My heart is in Havana…



  • When: 17 February – 20 February, 2023
  • Where (accommodations): Habana Vieja (Old Havana): One night at Airbnb #1 (hosted by Yandy) , three nights at Airbnb #2 (hosted by Esther)
  • Transportation: JetBlue flight Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) – Havana, Cuba (HAV)
  • Sights/attractions: Plaza de la Catedral, Capitolio de la Habana, Plaza de San Francisco, 3hr Havana tour in the antique car (Fusterlandia, El Bosque, Plaza de la Revolución, El Cristo de la Havana, Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro), Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Plaza Vieja, Clandestina, Mirador de Bacunayagua, Varadero Beach, Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market, Gran Hotel Havana Kempinski rooftop, Paseo del Prado
  • Food/drinks: Restaurantes Los Nardos, Floridita, La Guarida, El Café, La Vitrola, Jibaro’s, El Caribeño, Fonda al Pirata, Antojos Restaurante, HAV Coffee Art, La Bodeguita del Medio, DNext Bar Cafeteria

Communist. Hard to get into. Unsafe. Terrible food. Don’t have toilet paper. The list can go on and on. That’s what we heard/read online before planning our trip to Cuba. And partially, because of all these myths and misconceptions we haven’t gone sooner. So let me start over.

Gorgeous architecture (even the buildings that are crumbling) , warm and friendly people, extremely easy entrance, no restrictions in terms of where you can go/what you can visit, low crime, delicious food, no problem with TP in any restaurant/Airbnb etc.

Yes, it’s run by a communist party. It is tragic how such terrible government can control 11 million of smart, educated, and generous people. It was very hard to grasp the concept that our taxi driver makes more in one trip from the airport, than a month working as hydraulic engineer. That a doctor would get paid $40 a MONTH. That local people wait in long line to get a loaf of bread for 1 CUP, while in the supermarket it will cost them 300. That people would rather keep their money at home (making it more vulnerable), than trust the government owned banks. These facts are based on our daily conversations with the locals- taxi drivers, Airbnb hosts, wait staff- all of whom where extremely pleasant, welcoming, going out of their way to make our stay in Cuba comfortable.

I’d like to expand more about the safety. Of course there are pick pocketers in the crowded areas (we did not experience any), but overall Cuba is a safe country to visit. We walked around dark streets of Old Havana up to 1am, I wore all my jewelry (and I like shiny objects), I used my iPhone to take hundreds of photos and videos and we never felt unsafe. We also asked the locals if there is anything to be worried about (such as a phone being snatched out of hand or a necklace being ripped off)- they said no. Cuba is a lot of things, but safety is not one of them, that’s what we were told. We were only there for 3.5 days (Friday- Monday), so this is based on our experience and everyone should use common sense and any safety precautions they feel comfortable with.



  • 1hr flight from FLL to HAV arriving at 2.15pm. Check into Airbnb with Yani
  • Lunch at Los Nardos, daiquiri at Floridita. Walk around Old Havana (Habana Vieja)
  • Dinner at La Guarida


  • Breakfast at El Café
  • 3 hr tour with Raúl in a convertible 1952 Oldsmobile
  • Check into Airbnb hosted by Esther
  • Lunch at Hotel Nacional de Cuba
  • Snack/mojito at La Vitrola
  • Explore Old Havana, shop at Cladestina
  • Dinner at Jibaro’s


  • Breakfast in the room at our Airbnb
  • 2hr drive (taxi arranged previous night) to Varadero Beach. On the way stop at Mirador de Bacunayagua
  • All day at the beach, lunch at El Caribeño, drive back to Havana at 4pm
  • Snack at Fonda al Pirata, dinner at Antojos Restaurante


  • Breakfast at Fonda al Pirata
  • Explore Old Havana, stop at a few open churches
  • Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market- lots of art on the second floor
  • Coffee/smoothie at HAV Coffee Art
  • Views of the Gran Hotel Havana Kempinski rooftop
  • Walk around Paseo del Prado
  • Mojito at Bar El Angel de Tejadillo
  • Mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio
  • Lunch at DNext
  • Flight back to FLL

I am not saying this is a perfect itinerary, but it worked for us. Especially considering that we more or less winged this long weekend trip. Besides the 3 hour car tour and the dinner reservations at La Guarida we arrived with no other set plans. Which was another myth that we’ve heard- that you must travel with a group or a detailed itinerary. That Americans can’t just go wherever they want and especially not to the beach. It’s complete nonsense, because we traveled like in any other country and nobody even asked us what our plans are when we arrived.

We got our amazing taxi driver’s info from another passenger in Florida. Jose had been to Cuba many times, so he was happy to share his contact. We used Whatsapp to communicate with the driver and he always came through. If he was not able to come himself he would send one of his colleagues and we never had to wait. We had Juan Miguel Ferreira as a main point of contact (he speaks good English too!), so if you need a driver in Cuba, message him on +53 5 315 2216.Taxi from the airport to Old Havana should be around $30 USD. Drive to Varadero Beach and back (plus waiting all day) was $150 USD, we tipped on top, but I know other people paid more, so he’s definitely not there to rip you off.

One important detail- when booking tickets from the USA, you need to choose the reason why you are visiting Cuba, because tourism is not considered a valid option. There are 11 reasons (family, religious activities, educational etc.) for the Cuba travel card/visa/license (these are used interchangeably). The broadest and the one we chose was ‘Support for the Cuban people‘. You choose this when buying the ticket and mark the same when paying for the travel card at the JetBlue counter before boarding the flight. That is the only difference from all other travels. The ‘travel card’ or a ‘visa’ is sold by many websites and they add their own charges on top. There is no need to buy it in advance. If traveling on JetBlue, you pay $50pp at the last airport in the USA, from which you are going into Cuba. For us it was Fort Lauderdale, Florida airport. Support for the Cuban people category covers staying at non government hotels (Airbnb), eating at the privately owned restaurants, buying local arts and crafts etc. Basically spending money that goes directly to the local people and not the government. We happily did just that 🙂 .


Airbnb hosted by Yani

Initially we only planned to stay Saturday- Monday, but after booking the flight and the Airbnb, I came to my senses and convinced Sean to take Friday off. Saturday flight was super early in the morning, we would be exhausted and then have only Sunday to enjoy without traveling. So I changed the flights to Friday afternoon, but our Airbnb was already sold out for the Friday night. That’s how we ended up staying one night at the place hosted by Yani (and we are SO glad we did!).

King size comfortable bed, large living room, super friendly host, excellent location at the heart of the Habana Vieja, but also reachable by car (some areas of the Old Havana are only accessible on foot). Yani speaks good English, so we enjoyed the conversation and got some advice on the local restaurants. But most importantly- we met our new friends Brian and Niamat solely because we stayed at this Airbnb!

We were leaving the building when Brian was about to enter, so we started chatting. Two old friends traveling together (we assumed they are gay and had a good laugh about it later), they are both happily married to the wonderful ladies that prefer more of a traditional and a bit more luxurious vacations. What started as a quick exchange of Cuba experiences, continued into two dinners together, lots of jokes, good stories and deep conversations (think capitalism) until late into the night. I always wonder how much of what happens is a coincidence vs kismet/destiny/meant to be. Had we not changed our flights and needed another night stay, we would’ve never met these wonderful people that we are in touch even after the trip.

Airbnb hosted by Esther

Our second Airbnb was literally six min walk from the first one, but there was no way to drive up to it, so we were glad it was close and we had very little luggage to carry. With the view of the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, this place is simply gorgeous.

Almost bigger than our apartment in Boston, high ceilings, again a very comfortable bed and an unbeatable location. Esther’s English was not as good as Yani’s, but we were able to get by easily. Even though we liked Yani’s personality more than Esther’s, we definitely would love to stay in this apartment again.

Side note- Airbnbs you pay by card, but otherwise Cuban’s love cash. Bring enough, because American cards won’t work and ATMs run out of money quite frequently if you are non-American. Do not exchange any money at the airport. While airport exchange rate was 1 USD- 110 CUP, street rate was 1USD- 150 CUP or in some cases even 185 CUP.

Your phones will not work in Cuba and Wifi is very limited. You can buy internet cards (25CUP per hour) and connect in certain areas (both our AirBNBs had connections), but for the most part prepare to be unplugged. Good digital detox!

But enough about practicalities. Here are some ideas on how to spend a long weekend in Cuba!


There is a lot more to Cuba than just the capital, but you cannot and should not miss the Old Havana or Habana Vieja. It’s a time travel experience- right back into the 1950s. Old cars, gorgeous architecture, even the crumbling buildings have their charm.

The best to see the Old Havana is on foot (and for the sake of your ankles, ladies, do not wear heels). There are a few main plazas that are must see- Plaza de Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, Plaza Vieja and Plaza de Armas.

All are very close walking distance from one another, so can be seen in the same morning/afternoon. While in Plaza de San Francisco, don’t forget to rub the beard of the Caballero de Paris statue for good luck 🙂 !

Though some say you need to touch the finger…So we may have not done it right :).

We also visited a few churches. Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula, Iglesia y Convento de la Merced and La Catedral de la Virgen Maria de la Concepcíon Inmaculada de la Habana.

All of them were beautiful, so if you see the open door- go in.

Another grand building that can’t be missed is El Capitolio or Capitolio Nacional de La Habana.

Even though it looks similar to the United States Capitol, it’s not a replica.

To see the Old Havana from the top head to the rooftop of the new and shiny Gran Hotel Havana Kempinski rooftop. This is a government hotel, Americans can’t stay here (I tried using my credit card and it did not work).

The view is pretty spectacular and it’s free. We did try to come up at sunset on a Friday night and the doorman told us it’s reservation only. But Monday afternoon nobody stopped us, so we went straight to the elevator, to the top floor and probably could’ve jumped into this pool too, but did not bring the bathing suits 🙂 .

If you are not tired of walking yet, take a stroll on Paseo del Prado– pedestrian boulevard near the location of the old city wall, and the division between Central Havana and Old Havana.

Beautiful buildings along the promenade, tall trees providing much needed shade- it’s a nice place for a walk or just to relax on a bench taking it all in.

For some souvenirs and art visit Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market. We found that the market was a bit overpriced, but loved looking at the art pieces on the second floor. Some had signs that you have to pay to take photos, so I didn’t use my camera much, but it was nearly a warehouse size hall full of incredible paintings by the local artists.

One place that we were able to use our American credit card was Clandestina– cute little shop with items designed and made in Cuba.

We got some T-shirts and found out that the owner has the payment set up through Spain. Hence, using VPN they were able to use a credit card machine and my card was not declined! How modern :)!


I don’t know of any other place in the world (except for a car show) where you could find a nicer collection of the old cars. From the 1950s classics to the Russian ‘Lada’-just have your camera ready!

Some of them have original engines, some look shiny and new on the outside, while others are literally falling apart, yet still on the road. The Russian ones reminded me of my childhood car- we had one for many many years and it smelled so much of gas that I was car sick almost every time we went on a longer trip.

This is the best real life car show that I have ever been at ! Besides the old cars, some other modes of transportation are also worth a photo. Tricycles and tuk-tuks reminded us of Asia and looked just as foreign and exotic.


This historic hotel was built in 1930s and was run by American managers. In 1933  it was the site of the bloody siege that would become known as the Battle of the Hotel Nacional of Cuba. In 1946 it hosted a Havana Conference- a mob summit, which was attended by Vito Genovese and many others. Now it’s run by the government and if our information is correct, American’s can’t stay here. But you can absolutely visit.

We took a gas powered tuk-tuk to get there (just because we wanted to try this mode of transportation) and had lunch outside.

Well, it was more like just having a drink, because the food was really bad. One place during the whole trip that we had a bad meal actually. Sean ordered steak and it was impossible to chew. I got their version of lobster and it was raw. So if you want my advice- go just to see the hotel and the view, but don’t bother eating there.

The surroundings are beautiful, they even have peacocks walking around. Inside, there is a Hall of Fame with the pictures of all famous people that stayed there- politicians, actors, celebrities.

We didn’t have a lot of time, but it’s definitely a worthy stop, especially if you love history.


Our friend who recently went to Cuba recommended to do this 3 hour tour and gave the driver’s contact, so we messaged Raúl on Whatsapp (everyone uses Whatsapp in Cuba) a few days before arrival and set up the tour. His number is +53 5 817 1136, if you tell him that friend recommended him he will give a great price! For us it was $25 USD per hour and well worth it! He speaks good English, but he never formally studied it, so in writing he’s not that good. Ideally I would send him a message in Spanish to set up the tour (that’s what I did). However, while driving us around, we had no language barrier and he was telling us a lot of Cuban history, showing the embassies, monuments etc. all in English.

This 1952 Oldsmobile has an original engine and was super comfortable. Make sure to put sunblock on though- as fun as convertible car is, the sun is very strong in Cuba.

Raúl picked us up at our Airbnb (he was actually waiting for us while we were finishing breakfast) and we went from Old Havana to Central Havana into New Havana. As you drive by, the biggest change is the architecture. Old buildings are replaced by the Soviet looking square boxes, but then when you get to the area where most of the embassies are, then the buildings are gorgeous again. That’s where Americans used to live before the Communism.

One of the stops (and I think my favorite) was Fusterlandia. Sort of like an art museum, sort of like art exposition this place was created by a Cuban artist José Fuster and reminded me of Gaudi park in Barcelona, Spain.

We were charged 1 USD to enter, though Raúl thought it should only be 50 CUP. Either way it’s super cute and worth more than a dollar to see.

A little childish, a little corky, very colorful and happy. We probably spent about 30 min there, it was not many people at the time, so we didn’t have to wait to take photos. We bought some coconuts to quench the thirst, used the bathroom, refreshed and continued the tour.

Another stop was in a little oasis- El Bosque– green, lush forest like park along the Río Almendares.

Perfect place for more photos in the antique car and to have a piña colada out of the pineapple. Rum was self serve- add as much as you’d like (me) or have none (Sean).

It really was a nice spot that we would not have known about if not for this tour. The trees looked like out of a fairy tale.

The tour continued on to the Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) and passed the Colón cemetery -one of the largest cemeteries in the world.

On the way back we stopped at the El Cristo de la Havana and drove by the Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro.

We did not have time to go to the fort and the International Book Fair was happening, so it was very crowded.

This tour was one of my favorite activities in Cuba, highly recommend Raúl, because not all tours are as good. Our friends did one and they did not like their guide as much as we did.


Or spend a week here. That would be ideal 🙂 . Since we were going to Cuba for only a long weekend, we did not have it in our plans to go as far away from Havana. Initially we thought we’ll take a taxi to Playas del Este- beaches that are much closer to the capital. But after meeting Brian and Niamat we made a spur of a moment decision on Varadero. They loved this beach so much and spent a few days there prior to coming to Havana, so we could not resist checking it out. We will never say no to a nice beach 🙂 . We messaged our taxi driver Juan, asked how much it would be to take us to the beach for the day, and after he confirmed that the round trip+ waiting for us all day would be $150 USD we agreed to go on Sunday.

Juan’s car unfortunately needed some maintenance, but he did not cancel on us. Instead, he got his friend Luis to drive us and as with the Raúl, Luis was waiting for us in the morning ready for the drive.

About half way down to Varadero he stopped at the Mirador de Bacunayagua viewpoint. It was perfect to stretch the legs and enjoy the nice view at the same time.

Two hours drive from Havana, Varadero Beach is miles and miles of white sand and blue Caribbean water. We have arrived to paradise!

We rented an umbrella and two chairs ($10 total for the day) and just relaxed, swam, collected sea shells and felt grateful. There are direct flights to Varadero from Miami, so this paradise is easily accessible by less than an hour plane ride from the USA.

There are a lot of restaurants along the beach, but we didn’t want to walk far, so we went to the closest one, looking like a big ship- El Caribeño. It was not a gourmet meal, but we had a good lunch- fish, pork, ceviche, cheese sandwiches – everything was fresh and tasty.


We love Cuban food and had really good meals in Miami. When going to Cuba, one of the things we heard was that the food is terrible. That due to the lack of imports everything is bland. So we arrived with a pretty low bar and I am glad to report it’s not true whatsoever. Apart from that one lunch at the Nacional Hotel that was not edible we had amazing food experience everywhere else in Cuba.

Don’t get me wrong- I am sure local people do not eat what we had. They simply cannot afford it. But all of the restaurants and cafes that we went to had great meals, excellent coffee and drinks. So here is what we tried.

When we arrived it was lunch time, so we went to Los Nardos– we started our trip with Spanish food, not Cuban 🙂 . It was great and very well priced. We have to thank Jose, the guy we met at the airport for this recommendation.

This whole meal was $26!

Not far walk from there is Floridita. Historic fish restaurant and bar with its famous daiquiris. Hemingway loved it here and there is even his statue right at the bar. Not cheap (daiquiri was $7), definitely touristy, but as we were enjoying the drinks the band started playing live music, so it was perfect afternoon entertainment.

For our first evening dinner we made reservations (in advance) at another famous place La Guarida. This restaurant was visited by many celebrities (Rhianna’s Vanity Fair photoshoot was on the stairs leading up to the restaurant), politicians (including Obama) and you just have to eat here. It was full and even with reservations at 9pm we had to wait about 30 min to be seated. They have a very nice rooftop lounge, so the wait was very pleasant.

The food, the music, the atmosphere- it was magical. Like we were in the 1950s, but eating a modern meal. No wonder it’s one of the most visited restaurants in Cuba.

To get home we took an old Lada taxi (bad idea). It smelled like gasoline even with windows open and I was almost brought back to my childhood in terms of getting car sick. Luckily it’s not a long drive, so that delicious restaurant food remained in my stomach 🙂 .

The following morning we had breakfast with Brian and Niamat at El Cafe. Charming coffee shop not far from our Airbnb. Everything we had was delicious, but somehow we feel that the bill was not correct. It was way more than any other breakfast in Cuba, but we were in a rush to leave to make our tour, so it’s on us for not doing the math better.

For a quick snack and a delicious mojito we stopped at La Vitrola. Again we had live music and a view of the Plaza Vieja.

Dinner on our second night in Havana was at Jibaro and we enjoyed amazing meal with our new friends (we miss them both already).

This place was quiet, undiscovered gem. Amazing food, really good prices and service. While in Old Havana, check it out!

Breakfast on Sunday was delivered to our Airbnb- we were leaving early to go to the beach, so we didn’t want to walk to a cafe. Amazing spread, $6 per person!

Fonda al Pirata was recommended by our first Airbnb host Yani and we had breakfast and a snack there, as well as a late evening drink. Super friendly staff, good food, laid back atmosphere.

For our last dinner we tried Antojos Restaurante. Everything tasted delicious, but all four of us had stomach problems two days later. It’s the last place we all ate the same meals, so either it’s a coincidence or something was not right with the food.

We stopped by the HAV Coffee Art on our last day in Havana and I had a coffee, while Sean enjoyed a nice pineapple smoothie. This was definitely the most expensive coffee shop we tried, but also very tasty. And we met a couple from Australia, so had a bonus nice chat.

We ventured to the El Angel del Tejadillo bar because the guy started talking to us while we were walking around Paseo del Prado. And he insisted that this is the bar we must go to for the ‘best mojito’. Also, you ‘need to ring the bell for good luck :)”. We got him a mojito, I tried one, it was ok, but not THAT good. They didn’t add any sugar, which I think makes a big difference .

The guy chatted with us a bit more, then asked for money for his kid’s milk, so we left the change… I am not sure if he actually had kids, but It’s our last day here, we are supporting the Cuban people!

Because I did not love that mojito and because La Bodeguita del Medio is literally famous for its mojitos, we had to go there. It’s very touristy, but service is fast. Ernest Hemingway was a regular here and he claimed that La Bodequita had the best mojitos, while El Floridita- best daiquiris. Well, now I have tried them both 🙂 !

For our last lunch in Cuba we went to DNext Bar Cafeteria– more of an American food place, but it was very good! From drinks, to pizza, to the sandwiches- we were full and ready for the short flight back to Florida.


Very short trip, but so many emotions. So many contrasts too. Less than an hour flight from Miami where a drink cost about $20 on average, Cuban people can’t even buy meat. Doctor makes $40 a month and needs to get a chicken (or bread, or whatever else people have) to make the ends meet. People are stuck and not able to leave because no country wants to grant them a visa (out of 100 Cubans that leave, maybe a few return..). Yet it’s so beautiful, welcoming, charming and has much to offer. There is a lot more to see and do besides Havana and Varadero, just need a little bit longer trip. We’ll definitely be back, because 3.5 days was just a little taste of Cuba (and many mojitos 🙂 ) . We left a piece of our hearts in Havana…(Havana ooh na-na..).

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