Take Me To Cuba
For as long as I can remember, I dreamed about traveling to one of the Antilles Islands in the Caribbean Sea. The place that stood out to me was Cuba, Cuba, Cuba. I have always considered this country somewhat interesting; the culture and the people fascinating as I better understand their current political situation. Something which stood out to me is, the Cuban people have not allowed economic hardships and political uncertainty to destroy their spirits. Instead, they’ve decided to rise above and make the most of their lives. So when Cuba opened its borders to tourism, I took a short job related trip but I knew the time was too short, so I decided to take a trip there few months afterwards to truly take in the culture and vibrancy of this beautiful place. My airline of choice was with the magnificat Southwest airlines. I flew out of Baltimore (Maryland) to Fort Lauderdale (Florida) and south to Havana (Cuba). Cuba is the largest of the Antilles Islands. It has been called the key to the gulf of Mexico due its placement and Havana is Cuba’s capital.
Visa is not included in your flight ticket price. With Southwest Airlines, our visa was purchased seperately and picked up the day of travel at the counter in Fort Lauderdale and off we went on our flight. The Visa which is also refer to as the Tourist Card allows you to stay in Cuba for 30 days on a single entry. On the other hand, a pass-sport is needed to be valid for two months after your date of departure. I personally think it is wise to be cautious and have at least six months validity on your passport to avoid conflicts that could arise. This is a land of contradictions, crime rates are low, individual freedom is very limited, you just never know what to sometime expect. Careful preparation and planning will save you from a lot avoidable situations.
There are two currencies in Cuba: Cuban Peso Nacional(CUP) and Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). CUC is used mostly in tourism industry and the ones most of us will need and most of your transactions with denominations ranging from 1-3-5-10-20-50-100 and the coins are 1-5-10-25-50 etc.
My suggestion would be, that on your arrival in Cuba, the first thing to do when you get off the plane is to secure a good sum of cash to travel with while in the airport. Since you cannot buy Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) outside of the country, you will need to bring US dollars to exchange at the airport when you arrive, or a bank in the cities. The Cuban Non-Convertible Peso (CUP) or Meneda Nacional (MN) or National Peso – the exchange rate being 24 CUPS/National Pesos to one CUC. The bills are very similar, so be sure to look at the wording closely, especially when getting change from a CUC bill. If you acquire CUP and have leftover upon departure, you cannot exchange it back to US dollars or CUC. Don’t be surprised if someone tries to give you change in CUP notes and coins, as it’s a common scam.
Still, knowing these exchange rates are helpful, as you may, in rare circumstances, have to convert in order to pay for something. Be aware of fees and applicable taxes associated with exchanging money and some of the intentional miscount by bank tellers. Never walk out of the bank without making sure that your exchanged currency matches the number on your receipt.
From the airport we hired a private driver to take us to Havana to check into our Airbnb. Our first driver for the day was Maxwell, a very handsome, talkative, dark hair Cuban gentleman who drove a 1950s classic in the most beautiful turquoise blue. He was charming and spoke excellent english. He wouldn’t stop expressing how much he admired my friend Joy and I. As we were leaving the airport, we came upon some friends of Maxwell who immediately started making comments and proposals for marriage. By the time we got to our Airbnb Joy and I had about twenty six proposals and boy did we chuckle about it. We were total Babes. Let’s just say the Cuban men were madly in love, like my next door neighbor with his 1972 corvette stingray convertible and to my great surprised very smitten with our short hair.
I was pleasantly surprised with the city itself, it was stuck in time the houses were somewhat dusty but had beautiful vibrant colors. The simplicity and the minimalism give me a new meaning, to be satisfied with the smaller things you have and not only the bigger ones. The lines of classic cars sitting along the narrow streets were quite intriguing. For a fashionista who also like classics like myself, I felt like a child in a candy store, oh boy was I mesmerized by the old school American cars! This took me back in time as though I was watching a classic film of car museum. I was impressed to see most Cubans everyday cars as something an American car enthusiast will spend thousands of dollars to have at car shows or pack in a four season garage as a eye candy.
Our Airbnb (link here) was PERFECT it was right in the city center and had the CUTEST balcony which we sat on in the mornings for coffee and tea and see the sun rise; and during the evenings see the sun go down. The location was perfect that we only hired a car service when we wanted to travel long distances and visit places like Varadero beach which was two hours outside of the city.
At the beach we would sun bathed and swim in the ocean as we listen to the screech of gulls and chatter of sparrows. I couldn’t believe I was actually on Varadero beach. The Cuban sun beat down on my skin, warming and sprawling my body with radiance as I took slow deep breaths inhaling the aroma of sunscreen cocoa butter oil with my eyes close. It was a day of relaxation at the beach. Varadero beach is a must when you go to Cuba darlings.
One of the most popular beaches in Cuba for a very good reason: it is a tropical haven personified that you’ve been dreaming about forever. When you get there you will be greeted by miles and miles of endless perfect white sands, the sight of clustering palm trees along the humid coastline swaying from side to side to the beat of the whistling wind and the most exquisite turquoise blue waters that mesmerize you to dive in and be one with God’s most beautiful creation on earth, the ocean. It was enlighten walking in the sun and have my feet get embrace by warm sand waves. Something about being on the sandy beaches, listening to melodious ocean waves, soft gentle breeze promote a sense of tranquility in my soul.
For most of our other transportation, I really enjoyed riding around in “local bicycle taxis” to lunch, dinners and the occasionally Cuban nightlife. From our Airbnb it was a stone’s throw to the capital and it was just a skip to the Cuban opera house and a walk less than one block to the city center where all the fancy hotels clubs and restaurants were located. I couldn’t have asked for a better location it was perfect!
As you may already know Cuba Is beautiful and full of a rich culture intriguing history. The Capitol Building, El Capitolio, is a grandiose building in the heart of Havana right next to my Airbnb . I recommend popping in to see the stunning architecture inside.
The Museum of Revolution is another impressive building, which offers a world-class history lesson that will give you a deeper understanding of Cuban life and culture.
As we settled into our new home away from home for the next few days, it dawned on me that I was in Havana. A city that was still dated back to the 1950s. As I stood on this glorious , secluded private balcony overlooking the astonishing view of the city of Havana I was thrilled at its refreshing and delicious sight, I could taste it. I was elated by the energy of its people and the vibrancy of the city. Time stood still in that moment. Havana was unique like no other. I would say it was a stunning old city that one could wander for days on end.
Cubans are kind and fun loving. They are friendly and flirtatious in a sweet way. I felt welcomed by the people. The people are mostly poor but on the other hand they have a lot to offer. They have very lively spirit , they’re great dancers and performers and a sense of community like no other. They seem content with their lives, something which I truly appreciate in another person.
Despite Cuba being Socialist, high prices are enforced across the entire country. Most local restaurants will even hand you a specific tourist menu – one with fewer options and incredibly inflated prices which means you are likely to be ripped off often, especially where pricing isn’t clear regarding the CUC and the CUP. It comes as no surprise to hear that a black market is in firm force for locals, who often have to pay CUC prices for luxury goods. With all this being said I will highly recommend eating at local restaurant where you will find good authentic Cuban food that the locals will typically visit. We were super lucky to find a local Gin bar call O’Reilly Gin bar and restaurant. We often spent our time there typically for dinner and occasional lunch. It was the absolute best food I have eaten in all of Cuba and will encourage you to definitely try it when you go. As for breakfast and snacks I highly recommend you bring snacks such as cereal bars, cookies,instant oatmeal and others snacks as these are hard to find and more expensive than in the US. You will find that coffee and tea there are pure delight and often leaning on your snacks from home to accompany those beverages for breakfast.
It’s safe to travel to Cuba as a solo female traveller and in no way is it dangerous. The issue of attention is the most frustrating thing you will encounter here and travel safety in Cuba rests on keeping your wits about you in relation to that. Cuban men are open; the culture passionate, and it is not uncommon for whistles and unsubtle looks and glances to be bestowed upon you. We walked around the back streets of Havana, solo, for days and the best thing was to ignore it so as not to incite or give a false impression. The Cuban men complimented our chocolate melanin and appreciated our African Beauty, they are bold in their expression and not ashame of letting you know how they felt. Often times Joy and I find ourselves bursting into a intense laughter because a dark handsome Cuban fellow is blowing kisses at us and professing his love. Cubans live outdoors, with families hanging out on the streets, other times sitting on the porches watching the world go by or playing board games. You are never really alone. We shopped for unique items and visited local markets and came across a wonderful vendor. I bought paintings and beautiful shoes for my mother while eating a fresh mango from a local market.
We often found it cheaper to hire a driver for the day in all Cuban cities, getting out to the coastal fringes and lookouts, than to hire a car and drive ourselves. Usually this option can also double up as a local Cuba tour guide experience. A taxi for the day may seem expensive but is the best option, especially when sharing the cost with another or a small group – it is cheaper than hiring a car AND paying the fuel on top. One liter of fuel costs just over 1 CUC ($1.oo) and a private car hire can be cost about 70 CUCS ($70.oo) for a day. On our visit to one of the very best beaches in all of Cuba in Veredaro we hired a car for the day. The beach was almost two hours away and I had plan to shoot an editorial piece I was working on. For just ($70.oo) we got a driver for the day who took us to the beach and waited around at the beach bar as we enjoyed a beautiful beach day filled with many cans of cold Cristal beer and white sand beaches. I was literally in heaven.
Internet was only introduced throughout Cuba in the middle of 2015, so the once expensive open squares are now crowded with people with their heads in their phones. Lol it’s interesting how much you find out about a person when you travel with them. Joy was super frustrated with the internet in Cuba and I was being dragged around by her all over Cuba when she saw an opportunity to connect to the western world. It was a bit frustrating for her but honestly I was ok with just being in Havana and experiencing something new and different . FYI the wifi struggle is real!
Our trip to Cuba was one I will never forget. I am at a place in my life where I have very low tolerance for negativities. My heart is full of love and faithfulness; I want to live in harmony and peace. Havana helped me realize that I am truly blessed beyond measures. Havana give me strength to move on from the past and move forward in the direction I had always intended to follow. If you are reading this blog and planning a trip to Cuba I want you to be aware that although it is beautiful and full of beautiful things on the outside, know that the country is very much controlled by its government. Be aware that communist beliefs still exist there and realize how fortunate you are to live in a place tho there may be challenges overall you have freedom of speech and the right to have a voice. The Liberty to do and be whatever your heart desires.
Thank you darlings so very much for stopping by and experiencing Cuba through my eyes. We were only there for few days and I maximize my stay as best as I could to give you a glance of Cuba. I want you to please express your thoughts in the comments below and tell me where you will like for me to go next. Am also happy to announce that all my travel videos are now on YouTube (click here) and please watch them. Until next time Darlings cheers to dressing fabulously around the world. This time in Cuba.