Last Updated on December 5, 2023
Three weeks in Cuba is the perfect amount of time to get to know this beautiful, diverse island nation.
This 3 week Cuba itinerary is based on my own experience of backpacking Cuba. You’ll visit bucket list cities like Havana, the lush, country-side hills of Vinales, colonial-era towns like Trinidad, and of course, beaches.
Plus, I’ve included essential tips for Cuba travel that cover modes of transport, currency, and accommodations in Cuba.
Let’s dive into this 3 week Cuba itinerary!
- 3 Week Cuba Itinerary: Before You Go
- Where to Stay While Traveling Cuba
- How to Get Around in Cuba
- What to Eat in Cuba
- Starting Your Trip: Flying Into Cuba
- 3 Week Cuba Itinerary: Where to Go
- Ending Your Trip: Flying Home
- Responsible Travel Tips for This Cuba Itinerary
- Final Thoughts: Spending 3 Weeks in Cuba
3 Week Cuba Itinerary: Before You Go
Check visa requirements ahead of your trip.
Entry requirements vary depending on your nationality. Canadians just need a tourist card, which is typically provided by tour operators or airlines.
Other nationalities need to apply for a visa to enter Cuba. You can apply through the Cuban embassy, through your airline, or through assistance websites. The best resource for more visa requirement details is your airline or your local government website.
Understand the embargos on Cuba.
The embargo on Cuba is important to understand during your 3 week Cuba itinerary because it impacts the local way of life, and can have a small impact on tourists, too.
For over 50 years, an embargo has meant that trade between the US and Cuba does not happen, leaving Cuba without access to many resources and products – Like fuel, cars, and basic toiletries like toothpaste.
The embargo eventually stopped all exports to Cuba except for food and medicine. And that embargo has continued until today.
This is why Cuba is so often described as being “lost in time.” Without many imported goods, Cuba hasn’t had the resources to stay updated in the way that North America and other regions have.
Be prepared to be offline in Cuba.
Being prepared for limited internet is one of the most important tips for Cuba travel. This is because Cuban internet is provided by only one, state-owned company called Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA). The easiest way to use this wifi is through a NAUTA card.
A NAUTA card gives you wifi access in public wifi hotspots. You can buy your NAUTA card at any of Cuba’s ETECSA offices, although some hotels and resorts sell them too.
Government controlled internet is usually distributed in the town or city’s most central park. It’s always easily recognizable because you’ll notice locals hanging out in the park on their phones and laptops.
Your other option is to buy data through a major carrier like AT&T and T-Mobile. They offer roaming coverage in Cuba. This is expensive, but more convenient than getting online using a NAUTA card.
Know which Cuban currency to use.
There are two types of currency in Cuba: The Cuban Peso (CUP) and Moneda Libremente Convertible (MLC). For this 3 week Cuba itinerary, you’ll get by just fine using only CUP.
The Cuban Peso comes in bills ranging from 1 CUP to 1000 CUP. Take out small bills as those are easier to use when paying for meals, bus fare, or in shops. It’s a good idea to take out lots of cash at a time, because there are often long lines to use banks and ATMs.
Where to Stay While Traveling Cuba
In Cuba you have 2 main options for accommodation: Casas particulares and hotels. For this 3 week Cuba itinerary, you’ll likely rely most on casas particulares.
Staying in casas particulares in Cuba
Casas particulares are the most popular form of accommodation in Cuba. They are essentially homestays. You stay in a local’s house, and they’ll usually offer home-cooked meals for a small fee.
Staying in a Cuban casa gives you a unique opportunity to observe Cuban life, and interact with locals. Families are usually very welcoming and always happy to arrange travel and activities.
Book your initial casa particular online – you can do so through booking platforms like Airbnb. Once your first stay is booked, you can find your subsequent casas through that first one!
Just tell the owners of the first casa particular you stay in where you’re headed next, and they will call ahead to book it for you.
Nowadays, more and more Cuban casas are popping up on booking platforms, so if you aren’t comfortable with allowing your Cuban hosts to arrange your casas for you as you travel, you can book in advance this way.
Staying in hotels in Cuba
More and more hotels are being built in Cuba as it grows in popularity with tourists. So, most cities in Cuba do offer them. Hotels in Cuba usually offer on site wifi, buffets and restaurants, and pools.
Hotels tend to be pricier than casas, but some people prefer them because they can usually be booked in advance online. If you ask me? Go with staying in a casa particular for the experience of being hosted by a Cuban family.
How to Get Around in Cuba
There are a couple ways to travel from place to place during this 3 week Cuba itinerary, depending on your budget and how much comfort you’d like while transferring between places.
I personally found that the best way to travel around Cuba was by shared taxi, but it’s also possible to travel by bus or private transfer.
Traveling around Cuba by bus
It is possible to travel around Cuba by bus, and while backpacking Cuba this is the most budget friendly option. Just note that booking buses must be done well in advance, and the trips will be long because the buses make frequent stops.
Cuba’s bus service is called Viazul. You can visit the website for the Viazul Cuba Bus network to see all their Cuba bus routes. You’ll want to write down all the bus routes you plan to take because wifi in Cuba isn’t reliable.
Viazul bus tickets have to be purchased in person. It’s important to book your tickets a couple days in advance because they sell out quickly. I ran into this issue all the time while traveling Cuba, which is why I mostly opted for shared taxis.
Traveling around Cuba by shared taxi
Colectivos are car-shares! They can be booked on the street, or by your casa particular. Always be sure to barter the price, as it will start high. Just remember, the cheapest price isn’t always the fair price.
Because they are a shared car, you can expect your car to fill up with locals or other tourists. Colectivos are usually fast (highways in Cuba aren’t very busy!) and will pick you up from the casa you are staying in, and drop you at your next accommodation.
The best part of this mode of travel is that colectivos are typically the old, classic cars that have become so iconic to Cuba – this is part of why I think shared taxis are the best way to travel around for this 3 week Cuba itinerary! While they aren’t especially comfortable for long trips, you’ll definitely feel cool traveling around Cuba in one of these.
Traveling around Cuba by hitchhiking
Hitchhiking in Cuba is completely legal, in fact it is an integral element of Cuba’s transport network.
There are certain spots along the main transport routes known as ‘Amarillo Points’ where vehicles will stop, and an official there will take the details of where you need to get to, and you then wait to be called forward.
You can also stick out your thumb or flag down cars. I did this a couple times while in Havana to get around the city. Just be sure to give some money to whoever picks you up.
What to Eat in Cuba
Since there’s embargos on Cuba, access to ingredients for cooking in the country is limited. Despite this, while traveling around Cuba I was impressed by my meals on the regular!
Much of what is eaten in Cuba is made of local produce. Most meals involve eggs, rice, bread, chicken, beans, and fruit.
Cuba is known for its sandwiches, and for good reason. You will find sandwiches available a plenty: from street vendors, in restaurants, and in your casas.
The classic Cuban sandwich is sometimes called a mixto, and will contain sliced roast pork, thinly sliced ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard sandwiched in Cuban bread.
While the sandwiches are great, breakfast was always my favourite meal of the day. Cuban breakfast is usually light, and homemade by your casa family. Eggs, bread, coffee and an abundance of fruit, from coconuts to papayas, is typically on the breakfast menu.
Dinner in Cuba is typically a rice and meat dish, often chicken. Some casas also offer homemade dinners, or, you can head to a restaurant.
Starting Your Trip: Flying Into Cuba
Since Cuba is an island, the simplest way to get there is by flight!
For this 3 week Cuba itinerary you’ll want to fly into Havana’s International Airport (José Marti International Airport) or Varadero (Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport).
Havana’s airport is most convenient, but sometimes flights into Varadero are a bit cheaper, particularly for Canadians. Because Varadero is a popular resort area, lots of low-cost airlines run routes between Canadian cities and Varadero.
Varadero is about 2 hours from Havana. The trip is easy to make, but a flight into Havana is far more convenient.
How to get from Havana airport to Havana city center?
The best way to go from Havana airport to the city is by taxi. There are always taxis available at the taxi stands in front of all the airport’s terminal buildings. A taxi ride from the airport to downtown Havana takes about 25 minutes and costs about 25 USD. When you get into your taxi, agree on the price before the trip starts.
How to get from Varadero airport to Havana?
The best way to get from Varadero Airport to Havana is by public bus. Viazul operates a bus trip that takes 2 hours 40 minutes, and costs about $10 USD. The bus departs every 4 hours. There are also taxis available at the Varadero airport to go to Havana. This will be more expensive, but is usually more convenient and fast.
3 Week Cuba Itinerary: Where to Go
Cuba is a larger island than you think! Although three weeks is lots of time, it’s still not quite enough to see all of Cuba.
This 3 week Cuba itinerary focuses on the western part of the island. It covers key cities and regions, and includes a mix of cities, beaches, and towns.
Transferring between these destinations is best done by Viazul bus or by colectivo. The distances are typically between 1 hour and 6 hours driving.
Days 1– 4: Havana (La Habana)
Havana is the capital city of Cuba, famous for its colonial architecture and Afro-Cuban culture. The centre of the city, known as Old Havana (Havana Vieja), is where you’ll see lots of the vintage American cars Cuba is famous for.
You’ll also have the pleasure of discovering Hemingway’s favorite drinks at his favorite bars- a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio and a daiquiri at Floridita.
The Museum of the Revolution is also important to see in Havana, because it’ll fill you in on the communist history of Cuba.
The building the museum is in was originally designed for the provincial government, was finished in the 1920s as the presidential palace, and now functions as a museum. In it you’ll see belongings of Che Guevaro, weaponry, and other relics from the 20th-century Cuban revolution.
Formally known as Avenida de Maceo, the Malecon (a waterfront road and walkway) stretches five miles along the coastline of Havana.
Walking along here is always fun because you’ll see street performers and locals hanging out, enjoying the sunshine and the sound of the waves splashing against the seawall.
You’ll want to spend lots of time simply wandering Havana’s streets and taking in the sights. Explore some local markets, enjoy a few mojitos, and listen to some local street music.
Must-do activity in Havana: The Museum of the Revolution.
Days 5 – 7: Viñales
Viñales is a town in western Cuba. Driving time from Havana to Vinales is about 2 hours and 45 minutes by colectivo.
The main street of Vinales is lined with colorful colonial-era wooden houses, including the Municipal Museum, which explores the region’s history. The town itself is very small. It’s easily walkable, has many restaurants, and in the evenings it has just one bar that becomes lively with salsa dancing.
Surrounding Viñales are lush fields and tall, steep-sided limestone hills, known as mogotes, which give the region a distinct landscape.
There’s tons to do around Viñales, including going for a horseback ride, renting a bike, and visiting tobacco and coffee farms. You can buy fresh hand rolled Cuban cigars!
Must-do activity in Vinales: Go on a horseback riding tour. Your casa particular should be able to organize this for you. Most tours bring you to a cigar farm, through the Vinales Valley, and to caves.
Optional day trip from Vinales: If you want to hit the beach, take a day trip to Cayo Jutias from Viñales! It’s a beautiful, quiet beach with a few lively restaurants and bars.
Days 8 – 10: Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is a city on Cuba’s south coast. Getting to this city will be one of the longer journeys on this 3 week Cuba itinerary. Driving time is about 5.5 hours by colectivo.
Like other cities and towns in Cuba, it’s known for its colonial-era buildings. On the central square, called José Martí Park, Tomás Terry Theater has gold-leaf mosaics and ceiling frescoes.
The Provincial Museum in Cienfuegos explores the city’s colonial history, and The Arco de Triunfo commemorates Cuban independence.
You just can’t go to Cienfuegos and not visit the Bahia de Cochinos, the famous Bay of Pigs. The Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 was a failed attack launched by the US Kennedy administration to push Cuban leader Fidel Castro from power.
While I was in Cienfuegos, I stopped by a movie theater to see a Cuban film. It was a fun way to spend an evening, and I got to see the inside of an old theater!
Must-do activity in Cienfuegos: The Bay of Pigs is also a great spot for diving and snorkeling, because there’s coral reefs and lots of marine life in the area.
Optional day trip from Cienfuegos: About 1.5 hours drive from Cienfuegos is Bahia de Cochinos, the famous Bay of Pigs. The Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 was a failed attack launched by the US Kennedy administration to push Cuban leader Fidel Castro from power. The Bay of Pigs is also a great spot for diving and snorkeling, because there’s coral reefs and lots of marine life in the area.
Days 11 – 13: Trinidad
Cienfuegos to Trinidad is an easy trip! It’s just a 1.5 hour drive between the two destinations.
Trinidad is a town in central Cuba. It’s known for its colonial old town and cobblestone streets. Its neo-baroque main square, Plaza Mayor, is surrounded by grand colonial buildings.
Because of how well the colonial town is preserved, it’s a designated UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
In the town center of Trinidad there is a small church with a bell tower, for a small fee, you can climb to the top for a beautiful view of the town, and rolling hills in the distance.
When you’re finished exploring the town, hire a guide to take you swimming in the waterfall in the Topes de Collantes National Park.
Trinidad had many restaurants to choose from, but I went back three nights in a row to Taberna La Botija. Sometimes there was a line up to get seated, but it’s worth the wait.
In Trinidad, be sure to have a canchanchara. This is a rum-based cocktail served in a terracotta cup. It is made of honey, rum, lime juice and soda. The cups are typically handmade in Trinidad, and make a great souvenir to bring home.
Must-do activity in Trinidad: In Trinidad there is a local hub called “La Casa de la Musica.” In the evenings the outdoor area becomes lively with salsa lessons, a bar, and chairs facing a small stage where performances take place. It’s just a few CUC to enter for the evening!
Optional day trip from Trinidad: Valle de Los Ingenios is a UNESCO World Heritage Site not far from Trinidad. At its peak, it’s believed that thousands of slaves worked in this valley at plantations and mills, when the area was the sugar capital of the world. You can visit the region by steam train, horseback, or by trekking.
Days 17 – 18: Camaguey
Camaguey is Cuba’s third-largest city, known for its winding alleyways, Spanish plazas, culture of performing arts, and many cathedrals. The trip from Trinidad to Camaguey will be about 4 hours by car.
This city has a fascinating history. Camaguey wasn’t originally built in the location it is, now. It was moved to its current inland location because it was being relentlessly attacked by pirates in the early 1500s.
Despite being moved inland, the city continued to be raided by pirates. Some people say that this city’s labyrinth of alleyways was built on purpose, to disorient and confuse attackers.
Today, wandering Camaguey’s alleyways is a wonderful way to spend a day. You’ll come across small plazas and little neighborhoods, and stumble on churches and cathedrals.
Be sure to visit the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, located in Parque Marti. It’s a gothic, triple-spired cathedral that looks unique from other cathedrals in Cuba. It looks like it belongs in Europe!
Must-do activity in Camaguey: Visit Parque Ignacio Agramonte, the city’s main plaza. It’s lined with many trees and has tons of seating, making it a popular place to spend the afternoon or evening. Sometimes, you’ll catch a musical performance here in the evening.
Days 19 – 21: Matanzas & Varadero
You’ll spend the last few days of your 3 week Cuba itinerary relaxing! For these 3 days, you can choose between staying in either Matanzas or Varadero. The trip from Camaguey to this final stop will be the longest drive on this 3 week Cuba itinerary, at about 6.5 hours.
Matanzas is the birthplace of many of Cuba’s most cherished performers, like Miguel Failde, creator of the danzón ballroom dance. The city is also the birthplace of rumba, an Afro-Cuban dance that the music group Muñequitos de Matanzas has promoted worldwide.
While in Matanzas you can see live music performances at the Museo Histórico Provincial – Palacio de Junco.
Matanzas has really beautiful neoclassical buildings, like the fully restored Teatro Sauto (it still has regular shows!). You can also pop into the Museo Farmacéutico to learn some interesting pharmaceutical history.
If you prefer to spend the last few days of your trip relaxing on the beach, stay in Varadero. This resort region has 20 kilometers (12 miles) of beautiful sandy beaches.
You don’t have to stay in a resort in Varadero. The town has plenty of casas particulares (some have pools!). You’ll also find restaurants, as well as beach access.
Between these 2 options, I recommend staying in Matanzas and making day trips to Varadero for the beach (it’s just a 45 minute drive). I recommend this because there’s more to do in Matanzas.
Must-do in Varadero: When you’ve had enough of the beach, head to Mansión Xanadú’s rooftop bar for delicious rum cocktails and sunset views.
Ending Your Trip: Flying Home
Regardless of if you spend the last days of your trip in Matanzas, or in Varadero, it will be easy to get to the airport. Both Havana airport and Varadero airport are accessible by colectivo, or bus.
Responsible Travel Tips for This Cuba Itinerary
Responsible tourism in Cuba is all about traveling in a way that supports the communities you’re visiting. Below are some tips for how you can have a mindful, responsible approach to your travels in Cuba.
Learn about Cuba
Take some time to invest in learning while visiting Cuba. There are tons of great museums that will give you insight into Cuba’s history, culture, traditions and more. You can also take time to work on your Spanish skills. Making your travels in Cuba educational will enrich your experience!
Visit Cuba in the low or off-season
As with many destinations, Cuba has experienced a surge in tourism in recent years which has led to some potentially harmful impacts, like overtourism. One way to help reduce your impact while traveling Cuba is to visit in the off or shoulder season. This season runs from April to October, and during those months there are generally fewer tourists around.
Spend more time in Cuba
The more time you can spend in Cuba, the better! Traveling slowly and spending time gives you more opportunities to learn, observe, and engage with local life. And, it means you’ll be able to spend more tourism dollars in the communities you visit, which benefits locals.
Final Thoughts: Spending 3 Weeks in Cuba
This 3 week Cuba itinerary takes you all around western Cuba, giving you the opportunity to see and learn all about this island nation. Throughout this itinerary you’ll discover how diverse Cuba is!
Planning a trip to Cuba? Read 20 Essential Tips for Cuba Travel
Erin has been traveling for over a decade, both solo, and with her partner. She’s now traveled to countries across 6 continents, and has lived in 2 countries abroad. Erin also hosts the travel podcast, Curious Tourism, where she interviews travel industry thought leaders and experts about responsible tourism. Learn more about Erin, and get in touch with her, here.