BrittanyGuestJuly 3, 2015 at 8:29 amPost count: 195
Will be traveling with one other person in November, I am having a really hard time planning an itinerary for the 2 weeks that we will be there, please help! Thanks 🙂MarioKeymasterJuly 6, 2015 at 8:44 pmPost count: 210
Hi, I will give you a detailed response by this evening.MarioKeymasterJuly 7, 2015 at 3:42 amPost count: 210
I can certainly help you organize your trip. I would just need to know a bit more of what you like doing. Do you like exploring the city, or the countryside, or both. Do you like the beach? Horseback riding? Hiking? Museums? Relaxing?
Cuba has something for everybody. You can visit Havana and have the best time of your life and it will not even be expensive.
Here are some examples:
Days 1 to 4 – Land in Havana and stay in a Casa Particular. I list dozens of great casas on my website. You just choose one that you like and I can make the reservation for you. They are spacious, clean and cheap. You can spend maybe 3 or 4 days exploring Havana. It’s a beautiful city and you will always find something interesting to do. Check out little shops, see all the sights, explore Old Havana, check out some museums, eat local foods, go to some shows, dance salsa at the Casa de la Musica, walk along the Malecon at night. You will love the city.
Days 5 to 7 – Go to Vinales. It’s a beautiful valley, located a few hours from Havana. It is one of the most untouched natural places on the planet. You can ride horses through the countryside, climb limestone hills (Mogotes), explore caves, see pineapple and fruit plantations, see how tobacco is farmed and prepared. This is the kind of Cuba that is natural and authentic. This is about as far away from modern living as you can get. It’s a wonderful experience.
Days 8 – 11 – You can go to the beach. Stay either in a hotel in Varadero (it won’t be very expensive) or rent a casa particular in Varadero or Guanabo (which is close to Havana). You can have fun on the beach and in the ocean, eat great food, dance and enjoy the nightlife. It’s a place to relax and enjoy yourself. Forget all your worries.
Days 12-14 – Return to Havana and visit some of your favorite places again. By now you know the city well, you have learned about Cuban culture a bit. You are comfortable and at ease in the Havana. You are probably already starting to make plans for your next trip to Cuba….
The most important suggestion I can give you is to keep things simple. 2 weeks might seem like a long time, but Cuba is a big country. You won’t get to see all of it. Your best bet is to learn Havana pretty well, then spend a bit of time in the countryside and a bit at the beach. It will give you a good overview of Cuba. And you don’t want to spend too much time in transit. If you have to spend more than 4 hours to get to a location, then it’s probably not worth it, especially if you only have 14 days. Each day is precious and you don’t want to waste one sitting on a bus.
I can give you lots more suggestions and help. Just tell me a bit more about what you like.
MarioDianshanGuestJuly 13, 2015 at 7:15 amPost count: 195
Hi, I’m planning to backpack in Cuba in Dec. I’ve got 4 weeks and will be travelling alone and on a budget. Can you suggest some places to visit? I like to experience Cuban culture, I like adventure (some hiking, cliffs/canyons/mountains), also beach where I can explore the surroundings and ocean with a little diving, and possibly good surfing places? And also maybe some good sites to visit for architecture and food?
Would language be a problem? I don’t speak spanish at all
ThanksMarioKeymasterJuly 14, 2015 at 1:53 amPost count: 210
Hi, thank you for contacting me.
This will certainly be an adventure. I love it. It will not always be easy, but it will absolutely be fun. You will feel free and really experience Cuban culture. It will be as much a trip about exploring a different country as it is about exploring yourself.
Here are some of my tips and general remarks.
– Most locals in Cuba get around the island by basically backpacking. Young people generally don’t have cars or much money. When they have to get from one place to another they either take the bus or hitchhike.
– It will be harder for you to hitchhike, but not impossible. As an obvious foreigner (since you don’t speak Spanish) everybody will expect you to have money. You will have to adjust your budget accordingly.
– Or, you can just travel less. Cuba is not a huge country, but at the same time, if you want to get from the eastern tip to the western tip, it is over 1000 kms. You don’t have to explore it all just to experience Cuba.
– It would be a good idea to know your budget a bit better. For 4 weeks you will probably need a minimum of 1500$ (USD). You might not spend it all, but it’s better to have left over than to not have enough. If you really rough it, you will probably only spend about 1000$… But it’s not much money.
– A rustic room in Havana will cost you about 15$ per night. And December is the peak season, so you will have trouble finding a room for those prices. You might have to explore the areas outside the city.
– Food will set you back about 5 to 10$ per day, depending on your diet. Bare minimum is 5$ per day, and you won’t get so much for that…. But you will survive.
– Will you be partying at all? Do you drink? Beers are 1$ each. Rum is cheap if you buy a bottle.. Locals drink more rum.
– Do you like biking? You might want to bring a bike and use that for cheap transportation.
My advice for an itinerary would be this.
1st week – Havana. Explore the city. Have some fun, make some friends. Explore Old Havana. The whole thing is like a museum. You don’t have to pay extra to get inside museums… just walk around and take in the natural sights. Get lost during the day exploring all the different neighborhoods. There will never be a dull moment. Don’t feel like you have to rush… Havana will be a culture shock (probably) so just take it all in.
Go to the beaches in Havana. December will be low season for the beaches so the casa prices there will be cheap. You can easily find a room a few blocks from the beach for 15$ per night. The best beaches are in Guanabo, about a 30 minute drive by taxi from Havana.. the price for a communal taxi ride there is about 2$ or less.. Check out my youtube page for all the details in the dozens of videos.
Now, you have 2 choices. Once you are done Havana, you can either go east or west. It depends if you want to travel further, or explore a smaller geographical area in more depth. Do you want to explore all of Cuba, or explore a smaller part of Cuba (western part) in depth? You won’t likely have to to hit both areas. You can, but you would be spending a lot of time in transit….
Option 1 (West)
2nd week – When you get tired of Havana, got to Vinales. Take the Viazul bus to get there.. It costs about 25$, but you won’t likely find a cheaper route. The bus first stops in Pinar del Rio, then goes to Vinales. Vinales is probably one of the most amazing places in the world. Look up some photos of the valley online… There are valleys, hills (Mogotes), caves, rivers, and even a beach not far away. Fruit plantations, farms, tobacco fields, horseback riding….Stay in Vinales of close to it for 1 week or more. Live with a Cuban family… You will think that you have gone back in time 200 years… It’s a different lifestyle… You can get lost there. Explore the area around Vinales well. The locals will be glad to show you and if you make friends you will have an easy time. If you are looking for action “events” to fill every moment, you might be disappointing. But if you want a relaxing time, and can enjoy “slice of life” moments, then it will be heaven.
By now you will be at least 50% through your trip… I would suggest you start heading back to Havana, but take the slow route. Hitchhike back.. Take 5 days or more to get back. Stop in all the little towns. Housing in these areas will be very inexpensive. It might cost you 5cuc per day to crash on somebody sofa… In a small town in Cuba, that’s a lot of money and you can stretch every dollar if you are on a tight budget.
Once back in Havana, enjoy the city a bit more. You might have extra money left over, so enjoy a few nights out. The Malecon is a great place for meeting people. You will see the major differences between county folks and city dwellers…
Option 2 (East)
If, after your first week in Havana, you want to explore a large swath of Cuba, then head east… You can take the overnight bus all the way to Santiago. It will cost you like 45cuc, but it will be money well spent. Santiago is the easternmost big city on the island. You will have about 20 days left to explore Cuba and return back to Havana.
So, you can visit every major (and minor) city between Santiago and Havana.
Holguin – Beautiful city, filled with attractive women. It is am gorgeous place. There is a large hill in the middle of the city.. Go to the top for a beautiful view. There is a nice beach just a few hours away in Guardalavaca…
Las Tunas – Smaller city with great people.
Camaguey – A large, sprawling metropolitan. Playa Santa Lucia is close-by and very beautiful and underdeveloped. You can walk on stretches of this pristine beach and never see another human for miles… It’s really something.
Ciego de Avila – Another nice town. Small, but charming. You are about half way back to Havana now.
Santa Clara – Always a popular city… Rich in history and known for it’s kind people.
Cardenas – Just beside Varadero. It’s a cheap alternative to Varadero, if you can’t afford a hotel. Varadero is the most popular beach in Cuba. It will be packed with tourists, butat least you can say that you saw it…
Matanzas – The closest major city to Havana. It’s a calm place but the locals know how to have fun. Maybe catch a baseball game while you are there..
Then back to Havana..
Anyway, as you can see, the 2 types of routes are very different. In option 1 you will likely make closer friends with locals, since you will be staying in places longer. You will get a better feel for the real Cuban lifestyle and culture.
In option 2, you get to explore a larger area. You can say you have spend a bit of time in each Cuban city and you know a bit about each place. It will be much harder to make close friends, since you will be moving a lot. You will also spend more time in transit.
Anyway, tell me a bit more about yourself and I can try to suggest different things.
Also, as for surfing, Cuba is not really known as a great surf place. You can catch some small waves, but it is really beginner level stuff.DianshanGuestJuly 14, 2015 at 3:26 amPost count: 195
Thanks so much for the detailed information. It is alot to absorb and frankly speaking makes it really hard to choose. I do like the idea of travelling east down to Santiago, staying for some time there and then choose a few stops on my way back (not really doing all the stops you have suggested) to give myself a bit more time to explore. Is Santiago a good place for nice beaches or would it be overly touristy and expensive? I don’t mind touristy but if it gets too touristy then it gets too overwhelming too. I really like adventure, exploring mountains and doing some hiking along cliffs or canyons. Would I be able to do those in the east? And can I easily do those hikings on my own or i’ll have to get a guide? I do see some national parks around east and west – would you recommend these?
I also like going out to sea – scuba diving! Is it good scuba diving in the east? Or possible to go sailing with some local clubs?
Travelling local is what I like to do, and I think it will be an experience. For hitchhiking, would it be easy and safe for a single female to hitchhike to destinations and what in general is the etiquette for hitchhiking in Cuba? How much should I maybe pay in return? I am assuming the stops you mentioned can be reached by buses or hitchhiking.
The west (Vinales) also sound great – especially interested in exploring caves and valleys.
On surfing, I’m beginner so I don’t mind small waves – would you know of any place where it might be possible to do that on a budget? I wouldn’t be bringing any equipment.
I heard that in December it can still get pretty cold especially in the northern part of Cuba – would that make it less of a beach friendly period in the north?
Would there be any festivities/celebration for Xmas and/or New Years in some towns that would be great to experience as well?MarioKeymasterJuly 14, 2015 at 1:32 pmPost count: 210
Santiago would be relatively hot in December. There will be a few cold fronts, but December is usually good anywhere in Cuba, and you will welcome the cooler air if it comes. In Havana there are some days which will be cooler (since it is more north). You won’t be able to go to the beach every day. Some days will just be too cold or windy. It’s important to note that locals do not go to the beach in the winter. it is rare. On a nice saturday in July the beaches will be filled with thousands of locals. On a nice saturday in December you might find less than a dozen people…. Cubans only go to the beach when it is really hot.
If you plan on going east (Santiago) you would likely get bored if you spend more than a few days in the city of Santiago. It’s not a large city and there are few tourists (which is good), but that also means there are not many tourist oriented things, and less basic tourist infrastructure. But you can have fun in the general Santiago area.
I did not mention it before, but if you like nature then you might consider traveling from Santiago to Baraco.. It’s a small town, located a few hours away from Santiago. It has a mountain and many rivers. It’s good for exploring and enjoying the outdoors. It’s very tropical. It rains every days… You would have to take the Viazul bus to get there, since there is only one road into the town. It’s cheap to find accommodations. You would do best to not make reservations.. Just show up and the locals will offer casas to you for very cheap (10 to 15$ per night).
Closer to Santiago there is the Turquino national park, which has the Sierra Maestra mountains. That is a good place for hiking and climbing. It has good infrastructure for tourists. You can get more info here.
As for beaches, there are beaches everywhere in Cuba. In Santiago, and all the cities beside it… You can usually do some scuba diving too. This is most popular near resort (hotel) towns, like Manzanillo and Guardalavaca, which are not far from Santiago.
In terms of cost, Santiago is cheap. Havana and Varadero are the most expensive places in Cuba and are the places where 90% of the tourists visit. The rest of Cuba has very little tourism.. Things are cheaper.
Surfing is really not a big sport in Cuba. I found one website with a bit of info, but not much. There are not many big waves around Cuba… The water is shallow. And it is not common to find surf boards or other equipment in Cuba.
Hiking – You can hike up any hill r mountain that you see. It is better to do the hiking in a park (Like in the Turquino national park) as the mountain can be high and dangerous sometimes, so in a park setting they have some people to help guide you and some support infrastructure (bathrooms, rest areas, food places). For the big mountains, you need a guide, it’s the law, since it is dangerous. For smaller places you can go alone.
As for hitchhiking, Cuba is a safe place. You should not have any problems as a woman. Use common sense.. but really it is not a dangerous environment. As for etiquette… the etiquette is generally that foreigners should pay something or not hitchhike at all. Cubans see all foreigners as rich. You might be asked to pay… Also, if you look like a foreigner, the regular cars might not stop to pick you up at all. You might only get approached by taxis. This would likely happen because everybody would think that you are just waiting for a taxi and never even think that you are actually hitchhiking.
And, the most important thing is, hitchhiking is hard in Cuba because there are so many people doing it. All along the highway you will see people trying to get free rides. Most of the cars driving on the highway are either full with passengers already, or they are tourist taxis (and those ones do not usually pick up hitchhikers). You might have to wait hours on the side of the road before somebody picks you up. A local Cuban with no money can afford to spend this time and effort to get a free ride. But, as a tourist with limited time in the Cuba, you might not want to waste hours on the side of a highway with your hand out.
I would strongly suggest that you spend a bit more and just take the Viazul bus for all long distance travel (over 100km). And for local travel, just approach any taxi or any car, and ask them if they will take you to where you want to go… and offer them a bit of money. 3cuc will be enough to take you across a town or city. 5cuc will probably get you a 20 to 30 km drive. It’s not too expensive, and it will save you a lot of time.
I will be very honest with you, Cuba is a cheap place to live in. Most people in Cuba survive on about 20 to 40$ per month. That is almost nothing… And they have good lives too, in general. But, as a foreigner, your expenses will be higher.. You will probably have to spend at least 20$ per day to survive. And the costs increase exponentially the moment you want to start doing “fun and interesting things”. Going to the beach, traveling around the island, staying in casas, all that kind of stuff costs money. Local Cubans save money because they barely leave the house and rarely do fun “event” style things.
The Vinales option is interesting because you are exploring a smaller part of the country and you still have options to see the cities, the landscapes, mountains, farms and beaches. You can do it all, without having to spend money and time going all the way to Santiago. it’s a more relaxing trip and far less rushed. You can do some research on the Parque Nacional Cienaga de Zapata, which is close to Havana and if you are interested in scuba, there is a great diving place on the western tip of the island called María la Gorda. It is a professional scuba area.. Not cheap, but it is world class.
My best advice is to not plan too many things. 4 weeks will pass fast. The more simple you keep your trip, the more fun you will have. And know that Cuba is not very developed for tourism, outside of Havana. You can explore any area, but you won’t necessarily find signs to guide you or infrastructure to support.DianshanGuestJuly 15, 2015 at 2:42 amPost count: 195
Thanks once again! Very good information. I am re-looking my options now as well. If I were to go east, I’ll likely spend small amount of time in Santiago, and head for the mountains straight up, and then just stopping in 1-2 towns as I head back up to Havana. And west doesn’t look too bad an option as well though weather-wise, the south east would be better in December, but i’m guessing not that bad in the west part as well.
As for diving, I’m likely to look at Bahia de Cochinos since I heard good things about that place. Might put that on my itinerary, either as I travel back up north from the east, or if I decide to go west, take a week or so to stay in Bahia area.
Thanks! I need to go back to the drawing board and plan where I would like to go.MarioKeymasterJuly 15, 2015 at 4:08 pmPost count: 210
It will be a great trip. The weather will be good anywhere, and if you get some cooler days I am sure you will appreciate it.
And probably keep plans to a minimum. Things change fast in Cuba. Buses break down, taxis come late, casas lose reservations…. If you have too many plans it might get stressed when things don’t work out.
A great thing about Cuba is that the adventures just seem to build upon themselves. You won’t have to do much work or go very far to have a good time. The fun finds you.
take care and just ask if you need anything.DianshanGuestJuly 20, 2015 at 5:56 amPost count: 195
Thanks so much! Will update when i do get to Cuba.
By the way, do you know if I can get the Tourist Card upon arrival in Havana? I’ll be transiting in Amsterdam via KLM and not sure if I’ll be able to get my tourist card with themMarioKeymasterJuly 20, 2015 at 12:21 pmPost count: 210
Hi, for the tourist visa, you will have to ask the airline. Usually the airline supplies the visas and they are handed out when you are on the plane. You usually pay for them in your flight expense.
Sometimes you have to purchase the visa seperetely, at the airport, before you depart. The airline would tell you this and process your visa request before your plane departs.
It is unlikely that you would have to purchase a visa upon arrival to Cuba. The airlines almost always take care of this ahead of time.
Contact KLM if you have doubts.
Anyway,, the visa is not a major thing. Cuba gives them out liberaly. They are just a way for the government to make money, since they cost 16$ each, I think… I really don’t think it will be a problem, but you can call the airline to be sure.josephconway627ParticipantAugust 6, 2015 at 2:30 pmPost count: 3
Two weeks travelling? Sounds goods, you are lucky!!!EileenGuestOctober 28, 2015 at 12:06 pmPost count: 195
I’ve just bought your book and am looking forward to it’s arrival because I really need help!
Could you give me some advice?
My husband, two grown up children and I are going for 14 days over Christmas. We want to spend some time in Havana and Trinidad, go to Remedios for Christmas Eve and spend Christmas Day on a beach. Also, a tobacco factory, a baseball game and a ride in a classic car, have all been mentioned. But, that’s as far as I have gotten.
Does this sound like a workable plan?
How many days would you spend in each place? How can I find a nice place to stay near a beach near Remedios?
Any advice at all would be great, thanks so much.MarioKeymasterOctober 28, 2015 at 2:34 pmPost count: 210
Hi, your plan is absolutely doable. But I will give you some advice.
Havana – It’s going to be a great experience. But you must absolutely start looking/book your casa particular reservation soon. This week. Because there will be thousands of tourists going to Havana for Christmas. (Cuban’s don’t even celebrate Christmas, but many people are wanting to take vacations in Cuba this year..) If you want, you can look on this website, under the casa particular link and find a casa that you like. It might be occupied, but my assistant and I can find you other choices.
I recommend that you stay at least 5 nights in Havana to start with. You can view the whole city, without rushing. Maybe take a taxi tour too. And you can go to the beaches in Eastern Havana (Guanabo) for the day, whenever you want. It’s a nice experience.
In Old Havana you can take a tobacco factory tour. It’s not cheap, but it’s popular.
For the baseball game, I cannot find the schedule. The stadium in Havana is located in the El Cerro neighborhood. The easiest way to see a game is to find out when the Havana Industriales team plays, and then just show up at the stadium. It costs less than 1$ per person to enter. If you arrive after about the 5th inning you can just walk in and nobody will say anything, or give the security guard a couple of bucks if he stops you. There are no assigned seats. It’s very casual. But I cannot seem to find the December schedule online. I guess they have not posted it yet.
As for the classic car ride, you will likely have many opportunities. Most taxis are old cars, so you can just hop on one to get around the city. They cost 10 pesos (MN) each, for a ride (40 cents USD). Or you can take the taxi tour that I mentioned above.
For Trinidad, you can spend maybe 3 days. It’s a small town. Very nice, but you will likely get bored if you spend too long. There is a beach nearby. Every town is close to a beach in Cuba. You can go horseback riding. That is fun. And maybe visit a small tobacco farm and see a guy rolling cigars.
In Remedios, it might be hard to find a casa now.. Try looking on the website http://www.bbinnvinales.com/bedandbreakfastrentweb/?remedios-(17),72
They have 17 available. Email each of them. Even if the casas are booked, ask the person if they know of a vacant one. Remedios is tiny… I would almost say that there is no reason to visit the town, but they do have a popular festival for Christmas. But it is distant from Havana… You have to determine if it is worth the effort to go there. You can stay maybe 2 days in Remedios…
But there is Cayo Santa Maria Beach which is close to Remedios. There are only state owned hotels on this beach, but you can stay in Remedios and then take a taxi to the beach if you want.. without having to pay for a hotel.
After Remedios, you can go back to Havana or stay a bit in Varadero (the biggest beach community, which is about 1.5 hours from Havana)
Is this your first time in Cuba? How old are you kids? Do you/they speak Spanish? Is your ideal vacation about relaxation or more about viewing lots of things? I can give you some tailored advice if you tell me more about what you are expecting.EileenGuestOctober 28, 2015 at 6:54 pmPost count: 195
Thank you so much Mario for all that useful info.
The children are hardly children any more – 28 and 24! My son lived in Barcelona for a year and is now living in Guatemala, so his Spanish is good. He’s looking forward to showing it off to us. My husband remembers bits and pieces from his school days and my daughter and I are going to be totally lost.
We like holidays where we see the country and get a feel for what it would be like to live there, with a day or two on a beach thrown in.
We aren’t really wedded to the idea of Remedios, but thought that since we were there on Christmas Eve it would be wonderful to see the celebrations. It might make more sense to give it a miss. But, if we do, do you have any suggestions for where to spend Christmas Day? We don’t want to wake up and wish that we were home.
Thanks so much for your help, Mario. Amazon assures me that your book will arrive tomorrow. I’ve already read your tips ebook. Fascinating stuff that I will dole out to the rest of the family!
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