Cuba is a bit like what India was in the 80s, when it took forever to get your bags at the airport and everything was chaotic. If you grew up during the 80s you’ll see it – conversations about state-run corporations, public dilemmas on the value of education, an endemic desire to be an entrepreneur and suchlike cliches.


I spent 5 amazing days in Havana and Vinales. I’m told Trinidad is also a good place to explore while visiting Cuba, so if you’re planning to visit Cuba, maybe allocate around 8 days for Trinidad as well. I should also add at this point, that Cuba is extremely safe to visit and to travel around. I went all around the place and never once did I fear being pick-pocketed or feel uncomfortable travelling alone. Interestingly, it’s the only country I have visited where they have a three denomination currency note!

Some tips

Carry cash – Euros preferably, but the British pound, Canadian dollar, Japanese Yen and some other currencies will be accepted at all exchange points, and the Euro by most locals as well.


No one will accept foreign currency for expenses like cabs. Neither are credit/ATM cards – especially US-issued ones – widely accepted. My Indian-issued ATM card did work, but don’t count on it. Also, the US Dollar is penalized 20% during a conversion, so definitely avoidable.

Cuba has two currencies. The Cuban Peso (CUP, pronounced as coop) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC, pronounced as COOOK), which is for foreigners and basically the only one of any relevance to us. The moment you exit the terminal building, you’ll run into the money changer on your right. Be prepared for a long line – if you have non-US-issued ATM cards, try the ATMs – it will save you some time. You can also change money in the city – go to the banks and exchange bureaus. Usually there are long lines around exchange bureaus, however banks seemed to have shorter lines and the good news is they are open late – around 7:30 pm. Personally, I didn’t have to stand in any lines.

My Indian Vodafone SIM did not pick up service in Havana. I’m not sure why, so if you’re looking for connectivity, you will need to buy a local SIM card for your phone calls, and WiFi cards for data as there is no data on their SIMs. A SIM costs about 3 to 5 CUC, plus you can add 10 CUC of talk time. I didn’t bother as they only had regular and micro SIMs which don’t work on an IPhone 6. Interestingly US cell phones or Tmobile seemed to work.


Data wifi scratch cards with usernames and passwords are available for a cost of 7.5 CUC for 5 hours and they’ll let you buy only 3 cards (15 hours) max at one time, on one passport. I believe you can use these all over Cuba. There are random wifi hotspots available (It’ll usually be called WiFi Etecsa, sometimes something different). There is no map telling you where these spots are but you are usually told to look out for people milling around an area and staring at their phones – this most likely means there is a hotspot; or just ask someone.

Google maps only works on Wifi (their offline maps are banned in Cuba). A better alternative is to download and their Cuba map – it works offline, at most places and is fantastic. Google Translate is also useful to have on your phone, to translate offline into Spanish. My friend found it helpful to have conversations.



Get a guide and do the walking tour of the various squares/plazas in Old Havana. You can divide your time between Old Havana and Vedado.

Old Havana reminds me of Kalaghoda/small European towns – narrow roads with lots of squares and plazas. As you walk around you will realize some places are more charming that others but they are all safe.  Vedado is more modern and similar to Bombay’s concrete jungle. Basically – a day for Santa Maria, a day for Vinales and then 2-3 days for Havana.

The absolute musts are


  • The Revolutionary museum – unfortunately, the guided tour is only in Spanish, but still interesting.
  • The Revolution square (this you can cover while taking the classic car from Parque central).
  • The Malecon – Havana’s Marine Drive (on the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta side). You can go running on the Malecon – it’s around a 7-9 km run. Across it, there’s an old fort. Try and go there in the evening, at 9 pm as they do a cannon salute.
  • Parque central is where all the classic cars are available, @ 50 CUC/hour. You can try negotiating but its tricky. I quite enjoyed it as it sort of helps you get your bearing around the city.
  • Hotel Nactional – They have a guided tour Monday-Saturday at 10 am. There’s this sweet old lady who has been there forever, who entertains you with old stories of the 50s and 60s – before the embargo when Havana was a destination for Hollywood stars, the mafia, et all.
  • You could also check out Hemingway’s House though I didn’t – I heard it wasn’t all that much to write home about (pun intended).



A lot of restaurants in Havana are called Paladars – they’re set up in what used to be or still are private homes.

There are a zillion bars all over, especially in Old Havana. Go with the flow and just pop in if you like the vibe. Here are some of my recommendations:

A lot of restaurants in Havana are called Paladars – they’re set up in what used to be or still are private homes.

There are a zillion bars all over, especially in Old Havana. Go with the flow and just pop in if you like the vibe. Here are some of my recommendations:

La Torre: The restaurant’s in Vedado near the American embassy, on the 33rd floor. It has sweeping views of Havana, including the Malecon. It’s not particularly sumptuous, but a nice place for a lunch or a drink – in my case, a cold coffee. It’s also got a fantastic view of the city which must be seen during the day.

Buena Vista Social Club: A bit touristy. You can do drinks, or dinner and drinks. I suggest both. You will have to make a reservation first, in person and by paying, which is the downside.

Paladar Dona Eutimia: Located just off Plaza de la catedral. Reservations only. Go there a day in advance and book a lunch for the next day. Very highly recommended though. Immediately to its left is the Taller Experimental de Gráfica, a place where various artists/art students come to work and there is a gallery attached to it which sells art – their own and by other artists. You must stop here. Timings are a little odd. Closed on weekends. And weekdays 10/11 am to 4 pm only. So plan for this and the restaurant together. The gallery shows up on!

Roma: it’s a random, low key terrace bar, a few blocks from plaza vieja – almost like your friend’s house party. We were told to go there on a Monday night and it was worth it. Great music, local crowd, and a super-chilled vibe. You can find it on as well.

La Reliquia: Random but fun bar a block from Plaza Vieja.

O’Rielly 304: Bar and restaurant – great food and supposedly some amazing cocktails. I went there twice for lunch – great guacamole, tacos and salsa.

El Cocinero:  It’s in the smokestack of an old cooking oil factory and looks like something you’d see in New York. The food is excellent – albeit relatively expensive; it’s about a third of what you’d pay at a comparable place in the States. The rest of the factory has been converted into something called Fabrica de Arte Cubana. Its got 3 floors – two live music areas and the third screening artsy films, with a DJ, and art all over the place. It’s open Thursday-Saturday, but it fills to capacity pretty quick, so make sure that you get there by 10:15 pm tops. It’s pretty touristy and I saw a lot of foreigners/expats there.

Other places, highly recommended by friends:

Nazdarovie: I didn’t go but came strongly recommended from a friend. It’s a Soviet restaurant on the Malecon Supposedly, they make great mojitos.

Bolabana: very local joint, also came very highly recommended.

Espacios: A salsa club in Miramar, which is this western area of Havana, a little like Bandra in Mumbai. If you tell the bouncer that the girl from Nazdarovie sent you, you won’t be charged the cover either. It’s basically in a bungalow’s hall and backyard, and there’s a lot of Cubans partying here. Drinks are good, people are friendly, and they have a pizza oven as well.

Fantaxie: Contrary to the name, its not some big dodgy spot but a small club playing global music with totally local crowd. There’s a brick oven inside the compound and the guy makes delicious pizza.

Other stuff to do



I went to Santa Maria, which is 30 mins outside Havana. Its one of the cleanest around, and I was quite impressed. You can get there by taxi (you can negotiate with the cabby to drop and pick you up), or they have a direct bus from Parque Central leaving every 20 mins and costs 5 CUC – round trip. The bus was pretty convenient.


Although I didn’t visit it, but you can also go to Guanabo beach. There’s a guy who will take you on a dinghy to go snorkelling – they claim the reef he took my friends to was one of the most beautiful.


Alternatively, you can go to Club Habana in Miramar. About 45 mins away, it’s an exclusive club with a private beach, pool and clubhouse. Expats can get a day pass for about 40 CUC a head. Worth it if you have some company and want to spend a tranquil day at the beach, otherwise Santa Maria should do to. You’ll pass all the embassies in Miramar on the way.

Day Trips/Overnight Trips



I was told by my friends to try and do an overnight trip to Vinales, as a day trip gets hectic. It is around 3 hours outside of Havana. My friends raved about it, so my expectations were very high, and I was sort of disappointed eventually. Vinales is full of tobacco and cigar farms and the countryside reminded me of Khandala or something. I guess if you have a day, it’s worth checking out how they make cigars/cigarettes.


The limestone caves were the highlight for me. They have this huge network of limestone caves with indigenous art in it that was quite cool. Also make sure to go see how tobacco is processed and cigars are made at a tobacco farm – they make high quality cigars that you can buy from here as well.


I think it would have been more fun if I had some company as you can then explore the countryside biking/canopying etc.

Overall I’d say Cuba is interesting, the people friendly and easy-going. It’s a walk-about city, so try and walk around as much of it as you can to try and get a feel for the place. The music is amazing and pretty diverse. Silvio Rodríguez, a famous Spanish singer performed for free in one of the squares on my last day, so just enjoy your time out there.