5 May 2017 | Havana here I come! You have no idea how much cash I have in my pockets right now, because in Cuba – they don’t take plastic (meaning no credit or debit cards are allowed). To top that off USA Banks do not allow money to be sent to Cuba via transfers or even online transactions. For example, if you decide you want to book your hotel in Cuba online – good luck (your only and best option here is Airbnb).
The 10 most important things to check off before your journey to Cuba:
1. Choose to stay in Casa Particulares, or local homestays
2. Bring only Euros (or Canadian Dollars); Do not bring your credit / debit cards from the USA – they will not work!
3. There is internet in Cuba, you just have to be strategic as to where to find it – look for accommodations that ALSO have Internet access; which still means you have to pay for it; 1 hour = 2 CUCs
4. Declare your purpose of travel: Educational or People to People
5. Bring your favorite snacks with you; Cuba is still restricted as to what they can import – so you won’t find many familiar food products
6. Only carry-on your luggage; the Havana Airport is known for losing bags
7. Research knowledgeable LOCAL guides to take you around the country
8. Visit Havana, Vinales, and Trinidad – and if you are feeling adventurous, travel to Santiago de Cuba & Baracoa on the East of the Island
9. Visit the local restaurants and be prepared to witness a lot of Traditional Music and Salsa Dancing; Cuban food is not as bad as people say…
10. Do not be worried about obtaining a visa. The airline from whom you purchase your ticket will assist you, as usually visas are issued at the airport on the day of departure
Cuba really is a step back in time. Classic Cars, crumbling buildings, no grocery stores, sparse Internet, and home stays instead of hotels. In just a few hours I feel like I now understand why people come to this beautiful country – as it gives you the opportunity to time travel. I arrived at 4:50 into the Havana Airport, a dirty and very dusty building with several beat-up airstrips. I was lucky enough to be met by an enthusiastic Alber, our guide for our Havana to Santiago journey. He recognized me the moment I exited the airport and we were off just like that – with his two drivers as company of course. We visited The Centro, Vedado, Miramar, and Havana Vejo – and stepped into numerous beautiful accommodations along the way.
I am staying in B&B Havana Central. After a tiring day walking through many different districts of Havana , I was met back at my Casa Particular by Roxanne (the owner) and the Japones (the manager). While Roxanne entertained her guests Japones continued to stop by my place in the sitting room – passing me two bananas, then a bottle of water, and lastly a delicious chunk of pineapple that was leftover from dinner. Being exhausted and famished – his small gesture meant a lot. Cuban people are very kind.
The only complaint I have with Cuba is the lack of Internet access – which really makes communicating back home very difficult.
6 May 2017 | Morning
Not having Internet makes you realize just how hard it is to be unplugged. I spent 9 CUCS ($12) on two hours of Internet this morning so I could speak with Andrew about what occurred in 24 hours since I departed the USA. Only 24 hours without Internet, I’m not sure if I have ever gone that long without Internet in years… Which I realize makes me very embarrassed to admit.
Sandy and Andrew arrived, wow is it great to see them!
Rachelle and Sandie Frakes arrived – so excited to take this adventure together!
It is 12:30am and I am still waiting for P Denise and her mother Florence to arrive, so hopefully we hear from them soon! Their flight has been delayed for the past several hours… They just landed! Woohoo! No I just have to wait for them to arrive, no sleeping tonight! Finally I headed off to bed, it is 2am – but everyone has arrived and (except 2 luggages that were lost in route). Welcome to Cuba – we are excited for our tour to start tomorrow.
7 May 2017 | Morning
We awoke to the sounds of birds in our beautiful Casa Particular – and the smell of a delicious being prepared. Alber arrived at 9:00 and presented us the beautiful hand crafted gifts from Cuba. Receiving a little gift upon arrival is always an exciting touch to the start of a trip. We packed up all our luggage, and headed out front of our Casa – for Alber’s second surprise, this time two old American cars drove up to pick us up outside our Casa. Havana is known for its colorful buildings and beautiful old cars, and this morning sure wasn’t a disappointment.
We continued out afternoon with a visit to the famous Hamal street – only open on Sundays, and a street that perfectly showcases Cuban Afro art, music, and dance. Luckily enough – right next door was the famous pizzeria “a mi manera” here the handcrafted pizza is lowered via a rope from three stories above (where the kitchen is located) to the guests ordering from the sidewalk/street area. The morning was beautiful, in the afternoon we spent our time picking up the luggage at the Havana airport – before departing to Trinidad (we are currently en route). We did have the opportunity to stop at the famous local ice cream place where Cubans wait in line for hours to eat the best local ice cream in Havana – luckily we bypassed the line as we were escorted to the “tourist” ice cream stand. Not as good, but definitely not as long of a wait.
Tonight we will arrive in Trinidad a little later than expected – but with all our luggage. Talk with you then!
8 May 2017 | Early Morning
So we arrived in Trinidad, but not with all of our bags. We had one back arrive (5 hours later than expected) and one bag lost – which means it was probably stolen in customs. Due to the baggage delay we arrived very late and did not get to stop at the Ceynotes or see the beautiful Trinidad mountains, so luckily we are coming back this same way. We are staying in two beautiful colonial mansions, Casa Mauri and Casa Colonial 1830. Both have vaulted ceilings, beautiful tiled walls, and crystal chandeliers. Not to mention the beautiful birds in the central courtyards that we wake up to each morning. Despite the lack of many basic amenities, this place really is a dream…
I am walking to find Internet now – as I have many photos to share!
Our day in Trinidad was beautiful. We visited the main plaza in the morning to see the locals in action and to walk the beautiful cobblestone streets. The colors of this city are amazing – bright blue, red, yellow, orange, and green buildings line the streets, with old pontiffs, fords, and Chevrolets in every color imaginable. The people here are so friendly, and you constantly hear music playing in the streets – and Cuban Music is very good! I have made some very good friends – including two new adopted grandpas that tried to give me their cigars, which I almost couldn’t decline because they were so cute! In the afternoon we continued on for a horse ride through the Vinales Valley – where we even encounters our first Cuban rainstorm. Riding through the jungles was stunning, and we even had the change to hike at the end of our tour to a beautiful waterfall. Our evening was once again filled with a delicious dinner and a cultural Afro-Cuban dance show, definitely a unique twist to the end of the night.