Havana Oh Na Na
One week has passed and I think I've finally settled back into the reality of my everyday life after returning from Cuba. Getting back into the swing of things is always a struggle after coming home from vacation (post-vacay depression is real). So now that I'm back into the hang of my everyday life, as promised, I'm here to give you all a full recap of my Havana vacay. I've been getting lots of DMs about how my trip was, what I did, how I got there, etc. so fret not... all your questions will be answered! Let's jump right into it...
Three of my friends and I do an annual girls trip each summer, and this time around, our choice of destination was Cuba! The main question everyone has been asking me is: how did you get into the country? As I'm sure most of you know, Americans were not allowed to enter Cuba up until a few years ago. Because of this, tourism is technically not allowed there at all, so when booking your flight, you're given several different reasons to choose for your visit. My friends and I chose "support for the people". Upon our arrival, we were not questioned further about the reason for our visit, nor were we questioned during our departure.
You also need a travel visa to enter the country which you are able to purchase during your departure at whatever airport you're leaving from for $50. The airline will recommend to get there earlier than usual, as the process to purchase the travel visa can be a bit lengthy. After all that is done, it's smooth-sailing (well flying in this case) to Havana. Upon reaching Havana, just like any other international flight, you go through customs, your passport is stamped, your travel visa is checked (and given back to you as you need it to go back home) and you hand your customs form over to a clerk on your way out.
My friends and I stayed in an Airbnb, which is kind of the only option as Americans are banned from staying in most hotels. To our surprise, even though the Airbnb seemed to be in a building from centuries ago, it was absolutely gorgeous and impressively modern on the inside. It was certainly safe to say that we were more than pleased with our accommodations. The only downside: no wifi. If you are going to Cuba, don't expect to be on your phone much because only select areas have wifi, in which you have to buy a wifi card to access, and no phone carriers have international plans in Cuba. So, I advise you to disconnect, put your phone on airplane mode so your phone bill won't be sky-high, and get your pics off when you're on wifi–at least that's what we did!
Prior to visiting Cuba, as this is more so a cultural vacation than a "turn-up" vacay if you will, I advise to plan out your trip to a T. Thanks to 2 of my friends, we had a full on itinerary of activities for each day throughout the entirety of our trip.
Our first day out in Havana consisted of visiting El Floridita, the birthplace of the daiquiri. This was hands-down the best daiquiri I've ever tasted. It was perfectly mixed and just the right amount of alcohol. From there, we went to Bodeguita del Medio Bar, the birthplace of Cuban Traditional Music. In all honesty, I don't remember hearing much music, but I do remember drinking a very subpar mojito (see first image of post), so yea definitely wouldn't recommend this spot!
From the mediocre drink spot, we did a bit of roaming on foot, then hailed a taxi to El Cocinero for dinner. My friends and I were all very hesitant to eat Cuban food because all the research we did said that it was terrible. I was really taken aback by this being that Cuban-American food is absolute heaven, so I thought I was going to be eating non-stop! Apparently it is said to be bad because of the embargo on spices, so they aren't able to acquire certain seasonings. Thankfully, the food on our first night was actually pretty good. It wasn't gourmet or anything like that, but it was decent. I opted for the shrimp, rice, and beans, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My choice of drink? A cool bottle of water! Make sure you always order bottles of water and do not drink from the tap, or else you will definitely end up sick. Try to also get your cocktails without ice (the ice is made from the tap water), because my friends and I made the mistake of not doing this and ended up getting sick ourselves. It wasn't unbearable, but it did put a bit of a damper on our trip.
The highlight of our second day was our bike tour, so it started bright and early. We taxied to get breakfast from a spot called Cafe Jardin and it was actually one of the most enjoyable breakfast meals I've ever had. The eggs were fresh, the fruit was sweet, and the coffee? To die for. Easily the best coffee I've ever tasted. From breakfast, we met up with our bike tour group and were on our way. When I tell you I have never sweat so much in my life... this was the ultimate workout. I sweat so much my sweat was sweating. It was insane. As you can see in the 5th image, I was over it! But somehow, I managed to persevere throughout a 4-hour bike ride through Havana in 90 degree weather. I certainly was not dressed for the occasion either, but I wore that outfit solely for picture taking purposes of course.
We stopped at cultural landmarks throughout Havana, one of them being The Colon Cemetery which was absolutely gorgeous and consisted of hundreds of elaborate memorial sculptures; some of which had beautiful and heartwarming stories behind them. We ended our tour at a juice stop which was absolutely necessary because dehydrated was an understatement. (Note: all excursions during trip were booked through Airbnb's experiences tab)
The excursion that I was looking forward to the most is what our third day consisted of. We headed 3 hours away from Havana to Viñales, which is essentially the countryside of Cuba. Our first part of the excursion was horseback riding to a coffee, honey, and rum tour. Our tour guide, which was a worker at the site (all tours are led by natives), discussed how these 3 things are made and let us taste the honey, which was delicious, and rum, which was smooth and strong.
From there, we went to the tobacco farm where a new guide discussed how tobacco is grown for their cigars and how the cigars are made. We were able to try one, and my friends and I ended up buying some to bring back home with us. This was my first time smoking a cigar and it was actually pretty pleasurable. I totally see the hype. Next stop was lunch where we had a full-spread Cuban meal, and then we went off to explore an Ancient Indian Cave on a raft ride. This excursion pretty much took up our entire day and when we reached our Airbnb we were exhausted .
By the time we got to our last day we were all fairly ready to go home. We were extremely dehydrated (the bottled water there is terrible and pretty much tastes like filtered salt water unless you get the glass bottles from restaurants), feeling a little sick because of the ice, and missing well-seasoned food, but we still made the best of it! This was our wild card day. We taxied 30 minutes from our Airbnb to Playa Del Este which is one of the famous Havana beaches. I honestly didn't peg Havana for a beach destination, but the sand was white, water was clear, and they served cocktails on the beach so I was satisfied! They also had souvenir stands here so this is where we did our gift shopping.
We ended our night with a rooftop dinner, bar hopping, and learning how to salsa dance from a local at a rooftop hotel that had wifi so it couldn't get any better than that!
Overall, this was a very humbling trip and a huge culture shock.The no wifi, the lack of english-speaking people, the really bad bottled water... it made me very appreciative to have access to all the things that we do here in America. As cliche as it sounds, I really couldn't wait to get back just to drink a bottle of Poland Spring! But on a serious note, roaming the streets of Old Havana, you see nothing but these seemingly run down houses that are super small and the streets filled with people just hanging out because there's literally nothing else for them to do if they're not at work; but everyone is okay with it. People really seemed to be content with their lives. I personally found that to be quite beautiful... a society relatively free of capitalism, yet the people living there still exude this sense of fulfillment.
I will say that Cuba is not a country you go to just because, you have to genuinely want to explore the country; and a beautiful country it is. If you plan on going to Cuba in the near, or distant, future make sure you do extensive research, plan out each day of your trip, pack light, be prepared to completely immerse yourself in the culture, and do not, under any circumstances, drink from the tap!
Professional photography: @themyobtheory via IG
iPhone photography: courtesy of moi