Friday, July 19, 2013

Is Havana, Cuba on your travel list?

Have you found yourself saying, I want to go to Cuba before the flood gates open? Longing to see it as it is today, untouched - not visited by many (Americans at least).

Famous for their old cars - Havana, Cuba
For us, pretty sure we talked about visiting Cuba daily, longing to visit a country that is ban for most American travelers. While there are direct flights now from the USA to Cuba, you still need a reason to go.

Lucky us, we received proper documentation authorizing our visit for a cultural tour of Cuba.

To put it simply - we loved it. Probably one of the most unique experiences of our lives and will be back for sure.

When we got off the plane, you go through normal customs and baggage claim - but it's not just suitcases that are coming through the conveyor belt. Things like TVs, toilets, tires - are normal because they are items you just can't go out and buy in Cuba.

From there we made our way to our hotel in Havana which will be our home for the next week. It is crazy but the government still owns all the hotels in Cuba. I've visited other communist countries - but they still have private businesses so if you want to stay at your Western chain hotel, it's at least an option. The hotel is beautiful though - and our room overlooks the famous Malecon which doesn't get much better than that.

The Malecon at sunset in Old Havana
Outside the hotel along the Malecon

Our days are filled with walking the streets of New and Old Havana. You can see how rich the country once was just by looking at the buildings. While they may be weathered, they still hold an indescribable beauty. Everything is so interesting and new to us - we just want more.

Old Classics cruise the streets
A little soccer
Yup, that's a goat pulling a cart - Top Speed, I think you can walk faster
Fruit Stand
View of Old Havana from the Fort
Main Square in Old Havana
The famous La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana
Housing in Havana
Open for Business
Streets of Havana
A Cuban Pharmacy
Streets of Havana
Windows in Havana
Capital Building

Opera House in Havana
The famous Floridita
Floridita is known for their Daiquiri
Floridita is also famous as a spot Hemingway enjoyed as well
Pink Classic with Che
Beautiful park in Cuba
A pretty cemetery in Cuba
You aren't supposed to turn your back to her as you walk her grave
Open field, kids playing, goats chillin
Chris found a new friend
Streets of Havana
Streets of Havana
Awesome fruit cart in Havana
Streets of Havana
A Store
Streets in Havana
Housing in Havana
Even Cuba has a Chinatown
Center of Old Havana

The reality is, life is hard for most Cubans and you can see it. But this is not to be confused with sadness because it seems most Cubans are happy people. My favorite story is just walking down the street and there's a lady sitting on the bench just gazing off  - she catches my eye, with her deep wrinkles and sunken look and I wonder what she must think about - and me being me - I have to say "Hola" and smile. And like that - she had one of the most beautiful smiles - wiping away whatever thought she just had. It seemed symbolic on the trip, while things looked tired, possibly worn down a little - they are still so beautiful on the inside and out.

Love his smile

When we weren't walking the streets, we were seeing the ballet, the mountains and beaches - all while enjoying endless mojitos.

Cuba's National Ballet Studios
Melanie and Jose practicing their piece for the Ballet Festival
Chris and Jose in a waterfall (it was so cold!)
Fire and drums in a cave in Cuba
Underwater Caves in Cuba
Chris and Thomas

Can't leave without trying a Cuban Cigar
And one cannot pass up talking about eating in Cuba! If you are anything like us - we love good Cuban food. One can eat very well in Cuba and the restaurant industry is actually becoming quite a good business for many Cubans. There are so many great paladares in Havana but Eutemia was by far our favorite (must try their frozen mojito). For those of you who don't know, paladares are restaurants run out of people's homes in Cuba - privately owned. And not only are you supporting the Cuban people by eating at them, the food and drinks are so much better. When eating at a government run establishment everything you order comes with a side of "we are out of that." So your best bet, order a drink at those and eat in the paladares.

Frozen Mojitos at Eutemia
Seafood stuffed avocados at Eutemia
Inside Eutemia
Clocks at Eutemia
The ladies cooking at Eutemia

The kitchen at Eutemia
Another paladare we loved - looks like Miami - a little outside the city center
The Famous Los Amigos
Paladare Los Amigos

This post could go on and on and on with everything we loved and learned along the way in Cuba but our suggestion to you - if you have any interest in going - do it. Explore Cuba - create your own memories - it is worth it.

Travelers Note: If you are traveling from America - you have to make sure to bring enough cash to cover your entire trip. ATMs don't work with our cards. They accept both Euros and USD, however, it seems you get a better exchange rate if you pay in Euro. Also, it is pretty cool because there are two currencies in Cuba: 1 for tourists, the CUC and 1 for locals, the Cuban peso. When you go out, you will see the tourist price and local price (tourists can't pay in peso). When eating out at the local paladares, always nice to give a nice tip because it goes a long way for the Cubans - the CUC is worth a lot more than the peso. Also, be careful not to exchange more than you will spend. Once you leave Cuba, the CUC is not an internationally recognized currency so you can't exchange it back. You are either stuck with it - or need to plan your next trip back.

Getting around, there are lots of taxis which are a nice option. You also might see these coconut taxis which are super cute. As always, best way is on foot to see the most. If you are looking at getting past Havana - renting a car is also an option.

A special thanks to Melanie and Jose for making Cuba a trip to remember. Great way to celebrate our first few days as Mr. & Mrs. Love you guys.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, Cuba is a highly popular holiday destination for all visitors.  Perfect climate and calm atmosphere along with its beautiful beaches is the reason why people visit Cuba again and again!!

    Cuba tours