The idea to travel to Havana was born on New Years Eve 2016 when we were talking about planning a trip together with my siblings and friends before our wedding in July. We all were in agreement that this would be a once in a lifetime experience and saved the date for May 2017.
Our itinerary started off by flying Jetblue from JFK to Havana, and arriving in the early afternoon. The visa cost and taxes were included in the cost – and upon arrival to the airport we filled out the physical visa to take on flight. Tip: Since we were flying from the USA we were not able to have our money exchanged to Cuban pesos before departure – we did exchange Dollars to Euros to avoid the the 13% penalty in Cuba and then exchanged the Euro to Pesos (aka CUC) at the Havana Airport. Do be prepared to wait in very long lines to exchange money in Havana airport – US credit cards are not permitted, so make sure to bring plenty of cash.
Beautiful vintage taxi cabs were bustling around the pickup area and one driver agreed to take us to our Airbnb for about 30 CUs. About 20 minutes later we arrived and were greeted by the friendliest faces who showed us around the house and shared with us a map, restaurants, and other super helpful information. After getting settled, walked over to Hotel National for a meal, music and mojito – it was lovely!
We started the day with a delicious breakfast at our Airbnb and the plan was to take a tour of the Fabrica de Tabaco Partagas and find some amazing cigars. Keep in mind, our cell phones did not work, but we did each have a map – we jumped into two cabs (since there were six of us) and we were off! Shortly after the second cab did not arrive to the cigar factory, we realized something had gone awry. Perhaps they were dropped at another cigar factory? We asked around but nobody knew of any others in the area — we waited and waited… and waited some more and finally came to the realization that they weren’t coming. It was such a bummer because Andrew was in the other cab and I couldn’t believe we were lost from each other on our first day in Havana! At this point we decided to start walking towards Old Havana and hopeful we would see them at the Airbnb eventually. What happened next was truly unreal! In the distance we see Andrew jump out of a cab, waving his hands in the air – I still cannot believe he found us in the middle of Havana…apparently they were dropped at another cigar factory on the other side of Havana – he was on the search to find us when we ran into him on the street. While this experience while unsettling at first, it forced us to start conversations with so many local people – and the way every person tried to genuinely help us was truly beautiful. In the end, we made some new friends + were happily reunited – we celebrated with many many mojitos and from this day forward we made a pact to stay together until the end.
With life lessons learned … we started Day 3 a little smarter. We ventured down to Old Havana and spent the day wandering around the streets. Cubans are the most beautiful people and every discovery was better than the last.
Hotel National – A lovely hotel to enjoy some Food, Mojito, Music & Sunset. Day-pass swimming pool we also enjoyed our final day due to the crazy heat.
Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market – Shopping for artisan goods + local food.
Old Havana – Walk around and explore.
The Malecon – Perfect place to people watch and mingle with the locals. And the views..
Fabrica de Arte Cubano – Local unbelievable spot – just go!
Eat and Drink:
5 Esquinas Trattoria – Delicious Italian, Pizza, Mediterranean spot in Old Havana. The prefix lunch was amazing.
Starbien – A lovely Caribbean, Spanish Restaurant in Vedado and a short walk from our Airbnb.
Villa Malimbo – Beautiful 6 bed + 6 bath house located in Vedado (a residential neighborhood very close to Old Havana). We booked the entire house, since we had 6 people in our group and it was super affordable ($200 per person for 4 nights). Tip: The rooms were AC, but the house wasn’t, so prepare for the heat. We really enjoyed our stay there, it was super comfortable and a truly authentic experience. There was a cook there in the morning to make us breakfast (for a small fee, like $5 bucks per day extra) and there was a security guard overnight, who could make you snacks/sandwiches if you wanted late-night. We felt totally safe, not sure why he was there, but he was a really cool dude. They also had a fridge stocked with bottle water, which was really helpful and wine, beer, etc for purchase. They provided us with a map with a list of restaurants nearby and they were all amazing (see above for the ones we tried) Cuban, Italian, Seafood, etc!!! They also called to make us reservations for dinner and transport to the airport, since we did not have cell service. The owner has another rental apartment in Old Havana, which looks really nice too.
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Thanks for reading friends! I hope you get the chance to go and experience this beautiful country!