Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Map: What to eat and see in Havana, Cuba

October 12, 2016
Havana is exploding in popularity now, but it’s a tricky city for tourists to navigate. There’s no internet access on mobile phones and very limited public wifi, which means you have to come prepared. On our trip, we relied almost exclusively on own custom map that included recommended restaurants, must-see attractions, museums, and more. It proved much more valuable than the guidebooks we had brought along.

havana city map
Our map is available to any aspiring Cuba traveler. You can view the high-res version below.
We brought our printed map with us because internet access is slow, unreliable, and expensive, and the Google Maps app does not allow Cuba maps to be downloaded offline. We also preferred consulting a few sheets of paper versus pulling out an entire guidebook. So please print out or buy a map before you go!

Our map combines information from a wide array of sources (English-language guidebooks, Spanish-language restaurant sites, Cuba travel blogs, etc). In particular, we put a lot of effort into finding places where we would want to eat —where to eat lunch in Havana Vieja away from the crowds, where to go for a special dinner, where to grab a drink with the best views over the Malecon, and so on. Cuban cuisine doesn’t have the best reputation, but we followed our map and we ate really well.

A few notes about what our map includes (and doesn’t include):
  • Sights: It lists the major sights in Havana Vieja along with a brief description. I’d recommend bringing along a Havana history guide to learn more about specific locations.
  • Museums: It lists the major Havana museums, most of which we found to be worthwhile.
  • Restaurants: This is where our map shines. We present a carefully curated list of restaurants and include sample dishes, decor, and contact information. We include must-visit culinary destinations and fallbacks, for when its 2pm and you're starving.
  • Tourist traps: We’re not really into following the tourist hordes so you won’t find Bodeguita del Medio on our map (you’ll know when you’re there because of the throngs of people gathered outside at all hours).
You can download our map below. We put a lot of time into making the map, so if you find it useful, please consider paying (whatever you think it's worth). But most of all, we want you to enjoy the map and your trip. We loved Cuba and hope you will too.

Here’s a brief overview of our itinerary:

  • Day 1: Vintage car tour + Havana Vieja (including Plaza de la Catedral de San Cristobal, Taller Experimental de Gráfica, the Plaza de Armas, Calle Mercaderes, Calle Obispo)
  • Day 2: Havana Vieja (including Almacenes de San José craft market), Capitolio, Paseo de Prado, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
  • Day 3: Museo de la Revolución, Centro Havana, Malecón, evening in Vedado (La Torre, Cafe Laurent, La Zorra y el Cuervo)
  • Day 4: Day trip to Vinales
  • Day 5: Rum and cigar shopping + El Cocinero + Fabrica del Arte Cubano 
  • Day 6: Castillo de los Tres Reyes + last-minute activities

More detailed information about our trip: If you spot any errors in the map, please let us know in the comments.

Note: Direct flights to Cuba are now available from the United States. Travel restrictions for U.S. citizens are still in place, but travelers claiming the people-to-people license no longer have to travel as part of an approved tour group.

Note to email subscribers

September 25, 2016
Hello faithful blog followers! Sorry for our extended absence. We've just posted seven long overdue blog posts. Here are the direct links:
We hope you enjoy the photos and we'll be back soon with more. Thanks for reading.

- Steph and Ben

Cherry hand pies

July 30, 2016

- Steph

Camping trip: Hills over Healdsburg

July 10, 2016
Over Fourth of July, we took the motorcycle to Healdsburg and Dry Creek Valley.

lake sonoma liberty glen campground
Hills over Lake Sonoma
- Steph

Camping trip: Sonoma Valley

June 22, 2016
For our second camping trip of the summer, we spent the night at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Sonoma.

- Steph

Weekend trip: Santa Fe

May 31, 2016
For Memorial Day, we flew to Santa Fe (thank Southwest companion pass!). The highlights: hiking at Tent Rocks and cocktails at Radish & Rye. The lowpoint: our cracked rental car windshield.

Hiking at Tent Rocks
tent rocks santa fe
tent rocks desert new mexico
Santa Fe Railyard District
Santa Fe Railyard District
Santa Fe Railyard District
santa fe church
- Steph

Camping trip: Sonoma Coast

May 26, 2016
For our first camping trip of the summer, we took the motorcycle up the Sonoma coast and camped at Salt Point State Park.

- Steph

Cuba trip: Stopover in Cancun

May 25, 2016
Start at the beginning of our trip to Cuba.

Then we were back in Cancun for one last night and day. We knew our way around this time, like where the airport ATM was located, which faux-security checkpoint en route to that ATM didn't really stop you if you just walked through, and what a reasonable price for a taxi from the bus station should be. ("So walk!" the first driver threatened when we rejected his price; one block later, the price magically dropped 25%.) We checked into the same hotel, ate another hearty lunch at the vegetarian place, Darma Cafe, next door (we ended up eating there three times), then hopped on a bus and went to the beach.

In the evening we walked through a plaza, which had a festival atmosphere in celebration of Benito Juarez's birthday. It was nice to see the "real" Cancun and not just the Vegas-like hotel strip (where most tourists stay, never having to speak Spanish or engage with Mexicans except as employees in the hotels). For dinner we went to a taco joint called Piknik, recommended on TripAdvisor specifically for their margaritas. (We had internet access again!) The tacos were very good, but our margaritas were surprisingly tasteless. We considered for a few moments whether to just accept them, but decided that, with their rave reviews, maybe it was a fluke. So Steph politely explained to the waiter that our margaritas really didn't taste like lime or tequila at all, maybe they made them wrong? And within a few minutes, we had two properly-made replacements, which were quite delicious.

The next morning was the last day of our trip, as well as my birthday. We had a good "completo de la casa" breakfast at Cafe Andrade, with eggs, tortillas, onion, pepper, etc (and a crazy hot sauce on the side). Then we took the bus back to the beach (the public Playa Chacmool). There were plastic beach chairs for rent for a "tip" + photo ID (as collateral). We had brought photocopies of our passports, not wanting to lose our real ones a few hours before our flight. The woman running the rental shop insisted that only the real thing would do. But Steph pulled off a masterful feat of Spanish negotiation, explaining that carrying our real passports was too risky, we had a flight in the evening, etc, promising to stay very close and return the chairs. Success!

The surf was really choppy - there was actually a surfer catching some nice waves - and we splashed around and body-surfed for a while, with the lifeguard advising us where to avoid rocks and drop-offs. (The Cancun coast is suffering severe erosion, and its beauty is sustained mostly by very costly repairs and sand restoration.) Then we sat on our hard-won chairs - Steph read 100 Years of Solitude, and I finally finished The Old Man and the Sea. (I had alternated between that short novel and Jon Lee Anderson's fantastic, 700-page biography of Che Guevara, which I am still only halfway through.)

On the bus back to the hotel, we were amused (and slightly embarassed) by a group of American tourists who needed a guide to use the public bus (to get from one point on the strip to another), had the guide pay for all of them, and then thanked the driver in English. A different kind of travel.

- Ben

On being tourists in Cuba

May 23, 2016
Start at the beginning of our trip to CubaWe've also compiled all our Havana recommendations into a printable map and guide.

I often wonder why certain trips turn out better than others. Why was traveling through Oregon on the motorcycle such a magical experience? Why was our trip to Mexico somewhat lackluster in comparison? What did we do differently? What should we adjust for future trips?

Planning our Cuba trip felt like a particularly high-stakes proposition. I had dreamed of going to Cuba for years, piling another layer of expectation onto the task. And Cuba is unquestionably on the cusp of huge change, so while we can return to Cuba in the future, we’ll never again see the Cuba of today, defined in large part by more than five decades of Castro brothers' rule and the U.S. embargo.

One of the first decisions we made was to stay in Havana for most of our trip. Our logic: We cared more about experiencing Cuban life and culture than about seeing all the sights. But when we talked to others who had visited Cuba, they vigorously questioned this decision. Havana is dirty and full of tourists, they said. Viñales is magical. Trinidad is a beautiful colonial town. We struggled with how much weight to give their opinions (the most common first-timer trip to Cuba is an eight-day journey to Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos and Trinidad).

As with our Oregon trip, this was a case where we felt like we got it exactly right. If we had to do the trip all over again, there’s very little I would change. So why did we have such a great time?
  • If anything, we set our expectations too low. We expected the food to be bad, the streets to be dirty and filled to the brim with tourists. Knowing that I wouldn’t be happy with a diet of rice and beans, I spent a lot of time researching where I wanted to eat, and we ended up eating really well. Expectation successfully exceeded. Were the streets full of tourists? Yes in Habana Vieja, where we stayed for the first three nights. No in Habana Central, where we stayed for the next four. But Cubans live and work in even the most touristy areas. Habana Vieja was hardly a sanitized tourist zone.
  • We were admittedly nervous about how well our Spanish would hold up after three years of neglect. And the first day in Cancun, I could barely form my mouth into Spanish words. But I could understand much of what was said to us, and by the last days of the trip, we were successfully chattering in Spanish. And this is one of my favorite parts of traveling in Latin America — our Spanish is good enough that we don’t feel constantly stymied by a language barrier. We don’t feel like every conversation is transactional (which is easy when consistently ordering things, buying things, arranging things, etc). And I think this was also one of the biggest differences between us and other tourists. Obviously plenty of Americans and Europeans speak Spanish, but plenty don’t. I had to translate for an American guy in our casa as he tried to arrange a 5am taxi pickup. Even though plenty of people in Havana spoke English, we would have felt so much more detached from the place if we hadn’t spoken Spanish.
  • One consequence of living in Argentina is that we’re intimately familiar with what it’s like to live in Latin America. If someone in an official-ish capacity in the U.S. tells you that something isn’t possible, there’s a good chance that asking five more people isn’t going to change the answer. In Cuba (or Argentina), if someone tells you something’s not possible, go ask someone else. We met some other tourists who were frustrated by the fact that they didn’t have a working phone to make restaurant reservations. Get a phone card, we said. Tourists aren’t allowed to buy phone cards, they said. At which point, we burnished the phone card we had successfully purchased (we shared the code with them). Had we been denied a phone card at one store, we would have known to simply go to another.
  • Even though tourism to Cuba is growing rapidly, the number of Americans who have gone independently is still comparatively low. By law, U.S. citizens are not allowed to go to Cuba simply as “tourists” (i.e., no sitting on the beach) and up until earlier this month, any Americans on a “cultural” trip had to go as part of an approved tour group. We didn’t want to go as part of a tour, and hence we knew that all the planning would fall to us. By contrast, many other tourists were at the mercy of their tour guide. We talked to one couple who said their guide “didn’t know what to do with them” while Obama was in town. That sort of follow-the-leader tourism isn’t for us, and we were glad we got to carve out our own trip.
  • I’ve been making a conscious effort to slow down when we travel. On our first big trip together, we visited five countries in 17 days. Granted, we had a fantastic/amazing/unbeatable time, but some of my best memories from that trip were long nights sipping sangria in Barcelona, or lazy mornings in our hotel room. We could have skipped an entire destination (Prague, clearly) and still had a great trip. Now as I plan a trip, I try to focus on the overall experience and not worry about whether I’ve squished in every little sight (we didn’t see the Museumsinsel in Berlin, but, honestly, I’m fine with that). The downside is that if we don’t like a place, it can feel like we’re there for too long. But the upside is that if we do like a place — like Havana! — we really have a chance to soak it in. Most travelers we met spent between two and four days in Havana, and after hearing their impressions, I’m glad that we spent longer. If we had only stayed in Havana for two days, we easily would have been overwhelmed by the tourists and jingueros. But once we settled in, we were able to get past a lot of that and out into the less-touristy areas of the city.
  • And finally, we’re not naive. We met one American tourist who had no idea that Obama was arriving in the Cuba the same day as she was. We listened to another American tourist rant about the fact that she had paid $5 to a ride a public bus that only costs a few cents. I could only shake my head at some of these people and wonder, “How did you end up in Cuba?”

- Steph

Cuba: Propaganda Billboards

May 22, 2016
Start at the beginning of our trip to CubaWe've also compiled all our Havana recommendations into a printable map and guide.

There is no corporate advertising in Cuba, except the signs directly on storefronts.

There is tons of political propaganda, however. Images of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos are ubiquitous. Along the roads there are large billboards.

These are some of the signs we saw in Havana and driving to Viñales.

"Fatherland or death!"
"Health for all"
Fidel Castro in guerilla uniform with a rifle
"We continue in combat" – with Fidel Castro and the Granma,
the boat in which Castro's band landed/crashed in Cuba from Mexico.
"Only human will can save the world"
Fidel, "Fatherland or death, we will prevail!"
"The Party, a secure guarantee of the unity of the Cubans"
"This is the party of all the battles"
"Let's take care of nature"
"Faithful to our history"
"Revolution: A daily feat yesterday and today"
(with Fidel and Camilo Cienfuegos)
"The Revolution will continue forward"

- Ben