Updated: Jan 30, 2019
The flight from New York to Cuba was about 4 hours long. Upon arrival at Cuba , we had to fill out the usual declaration forms. This form along with 1 of the 2 copies of the tourist visa is taken before exiting the airport and just like that-Welcome to CUBA!
Be mindful to keep the other copy of the visa safe, as it will literally be your ticket out of the country. We flew with Jetblue which included the travel insurance in the flight ticket. The flight ticket was our proof of health insurance while in Cuba, so we had to walk with that as well as the visa card.
Our first stop after the airport was our "Casa particular", better known as AIRBNB. We met our lovely hosts Carmen, Laura, Vlady and their crew. After all the introductions, we were off on our Cuban adventure.
Our first driver's name was Lester, he drove us down to 'La Habana Vieja' giving us a brief tour on the way there. He explained to us how their internet works and described finding internet as follows: " When you see a group of people on their phones, ask for the source." In Cuba to use internet you need to purchase an ETECSA card, which if I remember correctly gives you 30 minutes per card using the log in credentials on the back. We also made a pit stop at 'Hotel Nacional de Cuba', to change our money into the proper currency. Cuba has two currencies, the Cuban Convertible Peso(CUC) and the Cuban Peso(CUP). The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the “tourist” currency, pegged to the American dollar. The Cuban Peso (CUP) is what locals use, and is worth a lot less. So when you exchange money as a tourist, you should receive CUC,that is what we used throughout our trip.
After we arrived in Old Havana, we spent a few hours roaming around just taking it all in. We walked through the alleys of Old Havana and made it to "El Capitolio" and "El Gran Teatro de la Habana", which looks incredibly beautiful when it is lit up at night. We even stopped and had a few mojitos, because hello we were in CUBA honey! Next stop was Dinner, our first dinner in Cuba was at "La Guarida" a paladar famous for its role in the award-winning and Oscar-nominated film 'Fresa y Chocolate'. Most recently also known for having Beyoncè and Jayz as well as the Kardashians, over for Dinner. Food in Cuba was ... Different. Due to the limited resources available, the seasoning is not the most ideal to an American. Nonetheless, it sure was an experience and quite the culture shock.
On day two we had our tour with 'Havana Journeys". The tour took up most of our day but I must say, we learned so much that day. Our tour guide was Jesse Aguilar and he was truly amazing, I don't think words justify how great and informative he was. He accommodated all of our requests, answered all of our questions and was so polite. We were struggling a bit with the adaptation to food and Jesse took us to this amazing spot in Havana called "La Casa" . The food was much better here and the restaurant was so cute. It was literally a house, that was set up as a restaurant. We had the entire second floor to ourselves which was pretty cool.
On the tour we got to see so much of Havana, we truly couldn't have asked for a better tour. Not once, did he attempt to rush us. He made sure we had time for photos, questions and anything we needed. We got to see some of the Forts and castles of Havana, El Cristo de la Havana, The house of Cuba's famous 'Che Guevara', Plaza de la Revolucion, Plaza de la Catedral, and so much more! Some of the bonus places we requested such as Estadio LatinoAmericano (as per my baseball playing, son's request) was another one of the places we got to check out. Jesse really gave us all, a great representation of the Cuban people. He was so well informed, super smart, funny and so kind. He even went as far as getting, my then, 8-year-old son a souvenir of a wooden toy car- because he noticed how obsessed my son was with cars during the tour. It was the little things such as these, which truly showed me the beautiful and humble qualities the Cuban people possess. For dinner that night, Jessie had set us up at a beautiful rooftop restaurant called "La Moneda Cubana" which was located near the Cathedral with outstanding views. The serving sizes here were small but the seasoning was better here as well. Thank you Havana Tours!
Our Airbnb host's, Carmen Vlady and Laura had been making us breakfast each morning, along with their team. It was such a simple and delicious breakfast: Cuban bread w/ butter, fruits, scrambled eggs, sliced ham, sliced cheese and of course , good old Cuban Coffee!( with warm milk) Each morning we were so delighted with our breakfast and how much love it was made with, that when they offered to make us dinner, we could not turn down the offer. For day 3, Carmen , Vlady & Laura, set us up with some friends for a road-trip to Varadero, Cuba.
On the way to Varadero, we saw a lot of farm land and we passed by another small town in Cuba called 'Matanzas'. Our new friend, Ernesto briefly spoke on the city's history, such as that it was one of the regions that saw intensive development of sugar plantations during the colonial era. Then we made a pit stop at this cute spot called "Mirador de Bacunayagua". Where the views were insane, they had live music in the middle of the day and you could take plenty of pictures with the "Puente de Bacunayagua" in the back.
Varadero was immensely beautiful, it was more of a 'resort-town' and it was clear to see why. The beaches here were amazing! We spent the day with our new Cuban friend, Ernesto. He was so friendly and yet again so informative. He even treated us to some time at the beach with beers. He said the Cuban experience wouldn't be right without experiencing one of their beaches. Varadero is also known to have some of the best beaches in Cuba. He sure was right! The ride to Varadero from Havana was about 2 hours and a half each way so when we got back to Havana, it was already night time, our host's Carmen and Laura were almost done with dinner so we decided to relax from the trip and stay in. We had THE MOST AMAZING CUBAN FEAST with our Cuban host's. This was the Cuban cuisine we were waiting for our entire trip! I don't think we would've gotten the true taste of a Cuban meal had it not been for Carmen and her crew.(If you're reading this THANK YOU!)
Sadly, this was our last full day in Havana. We had planned to head to Viñales, which was a farm-like town in western Cuba. Instead, we opted to stay in Havana and enjoy it's Museums and more of it's culture. We visited 'Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana' and 'Museo de La Revolucion', which was right across the street. After the museum's and some minor souvenir shopping, we took a ride in the topless convertibles( In cuba-it's only right!) We got 3 cars and they drove us around for an hour where we got to see such places as 'University of Havana' and 'Callejon de Hamel'. If I remember correctly, it was about $45-$50 per car.
We had planned our final dinner in Cuba to be at the house once again because it was just so good. So after we wrapped up our exploring we went back home, freshened up and we shared our last meal in 'Villa Carmita y Vlady' .
Farewell Cuba, thank you for your hospitality, your history, your beauty and most of all your uniqueness. I hope we can meet again someday !
Overall, this trip was so special to me. I would recommend the experience to anyone and everyone! There's so much to learn, so much to explore. It's a piece of history that wasn't granted to us for so long and it isn't clear how long it will be available for. Therefore, take the chance while you have it! Be sure to check out the regulations for traveling to Cuba, as they change frequently. Check out Cuba 2017: Booking (Part 1) for updates on these regulations.
I hope that sharing my trip's experience helps you in planning yours if you decide to go. If you have any questions or comments feel free to drop them in the 'CHATROOM' section.