Thinking of getting married in Cuba?
In December 2018, my then fiance and I eloped to Cuba. We had been planning our wedding and honeymoon (or weddingmoon) for a year and a half, but it was nowhere near as stressful as organising a traditional wedding. In fact, the only thing we had to worry about was getting the right documents – but even that turned out to be a pretty straightforward process.
We spent two weeks in Cuba and everything about the trip was amazing: the hotels we stayed at, the day trips, and of course, our special day.
I decided to write this honeymoon guide to give you some advice and recommendations for your trip to Cuba. Douglas and I had to make a few sacrifices to be able to save money for our honeymoon and splurge a bit while we were in Cuba, therefore I understand how important it is for honeymooners to make the right decisions about things like accommodation and activities.
Here are the main contents of this guide:
1. Information about getting married in Cuba
2. Varadero: A review of the Royalton Hicacos + things to do in Varadero
3. Havana: A review of NH Capri + things to do in Havana
4. Visiting Trinidad and Viñales
5. Important things to know about visiting Cuba
Meanwhile, if you’d like to ask me any questions about getting married in Cuba, please feel free to get in touch.
Getting married in Cuba
You don’t require a lot of paperwork to get married in Cuba. However, the information provided in this post applies to EU citizens (my husband is Scottish and I am Maltese), so if you’re not an EU citizen you will need to get in touch with the Cuban embassy or consulate in your country of birth to find out what documents are needed to get married in Cuba. If the required documents, like birth certificates, are not in English or Spanish, you will need to get them translated.
We chose to get married at a beach resort in Varadero and booked our holiday with Virgin Holidays, who took care of everything for us. They issued our Cuban tourist card and sent us a wedding pack with forms to fill in, including checklists to help us make sure we had submitted all the documents. These forms asked us for basic information, including current address, marital status, profession and level of education, and were then sent to the wedding organiser at the resort.
The most important document you will need to get married in Cuba (besides your passport and tourist card, of course) is an original birth certificate. While your wedding organiser in Cuba will ask you to send a copy a few weeks in advance (so that they can issue the marriage licence), make sure to take all original documentation to Cuba with you. Douglas and I also applied for a certificate of no impediment (or a single status certificate) just in case, but in the end we didn’t need it.
You will need to be in Cuba for at least 3 working days before you can get married. You will also need to pay an admin and notary fee when you get there, which is approximately 500 CUC. The wedding ceremony will be performed by a notary public. If you’re eloping, the wedding organiser at the resort will provide the witnesses. In our case, the witnesses were the notary public and wedding organiser.
Also note that it may take up to 6 months for your marriage certificate to arrive.
We spent our first week in Varadero, Cuba’s popular tourist resort. As a photographer and anthropologist, I wasn’t very keen on the idea of spending a week at an all-inclusive resort on a peninsula populated by holidaymakers. However, Varadero turned out to be a real treat. I couldn’t get enough of the clear water and beautiful sunsets.
During our two weeks in Cuba, we met many other honeymooners who spent a week in Havana first, and then headed to Varadero. If you’re not getting married at a beach resort, I highly recommend starting with Havana. While you will probably fall in love with the city and its liveliness, you will need to unwind in a quiet, and more laid-back place after spending a week in Havana.
Meanwhile, if you’re worried that you might get bored after a few days in Varadero, you might want to take a look at these interesting and offbeat places on the peninsula:
Varahicacos Ecological Park: This park in Varadero is home to some interesting natural wonders, including a 500-year-old cactus, as well as several creatures, such as iguanas and freshwater crabs. Entrance fee is 5CUC, and you will be given a piece of paper to guide you along the trail and the various points of interest. Don’t forget to take mosquito spray with you!
Cueva de Ambrosio: This cave forms part of the Varahicacos Ecological Park, but you will need to pay a separate fee of 5CUC to get in. The man at the ticket kiosk will take you around the cave. If you don’t see anyone at the kiosk just walk into the cave and yell ‘hello’ as he might be inside. This historic cave is home to hundreds of bats, who seem to be very comfortable around visitors. The walls also contain ancient pictographs, and the guide at the cave will talk about the significance of each drawing.
Staying at the Royalton Hicacos Resort & Spa
Douglas and I spent a week at the stunning Royalton Hicacos, an all-inclusive and adults only beach resort. We loved everything about the place, and we wouldn’t mind going back! This place doesn’t really feel like a hotel – it’s more like a wee beach village, and the rooms are like beach bungalows with big terraces. It’s quiet, super clean and simply gorgeous.
We received excellent service from the staff, who made us feel so at home. Our room was bigger than our one-bedroom flat in Edinburgh, and the bed and bath were massive!
The main restaurant at the resort always had a a wide selection of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner – we dined like kings every single day. The resort also has a few a la carte restaurants that specialise in particular cuisines. On our wedding night, we dined at the Beach Grill, where we enjoyed a nice steak and lobster. There is also a 24-hour bistro, an ice-cream parlour, a large lobby bar, and a pool bar.
If you’re thinking of staying at the Royalton Hicacos, check out this post for a more detailed review.
If you want to truly immerse yourself in Havana’s fascinating history and culture, I highly recommend spending at least 4 days in the city. We originally planned to stay in Havana for a week, but ended up spending two extra days in the city due to the drone incident in Gatwick airport, which delayed our flight back by over 48 hours.
Spending a week in a city may be a bit boring for some couples, but if you’re both avid photographers and enjoy exploring cities beyond the main attractions, then you will definitely find plenty to do in a week in Havana.
Staying at the NH Capri
After spending a week in paradise, we were a bit anxious about Havana. Everyone at the resort kept saying that Havana is a completely different experience, and that we would miss the tranquillity of Varadero. Our honeymoon started at the NH Capri, one of the main hotels in the neighbourhood of Vedado. Built in the late 1950s, NH Capri was a popular hotel among American gangsters during Cuba’s Batista era. The hotel closed in the early 2000s and reopened after a decade. It has since been renovated, but has retained some of its 1950s features.
We stayed in an executive suite, where we had a sweeping view of the Malecon and the city. We woke up early every morning to watch the sun rising over Havana from our window, while sipping a coffee and coming up with a plan for the day. Breakfast was bountiful, and we always sat by the balcony to enjoy the view of downtown Vedado.
On what was supposed to be our last day in Havana, the staff surprised us with a cocktail-making class. We had just found out that our flight back to Gatwick had been suspended and I was getting a bit panicky at the thought of not being able to make it back home for Christmas. The cocktail-making class served as a good distraction – the barman asked us what drinks we would like to concoct, so I made a mojito for Douglas and I got to enjoy a pina colada served with love by my husband.
NH Capri has a beautiful roof with a bar and pool. Since the afternoons were normally a bit too hot for us, we would head into the city early in the morning and return to the hotel around 1pm, where we would spend the afternoon by the pool, sipping cocktails and reading a book. We also ate at the hotel a couple of times and the food was amazing – I recommend trying both La Florentina, the a la carte restuarant on the 19th floor, and Anacapri, where you can enjoy either a buffet meal or a set menu. You could also have dinner at the pool bar.
Romantic things to do in Havana
1. Spend an evening at the Tropicana
This popular cabaret show has been mesmerising audiences since 1939. Held in an outdoor theatre in the outskirts of Havana, Tropicana offers two hours of beautiful music and spectacular dancing. Book your seats in advance as the show is very popular. The price includes a bottle of rum and a soft drink.
2. Go for an evening stroll along the Malecon
Malecon is the name of the long promenade in Havana. Locals love hanging out on the Malecon, especially in the evening. You can also see several fishermen along the seafront. The Malecon is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset, or just watch the waves crashing against the shore on a windy day.
Walking from Old Havana to Vedado along the Malecon takes about 45 minutes, and the walk can be very exhausting in the afternoon heat. Thus, I highly recommend going for a romantic stroll in the evening. Taxis drive along the Malecon all the time, so it’s very easy to flag one down if you get tired along the way.
3. Ride a classic car
This might be the cheesiest thing to do in Havana, but you might only get the chance to do it once in your life. Plus, it’s your honeymoon, so spoil yourself. You can book a classic car for a city tour at a rental car company, or just walk up to one that’s available. You will normally find classic cars parked near the cruise terminal and the Capitolio. If you’re staying at the NH Capri, you can ask your concierge to book a car for you – just pick a day, time and colour and the drive will pick you up from the hotel.
4. Enjoy a nice meal and drink in a cosy paladar
In recent years, Cubans have been allowed to run their own small catering business. As a result, private restaurants, known as paladares, have been popping up across Havana. Since they have a limit on seating capacity, these restaurants tend to be small and very cosy, each with its own unique character and ambiance. For a quiet meal in a romantic setting, head to Cafe Bohemia in Old Havana, or Cafe Mamaine. Check out this post for a full list of restaurants that we loved.
Here are more amazing things to do in Havana.
Trinidad is a colonial old town known for its colourful streets and natural sites, including the stunning beach of Playa Ancon. While we visited Trinidad on a day trip from Varadero, which also included stops at Santa Clara and Cienfuegos, I highly recommend spending at least two full days in Trinidad. The drive from Varadero takes about three hours, which only gives you enough time to have lunch and see the town centre.
If you want to spend a night or two in Trinidad, there are plenty of beautiful casas particulares and hostales where you could stay. These guesthouses offer an authentic experience where you get to stay in a typical Cuban home and mingle with locals. However, if you want to spoil yourself, you can immerse yourself in luxury at the Iberostar Grand Trinidad (adults only).
Whether you want to take in the history of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, or drink and dance the night away, there are plenty of things to do in Trinidad.
Here are some suggestions:
Ride a bike to Playa Ancon: You can rent a bike for about 5 CUC and cycle to this beautiful beach just outside the town centre. It takes about one hour to get there by bike.
Climb the tower of La Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco: Get a bird’s eye view of Trinidad and its beautiful surroundings from the bell tower of this church.
Dance salsa at Casa de la Musica: Every night, locals head to this place to dance and drinks. The dancing takes place outdoors, next to the beautiful Plaza Mayor.
Explore Valle de los Ingenios: This valley used to be a sugar plantation until the late 19th century, when slavery was abolished. You can walk around the old sugar mills and slave dormitories, or just go horse-riding through the valley.
Viñales is possibly the most beautiful place in Cuba. This region is home to various tobacco farms and streets lined with colourful houses. I highly recommend visiting Viñales on a day trip from Havana (the trip takes about 2.5 hours). The journey from Havana to Viñales was one of the most scenic drives of my life. If your stomach gets upset on mountain roads, make sure to take a travel sickness pill before the trip as the road gets very curvy as you approach Viñales.
If you want to spend more than a day in Viñales, I suggest staying at one of the many beautiful casas particulares in the heart of town. Having said that, we managed to see the main attractions of Viñales in just one day.
You cannot visit Viñales without taking a tour of a tobacco farm. These tours are led by the farmers, who walk you through the process of growing tobacco plants, drying the leaves and rolling cigars. Besides buying organic cigars from here, you can also sample and purchase local honey and coffee.
Another must-see attraction in Viñales is Cueva del Indio, an ancient cave dwelling. You get to walk inside this spectacular cave and ride a motor boat through an underground river to get to the cave’s exit. Don’t worry about getting ‘sea sick’ on the boat – the ride only takes about 10 minutes.
Finally, head to Mural de la Prehistoria, a large rock face mural that depicts dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. For some, the mural is just an eyesore – or not worth the trip. However, you can still enjoy the beautiful scenery of the ear while sipping what is believed to be the second best piña colada in Cuba, which you can buy from the kiosk at the mural site.
Important things to know about visiting Cuba
Scams or jineterismo
Cuba is a very safe country. Crime rate is low, and pick-pocketing is not a big problem. Having said that, you will come across many people who will try to scam you or ask you for money.
A very common scam is the cigar festival. While you’re walking in Havana, many locals will approach you, start a friendly conversation, and then make you think that they are sharing with you an insider secret by sending you to a place where you can buy cohiba cigars. They will tell you that you just happen to be in Havana during the cigar festival, which ends on that very same day. Instead, you will end up in some dodgy place where you will be sold old and poor quality cigars.
Another popular scam is the salsa festival, which in reality is nothing more than an expensive salsa class. Many jineteros may also recommend a restaurant or a tour while secretly taking commissions.
We were stopped several times by jineteros when we were in Havana, however we never felt harassed or intimidated. They normally walked away once we politely declined their offer. We also got approached by people asking us for money. The conversation always started in the same way; Hello, where are you from?
Many jineteros will ask you when you arrived in Havana and how long you are there for. If it’s your first day in the city, you will think that everyone is being super friendly and might end up telling them all about the things you’d like to see and do in Havana. This happened to us on our first day in Havana, and only got to find out that the cigar festival doesn’t really exist once we got back to the hotel and asked our concierge about it.
From the second day onwards, we started telling anyone who stopped us, such as the people trying to sell us tours, that it was our last day in Havana and we had already seen and done everything (including the tobacco festival). They normally walked away as soon as they learnt that we weren’t new to the game.
Always make sure you have enough cash on you before heading out to explore a place. Not every cafe or restaurant accepts cards, and you can only pay taxi drivers in cash. If you’re spending a few days in Havana, it’s good idea to ask your receptionist or host where the nearest ATM is. You won’t find many ATMs in the city, so you can’t just pop around the corner to withdraw some money if the place you’re dining at doesn’t accept cards.
Not all bank cards are accepted in Cuba. Cards issued by US banks are not accepted. Also, not all currencies can be exchanged in Cuba. For instance, if you’re travelling with British pounds, you need to have English banknotes (Scottish notes aren’t accepted). Make sure to check (and double-check) with your bank about cards and currencies before travelling to Cuba.
If you’re worried about not being able to share your honeymoon photos while you’re in Cuba, I have some good news for you. Internet in Cuba is not that bad. While Cuba’s internet connection may not be the best in the world, and free wifi is almost non-existent, you will be able to get online one way or another.
Many hotels sell wifi cards, which normally cost between 1-2CUC for an hour of access. Wifi cards at the Royalton Hicacos cost 1CUC and you can only wifi access from the lobby. Meanwhile, NH Capri sells wifi cards for 1.50CUC and wifi is also available in the rooms.
Looking for more Cuba tips? I’ve written a post with my top 10 tips for visiting Havana, but some of the points mentioned apply to other places in the country.
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