Everything To See, Eat & Do In Havana


Havana has been on my bucket list for the last year, so I took the plunge when I booked my first international solo trip.

With a lot of research and the help of Airbnb Experiences (and my amazing host family who are now my Cuban parents), I took on Havana like a seasoned international solo traveler. Well, okay that was until I ran out of cash and had to frantically call home only to later realize I tucked away extra cash in my suitcase.

Hopefully, this travel guide will answer your burning questions about planning a trip to the country (that is just 90 miles away from the US).

​First Things First:

U.S. debit and credit cards do not work in Cuba, so you'll have to bring cash with you to exchange at the airport. Your USD will be exchanged for CUC, which are equal to the dollar — so you won't have to do any additional math in your head. Since I booked all of my experiences and casa online, I only took $420 and after the fees, I was left $384. I did run out of money on my last day spending my last 25 CUC on my cab to the airport.

Taxis are everywhere, but be sure you barter especially on the streets of Havana. A ride to and from the airport is about the same as it costs in many American cities: $25-$30 depending on where you're going to Havana.

Havana streets are on a grid system. If you're from a city like New York, this will be easy for you to get used to.

Be sure to pack hand sanitizer, Wet Ones, tissue, and any toiletries/essentials you'll need. Finding these things can be tough and expensive if you do.

Wifi is slow, so be patient. You can pick up Wifi cards at designated CADECA locations for 1 CUC, but I found it easier to buy them from Cuban people on the street for 2 CUC. Each card has to be scratched off before use, so be sure that silver strip is still intact before you hand over your money.

Apps To Download Before You Arrive:

Maps me

Maps.me became my lifeline as I tried to figure out the streets of Havana. I got lost a lot but was able to find my way with the help of this app.

Google Translate

I know very little Spanish, but was able to learn a little with the help of my casa host, and the Cuban people with whom I interacted. When I needed help, I was able to access Google Translate offline to communicate with locals.

Where I Stayed:

After searching through hundreds of Airbnbs, I settled on this private room in a Casa Particular in Vedado. You're probably wondering what a Casa Particular is, I did too before I made my reservation. Casa Particular means "private home" in Spanish. What makes these homes special is that in 1997, the Cuban government gave Cuban families the option to register their home as a privately owned business and rent out rooms to tourists — which was illegal in previous years.

Casa Particulars have many benefits. You are given a chance to support the Cuban people, you will likely learn a lot of Spanish (I did), and you will feel at ease. If I needed directions, restaurant recommendations, and had questions about catching taxis, my Cuban dad taught me.

My Casa Particular


One thing to note before you embark on Cuba is that it's important to understand the history and current living situation of the people of Cuba. Yes, the city is nostalgic, but there is a reason for that — and it affects everything including the food. Cuba has a ration system, which means Cuban families are given a certain amount of food to live on each month, and there are often shortages, which carry over into the local restaurants. That being said, I had wonderful meals the entire time I was there.

Nana's Cafe

Nana's Cafe became an instant favorite, so much so that the staff got to know me. I learned that Cubans don't often eat breakfast, but Nana's had traditional Cuban offerings as well as American options for breakfast.

My favorites were the Croquetas, Yuquitas Rellenas, the Cuban coffee, and the limonada frozen.

Waoo Snack Bar

Waoo was one of my favorite restaurants in Havana. I had the fried pork ribs with yuca. I still think of that pork rib even though I'm back in the states. The service is also fantastic.

Restaurante Paladar Cafe Laurent Habana

This beautiful rooftop restaurant is reservations only, so be sure to have your host give the paladar a call when you arrive in Havana.

What I Did:

Thanks to Airbnb Experiences, planning my trip was a breeze. I booked about 6 excursions, and I was able to get a lot out of my exploration of Cuba because of it.

A Photo Tour In Old Havana

I took a three-hour tour with a young photographer named Manuel. We walked through the streets of Old Havana, and he captured photos of us along the way. I received fifty pictures and a 3-hour tour all for under $60. Read more about that here.

Salsa Lessons

This was one of the highlights of my trip. During the two-hour class, my instructor Alejandro taught me a range of combinations, even one he named the Bianca. The salsa experiences included a taxi to and from the rooftop location, a bottle of water, and the class itself.


Snorkeling was another highlight. If I'm being honest, I was a little nervous about the entire experience, but I made it through. One thing to note about this experience is you need to be a reasonably strong swimmer. We swam about two miles to the shipwreck and two miles back. My body felt like jello when I got out of the water, but again, seeing the coral reefs made the experience worth it. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a panic attack and swam back just before we made it to the shipwreck.

Cooking Class

If you're in Havana and have the time, this is a must. Three Cuban women opened their home and taught me how to cook a traditional Cuban meal: pan-fried pork, black beans, and Tostones (fried plantains). It was one of the best meals I had while I was in Havana.

Economics Tour

My tour with Jorge changed how I saw Cuba in the best way. The tour was insightful and grounded me. If you want to go to Havana and see the city beyond the scope of photos for the gram, this tour will give you that and more.

Street Photography Class

I bought a new camera earlier this year to film video and never took the time to learn how to use the other settings on my camera. Thanks to Juan, I learned how to use my camera properly, capture real moments, and I took some pictures I am very proud of.

Featured image by Getty Images, additional photos c/o writer Bianca Lambert.

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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