10 Things to do in Havana, Cuba (and a day in Viñales)

I recently returned from a trip to Havana, Cuba with a good girlfriend of mine and would highly recommend it to anyone thinking about visiting the country. The architecture and beaches were colorful, the people were friendly and the food was delicious. I found Havana to be fairly walk-able and we were even able to squeeze in a day trip to Vinales.

Wondering what a trip to Havana would look like? Here’s a high-level look of what my friend and I did…

Meet some locals and stay in an Airbnb: we rented this one. It was super affordable and directly across the street from the Capitol which made for a gorgeous patio view. The hosts were extremely kind and the place itself was just what we needed – two beds, private bathroom and a/c. They even provided drinks in the mini fridge for 1-2 cucs and breakfast in the morning for a fair price. If you haven’t signed up – click here! That’s my referral link so we both get a credit to our accounts.

Walk around Habana Vieja: We had so much fun just strolling through the city and looking at all the buildings and plazas!

Try lots of different foods (it’s all affordable and delicious): I’ll admit, some places I travel to just for the food. Cuba wasn’t one of these, so I was very pleasantly surprised and some of the great meals we had at beautiful restaurants. La Lamparilla and Los Nardos (right next to our place and great atmosphere – we went twice!) stood out to me. We would also stop by a little stand on the corner next to Parque Central that sold hot and melty ham and cheese sandwiches for 50 cents. Another stand was selling fried “donuts” with guava jelly – also super cheap and delicious! On one of our walks we walked into a cafe that didn’t even have a sign – but it was one of my favorite meals – salty grilled pork with the perfect fried plantains. So have some fun exploring the different traditional foods of Cuba!

See a live music show: We went to the Havana Libre Hotel where they have a nightly live music show, El Turquino.

Visit the Hotel Nacional: We originally went to book a tour to Vinales with the concierge (see next topic!) but spent a few hours in the garden enjoying the shade, view and a few drinks.

Take a day trip to Vinales (tobacco farm): Through the Hotel Nacional, we booked a day tour to Vinales. It cost 100 cuc each which was fairly expensive compared to how affordable everything else had been. We scheduled the driver to pick us up the next day. It wasn’t what we were expecting, but ended up being a highlight of the trip. We thought we’d be getting an official “tour,” but a taxi driver shows up and asks us what we want to do! Luckily, this driver was a great guy – very friendly and knew where to take us. After a 2-3 hour drive, we went to a tobacco house where we learned the process of picking, drying and rolling tobacco. We could even purchase premium cigars for half the price than they are sold by the factory. Then we went to Cueva del Indio (with sugar cane juice and rum in hand) where we got to cool down in nature’s a/c and take a boat ride through the beautiful caves. Next stop was the Vinales Valley which was SUCH a beautiful view – it almost looks like Jurassic Park. Then we stopped by our driver’s friend’s house who was a sweet older woman who offered us coffee in her adorable pink house. It was such a fun day!

Find a roof top view: Because, why not? We ducked into Hotel Ambos Mundos to check out their roof top bar (pink hotel near the cathedral!) Unluckily for us… it started to rain as soon as we got up there!


Ride in an American classic car: OK,  I have to say… this was one of the coolest things about Cuba visually. The gorgeous, well-kept classic cars are everywhere. Most of them are taxis, so take a ride – just make sure you agree on a price before hopping in the car.

Explore the local museums: There are quite a few museum choices in Havana! We went to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum) which had all genres of arts and only by Cuban artists. I wanted to go to the Revolution Museum but we did not have a chance.

Bus to the beach: we spent a morning at Santa Maria beach. From our Airbnb, it was a 5 minute walk to Parque Central where we caught the T-3 bus that took us there. It was 5 cuc round trip. The beach itself was beautiful and relaxing. You can rent beach chairs and buy drinks. It was not crowded at all and the water was gorgeous – I got in waist deep and could still see my toes.

So, have I convinced you? I’ve also posted some general travel tips for Cuba here.

Summer in Spain: Málaga

Our last stop in Andalusia before heading to Barcelona was the wonderful city of Málaga, and birthplace of Pablo Picasso. My travel buddy and I weren’t sure what to expect here, but it ended up being a lovely addition to our Spain trip. Compared to the other cities we visited, we took a more relaxed pace here and spent most of the time on the beach. These are some of my favorite parts…

  1. Museo Picasso Málaga. There was a Picasso museum in most of the other cities we visited, but the others weren’t in the birthplace of the artist. I ended up loving this museum more than expected. I highly recommend doing the audio tour as it tells a great story about Picasso’s life and the art displayed.
  2. Mirador del Gibralfaro is an uphill walk well worth the view! From the viewpoint you can see the coast and city. You also have an aerial view of the Plaza del Torros. If you look closely in the photo below you can see a bull in the arena.

    View from Mirador del Gibralfaro. See the bull?


    We passed by ancient Roman ruins on our walk from the hostel

  3. Málaga is also known for a wine by the same name. It’s a fortified sweet wine made from Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes. I personally loved the dessert wine. We bought a few bottles and took them back to our hostel to enjoy on the patio.
  4. I have to mention our hostel, Feels Hostel City Center, as it was my favorite lodging during our time in Spain. It was such a friendly and lively crowd staying there, the staff was hospitable and the location was wonderful. It was a close walk to the cathedral, beach, Roman ruins, Picasso museum and many restaurants and shops.
  5. The beach. This was the middle of August in hot, humid Spain for two weeks. So yeah, we spent most of our days on the beach which makes this a short post. We saved money in this city by buying groceries for a few days and preparing food at the hostel or bringing a picnic to the beach.

    More of Spain:


Road Trip to Mustang Island

“No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

The greatness of the world is never more obvious to me than when the ocean is in sight. I took a three-day weekend to see the beach for the first time in a few years. I wanted to camp on the beach and I wanted to go alone – both first-times for me. While I didn’t mind the solo trip, I don’t think I would go camping by myself without at least a furry four-legged friend to tag along.

So I left Dallas around 8 a.m. with a car full of camping gear and a hungry stomach because every Texan knows to swing by the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery on any travels through West. After chowing down on both a savory and a sweet kolache, it was just me, the open road and my iTunes library.

I was ready to stretch my legs again in San Antonio and stopped at the Japanese Tea Garden. It was nice, but much of the park was under construction and the waterfall was not running. You shouldn’t go out of your way to visit here until the construction is complete.

Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio

Path through the Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio

Then, about two and half hours later, I was driving on a freeway over the ocean on my way to Mustang Island State Park to set up camp! I paid for primitive camping right on the beach and drove my little sedan down to pick out a spot. I saw a soft sand sign and knew I had to turn around and settle on a spot among the crowd. In my efforts, I was stuck in the sand. Fortunately, after a frantic call to the office just before it closed, a park ranger helped tow my car back to more compacted sand. I was so embarrassed, but he was not at all disapproving like I expected. In fact, he was very kind and came back to check on me a couple times after finding out I was camping alone.

DSC_0004Finally back to business, I pitched my tent and headed straight for the water. It was then, playing in the waves and watching the pelicans, that I knew this was all worth it. Getting stuck in the sand, driving more than six hours, getting sand all inside my car and tent – none of it mattered. The ocean was a refreshing temperature in contrast to the hot Texas sun and despite the crowd of campers, there weren’t many people in the water. I definitely prefer Mustang Island over some other coastal areas I’ve visited.

After sunset, I cooked myself a DELICIOUS Ahi Tuna steak and some fresh shrimp I picked up from Port A Seafood Co. They have a great variety of fresh seafood at decent prices and it’s only a 15 minute drive from the state park.

Then I went to sleep to the sound of waves and scent of salty sea air. The next day, I didn’t have much food left in the cooler and I wasn’t sure if I could spend another night alone with the sand and the wind so I packed up camp a day early.

Before heading back to Dallas, I booked a tour with Kohootz Dolphin Encounters and it was very much worth the $25. The small two-deck boat cruised around for a couple hours, providing wonderful views of jumping dolphins and the Lydia Ann Lighthouse. My favorite was watching the dolphins surf and play on the waves a large ship made. If you’re ever in the Port Aransas area, you have to do this! It was my favorite part of the trip.

While I have no desire to go camping alone again, this trip was very worthwhile. I had both some much needed relaxation and fun adventures along the way.