The Best Cuba Travel Itinerary: One to Two Weeks

best cuba travel guide one week
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 travel in one week

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!

one week in cuba for travel

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.

traveling to cuba for two weeks

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.

what to do in cuba for one week

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?).

one week in havana cuba

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.

two week cuba travel itinerary

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.

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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.

cuba backpacking itinerary guide

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.

cuba itinerary 7 days

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.

 


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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.

 

backpacking in Cuba two weeks

 

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.

 

2 weeks in 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!

 

39 Comments

  • Hey great post!
    We’ve been to cuba twice now and love it!!
    Once to Santa Maria and once to Veradero. Next time we want to explore more and leave the all inclusive behind. Some great recomendations here. Thanks again

  • Grace @ Green Global Travel says:

    Great tips for exploring Cuba, I can only imagine how much there is to see in Havana alone! Thanks for sharing.

  • Els says:

    Loved Cuba! Spent 3 weeks there. Vinales and Baracoa were my favourite places, enjoyed the food at the casas particulares very much too 🙂

  • Your photos are beautiful! I’ve wanted to visit Cuba for so long, I really wish I had before the US rule change, as I worry it is going to change everything.

  • Alli says:

    It would be a dream if I could spend 2 weeks here and do all of the things you’ve recommended! (Trinidad in particular with those pretty coloured buildings, mojitos, and salsa dancing… 🙂

  • Madison says:

    Cuba is so beautiful! I can’t stop looking at these colors! Really lovely post! Thanks for sharing! Greets, Man With Van Brent Ltd.

  • Jane Harvie says:

    The most thorough itinerary I’ve read. I really needed one, because we are planning to go to Cuba next month and I wanted to gather some information before we do. Thank you.

  • Dorothy Quirk says:

    Just wondering how you were able to do all this under the “12 reasons Americans can travel to Cuba”. Feel free to contact me via e-mail. I am traveling with Cuba Explora.com next month.

    • Hey Dorothy. Christine travelled to Cuba illegally, so technically she did not fall under any of those “12 reasons.” Check out our other article about Americans traveling illegally to Cuba to see how she did that!

  • Alex says:

    Hello! First, thanks so much for writing all this. It’s been very helpful and inspiring. I literally just pulled the trigger on a ticket. from Montreal to Cuba through Panama. I’m from the States, but I bought the ticket direct from Copa Airlines website while I’m here in Vermont. Do you think there will be any problem, having bought the ticket while in the States. I was just seized by a fear that I’ll get to the airport and they’ll tell me that the US gov’t somehow voided my ticket or something. I didn’t use any type of VPN or IP blocker..

    Thanks,
    Alex

    • Firstly, great decision! Cuba is amazing and you’ll have a blast! We’re thinking of heading back next year to finish off the southern areas that we missed the first time. Couldn’t imagine any problems with purchasing the ticket online. To be honest we couldn’t give you a definitive answer on this because we purchased our ticket by cash in Cancun, but we’d love it if you dropped us an email later with how everything went.

  • Denice Hough says:

    A friend of mine is French and she just went to Cuba last month, Aug 2015. She said everyone NEEDS a tourist card, and everyone’s passport gets stamped. She said there is NO way the customs guys will let anyone in without a tourist card. Americans can’t get tourist cards. So the only way I can see to get in now is through a tour group. Which sucks, cause I HATE group tours. But does anyone see another way of doing it??

    • Hey Denice, Your friend is correct. You do need a tourist card to get into Cuba, but there was no problem obtaining one as a US citizen. Like we say in our American’s Traveling to Cuba article, the Cuba immigration authority has no problem admitting US citizens into the country, and have been doing so since forever. They understand the dilemma with US citizens and they won’t stamp your passport. They need the tourst money (thier biggest industry) so they’re not looking to make it difficult.

  • Mellisa Louise says:

    I definitely need to go back to Cuba. We went to Cayo Coco the first time and would like to experience the city a bit more next time we go.

  • michele says:

    Hello, If I go from Mexico (Cancun) without a permission, Will I be ask at the airport in Cancun for the license to ether Cuba?

  • ed says:

    Hey there, what do you think has changed since the country is now more open ?
    Cheap prices are still possible ?
    I go there in few days for 3 weeks 😉

  • Brooke of Passport Couture says:

    Thanks for this great step-by-step itinerary to Cuba! Vinales looks like a great place to explore and soak up the atmosphere. I’d definitely be up for the beach, although I know what you mean about spending too much time at a beach resort town. Definitely referencing this for future ideas!

  • Shannon Kircher says:

    Thank you for sharing! Looking at planning a quick trip (7 days max) to Cuba in the coming months. We live in a beach destination so I am loving the idea of doing Havana + Vinales!

  • Sofia says:

    I am traveling to Cuba for 6 days- flying into Havana. Is it worth it to travel to Santiago in such a short period?

    • Personally we don’t think so. There is so much to see in Havana alone that you could just stay there for 6 days and have a great time in Cuba. But add a day trip to Vinales and Varadero to see some different areas. Have fun!

  • Candace Johnson says:

    Is travel insurance and medical insurance the same thing for Cuba travel? I just want to make sure the policy that covers trip interruptions also is the same policy I would use for my medical insurance proof to travel.

    • Hey Candace, yep they’re the same thing and we strongly recommend you get that before heading to Cuba. Check out [thirstylink linkid="6424" linktext="" class="thirstylink" title="WorldNomads"] for great deals on Cuba travel insurance.

  • Evanne says:

    Thanks for this! We are heading to Cuba in a week and appreciate your tips 🙂

  • Yonna Lopez says:

    Thank you for sharing! Cuba is a nice place.

  • Chris says:

    Hi….How do you setup a day trip to Vinales, there doesnt seem to be a clear cut way to do so. I am very interested in the tobacco tours

  • Tina says:

    Hi there….my husband and I are planning to travel to Cuba this early March. We land on the 1st after a brutal overnight flight and we fly out on the 10th. Do you recommend spending time in Havana, Vinales and Trinidad during this time? Will it be too tight? More I read about Trinidad, more I want to go! Please help 🙂

    • Trinidad is an amazing place, but takes half a day to get there, and half a day back. I’d say after your flight that you’ll be pretty tired and want to chill in Havana for a few days, which is an awesome city to experience. Vinales can be done in a day, although I’d recommend a night or two. That leaves you with a bit of time. I’d say go for it, especially if its somewhere you want to experience. Let us know how your trip goes 🙂

  • This is great information! I’m visiting Cuba at the end of August and can’t wait! Thanks for sharing!

    -Becca

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