Before we get started, there’s one thing that needs to be said. One week in Cuba is really not enough time.
But we get it, there’s a job that you’ve got to get back to, pets that are being fed by an extremely helpful friend, and kids that need to go back to school (despite what they might say about that). But after just a few days in Cuba, you will want to forget about the rest of the world and will want to spend your days drinking rum on the beach.
Maybe you can learn how to roll cigars on your thighs in order to fund this new lifestyle of yours. The kids will do great in the Cuban school system! After all, the island has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. In all seriousness, you will want to spend as much time in Cuba as possible, and you can trust us on this. But when you’re pressed for time and can only spend seven days in this island paradise, there are some things you certainly won’t want to miss.
Let’s take a look at the best of the best when it comes to what to see and do in Cuba.
Stroll Around Havana
Now that the US embargo against Cuba is being relaxed, there will be more and more flights from the US to various airports across Cuba. Most flights will still arrive in Havana, and this is where your one week in Cuba will probably begin. Make your way from the José Martí International Airport into the city, find your accommodation and get out into the city.
You will want to spend as much time as possible exploring Havana’s Old Town (La Habana Vieja), which is the village from where the city of Havana grew.
Many of these ancient buildings have been lovingly well-preserved, as opposed to the crumbling buildings in many other parts of Havana. These other buildings are still lovely, just in a different way. Start in the Plaza de Armas, one of the main squares in the Old Town. It’s a great starting point for your explorations, and there’s an awesome book market. While the streets and alleys feel like they’re winding you around in a circle, it’s not so easy to become lost here.
You should walk through the Old Town down to the harbor, where you’ll find the Malecon. This is a long promenade that extends along the waterfront, and is where the locals come to sit and chill out. You should definitely join them. That sea breeze feels sensational on a hot day.
One Week in Cuba Will Probably Include a Drink (or Two)
Yeah, Cuba is renowned for its delicious alcohol and you will want to sample a bit of it (or a lot of it. No judgement. You’re on holiday after all).
Your one week in Cuba should include a daiquiri at El Floridita, which was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes in the city. You can bet that dozens of other visitors will do the same thing, so you might want to avoid the bar in the peak evening times, especially if you want to sit next to the life-sized statue of Hemingway that is at the bar.
If you’re feeling fancy, head to the bar at the ritzy Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This opulent hotel was the playground of Hollywood’s rich and famous before the embargo put a stop to their visits. The gardens are also stunning.
Hit the Beach
Some might say that Havana isn’t home to the best beaches in Cuba, but they’re still pretty darn good. The beaches closest to the city are (unsurprisingly) the most crowded, so you should head a little further out to a beach called Playa Guanabo.
This feels more like a village, and you can easily forget that the hustle and bustle of Havana is just a short distance away.
It’s not as though the area is particularly isolated, but few tourists make it to this beach, preferring to stay around the nearby Santa Maria del Mar (which can be a bit too much of a party beach in the summer). Playa Guanabo is a total charmer, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants in which to spend the evening before making the short trip back into downtown Havana.
A Slice of Cuban Rural Life
Since you only have one week in Cuba, your visit might be limited to Havana and the destinations that are within a short distance. For an authentic slice of Cuban rural life, take a day trip to the small town of Viñales (which is about a 2.5 hour drive from Havana).
Walk around the dusty streets with buildings painted in oddly vibrant colors.
It’s like a crayon box exploded. The town is home to a large percentage of tobacco plantations, and while few cigars are actually produced here, you can still see the beginnings of the process. You should also take a hike into the foothills that surround the village if you want to experience the real Cuban countryside.
Time for Some Luxury
Also a short distance from Havana is Varadero (a little over 2 hours by car). This is the complete opposite of Viñales, and is one of the most popular beach resorts in Cuba.
If you have the time, your one week in Cuba can include a self-indulgent night in one of these luxury hotels (many of which have private beaches).
It’s interesting to contrast the newer hotels with a few of the crumbling abandoned hotels that can be found in Varadero. Many of these buildings were placed under national control after the Cuban Revolution and fell into disrepair.
You might not have time to do that though, since you’ll be busy sitting on the beach with a cocktail.