WHAT TO DO IN CUBA: THE NEW HOTTEST TRAVEL DESTINATION OF 2015
January 11, 2015
Now you know, since the US has opened travel ties with Cuba, Cuba has become the new "IT" travel destination of 2015. As with anything that we're "not allowed" to do, there has been so much mystery and allure around getting there. Luckily for us, a friend of the blog, Jessica Andrews of Glamazons Blog recently traveled to Cuba and has shared some of the details around her experience. Thanks Jessica for sharing your story with us! Check it out:
Before I get into the 10 things I learned (and the endless number of things you MUST do if you visit!), I have to disclose that I traveled there legally through a people-to-people ambassador program. Click HERE for more info on the current restrictions in place for legal travel from the U.S. (as of January 2015). It’s something I’d recommend if you want to have a fixed itinerary (approved by the government) of educational activities to guide your experience on the island. You won’t have the free time to create your own schedule, but you will be exposed to restaurants and activities you might not have considered on your own. And you’ll gain a wealth of knowledge from tour guides.
OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are 10 things I learned in Cuba (and a handy To-Do list in case you’re traveling there):
NOTHING IS MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN OLD HAVANA
The photos I stalked on Pinterest didn’t do Havana justice. Visiting old Havana feels like walking into a painting, or onto an old movie set. There is beauty everywhere. The colonial architecture, marked by its Spanish influence, will simply take your breath away. Even the dilapidated buildings in the capital, which are in desperate need of restoration, are mesmerizing in their ruin.
The walls are bright and colorful. The balconies are iron-wrought (like a favorite U.S. city of mine) and everyone hangs laundry on them. A Texan we ran into at our hotel called them “laundry museums,” which was kind of fitting: Cubans are just living their everyday lives but to us, their homes are veritable works of art.
To Do: Take a walking tour of the capital to marvel over the beautiful architecture and discover the history behind its famous buildings.
THE PEOPLE ARE ALSO BEAUTIFUL AND FRIENDLY
I came across quite a few Cubans who could easily be models with their handsome features, sun-kissed skin and full, textured hair. They were friendly, warm and welcoming. When they learned I was American, they were even more eager to make sure I enjoyed every second of my stay on their island. I met a few kind-hearted people that I genuinely consider friends and can’t wait to see when I go back. Some Cubans speak English but I still think you’ll have a richer experience if you have a working knowledge of the Spanish language.
PREPARE FOR THE VERY BEST CAR SIGHTINGS YOU'LL EVER SEE
Cuba’s classic cars are a sight to behold! I can’t tell you how many conversations I abruptly stopped to get a picture of a 1957 Pontiac zooming by. The pre-revolutionary American cars rule the road thanks to a U.S. sanction in 1961 that made importing cars and parts between the United States and Cuba illegal.
The cars are now so iconic that tourists (and Cubans celebrating weddings or milestone birthdays) pay drivers for rides. Even the two-seater bici-taxis are cooler than anything I’ve ever seen!
I always kept a few CUCs handy in my purse for tipping. And I’m not just talking wait staff (in fact, gratuity was included at most of the restaurants we visited). I tipped people dancing and singing on the street and Cubans who were nice enough to pose for pictures.
And remember the advice a Glamazon gave me about bringing my own toilet paper (thanks @naijapeach!)? It definitely came in handy as some bathroom stalls had no toilet paper in them. In most cases, there were people outside the bathroom handing out very small squares of toilet tissue in exchange for tips, and that’s how they make their living. I tipped them, even though I had my own tissue handy
To Do: Always keep single CUCs for tips. If you feel moved, you can also bring new or lightly-worn clothes and toiletries to donate to the Patronato synagogue for charity.
EAT AT THE ISLAND'S MOST FAMOUS RESTAURANTS
Cuba gets a bad rap for food, thanks to state-run restaurants. In fact, there’s a saying that the best Cuban food is in the United States. Ouch! I’m happy to report that there IS great food in Cuba at the paladars (restaurants run by self-employers, often out of their living rooms). La Guarida is one of the best and most popular. It’s actually the set of the internationally-acclaimed Cuban film, “Strawberry & Chocolate,” and it boasts a stunning cracked marble staircase. But the real draw is the tasty food: I had lobster, Moors & Christians (black and white rice) and plantain. Everything was delicious. Beyonce and Jay Z also ate there during their stay in Cuba.
I also learned not to underestimate hotel eateries! I had the best mojito of the trip at the hotel I stayed at in Havana: Parque Central.
And I had an amazing family style lunch at Hotel Nacional La Baraca, accompanied by live music. We enjoyed chicken, yuca, plantain, rice and beans. It was one of the best meals I had on the island!