About two weeks ago, I embarked on a fantastic and slightly harrowing journey to Cuba. You all should probably note that I am someone who, admittedly, hasn't traveled much in their lifetime. But with the big 3-0 fast approaching, a certain said "wanderlust" has begun its descent.
So, Why Cuba?, you might ask. Simple, it felt both authentic and feasible.
Only a few short years ago, a mere 3 years to be exact, American citizens were not permitted to travel to Cuba. However, all that changed when the swaggiest of all US presidents finessed the Cuban government into granting Americans travel privileges into this beautiful country. Ok, so maybe president Obama didn't so much as finesse the Cuban government as he did work out a compromise on a reasonable set of minor regulations in order to avoid the exploitation of the people and the richness of the land of Cuba. Prior to president Obama, the last US president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
Imma let y'all do that math... (It's 89 years for those of y'all talking about well the way my cal-kah-late-uh set up.)
All this considered, the idea of visiting a place that has been virtually untouched by tourism, gentrify-ers, and venture capitalists really appealed to me. Furthermore, at this present time it's relatively inexpensive to travel, stay, and explore.
**ADDENDUM: Our current
evil cheeto president, Ivanka Trump's dad, has recently altered the requirements to travel to Cuba. Read about it here
We stayed in the capital, Habana Vieja, or Old Havana.
There is the option of hotel lodging, however we chose to use Airbnb. Another option is to stay in a Casa Particular. Both offer the proximity to and the chance to interact more closely with the locals of Havana.
Staying so close to the city center made it extremely easy to become immersed in the night life that Havana had to offer.
View from our hotel
Day 2 in Cuba was the most exciting day, by far.
We visited Viñales, a breathtakingly beautiful valley that's been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. Viñales is known for it's abundantly fertile soil ideal for growing fruits, veggies, coffee, and most importantly, tobacco.
Hint: It's fairly easy to strike a deal with one of the cab drivers for an inexpensive commute to the countryside (about 2 hours)! We booked an official tour prior to arriving to Cuba but I learned this after the fact.
We wanted to experience peace of mind and convenience, but boy did we get so much more than that.
Being that Cuba is known for it's high quality cigars, I was delighted to learn the methods of these Cuban farmers. Unfortunately, there are few privately owned and operated businesses in Cuba so these farmers are only allowed to keep 10% of their harvest. The rest is seized by the government.
Our last day on the island was spent relaxing.
We took another mini road trip to the Varadero beach. Not many pictures from this day but I'd highly suggest taking this trip. The water is the clearest I've ever seen, and scattered along the beach are small oases perfectly built to provide shade for your beach picnic.
In conclusion, if you're ever traveling to Cuba here's a few things to note:
1. You WILL NOT be able to access your US funds. Be sure to get plenty of cash BEFORE you travel to Cuba. That's in the states at your home airport. Your credit/debit cards absolutely will not be accepted at the ATM machines. The recommended amount is about $100 CUC per day. If you like to shop as much as I do, maybe more.
2. Do your research. You may remember in the beginning of this post i mentioned my trip was slightly distressing. Well this was solely due to some of my travel companions being ill informed about hat to expect upon their arrival to Cuba. The environment, living conditions, and overall urban aesthetic aren't exactly what I would describe as glamorous. On the other hand, if you are traveling with a group make sure you know them very well. VERY well. Of course, you can never know how a person is going to behave and adults should certainly be responsible for their own actions, however, I blame myself for being too trusting of associates. Friends of friends are not always "friends". Your travel partners can definitely make or break your trip.
3. Create an itinerary before arriving. Internet is virtually impossible to access and researching restaurants is a no-go. Hotels do provide internet cards that can be purchased and used for up to an hour at a time, but then there's the task of finding an internet cafe to actually use the card. Not an easy feat.
4. Lastly, remember these people live in a very different political climate than we do here in the states. Nearly every aspect of their lives is regulated by the government. Therefore, they don't always have access to even basic necessities as they may need them. It may be a good idea to find churches or charities that accept things like, soap, shampoo, deodorant, reading glasses, toothbrushes flip flop etc... we even left a few of our own clothing items and shoes that we could spare. Helping those in need can be a tricky situation so as not to offend anyone we offered our extra toiletries and other goods to our neighbors that we became very friendly with over the weekend also leaving thank you gifts for your host isn't a bad idea. Our contributions were well received and it also opened up a really insightful dialogue about the needs of the citizens of Cuba.
Happy travels! C