Category Archives: Cuba

Is Cuba Safe To Travel? 10 Cuba Scams To Avoid

Is Cuba Safe - Scams to Avoid in Cuba

Is Cuba safe to travel? Yes, it is actually one of the safest countries in the world when measuring crime figures. However, years of financial oppression has resulted in the creation of crafty ways of making money, some aimed at tourists. While you may experience some of the following Cuba scams, they will be delivered with charm and while it can get annoying, just remember your position of privilege which allows you to visit Cuba. Let’s find out about the popular scams in Cuba so you can be cautious of them during your trip. Note: All of these scams happened to us or tourists we met during our vacation. We’re happy to talk and here to learn, please leave us a comment below.


» You make also like | First timer’s guide to Cuba travel


Cuba Travel Safety: Avoid These Scams in Cuba

I rarely say that tourists need to buy travel guides but Cuba is definitely a country you would benefit from having one. Check out the options below.


1. Fake Cigars in Cuba

One of the most popular souvenirs to take home Cuba has to be cigars.

However, not all cigars are created equally and fake cigars with no duty paid will be confiscated at customs.

Be wary of buying them on the street as the sealed box may contain banana leaves.

For the authentic cigars, buy from plantations or shops.

There is even a great difference in price between authentic Cuban cigars.

If you are budgeting, the finest Cuban cigars were cheaper (three times!) in the official shop in Viñales compared the official shop in Havana.

Viñales is a beautiful, lush town close to Havana. I highly recommend you spend at least a day there during your time in Cuba.

Finest Cuban Cigars I Cuba Scams

2. When Did You Arrive, Sir?

If you answer “today” expect the response to be along the lines of…

What a great day to arrive, it’s the national day of – whatever black market goods/service is being sold – at an overinflated price.

How To Avoid This Scam

Smile, give pleasantries and move on but don’t be afraid to ask if you need help with directions, finding casas particulares (renting a room in a local home, very common in Cuba) or a vintage car tour.

Financially, some Cubans work in groups.

One member of the group will source what you need and in return they receive some commission from the service owner.

For example, when we hired bikes in Trinidad, we found the bikes through asking a taxi driver who walked us to his friend’s house. From here, we set up the hire for the next day.

Out of curiosity, we asked the bike owner what the taxi driver got out of walking us to their house instead of pointing us in the right direction.

They explained the commission process which a clever way to make money while living in a country which has has been restricted by el bloqueo embargo.

It’s very similar to how bloggers make money.

We recommend services and products we love on our websites, newsletters and social media channels and when you click the affiliate link and purchase, we make a small amount of commission from company.

Another example of the referral process took place during our second visit to Havana.

When we arrived back in the city, instead of pre-booking accommodation, we asked a tuk-tuk driver to take us to a casa.

The first casa wasn’t available so he took us to another.

We agreed on a price with the casa owner and stayed for a few nights. The same casa also helped us sort a taxi to the airport.

Somewhere down the line, the tuk-tuk driver will receive a commission for the accommodation sale and the casa owner will get a commission for the taxi sale. Clever eh?

If you do not feel comfortable arriving without planned accommodation I recommend booking a hostel or hotel for the first two nights and then consider moving into a casa the third night.

Alternatively, book online before you arrive. Casas now advertise on Booking.com.

Just consider that apps like Airbnb don’t work when you are in Cuba so you won’t be able to contact your host through it.

Examples of casas:

3. Jinetero Chat

We’ve met two clever guys who fell for this one as well as having it tried on us!

A jinetero (hustler) will join in your conversation and once you’ve chatted for a while they will ask you to help them out financially.

In our case we were asked to buy milk (leche).

According to the guys who went along with the scam and our tour guide who explained the process, the jinetero will take you to a shop and the milk will be pre-packaged in a bag ready to go.

Instead of the price of milk you will be charged $20-30.

Once you leave the shop, the milk is returned and the shopkeeper and the jinetero split their money.

This seems to be more popular in Havana than other Cuba destinations.

Just be aware and have your wits about you. As soon as you are being led into a shop take your sympathetic ear away and politely say sorry.

Havana vintage car

4. $6 Coffee 

Coffee can be purchased for around 50 cents – $1 from the wee shop windows dotted around Havana.

However, some shops sell overpriced coffee to gringos.

Please don’t be surprised when a local kindly offers to buy it for you in local currency (CUP) at a fraction of the cost in exchange for a dollar.

If you are particularly gullible this scam will be extended.

Your new friend will now wander through the streets with you sharing friendly local knowledge.

Do expect a bill for a private tour at the end. This happened to a mature couple in Havana.

Unsure about Cuban money? Read our Cuban currency guide.

Coffee I Cuba Scams

5. Food in Cuba

Food in Cuba is a hot potato topic for tourists. Some meals will be great, others will be OK.

We first tried Ropa Vieja in Trinidad and make it often at home in Scotland.

If staying in a casa you will have to eat out, unless your host offers to cook for you for an additional charge.

Like in many countries, PRs will try to encourage you into their restaurant.

When a PR approaches you, take what is on offer with a pinch of salt.

Once you are seated, the menu might look at a little different and drinks might not be inclusive of the price as promised.

We fell victim to this scam in Caleton (Bay of Pigs). It was a little annoying because my partner is a really fussy eater and since Caleton is tiny, choice was limited.

However, don’t let this put you off visiting the Bay of Pigs if plan to dive. You can read more about diving in Cuba here.

Trinidad Food

6. Casa Particular Prices

On average, Cuban government wages are $28 per month, some would say this wage is relative to local prices, others would say it’s not.

To bump up wages, many Cubans rent out second houses or extra rooms.

This is all above board. Official casas have a specific sign outside of their homes and they record your details for government records.

Casa Symbol in Havana
Staying in a casa is part of the Cuban vacation experience.

Guidebooks and websites recommend you budget $10-30 per night.

We never paid more than $10 per person (plus breakfast) after the first casa.

Be cautious of how much you pay for casas, there isn’t always that much difference between the properties.

You can read everything you need to know about casas particulares here.

Should you buy gifts for locals?

Good question and one we get asked often.

We didn’t and were never asked for any.

My good friend, Laura, did feel that there was more of an assumption that tourists would have gifts in the south of the island or possibly because she was part of an organised tour and not travelling independently?

If you do want to bring items, pack items they may actually need such as toiletries or toys for kids.

Casas Particulares I Cuba

7. “Lo siento, no tengo cambio”

When paying street traders and some shops with notes, expect there to be little change.

You have two options here.

One, accept being short changed.

Two, listen out for “no tengo cambio” which means, I have no change.

Advise the shop keeper that you will go elsewhere if there is no change.

Learn the language!

We have survival Spanish but struggled, luckily for us we were travelling with a fluent Spanish speaker.

Purchase a phrasebook at the very least.


8. Buses in Cuba 

There are two bus companies that travel throughout Cuba, Viazul and Conectando.

Viazul has a website where you can book seats making it more popular with tourists.

The journey times are also available on the site.

I suggest that you take a screenshot of the trips you intend to make because no one ever knows the times of the buses.

The reason for this is unclear.

It could be because regardless of schedules, buses run on ‘Cuba time’ anyway or possibly as casa owners would prefer you stay another night which is what they asked us to do in Caleton near Playa Larga at The Bay of Pigs.

Another reason could be because there are taxi colectivos which do the same route and by selling a ride, commission is made.

Taxi colectivos are shared car rides.

It is very common for tourists to hire collectivos to get between towns in Cuba.

You may also be asked to swap cars during long journeys so don’t be spooked if this happens!

Cuba Car Mogote Vinales

9. Holiday Romance in Cuba 

It is not uncommon to see mature Western women with young Cuban men, salsa dancing in the night clubs of Cuba, specifically in Trinidad.

However, if you meet a local who picks you up in a cafe or while sightseeing and the police takes a keen interest in your date, it might be time to consider your options fast.

We met a young Irish high school teacher who set up a date with a waitress of the same age in Trinidad.

He became concerned when the cops were showing her as much interest as he was.

The police understood, only his pride was challenged.

However, in Havana, a huge group of us joined another traveller who was invited by a local to see a cool live band.

The best advice is to have your wits about you and read the situation.

The below image is a bronze sculpture by Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo called Fantastic Voyage.

According to our Havana tour guide, it symbolises all the young Cuban women who have sought another life with foreign men.

Roberto Fabelo I Cuba Scams

10. Shop Shut!

This scam is not unique to Cuba but we did experience a good attempt to get us into a bar and away from The Revolution Museum.

An older couple told us that it was their anniversary! Congratulations, we rejoiced.

After a bit of chat, they asked where we were going… Alas, the museum is closed today but you should check out this bar!

We said our goodbyes and turned a corner to an open museum. They get a commission when you step through the bar door.

This is a common scam in many countries, especially with taxi drivers advising you that hotels/hostels have closed down.

Havana Revolution Museum I Cuba Scams

Final Words

Now we are not saying Havana is ‘scam city’ and I’ve definitely fell for worse during my travels, Istanbul note scam I’m looking at you!

Be equipped, avoid these tourist scams in Cuba and you’ll have a fun trip. Even if you do fall for any of them, it’s a story to remember.


Any scams to add? Tell us in the comments below

10 Unmissable Things To Do In Hot Havana!

Things to do in Havana Cuba

I dare you to name another city as sexy at Havana! This high-charged Cuban city simmers with salsa, cocktails and classic cars. The three main areas Centro Habana, La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) and Vedado each offer something unique so let’s dive into the best things to do in Havana, Cuba.


» You may also like: our guide to Cuba for first-timers.


Fun Things to do in Havana

1. Take a Ride in a Classic Cuban Car

 Yes! The number one thing to do in Havana is to take a spin in one of those famous 1950s cars.

Feel the wind in your hair as the welcomed breeze generated by speed picks up.

You can’t actually drive a vintage car yourself in Cuba, believe it or not these cars are used in everyday Cuban life too. It’s not just a tourist gimmick although you will notice the best-kept ones are parading around Old Havana for your coin.

We had the privilege of riding in a yellow mustang which drove us through the streets of  Vedado to Havana forest, along the Malecón and to Revolution Sqaure.

Pre-book your Havana car tour here and avoid the bartering process on the street. This two-hour tour includes a cocktail at the impressive Hotel Nacional. Hence why it’s best you don’t do the driving!

Revolution Square Vintage Car Havana

2. Plaza de la Revolución

Be like Obama!

Capture that that iconic Che Guevara monument at Plaza de la Revolución.

If you are slightly besotted with the handsome freedom fighter try to get your hands on the 5 CUP note which has his face on it. Need to more about the currency? Check out our Cuban money guide.

What’s the best way to get to Revolution Square? The cheapest is to jump on the hop on/off double-decker Habana Tourist Bus. The fastest is to hire a taxi. The coolest is to rent a classic car and add the square to your Havana itinerary. See above for more details.

3. Drink Cocktails in Havana

Much of life in Havana is built around socialising and salsa and when the rum is so damn tasty why not?!

You’ll want to try a mojito at Hotel Nacional de Cuba (Calle Obispo Esquina) and a margarita at La Floridita on Obispo which was relatively expensive, I’ve had better.

Check out how much we spent in Cuba, it was surprisingly more than we hoped.

For modern cocktails and tasty food check out 304 O’Reilly (O’Reilly).

Hey, beer drinkers! You’ll find a craft beer distillery called Factoria Microbrewery at Plaza Vieja. I love the art sculpture by Roberto Fabelo in that square too.

La Bodeguita Del Medio Havana

4. Stalk Hemingway 

The American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, was a big fan of Havana and you can follow his footsteps by having a drink in his favourite haunts La Bodeguita del Medio and La Floridita, then a nosey at where he collapsed at night at the Hotel Ambos Mundos.

Head to the top of this elegant hotel (aka The Mirador of Old Havana) for lovely views of the city.

There is a tour of Hemingway’s home outside of Havana as well as his known spots in the city. Fans can read more about it here.

» Read next | The best Havana tours you can’t miss

Ambos Mundos Havana

5. Take a Walk Along the Malecón

Take a stroll along the 8km seawall of Havana which starts from La Habana (Old Havana), runs past Centro Habana into Vedado. Grab a 1 USD pizza from a ‘hole in the wall’ café and head for the waves.

After a day strolling among the crumbling colonial buildings and dusty streets you will be thankful for space the breath that this city ocean provides.

Malecon Havana | 10 things to do in Havana

6. Revolution Museum

To cast your eyes on legitimate clothing worn by Cuban soldiers during the revolution as well as newspaper articles and authentic bullet holes check out Havana’s Museo de la Revolucion.

You can’t miss the striking old Presidential Palace building as it is surrounded by Cuban artillery.

There are scripts of information (some poorly) transcribed from Spanish to English which details the events of the revolution.

→ Tip: don’t be fooled if a local tells you that the museum is closed and then tries to tempt you to a bar of their choosing. This happened to us! It’s one of the many scams in Cuba, I detail more here.

Want detailed stories with your sightseeing? Check out this affordable private tour of Havana.

  • Entry fee: 5 USD
  • Address: Avenida Bélgica, La Habana, Cuba

Revolution Museum Havana | 10 things to do in Havana

Revolution Museum | 10 things to do in Havana

7. Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña

For things to do in Havana at night, check out Havana’s La Cabaña (fort).

Every night at 9 pm tourists flock to the Havana’s La Cabaña (fort) to watch the cannon show, cañonazo ceremony, where locals re-enact an 18th – century shoot out over the water.

In addition, I would recommend going for sunset to watch the sky flood with baby pinks and blues before dark falls. By day travellers can visit La Cabaña’s museums, there is often art shows around the area too.

  • Entry fee: 4 USD

Sunset at Havana La Cabana | 10 things to do in Havana

8. Visit Vedado

The ‘newer’ area of Havana has paladar restaurants (privately-owned) and bars and can be reached by cocotaxi, the tiny yellow helmet looking cars.

We watched a young salsa/rock fusion band play at a venue in Vedado which was not what I expected to be doing in Havana, the city if full of surprises.

Taxi in Havana

9. The Lungs of Havana

Feeling a tad claustrophobic in the city?

Head to Cuba’s green space El Bosque de la Habana and breathe in some fresh air.

This swamp-like forest is home to Almendares River and is a popular spot for with wedding shoots. There is something quite enchanting about the area.

Havana Forest Car Ride

10. Escape Havana! 

Wondering what to do in Havana when you’ve drunk all the rum?

If you have more than three days in Havana I would recommend taking a day trip to the lush Viñales Valley to see where the tobacco for Cuba’s cigars are made and the unique limestone hills called mogotes.

You can visit Viñales independently using the public bus, Viazul which you can book online before you travel to Cuba. The downside to that is you then have to get to the plantations and mogotes yourself which requires a taxi or bike hire.

Another option is to take a full-day tour from Havana to Viñales. It’s an early start but you don’t have to worry about language barriers, transport, getting to the tours in Viñales or lunch as it is all included.

Vinales Cuba | Day trips from Havana


Havana Travel Tips

Getting to Havana

Most nationalities require a Cuba Tourist Card which can be purchased through most airlines.

Cheap flights to Havana are often made cheaper by going via Mexico, be flexible in your flights’ search for the best rates.

Getting Around Havana + Cuba

Cuba is notoriously difficult to get around.

The local bus service, Viazul operates in most towns and cities but due to the limited Wi-Fi availability and the Cuban desire to make cash, getting honest bus times is tough.

Print out all potential route times before you leave. Be ready to accept that some buses won’t have space if you don’t pre-book them.

Although hiring a car in Cuba sounds like a dream, the reality is painful.

We met couples who were hanging around Havana for a few days, waiting on cars returning.

Again, a Tranquillo outlook and lots of patience are required.

Another couple who had successfully hired a car were often told that petrol stations and roads were closed when they were not. Be mindful of the Cuban hustle.

While getting around Cuba is a challenge, there are many ways to get around the city which is great as there are so many things to do see in Havana but they are not all next to each other.

Havana transport:

  • By foot
  • Cocotaxi
  • Car taxi
  • Classic car
  • Tuk-tuk
  • Hop on/off bus

Tuk Tuk with cover Havana street

Accommodation in Havana 

Havana has a good mix of hotels and casas particulares which are private homes with rooms to rent. Don’t be put off by the latter, it is very common to stay in one during your trip to Cuba,

Check out our guide to casas particulares for more information.

Airbnb in Havana

There are a variety of casas available via Airbnb in Havana, Cuba and the average price for a private room in Havana is 45 USD.

There are few things to consider before booking a casa via Airbnb in Havana:

  • The app doesn’t work so you can’t contact the host as you may elsewhere
  • Airbnb isn’t new in Cuba! Cubans have been doing it themselves since the 90s! Casa owners create a group throughout the island and call ahead to book for you, they get commission in return
  • It is not unusual for the casa booked for you to get a better customer (longer) so you are moved elsewhere and you might not know it. You will know it if you book via Airbnb
  • Read reviews on Airbnb to check whether amenities promised are provided. Hot tubs?… Nah. It’s too hot anyway
  • Lots of casas advertise via Booking and Hostelworld now too. Since WiFi is not as readily available the response may be slower than you are used to
  • Casa owners may be slow to update when rooms are booked/casas are sold out because of WiFi availability

Airbnb works though! 

  • You get peace of mind – you can see images, reviews and a picture of the owner
  • Pre-pay by credit card, less cash required – read our guide to currency in Cuba here

Book with Booking.com 

If you don’t want to wait until you get there or use Airbnb heaps of the casas are now on Booking.com.

Hotels in Havana

Alternatively, if you’d prefer to stick to hotels in Havana, there are many to choose from but at a hefty price.

  • Hotel National: Historically important hotel in Havana, lovely gardens, not in walking distance to Old Havana
  • Hotel Sevilla: Excellent location, very nice pool area which we used on our last day in Havana

Hostels in Havana

In this section, we are going to look at Havana’s hostels and by hostels, I mean the definition – social accommodation for backpackers.

The reason I am explaining this is that some casas use the term ‘hostal’ but they are mostly private rooms, not dorms with areas to hang out, chat and play drinking games.

  • Club 58: Outstanding reviews, friendly staff, very social, super central and safe
  • Ronaldo’s: This is the first hostel in Havana and a bit of an institution. Nice rooftop. Friendly staff
  • Paradise: This is where we stayed for two nights as Ronaldo’s was full. Nice rooftop. Hot rooms

If arriving solo and looking to meet friends I highly recommend staying in a hostel first and meeting travel buddies as casas can be very private.

WiFi in Havana

There is WiFi in Havana, it just takes an extra step to get access to it. You won’t want to use 4G on your home phone package unless you plan to remortgage when you return.

The extra step is to purchase a card from an ETECSA telecommunications centre, hotel, casa owner, or Cuban on the street (no official).

Using the card you log on to use the internet at any of the WiFi points around the city.

You’ll know the points as you’ll see lots of locals looking at their phones. Read the full guide to WiFi and 4G in Cuba here.

Cuba Travel Costs

Cuba is not as cheap as the likes of Colombia or Bolivia in South America, which is where we left for Cuba from.

Our Cuba daily budget was 90 USD per day for two people with limited activities and one week in an all-inclusive resort.

Full details of our Cuba travel costs can be found here: 3 weeks in Cuba budget costs.


Personal Experience

Cuba is a fun country but I would not advise a visit as a part of an around the world trip where you are on a tight budget.

Here’s what I would do differently:

  • Make a copy of the bus times. WiFi is not readily available
  • Take a note of recommended restaurants for each stop. Some restaurants are pretty poor, even Cubans will tell you this
  • Think about the activities you’d like to do and get a ballpark price during planning
  • Rent a car! You may have to wait a few days in Havana for one to come in but having that flexibility to move around will be liberating
  • Remember that kitchens aren’t really an amenity you get to use. Hard for long-term travel trips and vegans
  • Cuban hustle! Meh! It’s tiring but this two-tier economic system has allowed Cubans to survive and thrive


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We’d love to know what we missed?

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5 Reasons To A Do Locally Sourced Cuba Tour in Havana

Revolution Square with Che

Locally Sourced Cuba Tours are a tour company which aims to showcase the ‘real’ Cuba through its group tour schedules and city tours. Guests can join Cuban guides in their 8-20 day tours around the island, teaming up with visitors from all over the world. Don’t have that much time or prefer to travel independently? You can book a day tour as a taster of what Locally Sourced has to offer and that’s what we (Gemma and Craig) did in Havana. 


» Don’t miss our first timer’s guide to visiting Cuba


5 Reasons To Book a Locally Sourced Day Tour

1. Jam-Packed Full-Day Havana Itinerary 

We met our Cuban guide, Yaniel at Hotel Inglaterra, Parque Central early the morning.

Yaniel was punctual, we were late. Too many Cuba Libres the night before and failure to change the clocks on our mobile phones nearly caused us to miss the tour.

Luckily for us, Yaniel understood, made a joke about getting Craig some water and we were off.

→ Note: you can’t easily access 4G in Cuba so we couldn’t message to say we were going to be late. Read our guide to WiFi and 4G in Cuba during your planning. 

The morning was packed with all the Havana highlights in Centro Habana and La Habana Vieja (Old Havana). We learnt about:

  • Havana’s Capitolio, the Government building which is being refurbished on Cuba time
  • Art and sculptures such as Roberto Fabelo’s girl on a rooster which is a nod to the women in Cuba who have made certain financial decisions to improve their lives 
  • The national hero José Marti and his statue
  • The Museo de la Revolución
  • Havana’s many plazas

Havana Class Car

2. Guides Are Local But Speak English 

No español? No problem. Locally Sourced Tour guides are Cuban but they speak both Spanish and English, fluently. 

Yaniel ordered food for us, politely asked street vendors to move on and organised our taxi rides to and from Vedado, in a classic car, baby!

Not just that, Yaniel also had a really sound understanding of our culture and was happy to share everything, and I mean everything, about his. 

We learnt about the health care system which is wife was currently using at the time as she was in hospital pregnant with twins, we asked about crime and drug use and why all the kids had better mobile phones than us! 

No question was too awkward, it was like spending the day with a friend, not a guide. 

Nut Sellers Havana

3. You Get to Ride a Classic Car 

One of the number one reasons for visiting Havana has to be riding in a vintage car and you can do that with this tour. 

Yaniel organised a taxi to Vedado for lunch and a classic car ride.

After lunch, we were met by our driver in a mustard yellow Mustang. So damn cool! 

You just can’t beat the wind in your hair and feeling like a Hollywood star from the past. We visited Plaza de la Revolución where Che Guevara beams down on you from up high.

We also zoomed through the more affluent area of Havana as well as the forest which Cubans refer to as the ‘lungs of the city’ – the forest of Havana.

We were surprised to see people in the river, Yaniel explained that the river has been tainted by the practice of Santeria where believers sacrifice animals, often in the water. We really did touch on all topics of conversation during the day.

Revolution Square Vintage Car Havana

4. Dine at a Paladar

Paladares are privately-owned restaurants in Cuba which have suffered in the past, strangled by the rules and regulations of government.

However, the resilience of a few restaurant owners and chefs has paved the way for paladares, privately-run restaurants are common places in Cuba today and they are notoriously better than government-run, Yaniel tells us. 

In Vedado, we took the elevator to Paladar Café Laurent. This bright, penthouse restaurant offers nice views of the sea and Vedado. Dining here makes it hard to believe the financial struggles and rationing that Cubans and restaurant owners had to deal with. 

No meal is complete without a cocktail in Cuba and where else to drink an afternoon mojito than the National Hotel. If it’s good enough for the mafia… 

5. Local Tips 

One of the main reasons I do tours is to nip the guide for local tips!

Yaniel went above and beyond. He helped us with bus times for moving on, wrote out a list of casas particulares (Cuban homes, read our guide here) we should check out during our trip and pointed us in the direction of popular paladares such as 304 O’Reilly which we dined at, twice. 

We also met him again the next week in Viñales. He was on a group tour and we were visiting independently. 

Havana Forest Car Ride


Final Words 

I am very aware that this reads like an ode to Yaniel but I’m confident you will have your own Yaniel experience with your Havana Locally Sourced Tour too. Let me know how you get on in the comments below. 



Thank you to Locally Sourced Cuba Tours for two passes. An honest review, as always. 

Update: My good friend Laura recently returned from a trip around the island with this company and felt it was well organised and the tour guides were knowledgeable. She was the youngest (32) but that’s the luck of the draw with group tours!


 

10 Best Havana Tours: Cars, Food + Day Trips With Locals

Classic cars, busy streets, boardwalk for miles, enticing rum cocktails, thriving arts scene, Hemingway, eventful past and promising future! Where do you start when you first arrive in Havana? If you want to hear the stories behind the streets, try Cuban cooking, ride in a vintage car or find out about life in Cuba, Havana tours should be a part of your itinerary. Let’s take a look at the best tours in Havana and day trips not to be missed from the city.


» You may also like: our first timer’s guide to Cuba


Best Havana Tours By Type

1. Havana Private Tours With a Local

If, like me, you end up dominating a tour guide’s attention with questions about life, politics, Havana attractions and food you might benefit from this affordable private tour of Havana.

This tour is the most versatile option because you can build your own itinerary. Just let your guide know the places to see in Havana which interest you. Do remember that WiFi and 4G are not readily available to Havana. You have to buy a WiFi card and log on at a WiFi point. You can read more about access in our guide here.

You can also decide if you want to do a short 2-hour tour, 3, 4, 5 hours or a full day 6-hour meet up with a local. Your guide can collect you at your accommodation (hotel or casa) or a designated point.

→ Note: The price does not include entrance fees or transport for you or your guide. If you would like transport, let the guide know and they can arrange it beforehand.

Havana’s Three Main Areas

  • Centro Habana
  • La Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
  • Vedado’s Central Business District and urban residencies

Havana’s Points of Interest

  • Malecón waterfront
  • Capitolio government building
  • Museo de la Revolución
  • Sculptures such as Roberto Fabelo’s girl at Plaza Vieja/Old Square
  • Camera Obscura
  • Hotel Ambos Mundos, a Hemmingway haunt
  • Plaza de la Revolución where Che Guevara beams down on you from up high
  • Hotel Nacional for a mojito
  • Almendares Park, the lungs of the city

Naturally, the best person to help you build your tour is the local guide themselves. Book your tour here.

Revolution Square Che

2. Cuba Classic Cars Tours

Probably one of the main reasons you are visiting Havana is to take a Hollywood ride in, or at least get a photograph of, a 1950s vintage car also known as an almendron.

Mustard yellow, baby blue, hot pink, these old American classic cars come in all shades and styles. Chevy or Cadillac? Top-down or with a roof? So many options!

Old car tours in Havana are ten a penny, you just have to walk around the main drag of the city to be pounced on by a PR selling a tour.

You can pre-book your Havana car tour here to avoid the bartering process. This two-hour tour also includes a cocktail at the impressive Hotel Nacional. This is where the Mafia used to meet.

Things to Know Before Doing Havana Car Tours

  • You don’t get to drive the classic car, great for afternoon cocktails
  • Your driver may not speak English but your tour guide will
  • The tour is more than just a drive, guides will talk about Hanava’s important spots and life in Cuba
  • Nonetheless, the wind in your hair is exhilarating. Leave the headscarf at home Bridget Jones
  • Cubans genuinely drive these classic cars so be considerate that this isn’t a romantic notion for them, it’s life
  • You will see vintage cars all over Havana. Some are public taxis (not tours), others are regular cars, some are photo opportunities

Revolution Square Vintage Car Havana

3. Havana Walking Tour with Lunch

This award-winning Havana tour kicks off at 12pm and takes you on a 3.5-hour walking tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site, La Habana Vieja (Old Havana).

Your English-speaking tour guide will be a local who knows the streets, its hidden gems and landmark locations such as Calle Obispo, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, and Hotel Ambos Mundos – where Hemmingway used to stay.

Stops also include a cocktail break, it is Havana after all, and lunch at a local restaurant.

Ambos Mundos Havana

4. Havana Food Tour

During this 3-hour cooking class tour, you will visit to a local market in Vedado.

At the market, you will check out Cuban ingredients for meals and snacks such as tostones. During this time, your guide will discuss the ration system and other historical Havana facts.

Next, it’s is to the casa to create a two-course Cuban meal and a cocktail. The tour ends with a feast.

This is a five-star tour on GetYourGuide. Reserve your spot here.

Alternatively, check out the Old Havana street food tour if you prefer to let someone else do the stirring!

5. One Day Tour of Havana

Visiting Havana on a layover or hopping off a cruise to see the city?

Then this popular one-day Havana trip gives you a whistle-stop tour of the city.

Three different tours are packed into your one-day Havana itinerary including a historical tour of central Havana, a ride in a classic car and time to wander Old Havana with stories told by your local English-speaking guide.

Lunch is provided at a paladar which is a privately-owned restaurant. Many of the dining spots in Cuba are government-owned and because of this paladares have had a rough ride with strict laws over the past decades resulting in many losing their licence or having to temporarily close down when checks came into force.

The day ends with a cocktail at Cuba’s famous National Hotel.

This is a nine-hour tour so wear comfortable shoes, bring layers, bottled water and pack sunscreen. Reserve your spot here.

Vintage Car Havana Cuba

6. Ernest Hemingway Tour in Havana

While many of the Havana day tours focus on food and history, only this one in the footsteps of the legendary author, Ernest Hemingway.

The Noble Prize winner, Hemmingway, lived, breathed and drank Cuba. Renowned for his commitment to literature and cocktails, this dedicated tour takes fans and the intrigued around the locations where he slept, ate and drank.

Not only can you visit where stories were penned but also locations that feature in his books. It is truly unique to have so many areas touched by a celebrity still open to the public and that’s the beauty of Havana!

This 6-hour tour leaves Havana for Hemingway’s home at Finca Vigía, the town of Cojímar for lunch at Las Terrazas then back to Old Havana to visit room 511 in Hotel Ambos Mundos.

La Bodeguita Del Medio Havana

7. Free Tours in Havana

While it is advised to pre-book day tours in Havana to avoid disappointment (remember you can’t connect to WiFi or 4G as easily as you can at home), there is an option if you prefer not to.

There are two ‘free’ walking tours, Old Havana and Central Havana which take places twice per day. Once in the morning and again in the afternoon.

→ Important Note: Free tours are never free. You should pay a tip at the end of the tour to show gratitude to the tour guide. This a common tour marketing strategy used all over the world!

Street Art in Havana

8. Havana Bus Tour

Habana bus tour is the typical double-decker hop on/off buses that you see in most popular cities.

For 10 USD you can ride all day around some of Havana’s top attractions such as Revolution Square.

However, the buses do not go into Old Havana so bear that in mind if planning your itinerary to include this mode of transport.

Great views from up high on the top decker, remember sunscreen and a hat. Afternoon stops get very busy according to users. Some tourists being left a bus stops, some stops being skipped to make up time.

Although there are scheduled timings, this is Cuba time so be prepared to wait and leave your impatience back at your casa or hotel!

Note: USD refers to pre-booking tours before you go. Read more about Cuba’s currency here. 

Hotel National Mojito Havana_


Day Trips from Havana

Havana day trips are very easy to organise and a nice escape from the city. The most popular trips are to Viñales.

9. Havana to Viñales Day Trip

The Viñales tour from Havana starts early at 07:30 to allow for the jam-packed itinerary which ensures that you don’t miss the Viñales highlights. 

Your friendly Cuban driver will meet you at a local Havana spot. From here you drive to Viñales spending the morning at a Cuban plantation learning about the local produce, tobacco and coffee.

Pack extra if you want to purchase something. A guide will meet with you at the plantation before this section of the tour.

A finca farm lunch includes locally grown food and you will have the chance to interact with locals throughout the morning.

Next, take a boat ride at Cueva del Indio, an indigenous cave popular with tourists and spend time at the botanical gardens.

A long day, leaving Viñales at 18:00 giving you time to do all the top things to do in Viñales. Reserve your spot here.

Cuba Car Mogote Vinales

10. Havana Tours from Varadero

If you are looking to get away from your resort for a while then a day trip to Havana from Varadero should be on the cards.

This full-day tour collects you from your Varadero hotel early in the morning so you can get on the road and enjoy the two-hour drive along the coast to Havana.

In Havana, your English-speaking tour guide will show you the highlights of the city, the plazas, the bars and architecturally important buildings that make up the UNESCO Heritage Site!

There will be time for shopping, lunch and other Havana adventures before you return to Varadero at 18:00.


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Final Worlds

So whether you are looking to hear more about the history of Havana, cook up a Cuban food storm or see the city through Hemingway’s eyes there is some kind of Havana tour for everyone. Let me know which tour you do in the comments below.


 

Havana to Viñales Day Trip: Plan a Trip or Book a Tour

Havana to Vinales Day Trip Things to do in Vinales Cuba

Viñales is a tranquilo haven less than three hours from Cuba’s capital, Havana. Don’t get me wrong, Havana is a mecca for cocktail lovers and salsa dancing queens but after touring the streets of La Habana Vieja by day and joining in the fiesta at night, it may be time for some R&R among the lush green countryside of Cuba’s tobacco fields and mogotes at Viñales Valley. There isn’t an abundance of things to do in Viñales but that’s the beauty if it so here’s what not to miss during your Havana to Viñales day trip. We will also discuss how to take a day tour of Viñales from Havana and how to visit independently.


» You may also like: our first timer’s guide to Cuba


Vinales Farmer CubaPlan a Viñales Day Trip From Havana 

Where is Viñales?

Viñales National Park is a UNESCO Cultural Landscape of Humanity found in western Cuba. It is renowned for its colonial houses with large porches, limestone hills called mogotes and natural produce, tobacco and coffee. 

Tourists visit every day independently and as part of group tours. Some make a stopover if doing a multi-stop tour of the island, others just visit on a day tour.

How to Get to Viñales from Havana 

How far is Viñales from Havana? 183km apart, 2 hours 27 minutes drive according to Google maps.

Viazul, the most popular bus company in Cuba, buses depart every morning from Havana.

The journey takes around four hours and tickets can be booked online here. It is advised to pre-book to avoid disappointment.

We did this journey and it took around 3.5 hours with a twenty-minute comfort stop at an overpriced cafe.

Buses depart Viñales in the late afternoon, arriving back in Havana in the evening. 

I strongly advise that you take a note of all the potential bus journeys you plan to make in Cuba and/or book ahead.

Locals rarely know the times of the buses but can offer a taxi colectivo (shared taxi) rides which sometimes works out the same price.

Buses often run on ‘Cuba time’ which is sporadic and WiFi is not easily accessible like you are accustomed to. You can read everything you need to know about WiFi and 4G in Cuba here.

Alternatively, you can let someone else do the driving during a one-day Viñales day trip!


Havana to Viñales Tours

Leaving Havana at 07:30, this Viñales tour from Havana really packs in an itinerary to ensure that you don’t miss the Viñales highlights. 

The day starts by meeting your friendly Cuban driver at a local Havana spot. From here you drive to Viñales then spend the morning learning about the local produce, tobacco and coffee at Cuban plantation. Bring extra USD if you want to buy something. 

A guide will meet with you at the plantation. Lunch at a finca (farm) is included, all of the food is locally grown. You will have the chance to interact with locals throughout the morning part of the tour.

In the afternoon, take a boat ride to Cueva del Indio, an indigenous cave popular with tourists and spend time at the botanical gardens.

This is a long day, leaving Viñales at 18:00, ticking off all the top things to do in Viñales. Reserve your spot here.

Cuba Car Mogote Vinales_


8 Epic Things to do in Viñales

So now we’ve covered how to get here, let’s take a look at what to do in Viñales if visiting independently. 

1. Hire a Bike

One of my favourite things to do in Viñales is to cycle.

Hire a bike from the local tout at the main square and stretch the legs while biking through the tobacco fields, mogotes, and past those typical Cuban vintage cars.

Don’t be surprised when you see a cow-pulled cart, you are in the countryside after all!

The mogotes are large imposing hills made from limestone, smothered in vegetation and reminds me of a scene from Jurassic Park or Jurassic World for our younger readers!

I kept expecting to see a pterodactyl soaring through the sky. Instead, we saw turkey vultures, dogs and cows.

The Valley is not dissimilar to Halong Bay in Vietnam, just without the water and garbage.

  • Bike hire in Viñales: 6 USD/$6 for 5 hours (no locks)

Hire a bike Vinales

2. Visit a Tobacco Plantation

One of the main draws for visiting Viñales, and Cuba, is cigars. Many of the popular fields used for tobacco growth can be found in Viñales so if you are a visiting both Havana and Viñales and are looking to purchase cigars, wait until you get to Viñales.

This day tour includes a trip to a tobacco farm. Alternatively, if you are staying with a local overnight, they will be able to sort a tour out for you too.

If you don’t have time to visit a plantation you can always pop into the tobacco shop on the main street.

Vinale Cuba Tobacco_

3. Hike Through Santo Tomas Cave

For 15 USD you can hire a knowledgable guide to help you hike Cuevas de Santo Tomas, Cuba’s largest cave network.

The 2-hour tour is trekked using head torches to light the way but is suitable for hikers of all levels. Sensible footwear and a liking for heights are a must.

Cuevas de Santo Tomas is a 30-minute drive from Viñales so factor this into your itinerary.

4. Cueva del Indio

Cueva del Indio, mentioned above in the tours section, is closer to the main street in Viñales (10-minute drive) so if you are short on time but want to visit a cave this may be a better option.

This short tour involves a boat ride into a dimly lit cave.

5. A Hotel on the Hill

Hotel Los Jazmines is a short hike/quick taxi ride away from the heart of Viñales and has a swimming pool, cafe, and bar which overlook the UNESCO World Heritage Site Viñales Valley (Viñales National Park).

Even if you are not staying at the hotel, you can pay the day right and sunbathe surrounded by mogotes and breath in that fresh air, as we did with friends!

This feels like a true escape from the hot and sticky city of Havana. I mean, look at the scenery.

  • Entry (non-guests): 3 USD/$3

Hotel Los Jazmines Vinales Swimming Pool

6. Stay in a Casa Particular in Viñales

Casas Particulares are private houses owned and lived in by Cubans. These locals rent out their rooms to visitors.

Casas are popular forms of accommodation so don’t be nervous about staying in one if you have time to spend more than one day in Viñales as we did.

Many of these homes in Viñales are painted in pastel with comfy porches and rocking chairs. Hosts often put on a breakfast spread for an additional fee. Our breakfast or desayuno in Viñales was well worth the money.

Our host from  Sara y Jorge.met us off the public bus which was super kind.

You can read more about staying in a casa particular in Cuba here.

See our accommodation advice below.

Vinales Casa Particulare Cuba

7. Dine at Viñales Restaurants

There is a strip of restaurants and bars on the main street in Viñales which cater to all budgets and serve decent meals.

We dined at Dulce Vida which serves tasty pizzas. Believe me, there are terrible pizzas in Cuba which you have to try from the ‘hole in the wall’ in Havana!

El Olivo is also recommended for locally produced food. Vegan and vegetarian options too.

8. Palenque de Los Cimarrones

If you are in Viñales over a weekend and you are looking for a fiesta why not join the Cubans and the local talent at Palenque de Los Cimarrones – a (not so wild) rave in a cave!

One of the mogotes just outside of the main stretch doubles up as a cabaret-style show displaying Cuba’s talent of dancing, singing, and comedy.

At the end of the acts, the dance floor opens up to the public.

  • Entry: 2 USD/$2
  • Taxi collectivo: 1 USD each (6 adults + the driver’s girlfriend who was also going)
  • Bottle of rum: 6 USD/$6

Palenque de Los Cimarrones Vinales


Viñales Travel Tips

Accommodation in Viñales

I am assuming that you’ve come to Cuba to experience an authentic stay with locals?

If so, you will be looking to book into a casa particular. If you are still unsure, please read our guide to casas which outlines our personal experience of three weeks of travels in Cuba.

Our casa in Viñales was actually our first stay with a local so we took the advice of our hostel in Havana who recommended staying with Sara y Jorge.

It is ideal for solo travellers as the bedroom is set out like a dorm room with four beds.

This is not like our other casa experiences which were all private rooms.

Sara and Jorge’s house has a lovely porch with rocking chairs and a neighbouring pig that comes to visit!

Sara’s breakfast is outstanding, a true banquet that will make you forget that you are staying in a country that has rations.

  • Casa price: 10 USD
  • Breakfast: 4 USD which is expensive for Cuba but there was lots of it
  • Reserve your bed at Booking.com or read more reviews at TripAdvisor

It is not necessary to pre-book casas in Cuba, when you step off the bus you will be inundated with locals selling you their space! It is your role to barter for your bed.

If you are uncomfortable with this, you can now check out reviews and book casas through Booking.com, TripAdvisor or Airbnb.

Airbnb in Viñales

There are a variety of casas available via Airbnb in Viñales, Cuba and the average price for a private room in Viñales is 22 USD.

However, a few areas I need to make you aware of using Airbnb in Cuba.

  • The app doesn’t work in Cuba
  • Cuba has had its own form of Airbnb since the 90s! Casa owners create a network throughout the island and call ahead to book for you, they get commission in return
  • It is not uncommon for the casa booked for you to get a better deal (a longer stay) so you are moved elsewhere and you might not know it. You will know it if you book via Airbnb
  • Read the Airbnb reviews to check whether amenities promised are provided. Hot tubs?…
  • Casa owners are now advertising over different search engines like Airbnb, Booking, TripAdvisor, Hostelworld, etc and since WiFi is not as readily available the response may be slower than accustomed to
  • Casa owners may be slow to update when rooms are booked/casas are sold out because of WiFi availability

Reasons for booking with Airbnb

  • Peace of mind – you can see images, reviews and a picture of the owner
  • Pre-pay by credit card, less cash required – read our guide to currency in Cuba here
  • Airbnb is a popular app, we trust the resource and customer service is generally on the side of the customer

Hotels in Viñales

If our guide can’t convince you to stay with locals, no stress! There are a handful of hotels in Viñales such as:

Getting Around Viñales

There are plenty of taxis in the main square and street. Your casa owner can also help you out with requests. You do need a level of survival Spanish to get by.

Bikes can be rented from the main street too. Some casas may have some for rent also.

Viñales to Trinidad

The next stop on our Cuba itinerary was Trinidad with a stopover at Playa Larga to dive.

We opted for a taxi colectivo shared ride which cost us 25 USD each, five members in the car. Halfway during the journey, we swapped cars. This is totally normal so don’t be spooked.

Playa Larga to Trinidad cost another 25 USD per person. Moving between stops does get expensive but the distance is far.

There is a bus which goes from Viñales to Trinidad. It leaves at 06:45 and gets to Trinidad around 16:35. You can reserve tickets here for 37 USD.

Vintage Car Vinales Cuba_

WiFi in Viñales

Is there WiFi in Cuba? Yes, my article will explain everything in detail here.

To summarise, there is an  ETECSA telecommunications centre in Viñales where you can purchase a card which you use to log on to using your own device. Many casas now offer this service as well.

You can log on using the card anywhere there are WiFi points like the store itself, some cafes or parks. You’ll know the points by the large groups of locals looking at their phones.

Cuba Travel Costs

Cuba is not as cheap as the likes of Colombia or Bolivia in South America, where we left for Cuba from.

The total budget for 3 weeks in Cuba: 1903.50 USD. 

Our Cuba daily budget was 90 USD per day for two people with limited activities and one week in an all-inclusive resort.

Full details of our Cuba travel costs can he found here: 3 weeks in Cuba.


Personal Experience

I wouldn’t advise Cuba as a part of an around the world trip. We felt the pain of being restricted by our budget as this was month four of 18!

We were also suffering from major travel burnout, backpacking around Cuba is not easy. I’d love to return with more funds and less pressure to save.

Learn from my mistakes, here’s what I would do differently:

  • Download the bus times. Locals do not know the times and are quick to offer taxi colectivo services which starts to add up at 25 USD per ride, per person
  • Screenshot recommended restaurants for each stop. Some restaurants are pretty poor and even Cubans will tell you this
  • Build a loose itinerary. Remember you can’t just log on to 4G like you can elsewhere
  • Think about the activities you’d like to do. Don’t be me and plan nothing
  • Consider renting a car? You may have to wait a few days in Havana for one to come in but having that flexibility to move around will be liberating
  • It is highly unlikely you won’t have a kitchen during your trip. I know this can be difficult for vegans and long-term travel fans
  • Accept that the Cuban hustle isn’t going anywhere! It’s tiring but this two-tier economic system has allowed Cubans to survive and thrive

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Final Words

I really enjoyed our time in Viñales. The rural town is wildly different from Havana which makes it an ideal day trip or overnight stay. I always say Cuba is a country of contrasts and by visiting Havana and Viñales you’ll see why too.

Visiting Viñales?
Let us know what you think in the comments below.