If you follow TSL on Instagram then you already know I recently spent a week traveling around Cuba on an Educational (people to people) visa. Spoiler alert, it was absolutely amazing.
Cuba has been on my bucket list for years, especially since it felt a little bit like forbidden fruit. As soon as I read that Americans would soon be able to travel to Cuba I started planning an imaginary trip in my head. I wanted to make sure that I was able to see Cuba before it became inundated with American companies and tourists – I wanted to see the authentic Cuba.
Flash forward a few months and visas had been bought for my man and I, Airbnb’s had been booked, a car had been reserved (more on this later), and tentative itineraries had been laid out for Havana, Trinidad & Varadero.
Let’s talk Havana:
We are incredibly lucky in that there is a direct flight from Charlotte, where we live, to Havana – meaning physically getting to Cuba was a cinch. One early morning and we were flying through the sky en route to our Havana Airbnb.
My initial impression of Havana was shock at how big it is. I had known that it was going to be a big city (duh) but I didn’t realize how big a city of 2 million people is (twice as big as where I live). We were staying in Central Havana, giving us perfect access to Old Havana, which was our favorite area of town.
The buildings were beautiful and old, the colors of the houses vibrant, the music oh-so-danceable and the people incredibly friendly. The food was tasty and we loved every single second of being there – and are already talking about taking a second trip.
I could honestly talk all day long about the beauty of Havana, but instead I’m going to break it down for you into my “must do” items for the the trip – if you have any questions shoot me an email and I will do whatever I can to help or tell you more!
Stay: Casas Particulares
Casa’s Particulares are definitely the way to go in Havana (and the rest of Cuba). What this means is that you are staying in the home of a local, like a private homestay. We booked our casa on Airbnb, which you can explore for rooms and apartments around the country. I love it because you get an inside look at life in Cuba, from the glamorous (first hand knowledge of the town, history and people) to the not so glamorous (using a bucket in the shower to wash your hair because there is no water pressure). Staying in a hotel here would feel weird, you’re there for the culture, right? There’s no better way to get it. Be forewarned that you may not have AC and the showers will likely be cold – rest assured the cold shower will feel amazing.
See: Everything (okay, that’s not helpful)
The old cars- just open your eyes and see them, they are everywhere!
La Habana Vieja – the old town. Beautiful buildings, lots of culture, tasty snacks, big plazas
The Historical Plazas – Plaza De La Catedral, Plaza De San Francisco, Plaza Vieja, Plaza De Armas
Revolution Square – where Fidel used to hold political rallies – also where a massive rally is held on May 1st, International Workers Day and presided over by Raúl
Christ of Havana – take an old car tour (haggle over pricing) over to check out the statue, Che’s house and take in the stunning view of Havana
Museum of the Revolution – seriously, do not miss this, you can spend hours learning about the Cuban history of the revolution and if you are lucky, you may even catch a salsa class
Eat: Home cooking
If your casa host offers to make you breakfast for 5 CUC absolutely do it. The home-made breakfast spreads there are insanely good. Eggs, fruit, fresh juices, coffee, toast, breakfast meat, yogurt… it’s a feast and you won’t be able to get a good meal for that cheap anywhere in town. Our casa host also offered to make us dinner, Lobster for 12 CUC, again you should absolutely do it. The dinner we ate at our casa in Havana was the best dinner in town for sure.
Drink: Rum & Beer
It’s time to break out the Havana Club (which you can get in the Havana Club store for cheap). There is also Santiago Club, which is less popular with the locals, but is definitely drinkable. We found that the drink of Havana was the Mojito, which suited me just fine (I LOVE MINT). Test them out around town and find your favorites. Personal favorite – La Taverna del Son.
There is also a brewery in Plaza Vieja, Factoria Plaza Vieja, which if you like beer is definitely worth checking out. They serve three brews – a light, medium and dark. Get a glass of each before you decide what your favorite is…. then, I recommend the beer tower. Non-craft beer options that you will see all over Cuba are Bucanero and Cristal (I prefer Cristal).
There you have it, a quick breakdown of my Havana favorites. Next stop, Trinidad.