Ahhhh. My frist blog post…..okay where to start . Oh yeah CUBA!!!! Cuba was amazing, I was surprised how quickly I grew to love the country in such a short amount of time. Something about being completely out of my comfort zone that brings me such happiness.My husband and I spent 9 wonderful days in Cuba, including travel days, to some this might be to fast of a pace but for myself and my husband it was perfect. We arrived in Havana bright and early and started our sightseeing right away and didn’t stop till our departure. We stayed in Havana for 3nights then headed to Vinales for 2nights with out last stop being in Trinidad for another 3 nights. We visited Cuba in August, there hottest month, and let me tell you it was HOT!! Like literally sweating as soon as you step outside kinda hot, but that still didn’t stop us from exploring. So which was my favorite?
Let me think, first Trinidad a city that offers gorgeous colonial houses and cobblestone streets, a beautiful countryside,mountains and plenty of beaches to lounge around and sunbathe. Vinales, with it’s beautiful limestone mountain views, I can still remember drinking my cafe con leche on the rooftop of our casa enjoying the breathtaking nature of the Vinales Valley. And then there’s Havana… oh marvelous Havana, walking The Malecon at sunset as you see all these beautiful 50’s cars cruising around and having some of the best mojitos ever at La Bodeguita Del Medio, makes it pretty impossible to pick just one. So I will leave it up to you to do some exploring! Now to answer the question that I have been asked the most from family and friends “Do you recommend traveling to Cuba?”
I would say yes and no and this is why. If you are the type of traveler that likes to go for strict relaxing purposes, laying out on the beach everyday, getting massages, sipping on some mojitos from the comfort of your resort and having every possible amenity available you can possibly think of (which FYI they’re is nothing wrong with that) then I would be hesitate to say yes and would say do some research and absolutely make sure Cuba fits your needs before booking. Now if you’re an explorer, an adventurer, get excited learning about different cultures and trying to do it like the locals do it then I would definitely recommended it. Cuba gave me that feeling of “this is why I love to travel”. Okay okay now that I answered that lets talk about how to make your trip to Cuba a bit easier.
GETTING TO/BACK CUBA: Now I’m from the States so I was told it would be a bit more complicated to travel to Cuba but it definitely wasn’t, it was actually really easy! When you book your ticket you will be asked what out of the 12 categories best suits the reason for your traveling,I clicked research. Yup that’s it!! Once at LAX airport I wasn’t asked anything else, I printed my boarding pass and headed to Miami. Arriving in Miami we looked for our gate of our connecting flight ,you will see a small booth that says “Cuba Ready” this is where you will purchase your visa for $100. Some airlines offer the visa online ,we where with American Airlines and is was available for $85. Just make sure you order it with plenty of time before your departure because they will need to mail it to you. I decided just to get it in Miami. When heading back to Havana airport for your departure, for those traveling with only a carry on, you are allowed up to 50 cigars per person. As for the delicious Havana Club rum or Vitamin R as the Cubans refer to it as, may be purchased at the airport once you pass security. The store clerk will put your bottle(s) in a flight approved bag and you can take this onto the plane. As for US customs that was a total a breeze, they asked me were we had traveled to, I answered, he welcomed us back and stamped our declaration form and that was that!
MONEY/BUDGET: Two forms of currencies exist in CUBA the CUP, which you will never use and CUC which is what you will be using. Yes, you heard right there is no ATM’s anywhere in Cuba and you can’t use your credit/debit cards so what you take to Cuba is what you have until you depart. Once in Cuba exchange your money at the airport, trust me the lines are crazy long in town as the local also have to exchange there money from CUP to CUC, so just get it done at the airport. Since I was with my husband we spilt the money between the two of us and once we were at our casa which had a safe, and most casas do, we put our passports, visa and most of our money in the safe. We usually kept about $200 with us, the rest stayed behind in the safe. Now lets talk budget, no one wants to run out of money but having too much on you is a little unsettling as well. In order to give you good perspective of how much to bring I decided to write all my expenses down. Between myself and my husband we averaged out $140/day. We were there a total of 9 days including travel days. This included food,drinks(lots of lots of drinks) excursions,taxis/taxi collectivos and souvenirs. We did not limit ourselves we ate/drank and participated in any activity we wished. As for the accommodation, we were able to pay that ahead of time since we booked through AirBnB and of course the flight is also not included in this budget. Overall I was pretty happy with the amount of money I brought. Day 9 was the only day we felt a little tight on money and for this reason if I were to go back I would take an extra $200 since I lost $200 in the exchange, just for some extra wiggle room.
ACCOMMODATION: Where to stay? So there is a lot I mean a lot of CASA PARTICULARES you can stay at which I highly recommend you do. What are casa particulares?? You will be staying with a Cuban family, you will have your own room with a private bathroom, most rooms have AC and a fan. All three of our casas had a small fridge stocked with water, beer and soda for a small fee. In the morning they will make you breakfast for a small fee and will even make you dinner and cocktails if you wish for a small fee as well. I recommend buying your water at your casa because from our experience it was always cheaper. They can also arrange excursions, taxi collectives and give you recommendations! You can book many casas via AirBnB.
Where I Stayed and Recommend:
Havana Stay-San Lazaro 115
Vinales-Casa Milagros y Yamile
HOW TO GET AROUND CUBA:
First off you will need to download the Maps.Me app once you have it on your phone download the Cuba map. Internet is not very easy to come around to so this offline map will help you out tons!! We did most of our exploring on foot but there are buses available in town. Just be warned that they are extremely packed as a good amount of locals use buses as there main form of transportation since most Cubans do not have a car. They do have much nicer buses to take you to your next destination in Cuba but are pretty time consuming, we decided to do Taxi Collectivos. What are Taxi Collectivos? These are taxies you share with other tourists in order to get a better rate,plus you get to your next destination much faster.
Airport to your Casa in Havana/Havana to airport $20-$25 trip(Regular Taxi)
Havana to Vinales $20 pp approx duration:2hours
Vinales to Trinidad $40 pp approx duration:6.5hours
Trinidad to Havana $30pp approx duration: 4.5hours
*We used a Taxi once in Havana for $1CUC for approx 3miles and another in Vinales to take us to Los Jazmines $5CUC approx 3miles
SAFETY: Now people kept telling my husband not to go to Cuba because it wasn’t safe for Americans to go. I can’t express this enough, it’s safe!!! Me and my husband never ever felt threatened at any time. I felt safe at all times even when we were out late at night. Just be respectful with the people and surroundings as you would with any other place you would travel to and you will be fine! So if this is one reason you are hesitating to go, I strongly recommended you reconsider.
FOOD: Some of the best food we had was at the casas that we stayed at, especially in Vinales. I would highly recommend having breakfast at your casa each morning, it’s extremely convenient to have breakfast ready from the comfort of your room so you can focus on planning out your day. Usual breakfast cost was $5CUC pp and trust me it’s a lot of food.I also recommend having at least dinner at your casa at least once, price varies between $8-$10CUC pp, again a lot of food is provided. I’m not going to lie to you, food in Havana was my least favorite it wasn’t horrible but basically I ate because I knew I needed too. Once we got to Vinales the food was so much better especially at our Casa. Hands down the best food available was in Trinidad, they offer cuban food with a twist and man it was delicious!!
Restaurants/Bars I liked:
La Bodeguita Del Medio(Havana-super touristy and $5CUC a mojito but there mojitos were delicious)
Adita Cafe(Trinidad *my favorite)
We booked two tours through *FerTours Havana. First day was a walking tour through Havana, Allan our guide was amazing! If you want an authentic and honest opinion of local Cuban life and history make sure you ask for Allan. They pick you up in a gorgeous classic car and drive you around for an hour followed by the walking part of the tour through the four plazas. Now, could you do this on your own? Yes, but having a local with you knowing the ins and outs and having someone to teach you Cuban history by a cuban is something very special and my husband and I learned so much. Second tour was cruising in a classic car to The Bay of Pigs, two hours away from Havana but totally worth it. Now the spot that Alejandro, our guide, took us to snorkel was “RIDICULOUSLY AMAZING”. Crystal clear turquoise blue water and fishes all around you that could be seen without the snorkel gear. I have done my fare share of snorkeling and I will forever and always remember my snorkeling experience at The Bay of Pigs. If you could only book one tour book this one!! Alejandro even took us to see a sunken fishermans boat which was so incredible to see, without our guide we would have never been able to experience that. I will be honest with you because that’s the type of person I am, they take you to a cuban farm and a crocodile farm which I can say was not my favorite, my husband learned some interesting facts about farm life but I would have preferred some more snorkel time instead because it was that amazing! They can also take you to an organic farm for a 4 course lunch which we opted out of because we were just craving a sandwich and a soda which Alejandro was more then happy to take us too! All in all I had a great experience with this company and would highly recommended them.
*I did receive a discount in return for my services. All opinions are my own
When you arrive at you Casa ask your host to book you a horse back riding tour to the tobacco plantations, do this tour you will not regret it!! You’ll ride through the gorgeous Vinales Valley to a tobacco plantation farm where they teach you the process of cigar making and they even give you a cigar to smoke…. ahhh pure bliss.You can also purchase cigars straight from the farm which you best believe I did, can’t get any fresher than that. Afterwards you gallop towards a cave where once inside there is a natural spring water pool where you can cool off and take a dip. Did I mention you are in a cave and its completely pitch dark inside, super scary but had to try it an it was pretty incredible. Lastly you make a stop at a coffee farm where they show you a quick explanation of there coffee making process, no sample of coffee is given but you can order some or some fresh fruit juice for a small fee. Duration of tour aprrox 4 hours. Cost of tour $25CUC pp $2CUC pp Cave Entrance and $60CUC 20pack of Cigars or $90CUC 30pack.
In Trinidad we rented bikes $5CUC pp/day. We rode along the coast starting from La Boca and finishing off at Playa Ancon with stops in between some pretty gorgeous beaches, my favorite Maria Aguilar, we went back twice because it was just so gorgeous. The bike ride was so much fun but was extremely exhausting, especially with the Cuban heat. Make sure you pack plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen. My second recommendation in Trinidad is Topes de Collantes, a 45 minute hike to a waterfall that you can actually climb.Once at the top of the waterfall you can hang out in the waterfalls pool with a pretty killer view. One of my most favorite moments of Cuba.This hike is pretty strenuous as it is all down hill so you know what that means…..up up and up to get back to your Taxi. Cost for a taxi is $30CUC pp plus $10CUC pp to enter the park to hike. It’s about a 40 min ride to the Topes from Trinidad and your Taxi will be waiting for you there on your return. It took us about 45min to get down to the waterfall, stayed at the waterfall for about 1hr and 30mins and 1 hour to climb back up.Make sure you don’t pay your Taxi untill after, again make sure you have plenty of water and water shoes if you’re planning on climbing the waterfall. My biggest recommendation is getting an early start, try to start your hike by 9am its magical being the only one on the trail and having the waterfall to yourself. On our way back there were tons and tons of people arriving.
I hope this post answered most if not all your questions and bear with me as I try and find myself in the world of blogging.If you do have any questions please feel free to email me at AllieCecilBlog@gmail.com
Wander Often Wander Always