Cuba was one of our Caribbean stops when traveling across South and Central America. Because of a tight schedule, we rushed our Cuba road trip to 7 days across the island. In retrospect, we should have stayed a little longer to have time to actually relax and enjoy everything Cuba has to offer! A road trip in Cuba is a true travel back in time!
Still, this Cuba getaway was like no other in the world. It was quite a voyage into the past. This Caribbean island is full of picturesque surprises! Read more about our trip between Vinales, Havana and Varadero .
5 Things Think about Before Booking
– Be prepared to detox from your everyday reality! Wi-Fi is scarce and slow throughout the island, and more so on the Cuban countryside.
1 The Agency. Book your trip with a well-rated agency to get the perfect experience. Keep in mind that cars in Cuba are pretty old, so you have to check their state. We traveled with Discover Vinales, a small agency that had just started to operate then but that was a great choice. W had the best guide and they truly customized our trip and gave us a local and authentic experience away from the crowds.
2. Research ahead. This is important on any trip, but it’s vital in a Cuba getaway. It’s too easy to fall into tourist traps here. We even skipped a couple of proposals from our agency.
3. Bring cash. Due to local foreign exchange controls, it can be difficult to withdraw money in the Cuba countryside. American travelers: due to the long-running blockade, U.S. credit and debit cards do not work on the island. In the island, travelers checks are famously more a nuisance than anything, so stick to cash to avoid unpleasantness.
4. Visa. Be sure to read about what kind of visa you need and when and where you can get it. Some airports, like the one in Cancun, offer the option to get the Cuban visa there. This can also be arranged in advance.
5. Casa Particular. Since the 90’s, the Cuban government has encouraged private citizens to host travelers from all over the world. Staying at family homes is now a popular way for culture-loving visitors to get a glimpse of Cuba. Be sure to book a trustworthy family through your agency, as there are some unpleasant stories out there. Our hosts, Blanquita and Antonio, were amazing!
Our 4 Day Itinerary
We stayed in Cuba for 7 nights in total, but I’d recommend a longer visit. Our itinerary was as follows. 1 night in Havana (as arrived late). 1 night (2 days) in Vinales but here you can easily stay 2 to 3 nights, 2 nights in Varadero (was enough for me but here the length depends on the number of days you want to spend on the beach). Finally we stayed 2 nights in Havana exploring this gem. I would recommend 3 to 4 nights in Havana as there is so much to see in this lovely city!
Traveling – How to Get There?
For a road trip in the island, get in from Havana airport. There are direct flights from multiple European cities, and a growing number of U.S. ones, too. You can also arrive from nearby Caribbean destinations like Cancun.
From then on, book our preferred ride and get to driving. Remember Cuban cars are mostly from the 50’s or 80’s Soviet LADAs. A great choice is always going for a 1950’s American muscle car!
Cuba Travel Guide: 4 Days of Wonder!
Our two stops outside Havana offered broadly different experiences. Vinales gave us a glimpse of rural and authentic Cuba and the beautiful Cuban landscape, while Varadero was a modern beach oasis. So much to see in just one island!
The Cuban roads transported us to a simpler time, as we ran into oxen and horses. Another strange sight was the cars and tractors from decades past, tuned to look more colorful. Cubans love pouring their bright tropical sense of color into their cars! This picturesque look at the old roads was our first discovery among the many things to do in Vinales.
First Stop: 2 Stunning Days in Vinales
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vinales is a rural wonder. A place of traditional agriculture and ancient natural caves, Vinales offers travelers a respite from western tribulations. We started our road trip in Havana where our guide picked us up at our hotel. The trip to Vinales takes abut 3 hours by car but we did some stop along the way in a botanical garden and along the way so put at lest 4 in your itinerary!
The Vinales Town
Ther are plenty of things to do in Vinales and you can easily spend a couple of days here. A small town of a few thousand people, this is the heart of Cuban agriculture. In fact, Vinales was said to be Fidel Castro’s favorite place in the island! The meeting point of this little town is the square where you can hang out with locals while checking the social media happenings as it also is one of the wifi spots. There are a number of small restaurants and a cute little street market where you can find a lot of beautiful hand crafts. Vinales’ traditional charm as the home of world-renowned Cuban cigars makes this village a gem of yore.
An unmissable Cuban experience, a Casa Particular is a local family home that rents living space to visitors. Like a B&B, this offers the chance to mingle with locals and live as they do for a few days. Our hosts, Blanquita and Antonio, were both welcoming and sweet. We loved to experience the everyday life of rural Cuba with them!
The Vinales Valley
The most popular place is of course the UNESCO-protected Vinales valley. A natural wonder with a magic view and landscape. Discover-Vinales offers various tours in this area, focusing on authentic and non-touristic experiences. Some other activities include horseback riding, birdwatching and photo tours! Could truly recommend the horse back riding and trekking as the landscape is truly magic!
The Eco Tourism
The traditional way of life here has made Vinales a recent focus of ecotourism. It’s growingly popular with the people who want to get to know Cuba by leaving the traditional touristic spots. We had a long and very relaxing stop at the organic local farm Caza de Confianza . The food here was truly delicious, a culinary experience into the Cuban food culture. Organic vegetable dishes, all from the farm and the best Pina Colada I have ever had and what can be better than to enjoy the food watching the beautiful Vinales landscape. I loved to explore their garden to see what was growing there!
The Cigars & Local Farms
To get glimpse into the time consuming process of cigars is a must. We visited both the factory in Vinales town and a local farm.. The local farm was a great experience, once again a travel back in time that has long passed. Here, you learn all about the process, which takes a total of two years to complete. Seeing every step performed manually and carefully is a reminder of why Cuban cigars are so famous and expensive. In all, it’s a fascinating glance into the life of the Cuban farmer.
Some Adventure among the Treetops!
Another fantastic activity on your Vinales to-do list should be going through a Zip Line. While unexpected, this “flight” through the fields was a lovely little adventure. And, my, what a view it gave us!
Second Stop: 2 Days @ the Varadero Beach
The island’s all-around vintage air will shock you, but a Varadero holiday is a surprise for the exact opposite reason. Our Cuba road trip showed us a traditional country stuck in the past… everywhere but in Varadero.
Over the years, the Varadero beach has been many things. In the late 19th century and the early years of the 20th, it was a popular vacation spot. Locals and foreigners alike swarmed to the coast to enjoy the beach, as the rich and powerful built beautiful villas. Considered an elite area of the island, the face of Varadero changed in the first few decades of the Revolution. At that time, Varadero was turned into an important cultural hub: many of the old mansions were turned into museums.
Varadero took its current form, as a major Caribbean resort town, in the 1990’s. At that time, there were a lot of changes in the country, as Cuba expanded further to receive more guests. The government then opened its doors to foreign investment once more, and multinational hotel chains made their way in. Now, the vast Varadero beach is full of international all-inclusive resorts, without a single boutique hotel in sight!
This is a place to relax and enjoy the Caribbean blue – many of the guests probably won’t even leave the resort!
Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort
A huge hotel of over 400 rooms, the Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort offers a great Varadero holiday. The design is inspired by the Cuban love of color, and there are a lot of canals and bridges here. This resort feels cosy despite its size, a feat for a place with multiple restaurants, pools and a nightclub. Not a boutique hotel but still I would recommend this resort for a couple of days by the beach! January is probably a good time to visit as it was far from fully booked when we where there!
Things to do in Varadero
As one of the biggest resort towns in the Caribbean, Varadero beach is the place to be here. The bright, turquoise water and white sand is a rest to the soul, even in such a touristic place. In high season Varadero can be really crowded, but the long beach stretch always allows for a quiet spot somewhere. Keep in mind that the Caribbean is warm all year, so you can enjoy it when the beach is quieter.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there are a few interesting things to do in Varadero outside the resorts. Parque Josone, in the cub middle of the village, is a great place to get in touch with the local vibe! Here, there are a lot of birds, vendors of different kinds and even camel rides for kids. It’s a great place for nature lovers, thanks to its numerous botanical gardens, flamingos, macaws and lakes. It’s also the most romantic place in Varadero: it was created by a couple celebrating its silver wedding anniversary!
The remains of the town’s past as a cultural hub are mostly gone, but some places stand. The most iconic of them is Villa DuPont, now the Varadero Golf Club, a repurposed 1920’s villa. While the 18-hole golf course, the biggest in Cuba, is splendid, the most impressive is the mansion. Built as a summer house for early 20th century American tycoon Irénée du Pont I, this is a luxurious oasis. The decoration includes oil paintings, bronze candelabra, Italian marble floors and mahogany furniture. It has some high-end restaurants and bars, in a mix of styles: a treat to the eyes and taste buds. There are even a few gorgeous guest rooms.
More adventurous travelers might want to consider going for the “Seafari” Cayo Blanco. A boat trip among other things, this activity has a lot of possibilities. You can snorkel around the coral reef, swim with the dolphins or even see a dolphin show. Earth-bound visitors also might love the Bellamar caves. The oldest tourist attraction in Cuba, open for visitors since the 1860’s, the caves are huge and impressive.
A cuba road trip is a trip that will stay in your memories forever! Vinales, Varadero and Havana all offer unique, yet different experiences and still this country has so much more to see. We will for sure be back here one day!
To help you make the most of your trip check out my Havana Travel Guide, Havana Restaurant Review, and Havana Hotel Review. If you’re someone that prefers the countryside to the city then why not take a Cuban country side and beach road trip!