• Claire

1 Week Backpacking CUBA - Itinerary & Budget | Havana, Viñales & Trinidad

Updated: Oct 24, 2019


Cuba is an island in the Caribbean best known for its cigar production, 1950-era classic cars, salsa culture and turbulent history. Still under communist rule and a degree of trade embargo, a visit to Cuba is like taking a step back in time. Recently, I spent a jam-packed week travelling through Havana, Vinales and Trinidad. In this blog post I share my itinerary, budget and tips for travelling Cuba as a backpacker!



You could easily spend two or more weeks exploring this unique country, but I only had a week so I endeavoured to fit as much in as possible! I would have loved to have spent an extra day in both Vinales and Trinidad or gone on to visit Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos or Varadero but I just didn't have the time. However, this itinerary did allow me to experience three of the most popular destinations in the country - Havana, Vinales and Trinidad.



Havana (2 Nights)


Havana is no doubt the most unique city I've ever been to. The fabulous 1950's-era colourful vintage cars and Spanish-colonial architecture allude to the city's past prosperity, while the dilapidated buildings and food shortages are a reminder that Cubans are still facing serious hardships. You will find the neighbourhoods filled with pastel houses and friendly locals just hanging out in the streets.



The three main areas of the city are Habana Vieja (Old Havana), Centro Havana and Vedado. You could spend days exploring each neighbourhood, but some of the top things to see in the city are:


  • Walk along the Malecon

  • Ride in a classic car

  • Explore the back streets of Central Havana

  • Drink a mojito and listen to live music at La Bodeguita del Medio

  • Wander through the main pedestrian mall Calle Obispo (also where you can find a bank and buy wifi cards)

  • Take a salsa dancing lesson

  • Visit the Museum of the Revolution

  • Drink a daiquiri at El Floridita - a favourite spot of Earnest Hemingway

  • Visit the Plaza De La Revilucion

  • Marvel at the Capitol Building

  • Visit Morro Castle


The Malecon

Capitol Building

Havana's classic cars

Plaza of the Revolution

Cuban Mojito

The colourful backstreets of Havana


The coolest thing I did in Havana was a cycle and food-tasting tour around the city with a local guide. I booked this tour through Airbnb experiences. It was such a great way to learn about the city and Cuban culture and get to know my local guide Jorge. We rode through the backstreets of Habana Vieja and along the Malecon and sampled Cuban food from a local cafeteria.


Riding along the Malecon with my guide Jorge

Riding along the Malecon


Food


El Cafe is an awesome spot for breakfast. They do avo on toast, sandwiches, fresh juices and coffee!


Castas & Tal was a great spot for dinner and Flor de Loto in Chinatown was really great value - I got a plate of fried rice bigger than my head for $2.50 USD!


Flor de Loto, Chinatown


Accommodation:


I stayed at DRobles Hostal while in Havana. It was cheap ($7 USD/night) and had wifi, but it had no hot water and it was a 30 min walk into the centre of old Havana.


Getting to Havana


I flew to Havana from Cancun, Mexico. Havana's Jose Marti international airport is connects with many destinations in the US and Mexico - there are even some direct flights to/from Europe! There is no public transport connecting the airport to the city so your only option is to take a taxi. Expect to pay around $25 USD to Old Havana.


Flying from Cancun to Havana with AeroMexico


Vinales (2 Nights)


Vinales and the surrounding area of Pinar del Rio are best known for being home to tobacco farms that produce famous Cuban cigars. The town of Vinales is nestled in the Vinales valley amongst limestone mountains and is really small and tourist-friendly. I really liked Vinales, it was nice to escape from the hustle and bustle of Havana.

Vinales valley


While in Vinales I booked a horse-riding tour through the farms and lush valley.


Horseriding in Vinales

Horseriding in Vinales

Horseriding in Vinales


The tour also took us to a tobacco farm where we were shown how the hand-rolled cigars are made. You could also purchase cigars direct from the farm for $4 USD each.


Learning how cigars are made


I ended the day in Vinales with drinks with new friends at a rooftop bar to watch the sunset overlooking the mountains.


Sunset drinks in Vinales

Sunset drinks in Vinales


Food:


There were a quite a number of decent-looking eateries in the main street of Vinales. For Cuban standards, this pizza from El Billy was really good!


Pizza in Vinales


Accommodation:


I stayed in a really lovely casa particular Vinales - Villa Las Arecas. The rooms were really clean, the beds were comfy and they even had wifi! It was super close to the centre of town and the owners were really friendly.


Our casa particular in Vinales


Getting to Vinales


The Viazul bus runs to/from Vinales 3 times per day for $12USD one-way. You can book your tickets online up until 2 weeks before or visit the Viazul station on the outskirts of Havana one day prior to your trip to buy your ticket. The trip took 3.5-4 hours. You could also take a shared car (collectivo) or even just book a day trip to visit Vinales for the day!


Trinidad (2 Nights)


Trinidad is a UNESCO world heritage site located in central Cuba. This colourful, vibrant colonial city is a great place to experience Cuban art and culture.


Trinidad, Cuba


I really enjoyed just wandering around the cobblestone streets of Trinidad and admiring the colourful houses. Some of the top places to check out in the city include:


  • Museo Histórico Municipal

  • Plaza Mayor

  • Plaza Santa Ana

  • Church of the Holy Trinity

  • Parque Central Cespedes


Streets of Vinales

Streets of Vinales

Streets of Vinales

Streets of Vinales

Streets of Vinales


The Bell Tower located in Plaza Mayor, not only looks impressive, but has great views over the city from the viewpoint at the top. Entrance is only $1 USD.


Bell Tower

View over the town from the Bell Tower

View over the town from the Bell Tower


The steps at La Casa de la Musica host live Cuban music at night. There is also a wifi hotspot here - you can tell by the amount of tourists sitting around on their phones!


Steps at La Casa de la Musica


Also, Playa Del Accon is rated one of the top beaches in Cuba and is only a short taxi ride from the centre of Trinidad.


Food


During my two days in Trinidad I ate at La Redaccion 3 times - the food was so good!! La Ceiba and Restaurante San Jose were also highly recommended to me. Each morning our host family put on an amazing breakfast spread for us including bread, yoghurt, fruit, coffee, juice and meats.


Breakfast at our Casa

Lunch at La Redaccion


Accommodation:


I stayed in Hostal AlMar during my time in Trinidad. While it was a bit far out of the city, it was worth it to meet the wonderful family that hosted us - they even invited us our to their daughter's 19th birthday party!


Getting to Trinidad


Getting to Trinidad from Vinales was quite the adventure... 2 hours into the 8-9 hour journey our bus broke down on the side of the highway. We were stuck on the side of the highway for 3 hours while we waited for a mechanic to fix the bus. Thankfully the bus got going again and we eventually made it to Trinidad many hours later! Normally, the Viazul bus journey from Vinales to Trinidad takes around 8 hours and costs $37 USD.


Havana (1 Night)


I stayed in Havana for the night after leaving Trinidad before my flight back to Mexico. I booked a random Airbnb last minute which isn't really worth recommending as it was a stuffy room the size of a shoebox in a dilapidated house!



Budget


Cuba was more expensive than I anticipated - it's definitely not a South-East Asian-type country in terms of costs. Confusingly, Cuba has two currencies - CUP: the currency Cubans use and CUC: the currency for tourists which is tied to the USD. This ultimately means that there is one price for Cubans and a different, more expensive price for for tourists.


During my time in Cuba I spent roughly $60 USD / $85 AUD per day. The majority was on accommodation, food and transport. I usually opt for public transport over taxis to save money when I travel but the public transport in Cuba is really not set up for tourists (especially non-Spanish speakers like myself!), so there were many times I was forced to take a cab - which really added up! I stayed in hostels or Casa Particulars, caught Viazul busses between destinations and ate at fairly low-cost restaurants.


The following is a breakdown of my expenses while in Cuba:


  • Visa $25

  • Accommodation $73

  • Food $76

  • Mojitos $15

  • Activities $51

  • Tips $4

  • Taxis $77

  • Busses $74

  • Wifi Cards $4 - you have to pay $1/hour to connect to wifi hotspots

  • Souvenirs $15

  • Toilet $2 - many roadside toilet stops will charge you $1 to use their facilities - this price doesn't even include toilet paper!



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