Oooooh Cuba. The place that no one can seem to shut up about. After I visited this past December, I finally know why. It is a country where they live their life on the streets with one another rather than hiding behind a screen. The people are welcoming, the food is surprisingly good, and the weather is unbeatable. It’s as much dilapidated as it is beautiful, and I couldn’t have had a better experience visiting this unique country. If you want to visit and see for yourself, go soon before it all changes (which it inevitably will). I’ve received an overwhelming amount of outreach after my trip so I thought I’d share with you some of my sage wisdom and travel advice. It wouldn’t be a proper blog post without some photos, so I will share my film I recently got developed. All photos below were taken on my grandfathers rolleiflex camera with 400 ISO 120mm color film.
Havana is where you’ll fly in and out of and it’s an amazing home base for your trip. I want to start off by saying I got a ton of travel tips from Escape Brooklyn’s blog post when they visited and with the help of Brian from Bridges Cuba. Those are both solid resources when planning out your trip. We ended up using Bridges Cuba to purchase an international cell phone which was insanely helpful for taxi services, restaurant rec’s, offline maps, a translate app and getting ahold of people staying in different casa particulars than us (us being myself and Jett…who is in a majority of these photos).
The image above was captured as we were walking towards the Malecon (Havana’s waterfront walkway) during sunset. No matter how hectic your day might be from site seeing and traveling, don’t nap during sunset. It’s the biggest mistake you could ever make while traveling. Walk along this path as long as you can and notice how everyone has no where to be. A huge wave of calm will come rushing over you.
My amazingly resourceful travel buddy, Jett.
We stayed in a neighborhood right outside of Old Havana called Vedado at an adorable Casa Particular that was recommended to us (pictured above). It was about a 25 minute walk into Old Havana and exactly the type of neighborhood you’d want to stay in. I compare it to visiting New York and staying in Brooklyn as opposed to Herald Square. It was a quiet more local area and I loved every second of it. Our hosts were amazing and I spent a good amount of time on that patio petting Dinky their dog while reading my book. In Cuba, they do something called ‘relaxing’. I wasn’t used to it…
If you want to go to Cuba, here is my one make or break rule: you must speak Spanish or go with someone who knows how to speak Spanish. You’d miss out on those weird bus station experiences, conversations with your taxi driver, morning chats with your host family, flirtatious conversations with locals trying to dance with you, negotiating prices on pretty much everything, asking where to eat and how to get back to the place you’re staying at, and the list goes on and on.
In short, visa’s are no big deal and you can purchase yours at the airline counter (at least flying out of JFK on JetBlue we could). Exchange your USD into EURO at a local bank before you go to get a better conversion rate. I spent around $1000 for 7 days with a shitty conversation rate because I didn’t do the EURO thing before (even though everyone told me to). Phones will work with a wifi card that most hotels will sell you and you’ll be able to get an hour worth of internet for usually $2 or so.
We rented our Casa Particular for 7 nights with the intention that we’d leave for a few day/night trips but always have a home base there. It made traveling on the fly super easy, plus the room was only $35/night so we thought it was money well spent. Other day/overnight trips included Las Terrazas (an eco reserve town), Viñales (countryside; think tobacco farms, vistas), and Varadero (the Cancun of Cuba so the tourists were gross and hotels grosser but beaches were undeniably awesome).
Las Terrazas is a pioneering eco-village town in between Havana and Viñales. It was a great pit stop to check out Hotel Moka, eat lunch at El Romero and take a stretch break from being in the car. The place we ate at, El Romero is entirely vegetarian and macrobiotic, relying on the organically grown vegetables and fruits from its garden. The food was incredible and so were the views.
You’ll probably hear about Viñales if you do any research on Cuba what so ever. It’s a popular tourist destination spot since it’s only about 2 hours West of Havana. With that said it still felt very tucked away and removed. The views are incredible and the life lived is slower and more rural. There is some great Cuban salsa dancing there, as well as day trips to tobacco farms, coffee plantations and cave wandering.
This shot was taken at sunrise on top of our Casa Particular that we found through our taxi driver.
Sydney, a dancer from New York, joined us on this part of the trip.
The view from Hotel Los Jazimes, a place that’s great for using their pool and sipping on a strong mojito. We weren’t guests at the hotel yet no one gave us a hard time about being there.
Dirk, an NYC tech dude turned Tango dancer at night originally from Australia. Ooooh the people you meet while traveling 🙂
Cuba is an awesome place to visit. I had to leave my type A travel planning personality at home and come with an open mind and relaxed vibe. For me it was a source of calmness in my life right when I felt like things were moving a mile per minute. It let me use film again, something I’ve lost site of this past year, and it let me put away my phone and stay in the present moment. All around it was an unforgettable trip and one that I’ll never take for granted. I can’t wait to see how you make your own adventure if you decide to go!