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Important Things to Know Before Traveling to Cuba

If you are planning a trip to Cuba this year, read on to find out the important things to know before traveling to Cuba written by someone who traveled to Cuba in March/April 2024…

Cuba is unlike any country I have been to before and it absolutely captivated me from the moment we arrived. We spent just over three weeks traveling in western and central Cuba, and although it was hard at times, it was also so rewarding and special.

While seeing classic American cars everywhere is really cool to experience, the highlights of Cuba for me were the people, followed by the beauty and uniqueness of the country. The cocktails are pretty great too.

Havana street scene

Cuba is home to one of my new favorite cities in the world (Havana), one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen (Varadero), and a stunning valley with red earth and unusual limestone hills (Viñales). This place is special, truly.

But to have the best time possible in Cuba it is important to do some prior planning and to set your expectations before you arrive.

This is going to be different than anywhere you have been before and there are a lot of specific things you need to plan for before arriving that are crucial. I have spent hours putting absolutely all of the important things to know before traveling to Cuba in 2024 together into one massive post so you can best experience this incredible country.

Trying a Cuban cigar

And yes, Americans, that means you too. I have everything you need to know to visit Cuba in the information below. It is possible, and it is not that difficult.

Many posts I read when I was planning my Cuba trip had information that was no longer correct and it made planning quite stressful and confusing. I visited Cuba in March and April 2024 so this is the most current information. And I plan to update this regularly so it stays up to date.

So let’s get into it!

Trinidad square

Things To Know Before Traveling To Cuba

Cuban Visa 

Everyone needs to have a Cuban Tourist Card (equivalent to a visa) to enter Cuba as a tourist, and you have to get this before arriving in Cuba. It is not possible to get it on arrival.

It is valid for 90 days and you can generally get this from the gate agent just before you board your flight or from your airline’s service desk. Check with your airline in advance to confirm. If you have a stopover somewhere on the way to Cuba, you will usually need to get the tourist card at the stopover airport rather than your origin airport.

There are two colors of Cuban Tourist Card, green and pink. If you are traveling directly from the U.S. you will need the pink tourist card and this ranges in price from $50 – $110.

Trinidad sunset

The green tourist card is for anyone not traveling direct from the U.S., even if you are a U.S. citizen. We paid $20 for the green tourist card at our Copa Airlines gate in Panama City (US cash or Euros only, no cards) but this can vary.

You can also get your Cuba tourist card in advance but the processing fee is quite high so I recommend just getting it at the airport.

You will need to fill out both sides of the tourist card. I had read that they take half the card and you keep the other half but they left the whole visa with us, and only took it when we were leaving the country. We also didn’t get a stamp in our passports, they stamped the tourist card instead.

Read more about the Cuban Tourist Card and how to get it here.

Fort view in Havana

Travel Licence For American Visitors

U.S. residents and citizens need to meet the requirements of one of the twelve general licenses to travel to Cuba, or apply for a different license through OFAC.

You are not technically allowed to travel to Cuba as an American for tourism purposes, but you can travel there under a particular general license quite easily – Support For the Cuban People.

To qualify for this, you just need to avoid spending money with the Cuban Government. So instead of staying in hotels (which are mainly government-owned in Cuba), stay with locals in Casa Particulares, eat at privately owned restaurants (paradors) rather than Government-owned restaurants, and book local tours.

Paseo del Prado in Havana

For license requirements, you will need to fill in an Affidavit before boarding your flight to Cuba which is quick and easy to do.

Your airline should send you a link to get the Affidavit, and they vary from airline to airline. Here is the Copa Affidavit so you can get an idea of what they look like. Make sure to select your reason for visiting as ‘Support for the Cuban People’.

That is the only additional thing you need to do as an American visiting Cuba that visitors from other nationalities don’t have to. 

It’s really not that hard to visit Cuba as an American in 2024 at all!

Trinidad color

Travel Medical Insurance

It is a requirement to have travel medical insurance for the whole time you’re in Cuba and there is a good possibility that this will be checked on your arrival in the country so make sure to print out the paperwork or save it on your phone.

If you don’t get insurance and they check when you arrive in Cuba, they’ll make you purchase an expensive plan on the spot.

If you’re American, a lot of insurers won’t cover you for Cuba but we got insurance through Visitors Coverage for $50 each for 3 weeks. I saw this insurance recommended on a Cuban-based blog.

I have heard that some airlines that fly from Canada or the U.S. include the insurance in the ticket price so I advise you to check with your airline so you don’t purchase additional insurance unnecessarily.

Trinidad in Cuba

Internet and VPN

Cuba is the most difficult place I have ever been to get online. Free internet is almost non-existent and your roaming from your home country likely won’t work here or will be very slow.

If you want to be connected in Cuba, you need to get a Cuban SIM card or internet cards, otherwise expect to be mostly offline during your time in the country.

Incredible El Nicho Waterfall

  • Order a Tourist SIM card in advance to be picked up when you arrive in Cuba – you can collect it from Etecsa stands at Havana, Varadero, and Santiago de Cuba airports, and you just need to show them the QR code and they will get it all set up for you. It’s much easier to do it this way. With Cubacel, which we used, you get 6 GB of data and 100 calls and 100 minutes for 30 days at $35. You can purchase it online here. I managed to make my 6GB last the whole 3 weeks by mostly keeping my phone in flight mode, turning on my data saver, only using my phone when I really needed it, and not scrolling Facebook or Instagram (they both use up a lot of data). I also made sure to turn off my auto-downloads for podcasts.
  • Another option to get online is to purchase WiFi cards and use them at WiFi hotspots. We didn’t mess with that and just used the data on our SIMs because it was so much easier. Having to line up for the cards and then finding hotspots sounds like a hassle but if you want more information on this method, this is a great article by someone who lives in Cuba (although the SIM card info isn’t up to date in this post).
  • Viñales was the only place we went where we saw restaurants that had free WiFi where you could just use a regular WiFi password and didn’t need a WiFi card. Other towns had casa particulares and restaurants where they had a hotspot but you had to have a WiFi card.
  • Only one of the casas we stayed at had free WiFi you could use without having a WiFi card. You could look for casas that mention they have it but don’t count on being able to connect at the places you are staying at.
  • Be careful using Venmo, PayPal, and U.S. banking apps in Cuba as your accounts could be frozen. I personally used all three in Cuba while using my VPN and didn’t have any problems but it’s probably better to be safe than sorry.
  • I’ve also read about people mentioning Cuba in a Venmo payment and having their Venmo account frozen so don’t do that either.
  • If you work online, do as much of your work as you can before flying to Cuba. I wasn’t able to tether my computer to my phone because my signal wasn’t strong enough.
  • Download a VPN onto your phone, I use the free version of Windscribe which allows you 10GB free per month per device. Websites like Airbnb won’t let you book anything once you’re in Cuba and I couldn’t even listen to most of my downloaded podcast episodes because they are American shows so I had to use my VPN for that too.
  • Download Netflix/other streaming service shows and movies, podcasts, books, and any other entertainment you need for the time you are in Cuba.
  • I use the Libby app to get ebooks from the library and I was able to get new books while I was in Cuba by using my VPN and then using the hotspot on my phone to download the book onto my tablet. This used very little data.

Havana street


  • There used to be two Cuban currencies – the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). In 2021, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) was abandoned and now there is only the Cuban Peso, although you can often pay in U.S. dollars and euros too.
  • Take all the cash you will need plus extra for emergencies. Hide it in different places just in case some is stolen – there is no safety net if you only have American cards which is scary. I had my New Zealand debit card just in case but didn’t need to use it.
  • Exchange your cash unofficially through your casa. Rates in March/April 2024 ranged from 290 pesos to 350 pesos for $1 or 1 euro.
  • U.S. dollars and euros have the same value in Cuba and are used interchangeably.
  • Don’t change money at official money-changing places. You will only get 110 pesos per dollar/euro, and for dollars, you’ll pay an 8% commission fee.
  • Only take euros or dollars in cash because other currencies are likely not to be accepted
  • Make sure your notes are in pristine condition if you can but that they especially don’t have any tears – they will not be accepted for payment or by money changers otherwise.
  • Leave at least half of your money in euros or dollars because they are usually preferred to pay for breakfast at your casa, tours, collectives, and taxis. A lot of restaurants also list their prices in dollars/euros.
  • If a restaurant has prices in dollars/euros, you can usually still pay in pesos. Make sure to check the exchange rate to see if it’s better to pay in pesos or dollars/euros.
  • Hardly anywhere accepts cards for payment – we only came across one place in 3 weeks. Cash is king here.
  • Some Government establishments like the famous Hemingway bar in Havana, Bodeguita del Medio, ONLY accept cards. But they don’t accept American cards so if that’s all you have, you’re shit out of luck.
  • If you do have an international card that’s not American, technically they should work in Cuba but don’t count on it. I tried to use my New Zealand debit card to book a bus, and a Brazilian traveler we met tried to pay a National Park entrance fee with her Brazilian card – Both didn’t work. 
  • When trying to get cash out of an ATM with a non-American card, if it doesn’t work keep trying different ATMs, because from what I have read, some work and some don’t.
  • Make sure to spend all your Cuban Pesos before leaving the country because you can’t exchange them after leaving Cuba.
  • Most, if not all, restaurants and shops at the airport only accept dollars and euros – they won’t accept Cuban Pesos at all.

Cafe in Cuba


  • I highly recommend staying in Casa Particulares during your time in Cuba. These are local people’s homes where you will have a room and almost always a private bathroom. We paid between $10 – $50 per night and enjoyed all of the places we stayed and our wonderful hosts.
  • You can usually order breakfast at your casa for $5-$7 (it’s massive) and sometimes dinner too. 
  • You can also arrange collectivos or taxis to get to your next destination as well as book tours and exchange money.
  • Staying at a casa particular puts money directly in the pockets of Cuban people, not the government. This is important if you are traveling under the “Support For the Cuban People” license.
  • The easiest way to find and book Casa Particulares is on Airbnb although other platforms like have them too. does not cover Cuba.
  • If you want to book Airbnbs when you are already in the country, you will need to use a VPN. If you have already booked it before arriving in Cuba, you shouldn’t have any issues messaging your host or looking at your booking on the app without using a VPN. 
  • If you aren’t booking in advance, you could always ask your host if they know of any casas in any of the places you are going to and they could contact them for you.

Street in Havana


You have a few different options for getting around Cuba. The two most affordable options are to take Viazul buses or collectivos.

Otherwise, you can take private taxis (this quickly gets expensive) or look at hiring a car although this is expensive and it’s apparently quite difficult. Getting gas would also be difficult with the severe gas shortages right now.

Perfect Varadero Beach in Cuba


The best way to book collectivos is through your casa particular and you can also find them outside the central bus stations in each place you are visiting.

You will be driven to your destination in a private vehicle (usually one of the classic American cars that Cuba is famous for) with other people and this is usually slightly more expensive than a bus but faster and with better departure times.

Some example collectivo prices:

  • Havana to Viñales $25 per person
  • Havana to Trinidad $35 per person
  • Havana to Varadero $25 per person

Crucial things to know before traveling to Cuba

Viazul Buses

  • Viazul is generally the cheapest option for traveling in Cuba but also the slowest and the bus departures are often very early or the bus arrives late in the evening to your destination. You also have to check in one hour before departure which makes the early morning departures even earlier.
  • I highly, highly recommend booking online in advance to ensure you get a seat and to make life much easier. It’s likely your card won’t work, or won’t be accepted at all at the station if it’s American, and I’m not sure if they actually take cash because I have been told different things by different people.
  • The Viazul website is temperamental but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. My tips are to use a VPN, don’t select bags (you’re allowed a carry-on bag and a checked bag for free), and, incredibly, you can use your U.S. card so that shouldn’t be a problem. Prices are in euros. Here’s a step-by-step guide for booking buses on Viazul.
  • You will notice that Havana doesn’t come up in the drop-down menu, it is under ‘La Habana’ which is the Spanish name for the city.
  • Bus tickets are often not released until a week or so before your travel date so if you’re checking earlier than that and it says there are no buses on that date, try again 1-2 weeks out.
  • Make sure you find the correct desk to check in at the station an hour before your bus although 30-45 minutes for smaller stations is generally acceptable. You should be given a paper ticket and bag tags for your checked bags.
  • Buses are comfortable with reclining seats, air conditioning and curtains on the windows. There are no toilets but the bus stops often to pick people up so you can let the driver know you need to find a bathroom then.
  • For long journeys like between Havana and Trinidad, there will be a meal stop.
  • They often don’t go the fastest and most direct route as there are multiple stops along the way. This is why they usually take longer than going by private taxi or collectivo.
  • Take something warm to wear on the bus. The driver often has the aircon cranked up.
  • All of our Viazul buses were on time both leaving and arriving at our destinations.

Some example bus prices:

  • Havana to Viñales €16
  • Havana to Trinidad €26
  • Havana to Varadero €15

Varadero in Cuba

Private Taxis

  • You can easily arrange these through your Casa Particular or at the bus station.
  • You could take a private taxi to just about anywhere in the country as well booking them for day trips. They will wait for you for a few hours before driving you back.
  • If you are traveling as a group of 3-5, getting private taxis between places may work out to be the cheapest and best option for you because you pay for the vehicle, not per person.
  • Taking a private taxi is the best way to get to and from the airport. You can arrange with your Casa for a drop off or pick up. The price to and from Havana Airport to Havana Viejo is around $25 – $40.

Some example private taxi prices:

  • Havana to Viñales $80
  • Trinidad to Sancti Spiritus $60
  • Havana to Trinidad $120

These prices can vary wildly, especially with the current fuel shortages and price surging.

Havana streetscape

Food in Cuba

I had been hearing from everyone who had been to Cuba (and people who hadn’t) for years that the food is very bland and not good here but overall I didn’t find that to be true at all.

In Viñales, Havana, Varadero, and Trinidad, we had some excellent meals and we had some delicious homecooked traditional Cuban food at our casa particular in Cienfuegos.

We also had some bad meals but that was maybe 30% of our total meals (higher than some countries but lower than others).

Make sure to avoid Government-run restaurants like the plague – the food is universally terrible and it’s these restaurants that have given Cuban food such a bad name. Luckily now you can find independently-run restaurants all over the country, with many to choose from in the tourist towns. These are called paradors.

It can be hard to tell which is which so make sure to read Google reviews or ask at your casa particular before choosing where to eat.

Whole fish at Don Alex in Varadero

Here are some food tips for Cuba:

  • It can be harder to find good food in less touristy towns and there is a nationwide food shortage right now so many restaurants only have a couple of options. It was really hard to find somewhere to eat in Sancti Spiritus which is more off the beaten path – restaurants were either closed, or only had one dish that they were offering.
  • Always choose to get breakfast at your casa, this supports your hosts and it’s a hearty meal for a good price.
  • One food that you’ll find everywhere and that is very popular with Cubans is pizza, but it’s nothing like authentic pizza or even frozen supermarket pizza, even if you get it from one of the fancy-looking ‘Italian’ restaurants. The sauce is sweet and the cheese is plasticky. The only passable pizza we saw was at Don Alex in Varadero but it was still nothing to write home about. Try the Cuban pizza at your peril.
  • Cubans don’t do spicy food which is why some people may say the food is bland, but I disagree.
  • You don’t see a lot of potatoes – sides are usually either sweet potato, taro, yucca, plantain chips, beans, salad, or rice. You often get a mix of rice and beans.
  • Outside of the main tourist towns, it can be hard to find vegetarian or vegan dishes. Use Happy Cow to find vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and be prepared to eat a lot of rice with salad and sweet potato or taro/yucca.
  • For restaurant suggestions in Havana, read this super detailed guide written by Ayngelina, a food/travel blogger who lived in Havana for two years.
  • Many restaurants include a 10% service charge to the check. 

Outdoor dining in Havana

Some popular dishes in Cuba you should try:

Croquetas – usually fish or chicken mixed with mashed potato, crumbed and deep fried.

Ropa Vieja – shredded beef stewed in a delicious sauce with onion, tomato and peppers and served with sweet cooked plantain. It is considered the national dish of Cuba.

Black Beans – Cuban black beans are so good because they add lots of spices, and sometimes pork or pork fat as well so ask first if you’re vegetarian. You often get black beans mixed with rice as a side dish.

Grilled Whole Fish or Filet of Fish – sometimes you will get a sauce with it but usually you just get lime to squeeze on it. 

Camarones al Ajillo – shrimp in garlic and oil. A Spanish classic that’s everywhere in Cuba.

Tostones – fried plantain, you can get it stuffed or by itself with a sauce.

Langosta – Caribbean lobster. I liked this before I got food poisoning from one. It’s very affordable and on many menus. It is usually a grilled tail and you sometimes get a sauce with it, like garlic.

La Botija in Trinidad

Drinks in Cuba

  • Try some classic Cuban cocktails where they were invented – Daiquiri at El Floridita, and a Mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio. It’s touristy, but fun.
  • Try another Cuban cocktail that isn’t as well-known outside Cuba but is everywhere – the Canchanchara. The best place to have it is Casa De Canchanchara in Trinidad. It is the oldest cocktail in Cuba and I have heard mixed information about its origins but it was either invented by enslaved people in Trinidad or by revolutionaries. A Canchanchara is made up of aguardiente, honey, lime, water, and ice – make sure to stir it well to mix in the honey.
  • Also try the Cuba Libre (rum, coke, and lime) and the Havana Special (rum, pineapple juice, lime, simple syrup, and cherry liqueur) which were also invented in Cuba.
  • You can’t get Coca-Cola or Coke products in Cuba. Try the local cola instead – Santa Clara Cola.
  • You can find natural juices nearly everywhere as well as limonada (lemonade). Common juices are pineapple, papaya, mango, and guava.
  • Cuban coffee is usually served black in small espresso cups and it’s strong, but it’s good. You can find Americanos and other espresso drinks pretty easily in most places too.
  • There are a range of beers you can try in Cuba but they are pretty much all lagers – Crystal and Mayabe are common Cuban Lagers and Bucanero is a stronger Cuban lager. You can also get some imported lagers from Europe including Shekels from the Netherlands.

El Floridita in Havana


  • Cuba has been ranked as the safest country for travelers and I never felt unsafe during my 3 weeks there.
  • I was traveling with Toby but walked around by myself a few times. I would feel safe coming to Cuba as a solo female traveler.
  • There is a machismo culture in Cuba so if you are traveling as a solo female or in a group of just females, it’s highly possible you will be catcalled. I found that if I ignored them they usually left me alone pretty quickly. 
  • In tourist towns, but particularly Havana, there are a lot of touts and it can feel like everyone is trying to sell you something. It was a little frustrating but just say no firmly and walk away. We never felt threatened by touts and everyone was always friendly.
  • Although it is generally a very safe country, you may still come across people trying to overcharge or scam you.
  • Be careful before exchanging money – ask around first to find out the going rate (keep in mind this changes almost daily at the moment)
  • Don’t ever buy cigars from someone on the street – this is a popular scam and you are buying subpar tobacco wrapped in banana leaves. Only buy from local farmers directly, or if you aren’t American, you can buy from government stores.
  • We never saw this but I was told by other travelers that restaurants sometimes have an English menu and a Spanish menu with vastly higher prices on the English menu. 
  • The poverty in Cuba can be shocking if you haven’t been to a developing country before, but if you have been to countries like India, Egypt, Nepal, and Bolivia, you have seen worse.
  • We constantly saw lines at banks, food markets, and gas stations because of the current fuel and food shortages. 

Plaza de la Catedral

Cuban People 

The Cuban people are incredibly resilient and enterprising and they generally have a very positive outlook on life despite everything.

The situation here is complicated and I am certainly no expert but I want to give you an idea of what I experienced. You will see lots of graffiti and signs around the country supporting the Revolution and the Communist Government, while also hearing from many Cubans that life was, and is, really hard under the Communist regime. Especially with fuel and food shortages, and the regular power cuts happening right now.

While the ridiculous and petty U.S. embargo against Cuba that has been in place since 1958 hasn’t helped matters in Cuba, much of the severe economic crisis that is unfolding in Cuba now has more to do with how their Government is running the country and the after-effects of the pandemic. That is what I was told by countless Cubans anyway.

Best Things To Know Before Traveling to Cuba

Tourism is down a lot from pre-pandemic times with Cuba no longer being on any cruise ship routes and many Americans not realizing they are actually allowed to visit.

I read blog posts from travelers who visited Cuba pre-2020 and they talk about buses and the best casa particulares selling out if you don’t book in advance, but we only had one bus that was more than a quarter full (it was Easter) and we didn’t see a ton of other travelers in Cuba at all. 

With many Cubans not making more than $50 per month, the Cuban people need tourism dollars, and we made sure to spend all of our money in Cuba with locals. 

My favorite thing about traveling in Cuba was interacting with Cubans, they are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people in the world and their buoyancy and positivity sure is a thing to behold.

I was surprised at how much Cubans love Americans. You will get asked multiple times a day what country you are from and when I said New Zealand and Toby said the U.S. – they were always so excited about Toby being American. I felt neglected. So if you are American, expect to be warmly welcomed!

There aren’t a ton of American tourists in Cuba these days and the Cuban people want more tourism because it can directly benefit them and improve their lives.

Important things to know before traveling to Cuba in 2024

General Cuba Tips

  • Make sure that if you are American and traveling to Cuba that you book Casa Particulares instead of hotels. The U.S. Government can ask for proof of your itinerary and expenses for your trip including what you did and where you stayed for up to 5 years after visiting Cuba. They do not want to see that you were staying in government-owned hotels when you ticked the ‘Support For the Cuban People’ box.
  • Always have hand sanitizer and toilet paper or tissues. Public bathrooms rarely have toilet paper or soap.
  • There have been some recent issues with power shortages and for a few days near the beginning of our trip, the power was cutting out every day for up to 8 hours at a time. We got food poisoning from lobster during this time and it’s probably because it was sitting in a fridge with no power for hours.
  • Unlike many other Latin American countries, you can get by a lot of the time in Cuba with English. But it is much easier and fosters deeper connections if you know some Spanish.
  • For non-Americans who are usually eligible for the ESTA visa waiver program in the U.S., be aware that if you have a Cuban stamp in your passport you will not qualify for an ESTA when visiting the U.S. You could still visit but would need to visit a U.S. Embassy to get a visitor visa. 
  • Yes, there are still a lot of colorful classic American cars everywhere in Cuba, but there are also old and new European cars. All of the taxis and collectivos we took were in classic American cars and I have to admit, even as someone who doesn’t usually care what a car looks like, only that it works, I loved them. 

Fort view in Havana

The Best Time To Visit Cuba

Cuba is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit is in the winter between December and April. It is hotter and more humid in July and August, and June to November is the hurricane season.

Cuba Packing List

  • Prescription and over-the-counter medicines
  • Sunscreen and mosquito repellant – both are expensive and hard to get in Cuba.
  • Toiletries – you can get basics like soap, toothpaste, and shampoo but it may be difficult to get anything else.
  • Period Products – bring everything you think you need. I travel with my menstrual cup.
  • Snacks – it’s likely you can’t get your favorite snacks in Cuba so bring your favorites from home.
  • Portable charger – for when there are long power cuts and you need to charge your phone or Kindle.
  • Water bottle with filter – this GRAYL water bottle is perfect.
  • It’s hot here most of the time so pack lots of loose and breathable clothing.
  • If you are visiting in January or February, it can get cool at night so pack a thin jumper.
  • If you are planning to horseride, pack some long pants.
  • Take hiking or walking shoes for hikes, and hiking/waterproof sandals like Tevas or Chacos for beaches and waterfalls.

El Nicho Waterfall

Check List For What You Need To Do Before You Fly To Cuba


  • Fill in the DViajeros health form 48 hours before your flight and either print it or save it on your phone. The form is only in Spanish but it’s pretty straight forward.
  • Get travel medical insurance and print or save the documents on your phone.
  • Get your Cuban Tourist Card – either order online in advance or get at the airport (it is cheaper to get it at the airport)
  • Download a VPN on your phone.
  • Order your Tourist SIM card to pick up at the airport on arrival.
  • Get out enough cash for your whole trip in either euros or U.S. dollars.

Americans Only:

  • All of the above
  • Print out the Affidavit and fill it in selecting “Support For the Cuban People” as the General License you are traveling under.

Things to know before traveling to Cuba

My Cuba Recommendations

My Favorite Places in Cuba


Havana is an incredibly vibrant city with so much beauty, history, and culture. Make sure to do a free walking tour, a convertible tour of the forts or Vedado, watch the sunset from the Malecon, eat at some of the best restaurants in the country, and try Cuban cocktails while enjoying incredible live music. Havana is one of my favorite places in Cuba.

Park in Havana Cuba


My other favorite place in Cuba, beautiful Viñales is a verdant valley of red earth and limestone hills known as mogotes. Visit tobacco farms on horseback, explore the lovely town center, hike to a viewpoint for the sunrise, and check out one of the many caves in the area.

Cayo Jutias

Cayo Jutias is a remote white sand beach and a popular day trip from Viñales. Swim in the clear turquoise water and eat fresh lobster on the beach in paradise.

Cayo Jutias in Cuba

El Nicho Waterfall

El Nicho is an absolutely gorgeous set of waterfalls in the jungled mountains of central Cuba. Do a day trip from Cienfuegos or Trinidad and make sure to eat at El Campesino just outside the park after swimming and hiking.


A picture-perfect colonial town with colorful historic buildings and cobbled streets. Visit the Valle de los Ingenios on horseback to swim in a waterfall and sample products at local farms, and do a day trip to nearby Playa Ancon, a pretty white sand beach. 


Varadero Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and if you are staying in the quiet residential area near the start of the peninsula, there is not a lot of development and not a lot of people. Spend your time relaxing or walking for hours along this perfect beach.

Vinales Valley in Cuba

My Favorite Casa Particulares

I enjoyed all the places we stayed and every host was wonderful, but these are the Casa Particulares that stood out above the rest.

Havana – very welcoming and attentive hosts, located on the edge of the Havana Vieja, beautiful and elegant apartment with a private living area.

Havana – great location on one of the most beautiful streets in Havana Vieja, attentive and helpful hosts and a small kitchen for guest use.

Havana – spacious apartment with a kitchenette, friendly hosts, great location across from the Museum of the Revolution.

Havana Fort

Cienfuegos – our favorite Casa Particular with an incredible host. Tomas is a retired Architect and designed and built this beautiful and unusual home. He is an incredible cook and breakfast is included in the price. The property is an oasis and the house stays cool because of all the trees. Enjoy the peaceful outdoor spaces.

Varadero – a modern little apartment with a kitchenette, friendly hosts, and an excellent breakfast. Only three blocks from the beach in a quiet part of Varadero. 

Viñales – a lovely spot with a small pool and a beautiful view of the valley, with welcoming hosts and an extensive breakfast.

Vinales main square

My Favorite Tours and Excursions

Valle de Los Ingenios – I enjoyed my half-day of horseriding into the Valle de Los Ingenios from Trinidad. We got to try sugar cane juice and locally grown and roasted coffee and swam in a clear waterfall pool (although the waterfall was dry when we visited.) Lunch is included.

Viñales Valley Horseriding – Experience the beautiful Viñales Valley on horseback, visit a local farm and learn how cigars are made, do a cave tour, and swim in the cave pool if you dare. Lunch is included.

Vinales in Cuba

Cayo Jutias Day Trip – We caught a collectivo organized through our casa in Viñales to remote Cayo Jutias beach for the day and it was perfect. You can also book this tour through Airbnb if you want to conserve your cash.

El Nicho Waterfall Day Trip – El Nicho is a set of waterfalls with clear aquamarine water that you can swim in. The drive through the National Park to get here is beautiful and you stop for lunch after hiking and swimming in the waterfalls (price not included). Ask your driver if you can go to El Campesino restaurant just outside the waterfall park – it was excellent. We booked this through our host in Cienfuegos but you could also do the trip from Trinidad.

Bar Tour in Havana – We did a tour with one of our hosts to three iconic bars in Havana, trying different Cuban cocktails and enjoying live music and dancing.

Havana by night

Free Walking Tour in Havana – An excellent tour where we learned a lot about the history and culture of Cuba while seeing the highlights of Havana Vieja. Make sure to tip well.

Classic Convertible Tour in Havana – There are a couple of different routes to choose from starting at one hour. We visited the two forts across the bay from Havana Vieja and El Cristo de la Havana. You can find convertibles in front of Parque Central and Parque Luz Caballero.

My Favorite Restaurants

Antojos in Havana – excellent croquetas, tostones (fried plantain) with garlic sauce, camarones al ajillo, and Ropa Vieja. Also the best piña colada I have ever had.

El Dandy in Havana – fun bar and restaurant with eclectic decor. I really enjoyed the vegetable tacos here.

Dona Etumia in Havana – simple but delicious Cuban dishes close to Plaza de la Catedral. We enjoyed the langosta (lobster tails) with garlic sauce, and the black beans here were my favorite in Cuba.

San Cristobal in Havana – this restaurant is in gritty Havana Centro and has hosted President Obama as well as Beyonce and Jay Z. I actually didn’t love the food here, but it was not bad and the experience was great. It’s very affordable too. The campesino potatoes were really good and I love the memorabilia decorating every inch of the place.

 Cristobal restaurant in Havana

Cubar in Viñales – A tapas restaurant with traditional Spanish tapas. I loved the patatas bravas, the cheese croquetas (with a thick cheese sauce inside rather than mashed potato), the camarones al ajilo, and the camarones frito.

Don Alex in Varadero – One of the better, and most affordable, restaurants in Varadero. Passable pizza and delicious grilled fish. 

La Botija in Trinidad – An interesting restaurant with a slavery theme – not sure how I feel about that but they say they are acknowledging Trinidad’s dark past. Really good croquetas and live music.

El Campesino Restaurant at El Nicho – simple but delicious Cuban dishes cooked on a traditional wood-fed oven. We had fried trout and it was incredible.

El Campesino in El Nicho

I hope that all of these things to know before traveling to Cuba help you plan your own trip there. The Cuban people need your support and they will welcome you with open arms.

If you have any questions at all about traveling to Cuba in 2024 or if you have traveled there recently and any of this information is no longer correct, please let me know.

If you liked this post, check out some of my other tropical island and Caribbean content:


Important Things to Know Before Traveling to Cuba in 2024Everything You Need To Know Before Traveling to Cuba in 2024

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