If Cuba isn’t on your bucket list, you need to add it! I think that is the best way to make sure you get to places that you want to go. I make a list of goals every five year, and always add new countries to go to and it motivates me to make sure I travel there! My mom and I have been wanting to explore Cuba for years, and when it started being accessible to Americans, we put it on our list and made it happen. For awhile the easier ways to get there were by a cruise or from Mexico, we had a cruise booked originally, but they didn’t process our Visa papers in time, so we ended up flying out of Miami instead. I think that worked just great. Once you get to Cuba, communication is really tough, it is kind of hard to go in without a plan. We didn’t have much access to internet while we were there. I made sure to screen shot most of the things that we wanted to do, because there was no way to look it up once we were out and about.
When you travel to Cuba you must get a Visa to enter the country, and you have to fill out a form declaring one of twelve reasons for your visit. We declared several on the list and my mom made sure to have documentation of what we did. We were really worried about this because of the huge deal they were making about it, we were never asked once in Cuba why we were there or when we came back through customs. It was the easiest customs to come through, we were shocked they didn’t ask more questions. When I have come back from Europe I have been drilled more. Make sure you travel with cash; bank cards and credit cards do not work in all areas.
For the first night we stayed in an Air BNB in Central Havana, the location made it easy to get to the main attractions. The place was clean, but it was definitely in a run down part of town. Every street looked the same and we had a hard time making our way back the first day. We both thought we could remember the buildings, but by the time we walked around several streets it all looked the same. There are Casa Particulars on every street, a lot of people open their homes up to tourists, which makes it a nice way to really experience the culture of Cuba.
On our first day we walked to Capitol of Havana, and explored the streets in the surrounding areas. We were in awe of the architecture and all of the old pristine cars. We could not believe how well they had kept up some of these old cars. One of the first things we wanted to do was take a classic car tour around the city, this was a good way to get our bearings with the city and what it had to offer. The cars that do the tours are all lined up in front of Hotel Inglaterra at the Parque Central. We got suckered into a weird deal, we were headed towards the line up of cars and a guy on the corner stopped us and said he would take us to a car. We thought he worked with the car companies, he took us to one of the cars, and then he ended up coming with us on the tour and then he was a cigar broker and then he accompanied us to dinner. We weren’t sure how to get rid of him, eventually he left as we played dumb that we didn’t understand that he was expecting us to pay him for coming along with us. We loved taking the classic car tour, but we learned to go directly to the driver, don’t get caught with an awkward middle man. His name was Oscar, and so the rest of the trip that was our phrase when someone was trying to get us to pay them for nothing… we got Oscarred. The tour went around China Town, Revolutionary Square, The John Lennon Park, Vedado, and then ended on the beautiful Malecon along the ocean.
On our next day we took a taxi to Varadero, a beautiful beach town about 2 hours out of Havana. When my mom was booking our trip she was having a hard time finding beach resorts that allowed Americans to book a room. We later found out we were not suppose to stay at the beach resorts because it was considered tourism. Well we stayed at one, it was rated as a 4 star hotel and my mom was very familiar with their other nice resorts in Mexico. When we walked on the property we felt like we walked back in time. Everything was very outdated and a little run down, the beach was beautiful, but the property was a little sketchy. When we got into the room me and my mom died! I think they put us in the worst room possible, but we didn’t dare complain because maybe they would kick the Americans out, haha. It was the worst room either of us has ever stayed in and I have traveled to a lot of third world countries so that is saying something. Because of this we stayed out on the beach for most of the time and it was so amazing. We walked the beach for hours and walked through some of the real 4 and 5 star hotel properties, and wished they would have let us book. It was so nice to escape to the beach in the middle of touring Havana, being in the city was a bit overwhelming with the poverty and run down streets. When we made our way back to Havana we rode in a Blue Chevrolet Bel Air, it was a fun experience, a little bumpy and a little hot, but so fun.
For the last two nights we stayed out of Havana in La Vibora, in another Air BNB, this one was amazing. It was an old 30’s mansion that was being restored by a French lady. I loved all of the art deco that she was restoring within the home, we loved talking to her and learning more about the Cuban culture. It was a bit away from everything but it was good to see other parts of the city. It was very cheap and easy to ride the bus into the city.
On the first day we had the hardest time finding a place to buy a map, so make sure you are prepared before you get there with screen shots of things you want to do. We also had a hard time finding places to buy water, we had to stock up at the Casa Particulars that we were staying at. We went in May, and it was so hot! While exploring we eventually found some nicer restored areas and it felt like we were walking around in a beautiful European city. There were lots of fun streets east of the Capitol towards the cruise ports. There were a few quaint little restaurants that had good food, we hadn’t had much luck finding good food before that. I think we walked the most on this trip and ate the least!
We loved visiting the Colon Cemetery, it is one of the largest cemeteries in the world. There were rows and rows of marble statues and mausoleums. If you are brave you can go into one of the crypts, you will have to ask me about that experience sometime! It was pretty sketchy!
When I travel I just love walking the streets, we tried to go into a few of the museums but somehow kept going when they were closed. We only had a few days to explore but it was a good taste of what the rest of the country has to offer. The people were so kind, except Oscar… When I tell people that I went to Cuba they are usually shocked and ask why? If these photos don’t answer that for you, I don’t know what will. I love interacting with new cultures and I am always surprised by the kindness and helpfulness of the people. There are so many good people in the world. I have had too many good experiences with traveling to be afraid of traveling to unfamiliar and unpopular places.
If you missed my Travel Guide: Cuba Part One click here to see more. In this post I talk more about what camera gear I take when I travel.