Ever since the 60s when relations between the United States and Cuba went sour and embargoes were put into place, Americans have been restricted from traveling to Cuba as tourists. However, even though restrictions remain in place, there are legal ways for Americans to visit Cuba, and many are now making their way to this long-neglected island nation in the Caribbean. Beautiful beaches, extensive, unspoilt countryside and reminders of a bygone era are all part of what makes Cuba what it is today – a fascinating and wonderful place to visit.
Here is your one-stop, shortcut destination guide to Cuba. Learn about traveling to Cuba — when to go, where to go and what to see, eat and drink along the way.
WHEN TO GO
BEST TIME TO GO
The best time to visit Cuba is from late November to early May. This is when the weather is the most mild, and rain is not usually a problem.
November to April is considered the dry season, with somewhat cooler, less humid weather. When visiting Cuba, it’s important to think about humidity and how the swampy air will affect your ability to get out and see the country to your fullest potential.
May to October is the rainy season, with higher temperatures and more frequent rain. August, September and October bring with them the potential for tropical storms and hurricanes.
WHERE TO GO
Help Planning a Trip to Cuba
Services like ViaHero help travelers plan independent trips to Cuba that meet the regulations. This is a really easy-to-use service, where a local expert will help you plan a trip that meets your expectations and specifications. The planning service will help you put together a fun and exciting itinerary and it’s very reasonably priced! If you choose to use this service, you can use the coupon code SAVOREDCUBA for a 5% discount at checkout.Go to ViaHero to plan your trip
What to do
There are many things to do in Cuba, from exploring the major cities, hanging out at the beach to taking day (or longer) side trips to other locations around the island. We suggest packing your itinerary with a lot of different activities, so you can begin to uncover the real Cuba.
Note: Americans are not currently allowed to visit Cuba for tourism. Your itinerary needs to specific to the category of travel you are claiming. For more information, read this guide.
Drink a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio or Hotel Nacional
Tour the city in a classic car
View the sunset from El Morro
Sit on the Malecon
Walk around Old Havana
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Outside of Havana:
Playa Las Tumbas in Peninsula de Guanahacabibes National Park
Valle de Vinales tobacco plantations
Topes de Collantes National Park near Trinidad
Visit the colorful colonial city of Trinidad
See the sea turtles at Cayo Largo del Sur
Go to Varadero
Visit the natural pools at Las Terrazas
Where to stay in cuba
Be aware that Americans are in many cases not allowed to spend money in Cuba on tourist accommodations, so staying in a hotel may not be allowed. For the rest of you non-Americans, some of the best options for hotels are the Parque Central, Hotel Inglaterra, and Hotel Saratoga. If you want to stay in a good, modern hotel with good ratings, you’ll be spending around $300 a night.
Casas Particulares are how Cuba deals with lack of hotels. Cuban residents can rent out an extra room in their home to tourists. A typical casa particular costs around $25 a night. It generally amounts to a room in a private home, sometimes with a private bathroom and other amenities like air conditioning, optional breakfast and other meals for an additional cost, etc. Each accommodation is different, so when you book, make sure what is included and that it meets your specifications. You can book Casas Particulares through ViaHero (use coupon code SAVOREDCUBA for a 5% discount), along with the rest of your travel itinerary.
What to Eat
In the past, Cuba’s restaurants were mostly all government-owned and operated, and they had a difficult time sourcing quality ingredients, which led to a lack-luster food situation. Recently (mostly within the last 2-3 years), regulations have eased, allowing chefs to build their own businesses. The change has allowed for more creativity and better quality ingredients in Cuban restaurants. As a result, some incredible food can now be found throughout Cuba.
There are a few quintessential dishes that you really have to try while you’re in Cuba. These include:
- Ropa Vieja — a shredded beef dish simmered in a tomato-based sauce, green peppers and sometimes onions, until it falls apart. Ropa Vieja means “old clothes” in Spanish.
- Moros y Cristianos — it’s pretty hard to avoid these dishes, actually. Almost every meal you order will come with a big bowl of both stewed black beans and white rice.
- Grilled Lobster – Cuba is well known for lobster for tourists. It’s inexpensive and the portions are large!
- Mariquitas or Malanga Chips – The first is plantains, the second is a potato-like vegetable. Both are made into little crisps. We had many of these during our stay. They’re similar to dried banana chips, but not as sweet. They have a nice dry texture and they’re great for snacking.
- Tostones – twice fried plaintains, they are usually smashed and fried into little cakes, then deep fried.
- Milk flan – The perfect dessert made with sugar, milk and eggs, then covered in slightly caramelized condensed milk, it’s delicious!
- Arroz Amarillo con Pollo – Yellow rice with chicken. You’ll get a huge serving!
- Cubano sandwich – I want to believe this exists, because I love to eat them at home, but I can’t be sure. Try as we might, we were unable to find one single Cubano sandwich anywhere we went. We even asked tour guides where to get one and they’d never heard of it.
What to drink
There is a strong drinking culture in Havana. Havana Club Rum is one of Cuba’s major exports and is the best-selling rum of Cuba. You’ll find it served in cocktails across the country. The main drinks to order in Cuba are the typical beach drinks, like mojitos, daiquiris, margaritas, cuba libre, pina colada, havana special… basically anything with rum in it.
Some of the best places to go in Havana for a drink include 304 O’Reilly, El Floridita, La Fabrica de Arte Cuban, Hotel Nacional’s Vista al Golfo, Ambos Mundos and La Farmacia. Mostly every place has the same list of drinks on the menu at roughly the same cost of $3-4 CUC, but what sets these bars apart is the atmosphere.
One last recommendation is to make sure you try a fresh coconut on the beach. Filled with fresh cold coconut milk, the server will let you drink down the milk in order to accommodate as much rum as you’d like. The mixture of fresh coconut milk and rum is divine!
- Transportation: If you love classic American cars, you’re in for a real treat. Many classic cars are used as taxis! Pedicabs (called bicitaxis) are a great way to get around Old Havana. Also look for Coco taxis (they look like cartoon cars!)
- There are 11 acceptable categories of travel for Americans to enter Cuba. Make sure you research and know which category you can travel on. Tourism is not allowed by Americans.
- A travel visa is required to enter Cuba. You can pay for one at the airport when you check in.
- CUC is the main currency for tourists. It’s a 1:1 conversion for the dollar. However, you will not receive a favorable rate to exchange dollars in Cuba, if you can find one at all. Make sure you take euros with you to exchange instead.
- For Americans, non-U.S.-backed travel medical insurance is required to enter the country. Make sure you’ve set that up before you travel and have the paperwork with you at all times.
- Hotels are expensive and few in Cuba. As Americans are not allowed to visit Cuba as tourist, they aren’t officially allowed to stay in hotels, unless arranged by a tour company. Stay in a Casa Particulares instead.
- The best restaurants are called Paladars and are privately-owned. You can find them easily and it’s where you should be eating in Cuba. Check out our restaurant guide for more information.
- U.S. credit cards are not accepted throughout Cuba. Bring enough cash to cover your needs. You don’t have to convert it all into CUC at once, if you’re not sure how much you’ll need.
Useful phrases in Spanish
I’d like a table for 2 people: Quiero una mesa para dos
How much does it cost?: ¿Cuánto cuesta?
The bill, please: La cuesta, por favor
Where is…?: ¿Dónde está…?
One ticket please: Un boleto, por favor
Good morning, afternoon and evening: Buenos dias, buenas tardes, buenas noches
Please / Thank you: Por favor / Gracias
By reading this Cuba Travel Guide, you now know what to do and where to go, and have sorted out the right time to visit Iceland. So, pack your bags and book your tickets, because Cuba awaits you!
Need more help planning your perfect Iceland vacation, check out these top travel books.