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Backpacking in Cuba – 1-3 Week Itineraries

I’ve become pretty accustomed to living out of my backpack as I’ve been doing it for over 2 years now, but when gearing up for my trip to Cuba, I just knew that it was going to be a little different than previous trips.  After arriving & traveling for a few days, my assumptions proved to be correct.  The Cuban government’s tight grip on society & closed door policies have succeeded in making backpacking in Cuba, well, just not normal. 

Why Cuba isn’t a normal backpacking destination:

  • There are no hostels to stay & meet other backpackers in.  There are casa particulares
    • Casa particulares are houses that have a special permit from the government, allowing them to host foreigners overnight.  Some casas include breakfast in the price, others don’t.  Casas particulares are the budget traveler’s preference (share rooms with others travelers to minimize costs!), but for those who don’t mind spending more money, there are tons of hotels available too.
  • There are 2 currencies.
    • The CUC, or convertible peso (also referred to as divisa).  CUC is the currency for foreigners.  1 CUC = 1 USD.
    • The CUP, or Cuban peso (also referred to as peso nacional).  Mostly used by Cubans.  1 CUC = 25 CUP
  • The 2 types of transportation.
    • You guessed it – transport for Cubans & transport for foreigners.  This will be explained in different post.
  • (For Americans) We still can’t fly directly from the USA, generally speaking.
    • It’s not as hard to go to Cuba as you think, but this is also for a different post.
  • There is little to no access to internet most of the time.
  • There is a shortage of useful, updated, trip-planning info available

Because Cuba has been shut off from capitalist principles for so long, many Cuban individuals & small businesses simply don’t understand how to market themselves & gain exposure.  Combine this with the scarcity of internet, and it can become difficult to find good, up-to-date information about what to do and how to get there, especially after you’re already on the road in Cuba.

Many people “do Cuba” in 3 weeks, taking buses every other day to squeeze in all the main stops.  Others choose to spend all their time just in the western part of the island after flying into Havana.  Every traveler has their own pace & time frame.

I traveled Cuba from end to end for 6 weeks, and felt like I accomplished a lot while not “rushing it”.  I spent 3 weeks in the occidental (west), & 3 weeks in the oriente (east) and I decided to create 1-6 week suggested itineraries based on my travels there.  This is Part 1 of a 2-part series & it will detail my 1-3 week itineraries for backpacking in Cuba.  For those traveling longer, please check out Part 2 which will cover 4-6 week itineraries on backpacking in Cuba.  I will recap where I went, why you may want to go there, & include some contact details to improve your experience. Hopefully this will help eliminate some uncertainty & assist you in planning your backpacking trip to Cuba.


– My trip was between March 26–May 8th, 2015 during the dry season.  We had great weather the entire time, & travelers should note that weather may be an issue between May–October, which is the rainy season.  

– All prices were negotiated, and could be different for you depending on the season & your negotiation skills.  Don’t be shy about negotiating – it is expected & welcomed in Cuba.    

I personally vouch for the cleanliness & safety of each casa particular listed, & the friendliness & honesty of each person listed. 

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I traveled here during my first 3 weeks in Cuba – Durante mis 3 primeras semanas viajé aquí

Backpacking in Cuba – 1 Week Itinerary


backpacking in cuba

The view of Old Havana from Hotel Sevilla – La vista de Habana Vieja desde el Hotel Sevilla

Where most travelers will start their Cuban adventure, the capital is unlike any city you’ve ever been to.  This is where Cuba got it’s “time machine” reputation from.  Beautiful but crumbling architecture, 1950’s cars & horse-drawn carriages competing for space on the road, old Spanish forts guarding the bay from pirate invasions, & the sound of music coming from….everywhere?

backpacking in cuba

Havana is the perfect place to see the color of Cuban life – La Habana es el lugar perfecto para ver los colores de la vida Cubana

Tip:  Havana’s nightlife offers something for everyone, but if you’re balling on a budget and/or solo traveling, look no further than the Malecón.  The city sea wall is a perfect place to make friends & find cheap entertainment like live music, street acts, fishing locals, & a true Cuban experience.  

backpacking in cuba

Typical scene on the Malecón – Típica vista del Malecón

Suggested time: At least 3-4 days

Go for:  Architecture, history, museums, nightlife

Where I stayed:

Casa Aracel & Cary.  Dirección (address):  Avenida Salvador Allende (Carlos III) Number 1059. 1er piso, entre Luaces y Almendares.  Plaza, La Habana, Cuba.  Teléfono – (537)8733155.  Móvil – 53852659. Correo (Email) – fahirucaridad@yahoo.es.  What I paid: $30/per night/per room (between 3 people).  Breakfast: $5CUC extra.


Located only 1.5 hours from Havana, Viñales is a no-excuses, must-see destination in Cuba.  El Valle de Viñales (Valley of Viñales) is a green valley surrounded by spectacular limestone mountains, & filled with the finest tobacco farms in the country (world).  There are various things to do here, but most everyone opts for the horse-back riding tour through the valley to a farm where they show you the entire tobacco harvesting & cigar making process.

backpacking in cuba

Enjoying a nice cigar & view in Viñales Valley – Disfrutando de un buen puro y una buena vista en Valle de Viñales

Tip: don’t book a horse-back riding tour ahead of time.  It’s a small village & many people have horses, so you can do it for very cheap once there.  Your casa particular can arrange the tours for you, but it’s even cheaper to go directly to the horse owners & ask.  We paid $3CUC/hour/person with:

Yaniel.  Teléfono:  (+53) 52238887 o 53715648.  Dirección (address):  Salvador Cisnero Este, Carretera Al Cementerio.  Viñales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

backpacking in cuba

The view from our casa particular’s roof – La vista desde el techo de nuestra casa particular

Suggested time: 2 days

Go for: Horseback riding, culture (tobacco education), hiking & other outdoor activities

Where I stayed: 

See Yaniel’s contact information above.  His father has a casa particular where we stayed, I just can’t remember the name.  What I paid: $20CUC/night/room (between 3 people).  Breakfast $3CUC extra.


Usually about as far east as most tourists go, Trinidad is an old, colorful, & colonial town with plenty to see.  Having celebrated it’s 500 year anniversary recently, simply walking through the cobblestone streets of Trinidad is a highlight of Cuba in itself.

backpacking in cuba

An old truck parked in Plaza Mayor, Trinidad – Un camión antiguo estacionado en Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

But it’s not just the picturesque architecture that makes Trinidad a destination, Playa Ancón is a beautiful beach only 12km (5m) away, Casa de la Música has a great dance scene on the steps every night and the Escambray mountains nearby also offer multiple waterfall hikes.

backpacking in cuba

You can see the whole town from the tower of the Convento de San Francisco church – Se puede ver el pueblo entero desde la torre de la Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco

Tip: rent bikes & make the 1-hour peddle to Playa Ancón.  It’s a relatively easy peddle yet a good enough workout to burn off some of those mojitos.  

Spanish Challenge!  Contact Felipe Ramos Marín, the coolest guy in Trinidad, for a guided tour (horseback or on foot) to the Javira waterfall, which has a great swimming hole in a cave.  54593153 is the phone # of his sister, Rosa, but if you can’t get ahold of him that way, find his part of town between Calle Maceo y Campo & ask “Felipe, donde está Felipe?”  When you finally find him or one of his family members, tell them “Mis amigos me dijeron que usted puede llevarme a un tour a la cascada Javira” (My friends told me that you could take me on a tour to Javira waterfall).  He shouldn’t charge more than $10-15CUC per person on horseback, & it takes about 4 hours.  He speaks no English.  Hey may even invite you into his house to eat afterwards, like he did for us!

backpacking in cuba

The swim hole continues in the cave behind Javira Waterfall – Debajo de la cascada se forma unas cuevas dónde se disfruta la extensión de este pequeño lago

backpacking in cuba

After the waterfall tour, Felipe is on the far left – Después del tour de la catarata, Felipe es el de la izquierda

Suggested time: 3-4 days

Go for:  Colonial architecture, nice beaches, art galleries

Where I stayed:

Hostal Victor.  Dirección (address): Frank País #381 entre Simón Bolivar y Francisco J. Zerquera.  Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, CP 62600.  Teléfono: (+53) 41998679.  Móvil: (+53) 53460182 y (+53) 53419383.  Correo (Email): hostalvictor381@gmail.com. Website: https://www.facebook.com/hostalvictortrinidad.  What I paid: $25CUC/night/room (between 3 people)  Breakfast: $3CUC extra

Backpacking in Cuba – 2 Week Itinerary

Spend more time in previously mentioned places, and add in..

Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs)

Remembered by history as the site of the failed CIA invasion to overthrow Castro, now Bahia de Cochinos is mostly visited for it’s exquisite scuba diving.  All dives are shore dives, with the easily accessible coral wall located only 50m off shore.  There are over 40 dive sites, and perhaps the best part is they cost $25 each.  Contact Ronel @ Bahía de Cochinos Scuba Diving. micha@informed.sld.cu.  Teléfono: (0053)4598412.

Tip:  Ask Ronel to take you on a cave/cenote dive.  There are multiple in the area, and the $40 tag is a small price to pay for an other wordly experience.  Also, if you just want to snorkel, go to Punta Perdiz.  Pay for a drink at the little bar there & snorkel all day.  

Suggested time:  1-2 days

Go for:  Scuba diving and/or snorkeling

Where I stayed:

Casa Tania & Richard.  Dirección (address): Playa Girón, Carretera Principal, Ciénaga de Zapata, Matanzas, Cuba.  C.P. 43000.  Telefono – (0053)45984353.  What I paid: $15CUC/night/room (between 2 people).  Amazing breakfast included.  


A neoclassical bayside city, Cuban legend Benny Moré once said about Cienfuegos, “Es la ciudad que más me gusta a mí” (It’s the city that I most like).  Cienfuegos is skipped over by most on their way to Trinidad, but those who stay to linger will be rewarded with cool French architecture, a vibrant live music scene, & a slice of authentic Cuba.  Nearby Rancho Luna is a $5 CUC taxi ride & a great beach/snorkeling getaway from the city.

backpacking in cuba

You can see Plaza Martí very well from La Unión Hotel’s roof – Se puede ver muy bien La Plaza Martí desde el techo de Hotel La Unión 

Tip:  Round up a group of friends & contract a taxi to take you to El Nicho waterfall, located about 1.5 hours away in the mountains.  It is the prototypical tropical waterfall, blue swimming holes and all, & well worth the trip.  Sharing the taxi costs between travelers is the way to go, and taxis from Cienfuegos can be found for $40CUC/roundtrip.  

backpacking in cuba

One of the many swimming pools at El Nicho Waterfall – Una de las muchas piscinas de la cascada El Nicho

Suggested time: 1-2 days

Go for:  Escape from crowds of tourists, salsa clubs, the best waterfall in Cuba

Where I stayed:

Cienfuegos – Casa Mario & Luisa.  Dirección: Calle 35 #4215 entre 42 y 44, Cienfuegos, Cuba.  Teléfono: (53)(43)517864.  What I paid:  $28/night/room (between 4 people) breakfast included.  

Backpacking in Cuba – 3 Week Itinerary

Spend more time in previously mentioned places, and add in…

Santa Clara

Santa Clara has been considered the embodiment of La Revolución ever since Che Guevara famously liberated the city in 1958.  Nowadays the local university students are the revolutionaries, continually demonstrating on Cuba’s political issues.  The city offers some quirky nightlife, but most people head to Santa Clara to make the Che Guevara pilgrimage – visiting his mausoleum, museum, & monuments.

backpacking in cuba

Paying Che a visit in Plaza de la Revolución in Santa Clara – Visitando al Che en Plaza de la Revolución en Santa Clara

Tip:  contact Couchsurfer Yoan Manuel.  He & his little brother Adrian are super fun & intelligent & will show you around the city & give you a real Cuban political education.  Teléfono: (+53) 53427547 (Yaniel) o (+53) 53910221 (Adrian).  Email: ymval@nauta.cu.  Couchsurfing Profile:  https://www.couchsurfing.com/users/1000470875

Suggested time:  1-2 days

Go for:  Che Guevara history, funky nightlife

Where I stayed:

Hostal Tristá 117.  Dirección: Entre Zayas y Alemán.  Santa Clara, Villa Clara, Cuba.  Telefono: 53-42-283048.  Celular: 53-53294379 o 53-58253460.  What I paid: $20/night/room (between 2 people) breakfast included.  

Rancho Luna

Rancho Luna is a small beachside community located about 15km outside of Cienfuegos near the entrance of the Bay of Cienfuegos.  The beach here is a surprisingly nice escape given that the waters of nearby Bay of Cienfuegos look pretty murky & polluted.  This beach is definitely worth a day or 2 of your time, and the scuba & snorkel is impressive too.

Tip:  If you don’t have the money to go scuba diving, there are great snorkeling spots about 100 yards directly off shore in between Hotel Faro Luna & the Delfinario (dolphin center).  If you don’t have your own gear, the scuba center will rent you a mask & snorkel for cheap.  No need to pay extra for the boat, just swim out & snorkel away!

Suggested time:  1-2 days

Go for:  Beach time, good snorkeling

Where I stayed:

Villa La China.  Dirección: Entrada a Hotel Faro Luna #13.  Playa Rancho Luna, Cienfuegos, Cuba.  Telefono: (53)(43)548103.  Email: lachinarancholuna@nauta.cu.  What I paid:  $18/night/room (between 2 people). 

In no particular order, that was my route for 3 weeks!

There are certainly some things that I missed during my time in western Cuba.  I repeatedly heard that Varadero & some of the cayos (keys) on the northern coast have incredible beaches.  I chose not to go there because they are apparently very touristy & more expensive.  That’s not to say you won’t enjoy them though!

The most important thing is that you do not rush yourself & try to do too much.  You will stress yourself out & only ever skim the surface of your destinations.  Feel free to use my itinerary to plan or modify your own trip.

Are You Ready to Go Backpacking in Cuba?!?

If you’ve already been to Cuba, do you agree with my suggestions?  Which parts of Cuba do you recommend for 1-3 week itineraries?  I’m curious to hear about any cool places that I may have missed!

For those traveling for longer amounts of time, please see Part 2 – Backpacking in Cuba – 4-6 Week Itineraries to supplement this post.



21 thoughts on “Backpacking in Cuba – 1-3 Week Itineraries

  1. Pingback: Backpacking in Cuba - 4-6 Week Itineraries - Where's the Gringo?

  2. Charlotte Raciboski

    this is a perfect guide! I printed this, and facebook’ed it to my Norwegian travel partner!

    Nailed it!!

      1. yonatan ido

        i didnt understand- did you travel alone? where did you meet other travelers? and what about prices if im alone?

        thanks man!

  3. Pingback: 5 Best Things to Do in Trinidad, Cuba - Where's the Gringo?

  4. Gemma

    Wow, I love your trip, and the pictures look fantastic! We are going there in may for 2 weeks and really want to do a small roadtrip (2 weeks wont gives too much time but dint want to do a city a day). Just wondering how you got around? We are thinking of getting a car to rent but not sure if it’s worth it or if we can bus/taxi around!!! Thanks and love all te pictures!
    Gemma recently posted…A (Very) Quick 2015 Recap and 2016 OutlookMy Profile

    1. fordquarterman Post author

      Thanks for the nice words! I got around a lot via “maquinas” in Cuba. They are the big old US-made cars that Cubans use to taxi people around. They are easy to find, but getting cheap prices isn’t. Most tourists will get prices about the same price as the Viaazul route listed (the main tourist bus system). If you speak any Spanish and know where to look (look for taquilla signs) near the bus station, perhaps you can contract maquinas with other Cubans for FAR cheaper. Within cities jumping on the “Gua-gua” is very cheap, but slow & crowded. As for renting a car, I don’t think it would be worth it for 2 weeks but that depends on where you’re going. Which destinations are you going to?

  5. Catherine

    Hey! Thanks for the itineraries. My friend and I looking forward to backpack Cuba for the up comming month of May.

    I was wondering, do you remember how much you would spend per day when you where there? I see the prices you paid for the room but what about the rest? I heard grocery stores and market aren’t easy to find, how did you manage when you where traveling long distances?

    Once again thanks a lot!

    1. fordquarterman Post author

      I was there for 6 weeks, and I spent about $1,400 total, so the math on that would be around $33USD/day. As you can see I crossed the entire island, if you stayed in a few places maybe you wouldn’t spend as much, but you prob. would as I am notorious for being a dirtbagging cheap ass. It depends on your lifestyle – I eventually figured out how to do it cheaply because I could blend in speaking Spanish, and I didn’t hesitate to sacrifice comfort (sleeping in my hammock on the beach some nights, to taking crowded passenger trucks, eating lots of cheap food, etc.).

      I’m going to have another post on how to travel Cuba cheaply up on the blog within 2 weeks or so. Make sure and check back and you’ll have all the tips for how to do it yourself, but the key is knowing where they sell products and services in Cuban pesos and speaking Spanish. Thanks for following along – y’all are gonna love Cuba!

  6. Anju Franklin

    I leave for Cuba on May 21st! I am hoping to backpack for 1-2 weeks, but I am a little hesitant because I will be by myself and my Spanish isn’t the greatest. This piece was great!

    1. fordquarterman Post author

      Thanks Anju! You’re going to love Cuba – it will change your life, especially with your background as a Blacktivist & human rights champion. Don’t worry about being by yourself – Cuba is one of the safest countries I’ve ever been to, seriously. Spanish would def improve your experience, but you should be able to get by just fine. Hope you stick to my itineraries – they’ll serve you well! Please let me know how your trip went after you get back. Cheers!

  7. Lisa

    Hey! Thanks for your itineraries! By far the best and most interesting descriptions I read online. I`m going to be in Cuba in September and I wanted to know how you got around? Did you rent a car or did you use busses? And do you recommend having both Cuban currencies with me(even though I don`t have decent Spanish skills)?

    1. fordquarterman Post author

      Lisa – thanks for your compliments, and sorry for getting back to you so late (I’m on the road in Europe without consistent internet). I got around in everything from buses, to gua-guas, to maquina taxis, to camion trucks. People everywhere will be trying to set you up to take you to your next place, so don’t worry about that. As for renting a car, I do know a lot of people do that, but I’m sorry to say I don’t have any details. I for sure recommend having both currencies (at least 20-30 dollars worth of CUP at any given time) to make sure you can take advantage of cheap local prices you find randomly! I hope my reply isn’t too late for you! Disfruta Cuba!

  8. Pingback: How to backpack Cuba – El Pelicone

  9. Pingback: Incredibly Detailed One Month Itinerary for Cuba - Hippie In Heels

  10. maria

    Hi Ford
    My friend and I are departing for a 2 week trip to Cuba in the next couple of weeks. I can;t find your post on transport in Cuba. I’ve looked on the Viazul website and it’s saying that a lot fo the journeys we were planning on taking are full. I’ve googled this and it says this is and have found posts saying this is common in Cuba, but people with bookings sometimes don’t get on the coach, and some without bookings are able to buy tickets. I’m a bit confused…are you able to shed some light? Many thanks…and great website!

    1. fordquarterman Post author

      Hey Maria. I wouldn’t worry about it at all. I highly doubt Viazul buses are booked up that far in advance, it’s prob. just an error in the website, but even if it’s true – you can contract “maquinas” (taxis) from just about anywhere. They are usually about the same price as a Viazul bus, and usually much quicker. If you are two traveling together, maybe try and find 1-2 others to contract the taxis with so they will be cheaper. That also shouldn’t be difficult as the backpacking routes are pretty defined and frequented in Cuba. Let me know if you have any other questions and DISFRUTA CUBA!

  11. Archana Negi

    Amazing insight…will re read to grasp it completely…we are four ladies planning a 3 week trip to Cuba in April…we want to cover the salsa week too…if you have any other suggestions …please feel free to give us your amazing tips…thanks so much!

    1. fordquarterman Post author

      Thanks Archana – you gals are going to the right place if you want to salsa! 3 weeks is a good amount of time, where will you be going?

  12. Ali

    Wonderful post. I’m going in May for 10 days, possibly alone or with a friend if she finally bites the bullet. Spanish is my first language and I speak it fluently, but you’d still recommend taxis versus renting a car? Ten days is a really short amount of time but I would like to be able to see a few places. Would you recommend sticking primarily to the west? The little info I’ve found about Cuba favors the west, but I heard some people say the east side of the island is wonderful. My main goals are culture and beach. Please let me know!

  13. Jonas

    Hi Ford,
    I cant seem to find the post you refer to re getting around Cuba. Can you guide me as im quite interested if is possible to get around on motorbike or what the best way of getting around is.

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