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2 weeks in Cuba

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We are planning a 2 week trip to Cuba and need some advice. We were thinking of staying 4 days in Havana, renting a car and going to Trinidad. Advice on itinerary, places to stay, good beaches, car rental companies etc. Looking forward to all your advice.

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    Hola canukbc.

    Well first off, I'd check out and join the Cuba specific forum at Debbies Caribbean Resort reviews. The whole Forum is dedicated to Cuba travel.

    http://debbiesreviews.proboards35.com/index.cgi?board=Cuba

    You post engenders several questions. When you say "WE", does that mean just a couple, or kids included? Do you want to always stay in resorts, or would a Casa Particular (Bed and Breakfast) and staying with a Cuban family be of interest to you? Do you like to venture forth to local restaurants or prefer All-Inclusive catered buffets?

    With two weeks, I'd suggest 4 days in Havana will give you a good feel for the place. Then if you enjoy nature, I'd suggest heading west into Pinar del Rio province to Vinales. There is a national park down that way and the Vinales valley is very beautiful with much to explore in the way of natural vistas, caves, etc.

    Then Trinidad (4 to 5 hours east of Havana, south coast) is a UNESCO World Heritage site and much is very nicely restored. I was there this year for 5 days (perhaps a bit too long) but 2 or 3 days would give you ample time to explore this historic town.

    Driving in Cuba is an adventure. Some roads (especially the Central Auto Pista) are in decent shape, but other secondary roads require a higher degree of caution. They are not well marked signage wise, so a good map is essential. I'd suggest trying to get a copy of the Guia de Carreteras Road Guide. This 50 page booklet map is invaluable in getting around.

    On the way from Vinales to Trinidad, you might consider a route along the south coast through Playa Larga and Playa Giron. There's some great swimming along here, and also if you have a historical interest, the Bay of Pigs museum at Playa Giron. Cienfuegos is also a historic town with great architecture on the way to Trinidad.

    While two weeks is a nice amount of time, you'll have to decide whether to try and see a little of a lot of the country, or to spend more time at less destinations. That's a personal preference for you to decide.

    Personally, from Trinidad, I'd come up thru Sancti Spiritus province to Santa Clara, home of the Che museum and another town worth exploring. Then onwards Northwestward to Varadero for a few days (quite touristy) for a few days of resort living and great beaches. Then back to Havana and you're done with a nice taste of Cuba. I'd leave the whole eastern end of the island and Santiago for a future trip.

    Hope this gives you some food for thought.

    Steve

    Oh, and here's my "Big List" of things to do and see in Havana. I've spent weeks wandering about Havana, one of my favourite destinations.

    Here in no particular order are some of my favourites. You can't possibly do the whole list in one day, but it might give you some ideas of where to start.

    1) Plaza Revolution and Jose Marti monument and museum. View from top is great. Postal Museum is right around the corner as well if you like stamps.
    2) Coppelia for Icecream at top of La Rampa. 30,000 a day are served. Cubans love icecream.
    3) Parisienne Cabaret (at Hotel Nacional) for show, or Tropicana Club for dinner show.
    4) Muesum of the Revolution (Just down the street from Parque Central on Ave. Agramonte (Zulueta)
    5) Calle Obispo. Very bohemian with lots of galleries, shops, cafe's. Just around the from Parque Central and the Capitolo.
    6) La Floridita Bar for Daquiri (just at Parque Central and Calle Obispo)
    7)Cathedral Square.
    8)La Bodeguita del Medio for a Mojito. Just around the corner from Cathedral Square.
    9)Plaza Armas for Sunday bookfair (if it fits your schedule)
    10)Free Market (hard currency) on Tacon in Parque Cespedes, at the waterfront just behind Castillo la Real Fuerza for hand made souvenirs.
    11) El Morro Castle. Canon firing at 9:00 p.m. ceremony. Make sure to climb Faro (the lighthouse) for a fabulous view across the harbour at old Havana.
    12)Bocoy Rum factory (Fábrica de ron Bocoy, Calzada del Cerro No. 1417, Cerro) or the Havana Club Fundacion Outlet (San Pedro y Sol, Ave. del Puerto #262) Here's the link to the Havana Club Fundacion website.
    http://www.havanaclubfoundation.com/en/default.asp
    13) Plaza Vieja at the bottom of San Ignacio for the tremendous architecture and also there's a microbrewery in the southwest corner.
    14) Parque Lenin and Las Ruinas for lunch. Very pretty.
    15) Hemmingway Marina
    16) The Capitolo. 3rd largest indoor statue in the world inside under the dome.
    17) All the rest of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) right in your neighbourhood.
    18) Chinatown. Just to the west of the Capitolo by a few blocks. Walkable distance on Dragones at the south end of the Capitolo.
    19) Castillo Real Fuerza. Right off Plaza Armas and very nice to walk through.
    20) The Malecon. Oceanfront drive that is very popular for strolling along the seawall.
    21) University of Havana (up near la Rampa and Coppelia)
    22) Cemetary Colon. Many mausoleums and artistic graves. Very historic. Near Plaza Revolution.

    So that's my basic starting list. In addition in Old Havana there are many galleries, museums of various types and it's nice to sit in one of the many small cafes and just soak up the ambience, a cold beer, and listen to some great music. Usually a combo, trio or quartet. For me personally that is the real soul of Habana... it's music.

    For shopping and souvenirs, there are several places that are almost a must see/do.
    There are many small shops along Calle Obispo in Old Havana that have some nice stuff. Also in Parque Cespedes located between Av. del Puerto and Tacon (right behind Castillo de la Real Fuerza) is an Artisan Market where lots of handmade handicrafts and stuff is available. It's also a neat place to just wander about. Keep an eye out in this park for the guys that husk/slice and open fresh coconuts for the tourists. A fresh coconut and a straw is a nice refreshing drink. Not too many as fresh coconut milk can upset your GI system.

    There is also another craft market located on the Malecon (shoreline drive) between the Hotel Nacional and the Melia Cohiba Hotel. I don't know exactly where as I walked the full length of the Malecon so I just remember that it's along there somewhere. For regular shopping in a Cuban version of a shopping mall, there is the Galeria Paseo located at Av Paseo & the Malecon (across the street from the Melia Cohiba.
    Another Galeria is located on the south side of Av Salvador Allende between Calzada de Infanta y Oquendo. You can walk to it from the Capitolo quite easily in about 20 minutes by walking up Av Simon Bolivar.

    To orient yourself, here is a good map site for Cuba.
    http://www.cubaroutes.com
    Select the City of Havana map on the left & when that opens select List all Places in City of Havana on the right hand side. You can check the boxes for Accommodation, attractions etc. Will give you a good map showing where stuff is located. Zoom the map in closer for a better look.
    Here is the site of INFOTOUR, the City of Havana Tourist Office. Good info and there's a map showing the location of their stores in Havana. A good place to get maps, info etc., once you are actually in Havana.
    http://www.infotur.cu/index.html

    And what's Havana without EATING. So here's my favourite list of good places to eat.

    1) EL ALJIBE in Miramar offers a great house specialty, Lemon Chicken. Grand and not too pricey at $12. Good wine selection as well. El Aljibe is popular with the Cubans and I've always enjoyed eating there. It's one of my "Must Eat" places everytime I am in Havana.

    2) EL FLORIDITA in Habana Vieja serves the absolute BEST frozen daquiri imaginable. But at $6.00 per drink it is a little pricey. But that's the bar and drink made famous by Hemmingway and there's lots of photos of Papa Hemingway on the walls (with Fidel no less). Food is pretty good as well, but I've only eaten in the bar section, not the dining room.

    3) EL PATIO in Plaza de la Catedral is also great. You can dine inside or outside in the square under unbrellas. I prefer the outside because the music isn't quite as loud, and I simply love to soak up the atmosphere in the Plaza. Service can be a bit slow however. I often stop here for lunch (Sandwich Cubano) with a cold Crystal Beer. Very nice.

    4) LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO
    If you are in Havana and want a great Mojito at the legendary bar made famous by Ernest Hemmingway, then you have to have a drink at The Bodeguita Del Medio, Empedrado 207, Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Comida Criolla y Mojitos (Native food and Mojitos), what a great place to eat and drink. Located just around the corner from Cathedral Square. The walls are covered with signatures of its patrons from the day it opened. Famous signatures such as Hemmingway's and Salvadore Allende's are protected under glass. No visit to Havana is complete without a Mojito at la Bodeguita.

    5) LA DIVINA PASTORA. Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña. Tucked into the berth of the sailing ship El Galeón at the foot of El Morro Castle, it is a good spot for dinner after the cañonazo (cannon blast) at La Cabaña. I took my girlfriend here and the atmosphere is terrific. Soft breeze, soft music and soft lips. What a treat. Very romantic spot with the lights of the harbor glimmering. The food is good too. Not a place where you have paid for the view and get substandard fare. Worth every penny, though it does take quite a few of them. If you only have one night and want to make it special, then this is the place to go.
    Also, right alongside La Divina Pastoria is a small annex bar called BAR EL MIRADOR which also offers terrific city views and the same menu as the main restaurant next door. A breezy terrace makes it one of Havana's romantic getaways. Standard criollo dishes -- plátanos a puñetazos, frijoles negros, ropa vieja -- are available along with international specialties.

    6) AMELIA - Also in Miramar suburb in the Miramar Trade Center directly across the street from the Melia Habana Hotel. Classy dining but won't break the budget. I've eaten there three times and have always enjoyed it and felt I received value for the money.

    7) La TERRAZA - which is an outdoor patio/grill at the Melia Habana Hotel which I had a very nice steak dinner at. Also their fish was good the night I ate there.

    8) Cafe La MINA - Calle Obispo No. 106 esq. a Oficios, right at the edge of Plaza de Armas at the corner of Oficios. Excellent food and a reasonable wine list. There's a nice Cuban Chardonnay called San Cristobal that is quite enjoyable at $14 / btl. You can eat outside and watch the world pass by, or for a more intimate dining experience, the central patio courtyard with it's lush vegitation is a nice spot. The food is great and dinner for two including a nice bottle of wine and dessert will set you back about $50.

    9) DULCERIA DONA TERESA - Also on Calle Obispo just north of Plaza Armas. Good food and here is where I usually have a nice sandwich Cubano for lunch and a cold beer. They also have good hearty chicken soup that I have enjoyed. Outdoor patio area only.

    To the west of the Capitolo on Ave. Dragones is a small China Town. Not bad actually. I wandered around and ate at a place that looked nice. Sorry, didn't note the name.

    Also, in the Miramar suburb just about opposite the El Aljibe (and near the Canadian Embassy is a place called Sandwichteria (not sure of exact spelling) which is a very cheap place to eat. Sort of a cross between a sub-shop/burger stand/ice-cream parlor where you can eat cheap but good. Six of us ate there (3 adults, 3 kids) and got out for less than $30 US. It's very popular with the local Cubans so its also a fun place to eat. Very informal.

    You must think all I do is eat, but it is a great hobby. In my trips I have found some nice spots and plan to spend more time just relaxing and absorbing the atmosphere.

    Have fun and FORGET THE DIET...... ha, ha, ha.

    I've been to Havana many times and still have lots more to see. If you feel like looking at some photos of Havana (with full captions and descriptions) then have a look at my website at.
    http://photopilot.tripod.com

    Hope you enjoy yourselves and have a Mojito for me.

    Steve

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    when i was a girl my mother used to tell me stories of her travels to cuba. the nightclubs, restaurants, beaches... this would have been in the early 30's. as such i have always wanted to travel to cuba but i was born in the usa so must wait.
    steve your post is amazing. you should write for their travel board! i have copied for my someday trip. and you have whetted my appetite to travel there all the more...
    thank you for such an extensive report.

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    Steve,
    Wow, what an amazing response to my questions. You have answered so much. We are definately not all inclusive resort people and would like to do the casa particular's. It is my husband and I travelling and we like to do lots of hiking, snorkeling, out of the way places to explore. We will probably like to lay around a beautiful beach for part of the trip. Any suggestions of car rental companies? Any favorite casa particulars in Havana? Vinales sounds like a great place, is there casa particulars there? Thanks for your thoughts.

    Liz

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    Hola canuckbc:

    Here's some info that can help your trip to Cuba.

    Havana,

    Casa Magaly
    9920 Calzada de Vento
    Altahabana, (suburb of Havana 1/2 way between airport and Old Havana.
    Tel: 011-537-44-1832
    Casa Magaly is almost my second home in Havana. It's a little farther out than some people like (10-15 minute drive from Old Havana) but I like it mostly because it's in a great neighbourhood and if you have a rental car, it has secure off-street parking which brings lots of peace of mind. Magaly and Lesme (the owners) are such wonderful people I feel like I'm heading home whenever I visit.
    ===================================
    In Trinidad, I enjoyed my stay at Casa Pablo.

    Hostal "Pablo"
    Calle Ernesto Valdes Munoz, No. 69
    Telef (01419) 3652 and (01419) 3515.

    One telephone number is the Casa, and the other is the daughter's work telephone number in Trinidad. Sorry, don't know which is which. It's located about 50 meters from Plaza Mayor and is only a 2 or 3 block walk from the Viazul station. It has it's own private building located in the garden of the house, 2 beds, private bathroom, hot and cold water and is AC with a fridge in the room.

    A wonderful evening in Trinidad is on the big steps from Plaza Mayor up to the Casa de la Mucisa. There is a live band playing every evening and it becomes sort of an impromptu international gathering place for the people who for the majority, stay in Casas in Trinidad. Usually starts about 8:30 to 9 pm and goes till the wee hours. Also popular with locals for dancing. You can get drinks there and it is a wonderful way to spend an evening and get the true atmosphere of Cuba.

    ====================================
    Another great way to experience Cuba is with a private guide, and in the Havana/Vinales area I'd highly recommend my friend Heriberto.
    Here's the contact info for Heriberto
    Phone 892-5472 (it's a cell so you can reach him easily)
    email: 8925472@sms.cubacell.com

    He should charge around $50 per day or you can negotiate better. Mostly it depends on how far you want to go, and how long a day you want. The $50 rate is basically 9 to 5, with a bit more for the evening. I'd suggest you drop him an email and tell him that Steve from Toronto Canada recommended you. By the way, Heriberto has a car, so the fee also includes your transportation, which is a great deal and actually better than just renting a car yourself.

    His wife Marta is a professional tour guide and also works sideline tours and just so you know, Heriberto is a professional translator and has excellent English. And most important, his attitude is wonderful. I always have a blast with Heriberto.
    ====================================

    If you want to get a better feel for Havana and some areas of Cuba, check out my website at
    http://photopilot.tripod.com

    You can use the Contact Steve tab on the website to send me an email if you have any more questions. I can also provide you with a Canadian telephone number to make arrangements for Casa Magaly if you are interested. The daughter of the couple lives here in Canada.

    Have a great trip.
    Steve

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    If you are interested in knowing Cuba of a different way, I invite you to visit our Web Site < http://www.bedincuba.com >. In BedinCuba you will find one magnifies collection of more than 200 photos divided in thematic
    In BedinCuba you can find an ample directory of private houses, with its descriptions, photos of the house and other useful information for lodging.
    Accommodation in Private House could be one of the more interesting experiences that you may enjoy while you travel to Cuba, specially if you want to get to know from the first hand how Cubans live and think and how is the "Real Cuba"..
    Cuba is an unusual country in many facts and the only way to get to know the true feeling of Cuba and its people, and obtain a deep knowledge of the Cuban society; is to maintain a regular interaction with Cubans, your hosts for example, and this you will achieve choosing to stay in this kind of private accommodation, casas particulares. We guarantee, that you will learn a lot about Cuba.

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