One Perfect Week in Cuba

Museum of the Revolution, Havana
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Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and a diverse country with beaches, mountains, and an urban core with a thumping pulse. Experiencing Cuba requires spending time in Havana but also getting outside of the capital city to the Cuban countryside and the country’s epic beaches.

Cuba has more than 3,500 miles of coastline and more than 400 beaches. For an authentic taste of this island nation, you’ll want to stay at least a week. Do spend a few days in Havana but also visit Varadero for its beaches and Vinales to dive deep into Cuba’s agricultural, rum and cigar industries. It’s a place to dance the night away in the shadows of a historic church and eat sumptuous, flavorful meals against the quiet backdrop of the Cuban countryside. These three areas combined give visitors a broad taste of all Cuba has to offer.

01 of 07

Day One

Cuban coffee in Plaza Vieja, Havana, Cuba
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After you land in Havana, find your way to Café Bohemia in Old Havana’s Plaza Vieja for a light lunch. The cafe is an homage to Cuban journalist Ricardo Saenz, the owner’s father and former editor-in-chief of Bohemia, the magazine credited with leading a movement to chronicle Cuban culture. It has an interior courtyard and an exterior seating area in Plaza Vieja, two ideal venues for people watching and sipping on a cafe con leche.

After breakfast, explore this UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood filled with winding cobblestone streets, postcard-perfect churches, and architectural gems that have seen better days. Hire a classic car for a city tour and feel the wind through your hair as you drive by sites, including the Havana Capitol, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, and the  Plaza de la Revolución, a public square that has hosted political rallies and foreign dignitaries over the years.

Have a long lazy lunch at Azucar Lounge back in Plaza Vieja and treat yourself to a giant frozen daiquiri. Afterward, do a little souvenir shopping in the neighborhood and head to a salsa class. You’ll want to book your course ahead of time through Airbnb Experiences, the most common tool for scheduling activities in Havana.

After an hour and a half or so of learning the ins and outs of Cuban salsa from a local instructor, head to the Jazz Cafe for dinner, drinks, and live music and a peek at how Cuba’s affluent residents live.

02 of 07

Day Two

Hotel Nacional de Cuba of Havana
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Start your second day with the breakfast special at El Cuarto de Tula in Vedado for the breakfast special. El Cuarto de Tula is one of a few cute cafes in this trendy residential neighborhood. Its bargain breakfast special comes with eggs, toast, fresh fruit, pancakes, juice, and coffee.

Do take your time sipping on your coffee and juice. This restaurant is located along a main street and is an excellent place for people watching. Walk off breakfast while wandering Vedado and making your way toward Coppelia for an ice cream sundae.

Coppelia, which opened in 1966, was designed to resemble a massive spaceship or UFO. Originally envisioned as an ice cream parlor on par with the world’s finest, nowadays, it carries only a few flavors but remains a local favorite. Don’t let a long line deter you. This ice cream—and experience—is worth the wait. Do try the coconut if it’s available.

Walk off your ice cream with a short trek to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a glamorous Art Deco highrise that was a favorite of Al Capone and mid-century Hollywood. Have lunch, and a mojito on the hotel’s expansive patio, then make your way towards the edge of the property nearest the water.

It’s here you’ll find Hotel Nacional’s most exciting spot: a Cold War-era bunker that has been turned into an intimate museum, an ode to the hotel’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Explore the bunker, then walk from the hotel to Bar Floridita for one of its famous daiquiris. The bar is considered the birthplace of the refreshing drink and traces its history to 1817. (It was also a favorite hangout of Ernest Hemingway’s.)

After drinks, head to Fábrica de Arte Cubano in Vedado. Fabrica is a multimedia art space in a converted oil factory that’s redefining the Havana nightlife scene. It has many bars, restaurants and a casual snack spot in between exhibits from local artists and performances by local musicians and dancers. This is the place to dance the night away and experience the energy of Havana after dark.

03 of 07

Day Three

Drying tobacco leaf.
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Venture outside of Havana on your third day in Cuba by booking a car to Vinales, a two- to three-hour drive west of Havana in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province. You’ll want to leave Havana after a quick breakfast in the morning to give yourself time to settle into your Airbnb in Vinales and do some exploring.

Vinales is a town you’ll love if you’re interested in rum, cigars, coffee farms, and honey. It’s developed a kind of tourist circuit with many different tours that visit tobacco plantations, coffee farms, and makeshift bars where visitors can sample local honey and guava rum. Some tours incorporate horseback riding while others use horse-drawn carriage taxis to traverse the sometimes muddy fields that have sustained this region for decades.

Have dinner at Restaurante El Cuajani, an authentic farm-to-table experience that’s among Vinales’s best places to eat. After dinner, head to the main commercial street in Vinales—it’ll be easy to find—and do a little bar hopping. Make it a point to stop into Jardin del Arte Sano for an after-dinner drink, dessert, and live music.

Then take a walk toward the church in the heart of Vinales. Walk beyond the church doors and into the outdoor club next door. Enjoy performances by Cuban dancers and dance outdoors underneath a mirrored ball in the shadows of an old town church. It's an experience, unlike any other.

04 of 07

Day Four

Vinales / Cuba
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Spend the morning wandering around the town of Vinales and shopping for souvenirs at the town’s street markets and plan for lunch. Contact Marta y Lichy, who manages the Pineapple Patch casa particular via Airbnb in Vinales. Marta will be able to arrange for lunch at the farm-to-table restaurant next door. This will likely be where you have one of the best meals of your stay in Cuba. Menus are customized to accommodate dietary restrictions. Dishes are served family-style and include salads and vegetables from the farm as well as meats, seafood, and freshly fried plantains, mostly sourced from the small farm surrounding the casa particular.

Schedule a ride back toward Havana for after lunch. Stop in Havana for dinner at Ivan Chef Justo, one of the best places to try traditional Cuban dishes like Lechon Asado. Lechon Asado is a roast suckling pig that’s been cooked until the skin is crispy, and Ivan Chef Justo is an excellent venue for trying it. Hit the road again after dinner and head to Varadero to let your worries slip away against the backdrop of waves rolling into the beach.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Day Five

Palm Trees On Beach Against Blue Sky
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Wake up to the sounds of waves, have a long leisurely breakfast and coffee, and get yourself to the beach. Varadero has miles of it. It’s also got many all-inclusive resorts. If the weather is good, make this a day to step away from absolutely everything and feel the sand between your toes. Schedule a deep-sea fishing or snorkeling excursion or curl up in a beach chair with a book.

06 of 07

Day Six

Rear View Of Couple Walking On Shore At Beach Against Sky
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Some things are so good; you have to repeat it. A morning at Varadero Beach can be one of those things. Spend your sixth day in Cuba relaxing on the beach before heading back to Havana in the evening.

The water here is turquoise blue, and the beaches are sandy and white. This is a place and a day to check out, relax, and unplug. Do sip on mojitos at the beach.

When you’re back in Havana, head to El Biky for one last epic Cuban dinner. El Biky is one of Havana's more popular restaurants. It serves traditional Cuban dishes but is best known for its international menu and seafood selection. Smoked salmon, piquillo peppers stuffed with tuna, shrimp cocktail, and octopus carpaccio are among its specialties. 

07 of 07

Day Seven

The Museum of the Revolution at Havana, Cuba.
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On your last day in Cuba, make it a point to learn something new. After breakfast, head to the Museo de la Revolucion to learn about the Cuban revolution.

Wander down the Paseo del Prado, popping into intimate art galleries along the way. Make it a point to cross the Gran Teatro Habana to get a better idea of the rich cultural fabric of Havana and Cuba. Treat yourself to one more drink—a daiquiri or a mojito—and maybe a pressed sandwich before making your way to the Havana airport.

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