Cuba was definitely on my to-visit list for a long time now, and I am so happy I was able to experience it. Words and pictures cannot capture the spirit and warmth of the Cuban people, but I’ll do my best to give it some justice 🙂
(For some reason my pictures turned out blurry when I uploaded them here, so I apologize in advance!)
A few tips / things we learned the hard way:
- Bring EUROS! Go to your local bank and exchange dollars for euros. Then when you arrive in Cuba, you can exchange euros for CUPs. If you are in Cuba exchanging dollars for CUPs, they will charge you a 10% fee right off the top. Then you will loose more from the exchange rate which is about 1USD = .98 CUPs (yes, the Cuban dollar is stronger than the US!!) If you are exchanging euros, then there is no fee, just the difference in the rate
- Brush up on your Spanish. Perhaps 2-5% of people speak a tiiiiny bit of English. Luckily, I was able to communicate enough to get around with my broken Spanish, but I wish I would have brought a book to learn/translate more
- Plan your trip in advance. Whenever I travel, I do a little bit of research of the spots to visit, best rated restaurants, etc. but for the most part I tend to wing it and ask locals once I arrive. This was difficult to do in Cuba since people don’t speak English (per above) and there is no wifi. The lack of internet didn’t bother me, but it would have been very helpful to look up places and distances. So if you are a planner, make sure you look up everything and map out locations prior to arriving in Cuba.
Miramar – Airbnb
We stayed in Miramar, which is a wealthier neighborhood in Cuba. The main street was lined with embassies (which were old colonial houses rather than corporate buildings!) The entire neighborhood also bordered another coast line, which was rocky but still beautiful. It seems there were huge hotels and pools at one point, but they are all deserted now. I assume this was all booming before the revolution and maybe they will rebuild it back up one day. It certainly has great potential!
I love to read and writers fascinate me, as they are often interesting / weird individuals. Hemingway’s house (& bar) were high on my list of things to see. It didn’t disappoint! His house is about a 20 min drive from downtown Havana. It rests on top of a large hill (similar to Bob Marley’s house if you have ever been). The built of the house and surroundings is absolutely gorgeous! His views are spectacular, and he even had a single room, perched on the highest peak, with a telescope for looking out at the stars.
Beach (& Food) – Santa Maria Playa
I love, love, love the beach! We spent 4 days at the beach, which was about a 20 min drive from our Airbnb. Cuba has many beaches, all which are much farther apart then I naively thought. Varadero is the most famous beach, but considering it was 2 hours away, we didn’t want to commit 4 hours in a car to go there – Santa Maria was incredible enough!
Havana Vieja – Old Havana
We spent a day touring Old Havana with our lovely guide, Tony. The buildings in Havana are all so beautiful; a mix of Spanish, French, and Cuban architecture. One of the biggest things I found fascinating is that everyone in Cuba has a job. We did not see a single homeless person on the streets. The government makes it a point to employee everyone, regardless of your skill set or any disabilities. There was a blind man singing beautifully at one of the restaurants we had dinner in one night. They also have two different types of currencies – CUP and CUC. People that are poorer, pay in CUC which is 1 to 24. A guy explained to me that this is so everyone feels equal, instead of gathering food stamps or feeling uncomfortable shopping in certain stores.
This was my close second favorite! Malecon is a huge fort on the edge of the city and sea. It opens up around 8:00PM and people can walk through the grounds, explore different rooms that are set up like mini museums, and at 9:00PM is a traditional ceremony where a canon is fired! The view of the entire city is spectacular and it was probably the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen!