As upset as I am to be back in bloody freezing Canada, looking out the window to see SNOW on the ground…, I am also so super excited to finally be able to sit down and write this ULTIMATE Cuba guide for you guys.
Sameer and I have wanted to go to Cuba for YEAAAAARS, watching and re-watching Anthony Bourdain episodes, scouring YouTube to find as many glimpses of Cuba we could find, and even slowly swaying to the world famous Cuban band Buena Vista Social Club for our first wedding dance… you could say that we were rather obsessed. So when given the opportunity to make our dreams come true and travel to the vibrant and musical Cuba with the fabulous Air Transat team, to gather some info for you about their new duo package experience, we screamed for joy! I think I even peed my pants a little. But “what is this fabulous duo package?” I hear you all asking. Well what the duo package allows you to do is book one trip (available for 7 or 14 night stays- 3 nights in Havana & 4 nights in Varadero /4 nights in Havana & 10 nights in Varadero) and experience two different places, one trip two destinations! Hence why during our trip we stayed in Varadero as well as Havana. How genius is that!!! All the stress of booking hotels, transportation… gone, leave it to Air Transat, they’ve got your back.
I can hear ya clicking on the link to book your Air Transat Cuba duo package experience, so I thought for the rest of this post I would give you my ULTIMATE Cuba guide. This is going to be a loooooooong one, but guys here holds everything you need to know. The full who, what, where for your next trip to Cuba!
We had the amazing opportunity to fly Air Transat option plus.
- This included complementary seat selection
- Priority check in (YAS!)
- Extra baggage (2 pieces of luggage, one for my clothes and one for my shoes haha)
- Priority security check in (skipping that never ending winding line is pure heaven)
- Priority boarding
- Welcome package including; blanket, headphones, eye mask and pillow, option plus food.
A dinner menu designed by renowned Quebec Chef Daniel Vézina can also be purchased for $25. Sameer and I actually got to indulge in the delights of Mr Vézina’s menu. On way to Cuba, Sameer enjoyed a delicious vegetable moussaka, while I tucked into a scrumptious restaurant worthy bowl of Gnocchi, both served with a cheese plate and glass of wine. On the way home we both devoured a heart warming vegetable risotto rinsed down with a glass of white wine… a perfect treat.
Our trip started off in the beautiful Varadero, located approximately 45mins away from the airport. This sprawling beach paradise is sure to leave you relaxed.
VARADERO – 4 nights
We had the absolute pleasure of staying at the gorgeous adult only beach front Paradisus Princess Del Mar. Not only were the rooms and views perfect, but the resort itself was full of sun, sea, sand, and FUN! Boasting 3 pools (one for VIP’s only), 10 restaurants, bars, gym, spa, beach access and fabulous nightly entertainment… you are sure to have an entertaining trip. Wanting to treat yourself a bit more? Upgrade to the Royal Service, like we did, it was totally worth it as it offered a variety of little extras such as;
- Spacious and beautifully decorated Cuban style suites
- 24hr room service
- Beach bag and towels
- À la carte breakfast lunch and dinner (also available for room service)
- Nightly turndown service
- Luggage unpacking/packing
- Personalized private check-in/check-out
and my absolute fav… butler service! Our fabulous butler literally took any kind of work off our hands. She booked all our dinners and helped with any requests… such as helping find Mel and I coconuts haha. She was the icing on top of a very relaxed cake (does that make any sense? haha)
During this trip, we didn’t actually experience off resort dining…, we were having too much fun to leave. So I can only recommend food within the resort, but I have to say my fav dinner was at the Japanese restaurant, which offers a teppanyaki style experience. Funny story, it happened to be Mike’s birthday the day before our dinner and when the staff heard this, to Mike’s embarrassment, the whole restaurant erupted into a chorus of happy birthday sing song, and a platter of cake was also graciously served.
I have to say that while in Varadero I was kind of saving my nightlife for Havana. But we did manage to watch the nightly entertainment put on by the wonderful staff. The girls and I couldn’t contain our dancing feet, and on numerous occasions got up to shake what our mamas gave us. There is also a piano bar and cigar lounge on location and a bus to a local club.
Not only does the resort offer a variety of different activities, such as beach volleyball, dance classes, and the spa… it is conveniently located in walking distance from a super cute market, full of handcrafted gifts and souvenirs.
If you get the chance, the jeep tour is a must! Although, don’t be expecting to actually get in the Jeep branded vehicle, you have to remember American products are a no beuno… Instead you ride around in a Chinese made Baic truck, which is equally as cool! All cars are standard, but don’t worry if you or your group don’t know how to drive stick, someone else or the tour guide will drive for you. What you will experience is:
- An off road adventure to a local farm, where you will taste the fruits in season
- Snorkeling the Playa Coral
- Show by local tribe (Mel and I were lucky to be included and blessed)
- Cruise the Carimar river by speed boat
- Enjoy a traditional local lunch
- Take a dive into the perfectly preserved Saturno Cave
From Varadero the bus picked us up for our two hour journey for the vibrant city of Havana. Along the way we stopped off at the coolest road side rest area I have ever seen, where we danced to a local band while drinking piña coladas out of pineapples (you may have seen all the goofy instastories).
HAVANA – 3 nights
Our hotel for the duration of our stay was the Meliá Cohiba, located in heart of Havana, just moments from Old Havana. As soon as you walk into the humongous lobby you know your going to have a good stay. We were actually staying on the Level floors which for a bit extra gives you a separate check in area, and included daily breakfast and lunch snacks (well worth it). The hotel also has a beautiful sprawling pool, 6 restaurants, 6 bars, gym and spa.
Ok, so this section is going to be a rather long one… there is SOOO much great food in Havana that I don’t want to miss anything. That’s why I am going to break this section down into what and where we ate daily.
El Patio (Plaza de la Catedral, 54 San Ignacio)
For people watching, this is where you want to be. Located directly in Cathedral square in old Havana is this divine establishment. On the pricier side the location is well worth it. Sameer and I didn’t actually eat here, but we did enjoy a glass of white wine while we watched tourists and locals alike marvel at the beauty of the architecture.
La Bodeguita Del Medio (Empedrado, La Habana)
This place is PACKED, and for a good reason. Not only has it been in business since 1942, it’s also the home of the mojito…. Yep it doesn’t get any more authentic than that, it’s the original. Here we enjoyed a traditional family style Cuban dinner of pork, rice and beans in a tiny little room with pictures of famous faces (I spotted Sting!!) and signatures of people that have passed through their doors littering their walls. While we ate we were serenaded by the most incredible band, they sang a Cuban rendition of Despecito, and under Sameer’s request a very authentic and special song to me (it was our first dance song at our wedding), ‘Chan Chan’ by Buena Vista Social Club… man what a great night that was.
Mecure Seville Havana (Trocadero 55 e – Prado y Zulueta)
We started our day off in the most delightful pink hotel. Recommended to me by the fabulous travel blogger Merel from @andathousandwords, I knew I had to take the crew here. Sure enough Merel was right and we all quickly fell in love with the famous pink courtyard. Here everyone but me (I can’t drink caffeine remember, although I did steal Sameer’s cup for a pic) enjoyed coffees and cappuccino’s, which they all said tasted great.
Marisa’s apartment (Cathedral Square, Old Havana)
Where do I start with this one. While Sameer and I sat the night before drinking our wine in Old Havana we noticed across the courtyard a basket being dropped to the ground, a person would come take something out and then whole cycle would start again. I was able to ask someone walking past, package in hand what they were doing. To my surprise they showed me a sandwich and drink and recommended that we enjoy this delight for $1 CUC. So that’s exactly what the crew and I did the next day, with the help of a local lady we yelled up to Marisa from the floor below, out popped her head and it is was a done deal. We didn’t even know what we had ordered but BOY was this exciting! 30 mins later the basket was handed down and inside were two authentic as heck Cuban sandwiches (ham and cheese) and a special fruity brew made by Marisa herself. Guys you gotta experience this.
El Del Frente (O’Reilly, La Habana)
After listening to all the PR peeps go on and on about their amazing experience and the delicious food at El Del Frente, we caved. Although, Marisa’s sandwich was absolutely delicious, two was just not enough to feed the six of us. Hot and bothered from walking the baking streets of Havana, we headed up to the salvation of the El Del Frente’s rooftop. Here we enjoyed the most refreshing drinks (may I recommend the cucumber one) and food… ever! We ordered a variety of treats to share, which included beef carpaccio, seafood spaghetti, c
Helad’oro (Aguiar, La Habana)
After being lost on the streets of old Havana for quite a while, we finally took a right turn that led us to an ice cream shop! Drool! Isabelle and I had been wanting a cooling ice cream all afternoon and finally our dreams were coming true. I enjoyed a basic bi*!h vanilla while Isabelle and Anna shared a fancy double scoop of mojito and nutella… cost? $1 CUC!!!
Atelier Restaurante (Paseo Y 2, Vedado, 5ta, La Habana)
After googling restaurants near Melia Cohiba, Sameer was able to find a perfect little rooftop establishment. Fitted with glistening string lights, we enjoyed a delicious surf and turf experience under the Havana night sky. It really was as romantic as I am making it out to be.
La Guarida (418 Concordia, La Habana, Cuba)
Now Anna had been talking none stop our entire Havana trip about this restaurant, we just had to go. I think someone said Beyonce had been there… and well if it’s good enough for Queen B, then I’m in. Not going to lie, when we arrived we did second guess our decision. La Guarida is located in what some people might describe as a derelict building. If it wasn’t for the kind English speaking tourist that yelled to us “Guy’s it’s so worth the 3 story staircase climb!” we may have turned around… Thank you kind sir because heck yeah this place was great. On the second floor is a peeling yellow room, known as the ball room, here airily floated table clothes hung out to dry… it was a ghostly sort of beauty. One more marble staircase flight up and you have found the restaurant. Here I tucked into a fresh tuna tartar while my friends enjoyed a variety of goodies, from tuna steaks, to de-shelled whole lobster. Boy was it drool worthy. But the experience doesn’t end here… before you leave take the spiraled staircases as high as you possibly can, to view the most incredible sights of Havana. It will leave you speechless.
Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski (Havana 10200)
The Kempinski hotel is the new kid on the block, opening its doors in June of this year the luxurious hotel offers amazing views, stunning suites and world renowned food. We dined on the rooftop platform with panoramic views of the Capitol building, Hotel Nacional de Cuba and museum. We were joined by staff member Arelis who told us more about the colourful beauty and history of Havana. All while we enjoying wine, octopus, lobster, pork and to top it off the most scrumptious chocolate lava cake.
Fabrica De Arte (Calle 26, La Habana, Cuba)
Located in a former cooking oil factory is an art gallery and premier nightclub. Get there early (around 8/9pm) as a loooong line begins to form to enter this crazy cool space. Sip on a cocktail and enjoy the incredible pieces of art that surround you, or even have a little boogie on the dance floor.
Habana Café (6. Vedado., 10400, Calle 5, La Habana Hotel, Calle Paseo e/1ra y 3ra, Vedado)
Part of the fabulous Meliá Cohiba is Habana Café. Some of the greats have performed here, including my beloved Buena Vista Social Club. Enjoy a drink, sit back and watch the pros at work, or join in and let them teach you a move or two.
Pazillo (6. Vedado., 10400, Calle 5, La Habana)
During the day this place is a cute little cafe, but by night be prepared to listen to some fantastic live music, have a dance or two, and enjoy food and drinks galore. You remember my earlier story from Varadaro where the whole restaurant sang happy birthday to Mike? Well for some reason he thought it would be funny to tell the band that tonight was Sameer’s birthday. Hah. Now let me tell you a little about my man… this guy hates attention, so when the whole establishment stopped what they were doing to sing a Cuban style happy birthday tune and bring him a cake, flaming candle and all, Sameer did go a slight shade of maroon. This was a night for the books.
Change your money to CUC at the hotels
US dollar has a 10% service charge – Canadian dollars are preferred
Visa is accepted in some establishments, but only if bank doesn’t route through the US
Local meals cost $1 – $4 CUC (Marisa)
Average meals cost $8 – $12 CUC (Bodeguita)
Expensive meals cost $15 – $25 CUC (Kempinski)
You can hire an American car for an hour tour for $25 – $32 CUC
If you want a full tour I recommend the Hop On Hop Off bus available in both Varadero and Havana
I would like to thank the whole team over at Air Transat, boy do they know how to create the best traveling experience. With the duo package from start to end, our trip was relaxed, fun and enjoyable… something that if I had to book on my own would be a total disaster, and for as little as $879 – $1459 all incl per person from Toronto, it’s really a no brainier. I highly recommend you go to Cuba, the thought of not being there anymore leaves me wanting to cry. It’s such a beautiful place, full of some of the most incredible people, you are bound to fall as deeply in love as I did. However Air Transat also offers the duo package to a variety of fabulous locations such as, Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia, Haiti, Roatan and Guadeloupe. Have a great trip!
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