Our comprehensive CUBA travel guide featuring the country’s top tourist spots, hotels, restaurants plus sample itinerary to help you plan your next getaway to Cuba.
Once an isolated country which made it the least commercialized country in the Caribbean, the island nation of Cuba was never necessarily closed to tourists. With a recent rapprochement with its long-term political nemesis, the United States, back in 2014, Cuba is slowly developing its economy as it opens its doors to certain enterprises and invites more tourists. [Read: First Time in Cuba: A Tale of a Filipino Travel Blogger]
VISA REQUIREMENTS TO CUBA
If you check the web, you would probably read that Philippine passport holders need to apply for a visa before going to Cuba. This is why I got worried when I went to Cuba last year. I got a friend who got offloaded because he only has a tourist card. On the other hand, I also got another friend who was able to enter Cuba with just a tourist card he purchased at the airport.
What I did was I emailed the airline that I booked a ticket with from Bogota, Colombia to Havana, Cuba and a representative from Wingo said that I only need a tourist card to enter Cuba. I was relieved but somehow I was still worried. I only got totally okay when the immigration officer in Havana accepted my tourist card and put an entry stamp to my passport.
So there, you only need to buy a tourist card when you plan to visit Cuba if you depart from Colombia. If you are a Philippine passport holder and departs from the US, you will need to secure a visa as airlines will not allow you to board.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT CUBA
The best time to visit Cuba is during the dry and sunny months between December to May. The rainy season usually starts in June and a high chance of hurricane between August and October.
HOW TO GET TO CUBA FROM THE PHILIPPINES
There is no direct flight between the Philippines and Cuba so the best way to go to Cuba from the Philippines is by flying via Colombia, USA, Mexico and a few cities in Europe which have direct flights to either Havana or Varadero in Cuba. My personal recommendation is to fly to Bogota, Colombia just like I did.
HOW TO GET TO YOUR HOTEL IN HAVANA FROM THE AIRPORT
Going out of José Martí International Airport in Havana is pretty easy and straightforward. The most convenient mode of transportation is by taking a taxi that should cost around USD25. There are other options too, but not recommended for tourists, you can read here. You may also book a shared transport from the airport to the city.
HOW TO GET AROUND CUBA
The most common form of inter-city transportation for tourists is the Viazul tourist bus. It has a number of daily trips to Varadero, Vinales, and other parts of Cuba from Havana. The bus is quite good and based on my experience, it runs on time and in good condition and clean. Just make sure you actually book in advance to make sure you get a seat especially during peak season.
If you plan to stay longer, you can also take the public bus which is quite tricky as you will pay in
HOTELS IN CUBA: WHERE TO STAY IN CUBA
HOTELS IN HAVANA
Budget Hotels in Havana: Hostal Teresa – rates start at around Php800 / USD15 per night.
Mid-range Hotels in Havana: Hotel Plaza – rates start at around Php7500 / USD144 per night.
Luxury Hotels in Havana: Hotel National de Cuba – rates start at around Php16,000 / USD306 per night.
AirBnb in Havana
You can check out the available Airbnb units in Havana, Cuba below or click here to check availability and book.
HOTELS IN VARADERO
Budget Hotels in Varadero: Hostal V&B – rates start at around Php1,200 / USD23 per night.
Mid-range hotels in Varadero: Hotel Gran Caribe Sun Beach – rates start at a
Luxury Hotels in Varadero: Iberostar Varadero – rates start at around Php24,000 / USD460 per night.
TOP TOURIST SPOTS IN CUBA
It is hard to overlook Cuba’s capital city. For a place that is a hub to many interesting elements that showcase Cuban culture, Havana is unsurprisingly a hotspot for tourists. In here, many contradicting visualizations arise such as the infrastructures that are seeing decay after years of neglect yet remain beautiful to see or the tiny showcase of US-made cars that crosses the street. But there is more to this city for anyone to see.
Varadero may not be the best place to be if you are seeking a genuine “Cuban experience given the place’s nature as an enterprise-laden resort. But if you are looking for a place to unwind in one of the largest resort in the Caribbean—in fact, the largest of the bunch—Varadero’s 60 unique hotel options and 20 km stretch of sand is more than enough space for everybody. Read more about our Escape to Varadero.
Considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Valle de Los Ingenios, since 1988, Trinidad is a small town in Cuba renowned for its cobblestone streets, Neo-baroque main square, and many colonial buildings. For a town seemingly stuck in the timeline—specifically, around 1850—Trinidad visibly resembles a period when it became a Spanish colonial settlement.
Valle de Vinales
To be in the Valle de Vinales is a trip close to nature by the countryside. Yet for an area of land that has been a National Monument in Cuba since 1979 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site 20 years after in 1999, you know that there is something fascinating in store in this valley, highlighted by the bulbous rocky formations that won it its most recent status.
Havana may be a city which faces the sea and thus has its own unique offering of beautiful coasts. But invest more of your time traveling and you will be directed at the country’s best beach—Playa Paraiso. This seashore is so pleasing to the senses; many tourists swore by its outstanding natural appeal.
Santiago de Cuba
Regarded as the second-largest and second most important city next to Havana, Santiago de Cuba has been the site to some of the country’s significant events, politically-related or otherwise. With a relative closeness in distance to both the Dominican Republic and Haiti rather than Havana, the Afro-Caribbean culture is strong in this site which makes it a refreshing view on the mostly Hispanic society.
Until the 1960’s, the eastern-most city of Cuba—Baracoa—is a place only accessible by sea due to the high mountains that shield it from the rest of the island. If you are seeking a place that is distinct from much of Cuba due to its local’s inherent culture and rather varied geography, Baracoa makes for a very interesting prospect.
DISCOUNTED TOURS IN CUBA
MUST TRY RESTAURANTS IN CUBA: WHERE TO EAT IN CUBA
Address: O’Reilly 304, Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba
Tel: +53 7 8630206 Mobil: +53 5 2644725
Opening hours: noon till midnight
Address: Concordia #418 entre Gervasio y Escobar, Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba
Opening hours: Noon till 3 pm; 7 pm till midnight
Tel: +53 7 8669047
Must-try: Snapper and octopus carpaccio in pepper sauce and longfin tuna glazed with coconut in sugarcane and seafood sauce
Cafe del Oriente
Address: Oficios #112, Esquina Amargura La Habana Vieja, Habana, Cuba
Tel: +53 7 8606686
Opening hours: noon till midnight
Must-try: Barbecued beef burger
Private Tour in Havana with a Local
Discover Havana like a local resident with this private tour around Havana with a friendly local. Tour costs Php1,620 / USD31 and lasts between 2-6 hours. Book now.
Havana 2-Hour Classic American Car Tour
See Havana in style on a 2-hour tour in a classic 1950s American convertible. Tour costs Php2,968 / USD 57. This is a must-try when in Cuba. Book now online.
CUBA ITINERARY AND EXPENSES
Day 0: Cuba Travel Guide Itinerary – Off to Havana
- Fly from Bogota to Havana via Wingo – Fare is Php7,360 one-way
*Make sure you check in online otherwise you will have to pay around USD20 if you check in at the counter. You also need to print your boarding pass if you don’t want to pay extra at the airport.
- Purchased Cuban Tourist Card at the Wingo counter for Php1,045 / USD20.
- Taxi from Havana Airport to the city – I arranged a pick up from my casa particular so I paid Php1,570 / USD30. If you get a taxi from the airport, you only pay Php1,306 / USD25.
- Check-in at a Casa Particular – Php1,570 / USD30 a night.
Day 1: Cuba Travel Guide Itinerary – Off to Varadero
- Taxi from Casa particular to Viazul bus terminal Php520 / USD10. It’s a 20 minutes ride. I highly suggest you buy your bus ticket online in advance. If you don’t have a ticket, you need to go to the bus terminal early just like I did to get a seat.
- Water at the bus terminal Php52 / USD1
- Bus fare from Havana to Varadero Php520 / USD10. It’s a 3-hour journey with a CR and snacks stop.
- Lunch Php175 / USD3.50
- Snacks Php125 / USD2.50
- Bus from Varadero back to Havana Php520 / USD10. I only stayed in Varedor for about 3 hours. I wanted to stay longer but I had to go back to Havana. If you have time, I highly recommend staying a night or two in Varadero.
- Dinner Php450 / USD9
- Internet Card Php520 / USD10. I bought 5 cards (1 hour each) in Hotel
- Deauville Habana at Php104 / USD2 per piece. If you buy from ETECSA, it will only cost Php75 / USD1.5 but be prepared for a long queue.
Day 3: Cuba Travel Guide Itinerary – A Day in Havana
- Breakfast prepared by my host Php250 / USD5
- Lunch Php250 / USD5
- Tour around Havana with a 1953 Chevrolet convertible Php1,600 / USD30. It’s a 20-minute tour around the popular sites of Havana including the Revolution Square.
- Dinner Php520 / USD10
Day 4: Off to Cancun, Mexico
Read our full 24 Days Latin America Itinerary.
BASIC SPANISH TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE LOCALS
- Hola (OH-lah) – Hello/Hi
- Que Pase (
kehPAH- seh) – Have a good day
estas? (KOH-moh- ehs-TAHS) – How are you?
bien, gracias (MOO-ee- byehn, GRAH- syahs) – Fine, thank you.
a ( ehn– kahn-TAH-doh/dah) – Nice to meet you.
- Por favor (POHR-fah-BOHR) – Please
- Gracias (GRAH-
syahs) – Thank you
- De nada (DAY NAH-dah) – Welcome
- Si (SEE) – Yes
- No (NOH) – No
- Disculpe (dees-KOOL-peh) – Excuse me (getting attention)
- Perdone (
pehr-DOHN-eh) – Excuse me (begging pardon)
- Permiso (
pehr-MEE-so) – Excuse me (may I get by)
- Adios (ah-DYOHS) – Goodbye
- Hablo un
pocoespañol (ah-BLOH oonPOH- koh ehs-pah-NYOHL) – I speak a little Spanish.
- No hablo español (noh AH-bloh ehs-pah-NYOL) – I can’t speak Spanish.
- Hablas Ingles? (AH-blahs
een-GLEHS?) – Do you speak English?
- Ayuda! (ah-YOO-dah) – Help!
dias(BWE- nohsDEE-ahs) – Good morning
tardes(BWE- nahsTAR- dehs) – Good afternoon
noches(BWE- nahsNOH- chehs) – Good evening / good night
entiendo(NOH ehen– tyen-doh) – I don’t understand Donde estael baño? (DOHN- deh ehss-TAH ehlBAH- nyoh?) – Where is the toilet?
Glen Nomad is a travel blogger and the founder of Escape Manila, one of the top travel blogs in the Philippines. He has visited all 82 provinces in the Philippines and has explored 53 countries across Asia, North & South America, East Africa, Europe, and Australia. Follow him on IG at @escapemanila