Espíritu Travel is a company that believes travelers want to experience authentic trips in a way that makes a positive impact to local communities and the places that they visit. Our tours help to promote the small but growing number of entrepreneurs that is why we almost exclusively work with casas particulares, paladares and other privately owned businesses.
If you want to see Cuba beyond Havana but don’t have much time, Espíritu Travel’s Havana & Viñales trip will show you the best of Havana plus one of Cuba’s most incredible natural wonders — the endless tobacco fields and sprawling limestone hills of Viñales.
Besides checking out all of Havana’s most impressive attractions, cruising the streets in a vintage 1950s classic car and seeing notable buildings, streets and landmarks, you’ll also be led by a knowledgeable local guide to get a sneak peek into the hidden corners of the city that many visitors don’t get to see.
The peace and quiet of the green countryside in Viñales is an authentic Cuban experience you shouldn’t miss. From caves to sugar cane production to horseback rides, you’ll be able to relax in one of Cuba’s most picturesque spots.
We believe in supporting the local Cuban people as much as possible, which is why our itineraries include casas particulares (each with a private room, bathroom and AC) for accommodation and meals at family or privately-owned restaurants, paladars.
These are licensed accommodations by the government under strict conditions to rent en-suite rooms to foreigners. A sort of micro bed and breakfast that has been set up in people’s homes. Casas have been hand selected and inspected to ensure the highest standard. You are able to read more about them here.
Havana: 3 nights
Viñales: 1 night
Cuba is special, you will often hear this said by Cubans and visitors who have traveled to the island and you will soon understand why. It is because Cuba tends to be very different to other areas of the Caribbean or world that you may have travelled. The country’s buildings and infrastructure are generally old and may not have been maintained to an acceptable standard. Elevators, A/C, Internet often break down or are not working. Water pressure and hot water can be minimal, in general things happen slowly. Cuba is an amazing place to visit but western expectations should be left at home and a sense of adventure should be your guide.
If you would like to get some background information about the history and politics of Cuba, check out The Cuba Libre Story on Netflix. This documentary series recounts the tumultuous history of Cuba, a nation of foreign conquest, freedom fighters and Cold War political machinations.
A valid passport with minimum 6 months validity, this rule is set by the airlines. You are required to show your passport at all accommodations even at casas particulars.
A tourist card (¨visa¨) is required for travel to Cuba. JetBlue and Delta Airlines allow you to purchase the tourist card when you check in for your flight at your layover destination (last point of departure from the US). It is important that you keep the tourist card in a safe place, as it is necessary to show it upon departure from the country.
Espíritu Travel uses almost exclusively casas particulares throughout Cuba. When you make your booking with Espíritu Travel, the selection of casas particulares is never random. All casas have been hand-selected and inspected to ensure the highest standards, in fact, most casas that we use, are ones we have been working with over the years.
There is no better way to Support the Cuban people than staying at one of these ‘micro B&Bs’. What they lack in amenities such as a pool or spa, they make up for in oodles of charm, genuine hospitality and the opportunity to speak to locals in a relaxed and comfortable setting. Your understanding and appreciation of Cuba will grow far richer as a result. Casa owners are excellent hosts and their houses can be deceptively small from the outside. The rooms will have a private bathroom, hot and cold running water, air conditioning and some of have kitchens and/or fridges. However, the hosts are more than happy to store food for you if you there isn’t one available in your room.
Everyday items that we take for granted in the US are often difficult for Cubans to acquire so please be understanding.
Please note that breakfasts at casas particulares tend to be big, this is just the way they do it.
Lunch and dinners that are part of the program include 1 starter, 1 main course, dessert, coffee and 1 drink (water, soft drinks, or beer but not wine or cocktails such as mojitos). Any other additional items are at the participant’s expense. In addition, we budget for mid-range paladares, if you want to experience high-end paladares, there will be a supplemental charge. The tour leader will give you the allocated budget for that meal and you simply pay the rest of the bill. Please note that paladares often serve big portions.
Please advise us if you have any dietary restriction, such as vegetarian or vegan. This information will be given to your tour guide. However, there is no guarantee that these restrictions can be accommodated at every meal. It is important to be as flexible as possible because paladares/ restaurants may not be able to accommodate these special needs. If you feel you can’t be flexible, it might be wise to carry some energy-dense snacks with you.
Visitors can bring back $400 worth of art and an unlimited amount of cigars and rum.
You can buy so-called tourist art on the streets of Havana. These do not require an exportation procedure. However, when purchasing art from a gallery, it needs to be authenticated. You should receive a receipt or export permit to show Cuban customs, provided the artwork was purchased at an official shop. If the gallery can’t provide an export permit or you didn’t receive an official receipt, you can obtain documentation for the art from the Registro Nacional de Bienes Culturales (National Registry of Cultural Goods) and Centro de Partimonio Cultural (Center of Cultural Heritage) in Havana. Permits are also available at regional offices in provincial capitals when traveling outside of Havana. It generally takes two days to process art licenses, and artwork must be brought to the office directly. If the piece of art is too large to bring into the office, a photo will suffice. Either way, it’s important to plan ahead.
Now you are allowed to bring back as many cigars as you would like. However, the cigars should only be bought at government stores, Casa del Habano. Please do not ask your tour guide to try to get you a better deal from somebody he might know at the factory. This puts the tour guide in an awkward position if the cigars turn out to be fakes. We have advised our tour guides that they are not to participate in this type of transaction.
Paladars are small, family-run restaurants and are one of the best ways to enjoy local cuisine. Many paladares appear and operate much like a normal restaurant but often the owners have converted part of their home. Restaurants are government owned and as such are part of the larger state-run tourism apparatus.
The Cuban Convertible (CUC) is pegged to the US dollar, 1:1 but when you exchange your dollars for CUC, you will be charged a 10% commission since the bank likes to make money too. It is not necessary to exchange your US dollars for another currency such as Euros before arriving to Cuba. In addition, Cuban Pesos can not be obtained outside of Cuba.
Cuba has a dual currency system, Peso Cubano (referred to as moneda nacional, abbreviated MN) and Peso Convertible (referred to as CUC$). In general, travelers will pay almost exclusively in CUC, so it is not necessary to get Peso Cubano (CUP). For CUCS, try to ask for some smaller bills like 5s and 10s as sometimes local vendors or souvenir stands are unable to break 20 notes.
U.S. credit cards are generally not accepted in Cuba, and even so you would not be able to use them in many places (it is an evolving situation). Cuba is still a cash economy so we recommend that you bring all the money you will need for your trip in cash. Bring a credit card for emergencies only. In some government shops, in major hotel chains and in some of the more upscale paladares you should be able to use a credit card, if the Internet is working.
Cuban bureaus de changes are called Cadecas. Only exchange at Cadecas or a major hotel chain. Make sure that you receive a receipt for the transaction and count your change. Do not ever change money on the street; these hustlers are trying to fleece you with money-changing scams. After you have exited to the arrival hall at the airport, you will be taken directly to a Cadeca to exchange money.
You may bring an unlimited amount of money to Cuba but you must declare amounts that exceed US $5,000.
A few scams to look for while in Cuba.
Make sure to check your restaurant bill to make sure that only the items which you ordered are on the bill. Most of our tours include all the meals but there are some tours where you have few nights with dinner on your own. The Nature of Cuba program has the least amount of meals included.
When paying in CUC, make sure that the change you get back is also CUC and not CUP (the national currency). It is common to give change back in Peso Cubano which is virtually worthless.
The Million Dollar (or peso) Question
How much money do I bring? As a general rule, you should plan to bring as much money as you would spend on any other vacation of this type in the U.S. Prices are similar to those in the U.S. (average prices). Think about your spending habits to answer the questions: Do you like to go out for drinks after dinner? Or do you love to buy lots of souvenirs? Do you plan to buy cigars (a box of Cohibas is expensive), rum or ‘real’ art? This would require that you bring more money. As mentioned above, for any meals you might have on your own, budget for an average priced dinner in the U.S. Usually, 50CUC per day per person is sufficient to cover incidental expenses if you are on one of our tours, excluding the items mentioned above. If you bring too much money, you can always bring it back and you can exchange CUCs back to U.S. dollars before leaving Cuba.
Like all visitors in Cuba, Americans are welcomed by Cubans and will genuinely be curious to know where you are from. Cubans feel a close kinship to the U.S. not only due to the proximity but most Cubans have a relative and/or friends who reside in the U.S. Cubans aren’t necessarily outwardly friendly but most will be eager to engage in conversation if it arises. As Americans, they are eager to give you a warm welcome and discuss the recent changes to Cuban-American relations and the positive hope for the future. The best way to get to know Cuba and its people is from these spontaneous interactions.
Our scheduled trips never have more than 6 people on any given departure.
All trips are organized with a professional Cuban tour guide who is bilingual, you have specialist or local guides where appropriate. Working with Cuban tour guides provides you with opportunities to meet locals and experiences what you would not otherwise be able to attend. All tour guides are professionally certified but more importantly, they have a wealth of knowledge about their island that they can share with you.
Full participation in the scheduled trip is required under the OFAC regulations, participants are able to explore once the scheduled activities have finished.
American cell phone service providers have now some coverage in Cuba. T-mobile, AT&T and Verizon offer roaming. As an example AT&T will charge $3/minute for voice, .50/text and $2.05/ MB for data. Check with your provider for exact rates. Again, this is an evolving situation.
For more budget-friendly Wi-Fi and Internet service, you can visit the state-run Etecsa (telepuntos); you will find one of these air-conditioned offices in almost every provincial town. And it is your best point of call for fast and reliable Internet access. Often these areas are located near the central park of provincial towns so you will able to sit in the park and check your emails. You will have no trouble determining which park has Wi-Fi as it will be full of Cubans and foreigners busy on their cell phones and laptops. Your tour leader can point you in the right direction.
In order to access Wi-Fi, you will need to purchase an access card which will have a printed password. Please note that the connection speed in Cuba may be slower than what you are accustomed to in the U.S. and Skype does not work anywhere in the country. Also due to slow speed, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites might not work either.
In most cases, private homes are not permitted to have Internet including the casas where you will stay. However, as with other things in Cuba at this time, it is an evolving situation.
Participants on our trips will receive a complimentary 1 hour Wi-Fi card upon arrival in Cuba.
We have also been advised by returning travelers that accessing your work emails may not be possible due to servers being blocked, the Cuban government controls and censors the Internet.
Tap water in Cuba is not reliably safe to drink. Bottled water is available almost everywhere but it is advisable to buy it in the morning as stores often run out by the end of the day. You will need to budget around $5 each day for purchasing water, usually between 2-3 liters per day per person. See the responsible travel document for information about an alternative to buying bottled water.
Nov – Apr is the dry season and the temperatures ranges between 70 and 80 degrees. May – Oct is the wet season, with high humidity and temperatures ranges between 80-90 degrees.
The electrical current is mostly 110 volts AC (same as the U.S.). You do not need an adapter.
Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world. Sexual assault of any kind is practically unheard of and women are typically free to go wherever they want, whenever they want without worry. That being said always use good judgement and take precautions when necessary. Women do tend to receive unwanted attention in the form of catcalling when walking by groups of local men and it is best to walk by without acknowledging it.
It is important that participants bring all the personal items that they will need during the trip. Goods are scarce in Cuba and everyday items such as toiletries and clothes can be difficult to find.
Havana’s LGBT community scene has really taken off in the last couple of years. The focus of gay life is around Centro Havana and Vedado. Nightlife centers on Humboldt, 52 and nearby Pico Blanco disco in Hotel St John and Caberet Las Vegas.
Tips go a long way in supplementing the average Cuban’s income. Customary end-of-tour tips for your tour leader; local guides, driver, and casa owner (end of stay) are left to the participant’s discretion and should be based on the guest’s satisfaction with the level of service received.
The dual currency system has created a have-and-have-not society. Many everyday items in particular, good quality food, clothing and household items are only sold in CUC, however most State employees are paid in Cuban Peso (CUP) which means that accessing CUCs is critically important and it is part of most people’s daily struggle, which in Cuban parlay is La Lucha, literally the struggle. Cubans who are able to earn CUCs will share their tips with family and friends who don’t have access to them.
1) Restaurants (10% of the bill if no tax/service already added)
Many restaurants (state and private) now add 10% service to the bill. This is annoying since you feel cheap leaving the exact money but equally no one wants to be the sucker paying twice. In some places, they will suggest that this is a tax in line with new tax legislation. It is unclear if this is actually true but typically in private places they will simply say that this is a service charge. If your waiter has been good and you like him, then splashing another 5% will do no harm. If service has not been added, then 5-10% is reasonable. More than 10% is unnecessary.
2) Toilet attendants (10-25c)
Often even if there is a toilet attendant, the bathrooms can still be not the cleanest person. Yes, it would be nice if toilets had running water, toilet paper and some semblance of hygiene but let’s face it, sitting outside a toilet collecting cash is not the best job either. So get some change, grin and bear it.
3) Musicians (CUC 1-2 per group)
If you like a musician who is playing in a bar or a café and they play a few songs especially for you, then there is an expectation that you should pay something. There is no need to pay more than a dollar or two. But, nevertheless, music is the life of Cuba and a peso here or there is appreciated.
4) Guides for local excursions (CUC 10 – 15 per person)
As is the case anywhere, do what you think feels right especially if you have really enjoyed the excursion.
5) Casa Owners
Similar to how you would tip at a hotel or again, if you feel that the casa owners have gone out of their way to help you and make your stay as enjoyable as possible, tip them more.
5) Tour Leaders
Tips can be anywhere from 50 – 150 CUC per person depending on how many days is the tour.
These are not hard rules, these are just suggestions. If you feel you want to tip more, than tip more.
We are not able to provide any health related recommendations regarding immunizations.
You must contact the Center for Disease Control (CDC). www.CDC.gov or 404-639-2888. Typically travelers to Cuba do not require special vaccinations.
Cuba is very safe. Visitors have little reason to worry about personal safety on the streets even in Havana. Cuba is not prone to violence and it has the lowest crime rate in all of Latin America.
However, since you will need to bring cash with you, we recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe keeping of your cash. Leave your valuable jewelry at home – you won’t need it while travelling. Although the casas particulares are secure, a lock is recommended for securing your luggage. When travelling on a group trip, please note that your tour leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it is deemed necessary due to safety concerns. While your tour leader will assist you with options available in a given location after your scheduled tour has finished please note that any optional activities you undertake are not part of your itinerary, and we offer no representations about the safety of the activity or the standard of the operators running them. Please use your own good judgment. Although the cities visited on tour are generally safe during the day, there can be risks to wandering throughout any major city at night even one as safe as Havana. Again, it is up to you to use your good judgement.
Water based activities have an element of danger and excitement built into them. We recommend only participating in water based activities when accompanied by a guide(s). We make every reasonable effort to ensure the fun and adventurous element of any water based activities have a balanced approach to safety.
Swimming, including snorkeling and Scuba diving are always at your own risk.
We take all prudent measures in relation to your safety.
Sexuality is very open in Cuba and that can shock some travelers, especially women. There are many Cuban men and women (known as Jineteros), who make a living escorting foreigners. Offers of this service are very common in Havana. Be aware of this practice and keep in mind that some locals who approach you may do so to take advantage of your presence. We advise traveling around the streets of Havana in small groups, rather than individually (especially for female travelers). In addition, we suggest not carrying any easy targets for potential troublemakers like cameras, purses, or anything that is easy to snatch or grab. We advise this not expecting trouble, but rather err on the side of caution.
If you are traveling during one of the public holiday or during the week between Christmas and New Years, please be aware that many places will be closed, such as art galleries and some activities might not be available during this time. activities if possible.
January 1 & 2 March 30 May 1
July 25 & 26
October 10 December 25 December 31
There is a useful application for offline maps https://maps.me. You are download to your phone for use in Cuba.
Accommodation: casa particular
Welcome To Cuba
Plan to arrive before 2:00 pm at the Jose Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba, where you’ll be warmly greeted by a representative from Espíritu Travel who will take you to your accommodation and help you check in. Before embarking on a city tour, you’ll have a brief meeting and orientation to explain and clarify any trip details.
Get to know Havana Inside and Out
Your first Havana experience will combine the key historical attractions with all the hidden gems the city has to offer. The tour starts off by discovering the fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and spices Cubans cook with daily at a local market. A visit to the Bodega de Alimentos, the food bank, will explain how the Cuban food rationing system works.
Now that you’ve gotten your fill of the local Cuban culture, you’ll traverse the streets of Old Havana’s historical center, visiting important landmarks like the Capitol Building.
After a refreshing mojito at a special place in Havana. You will finish the afternoon by crossing the harbor to view the city from Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro. You might even hit right at sunset.
Welcome to Cuba dinner
Havana days turn into Havana nights, and you’ll be ready to enjoy a delicious dinner at a local paladar.
The rest of your evening is free – you can relax at your casa or head out to one of the many live music venues.
Accommodation: casa particular
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Cuban revolution, culture and cigars
Today your excursion is to see some of the most famous places in Havana. You begin with a visit to the Partagás Tobacco factory, one of Havana’s oldest and most famous cigar factories.
Then, you’ll be whisked off to see one of Havana’s emblematic spaces, the Plaza de la Revolución. The vast square features one of the most famous and memorable images of Che Guevara in the world – so have a camera ready!
After you will take a stroll through one of the largest cemeteries in the world, Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, a walk through these 56 hallowed hectares can be an educational and emotional stroll through the annals of Cuban history. The final stop this morning will be at the beautiful Hotel Nacional, for a visit to this icon of Havana life during the 1940s and 50s.
An Afternoon of Cuban Art and Classic Cars
After lunch, a short ride to Fusterlandia in Jaimanita town. Art gallery community project by Fuster, one of the most original Cuban artist who was also known as the Picasso of the Caribbean. You will return to Havana, and continue the art them with a stroll down Callejón de Hamel, a street that is like one big art gallery, a haven for Afro-Cuban art. You will finish the afternoon with a ride in a classic 1950s American car to cruise down the Malecón and do a panoramic tour of modern Havana. The way to experience the city like a local.
Dinner and show at the famous Buena Vista Social Club
Dinner and show at one of the Buena Vista Social Clubs, a place where you hear Cuba’s icons of traditional music.
Accommodation: casa particular
Explore on Your Own
Your day is free to discover Havana on your own. If you’d like to book one of our experiences at additional cost, let us know.
Breakfast and lunch included
A Day in the Cuban Countryside
It’s time to leave the bustling city of Havana behind to get out into the open. After breakfast, you’ll head to Viñales (a 2.5 hr drive), famous for its mogotes, small limestone hills situated throughout the lush green countryside. Upon arrival, you’ll have lunch at a local paladar.
Exploring Viñales National Park and Visit a Tobacco Plantation
After lunch, enjoy a beautiful horseback ride in Viñales National Park, here you see the most spectacular views of the valley, visit caves where there are underground rivers that allow riders to cool off from the Cuban heat. You ride past the tobacco fields and stop to see one of the drying shed, learn firsthand how the tobacco for the world famous Cuba cigars is grown. See the diverse life in the heart of the valley, while making a stop to taste guarapo (sugar cane juice) prepared by a family that still uses methods rudimentary and traditional processes. During the trip, you see the unique identity of this region and how they live in harmony with nature. An easy hike to see the views of the valley is also an option instead of the horseback ride.
Explore Viñales on your own
Your day in Viñales will be a memorable experience, providing insight one of Cuba’s most magnificent natural wonders. More importantly, you’ll get to experience firsthand how the local people once lived and worked the land and how they still cultivate the local resources today. Your footprint in Viñales (as always with Espíritu Travel) will be a positive and authentic one.
After the day excursion, the rest of your day will be free to enjoy on your own.
See you later Cuba!
Transfer (2.5 hour drive) to José Martí International Airport for your return flight. A mid-afternoon flight or later is required.