down and help you figure out where you want to travel/how to get around, etc. They’re part of an unofficial network of hostels throughout Cuba. She’ll hand out business cards for the casa of any destination you want to head to and call ahead to your next spot to let them know you’re coming. Since you won’t be using the internet in Cuba (unless you want to pay $8/hr) this is the best way to reserve your accommodation.

How Much Are Casa Particulares?

Hamel Hostel was the cheapest place we stayed but it’s not hard to find budget casas. $15 was the “going rate” for most of the rooms we stayed in, but after some haggling we ended up paying $10 between the two of us. The prices are negotiable and staying longer in one house will obviously get you a cheaper rate. At one point we had an older European man paying $25 for a comparable room next door to ours while we paid $10 for our room. Be honest about your budget with the owners and they will generally try to work with you on it.

Good Eats

Most owners will offer home cooked meals for their guests. This is a really fun way to explore Cuban cuisine and eat delicious food. Because Cuban street food is so cheap, we didn’t take advantage of these meals that often. But when we opted for a home cooked meal, it was totally worth it. The prices for the food are negotiable as well. We haggled down the prices of our breakfast (letting them know we only needed a bit of food) and dinners (explaining that we’re vegetarian) and ended up paying about 50 cents to $1 for breakfast and $1.50-$3.00 for dinners.

Overall we found that the owners took pride in their casas and enjoyed opening their homes to travelers. Hostels can be a great place to meet other travelers but if you want a taste of local culture, you’ll love the casas. All of the casas we stayed at were run by an older couple with a few extra rooms in their houses. One couple insisted that we call them ‘mama’ and ‘papa.’ Most couples were keen for a drink and a chat during the evening. We loved hearing about Cuban history first hand and sharing stories from our respective home countries. It was lovely experience and perfect for budget traveling.

Photo Gallery: Classic Cars in Cuba



Ask someone to name a few iconic features of Cuba and chances are they’re going to mention cigars, Che Guevara, salsa, rum and the classic American cars that have been frozen in time (just like Cuba’s imports since the blockade began in the early 1960s). And while Cuba definitely has a lot more to offer than simple tourist features and happy snaps, if you’re looking for a couple of awesome travel pictures you need to get yourself to Cuba before it’s too late and everything changes.



The classic cars in Cuba were a clear highlight for us during our time in Cuba. From run down rust buckets kicking out black smoke in the backstreets of Havana, to perfectly restored showpiece beauties shuttling around tourists in the main plaza. Cuba has it all when it comes to classic cars and that feeling of being thrown back in time. And it wasn’t just the imagery of the cars, it was the whole experience that came with them. Whether it was hailing down a street taxi full of busy city folk or riding cross country jammed into an old Yank Tank with ten other people, every experience in Cuba was incredible when it involved the old classics.




I might also add here that there are also other cars in Cuba, and that it’s not exactly like stepping into a scene from Happy Days. After the 60s Cuba received a number of different cars from the Soviets, as well as importing cars from various Asian countries over the years. While the streets of Cuba are shared amongst old and new, it doesn’t take anything away from this unique situation. If you get the opportunity to get out of the busy cities and into the countryside you’ll also see less new cars and more oldies chugging away.







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