When Casey and I first met, we bonded over our love for travel and we talked about all the places on our “need to see” lists. Cuba was up on the top of his, and although it was a country I had never really thought much about visiting, once he told me how much he wanted to go before American tourism really takes it over, I got excitedly on board and started planning our week long adventure.
Cuba still isn’t technically open to Americans who come strictly for resort-style tourism, but there are 12 reasons Americans can give to be able to visit this cute Caribbean island. The most common and the one that we gave is a “people to people” cultural experience. This basically means that we weren’t just laying on a beach for a week in a big resort and not getting out and seeing the country and experiencing the culture. That isn’t how either of us like to travel anyway, so this made the most sense to us.
We found a cute little apartment in the historic part of Havana on AirBnB that was much much cheaper than any of the hotels we looked at. We were a little nervous about getting in and out of Cuba, but y’all it was seriously a breeze and easier than some other countries I’ve traveled to.
After a short one hour and 45 minute flight from Charlotte, NC, we arrived in Cuba and were greeted with 90 degrees, of humidity and sunshine. Our AirBnB host helped us arrange an old car taxi to pick us up at the airport and he also helped us to exchange our american dollars to Cuban CUC’s.
Our little apartment was basic and a bit dated compared to a fancy hotel, but it had our own bathroom and kitchen(that we never used), and it had a life-saving air conditioner and fan, so it was perfect for us for the week. It was conveniently located, and that was what was most important for us because we walked almost everywhere.
On our first day we took a 2 hour city tour in a 59′ Cadillac, followed by a one hour walking tour, which was one of our favorite parts of our trip. Our tour guide was super knowledgable about the history, the architecture and the best places to go in the city, which was awesome.
We also loved being able to catch a bus for $5 roundtrip to the beautiful Santa Maria beaches with turquoise waters, white sand and a beach bar with $2 rum drinks. It wasn’t very crowded, and although parts of the beach were a bit dirty with trash, we found a perfect little piece paradise where we soaked up the sun for 3 of the 7 days.
We took a day trip to a small rural city about 2 hours from Havana, called Viñales, where we toured a liquor factory, a tobacco farm, a colorful dinosaur wall, and went on a short boat ride through some caves. It was nice to see the more rural parts of Cuba and that’s where we bought most of our cigars that we brought home since they were a little cheaper out there than in the city.
We visited Ernest Hemmingway’s favorite bar “El Floridita” and had his famed frozen daiquiri. We also toured his room in Hotel Ambos Mundos, where he came and wrote 3 of his books. The bar on top of that hotel also happened to have the absolute best $5 piña coladas that came inside a big pineapple.
The old american cars were everywhere, and there were actually a lot more than we had imagined. The architecture was super colorful and most of it has been restored and renovated to keep it looking like it did when it was built, a hundred plus years ago.
Overall, Havana was a fun place to hang out for a week. There were beautiful beaches, pretty old cars, interesting architecture, cheap cigars, and lots of awesome live music every where you go. The food wasn’t the best, but wasn’t awful either, just a bit bland. But the drinks, the drinks were really the star of the show, because they were so cheap and made with fresh ingredients and delicious Cuban rum. We decided that if we ever go back, we’d like to wait about 5 years just to compare and see how much it will have changed. We would also definitely only spend about 2-3 days in Havana and explore some different beaches and rural towns instead.
As I said, we hoped to get to Cuba before it got too touristy, but since it has been open to other countries for years now, we really were a little late. Also the surprising thing was that the majority of tourists we came in contact with were American. Apparently everyone had the same idea we did, and weren’t afraid of the no tourism laws either. It was already packed with tourists and it’s only getting worse as the weeks go on, so I would definitely recommend going soon if you want to see some of the original culture and sites of Havana.
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Love the blog post and the beautiful pics!