If you’re reading this, you should have bought your ticket to Cuba yesterday.
My trip to Cuba was beyond amazing and if you continuing reading you will see why you have to go like tomorrow.
Prior to flying to Cuba I did as much research as possible. I watched YouTube videos, searched Instagram hashtags, and checked the Cuban news to make sure no Americans had recently been taken or anything of that sort. All Clear.
So, first things first, you will need a flight.
I chose to go to Cuba because flights were fairly cheap compared to other international destinations. By cheap I mean around $300 from most US cities. As mentioned in my previous blog, I flew out of New Orleans 1.) Because my Mom lives close to MSY airport and 2.) The flight was cheaper out of New Orleans than Houston. From New Orleans we had a layover in Miami where my friends from Dallas met us and we headed straight to Havana. The flight from Miami to Havana was like 48 minutes max, simple and easy. The flight was so short they only offered water or orange juice.
Veni, Vidi, VISA
The most stressful part of flying to Cuba was the anxiety of having to purchase a Visa. I have traveled all over the world and never had to purchase a Visa before. From what friends and research have taught me Visas can cost $50-$100 depending on the Airline. We flew American Airlines and the Visa cost $85 and included health insurance. American Airlines e-mailed us a few weeks prior to our flight with information on how to purchase, either by phone or you can purchase at the Airport one hour prior to your flight.
What I learned is that this Visa felt like an Airline scam. Your Visa is literally a piece of paper and no one took it from me, stamped it, or used it as a fan. NOTHING. However, it is required. You may only travel to Cuba under 12 conditions (everything from Religion to Journalistic Activity) we chose Support of the Cuban People. With that out of the way my next concern was packing.
PS. I came home with my VISA, did not even fill out the other side. SMH @ you American Airlines. But jokes on you because I’m using the same visa next time I go to Cuba.
Rumor on the street is that you should NEVER check a bag headed to Cuba. Why? Supposedly if you check a bag you may have to wait up to two hours for your bag to reach the baggage claim and ain’t nobody got time for that. I begged and pleaded with my travel gals to only pack carry-ons because the way my ADHD is set-up I don’t think I would survive waiting on a bag for 2 hours. As a chronic over packer I made sure to write out a thorough itinerary so that I would only pack necessary items. Cuba is super chill so literally anything to keep you cute and cool (i.e. shorts, dresses, crop tops, swimsuits and such) is perfect for your bag. Some things I wish I would have packed:
- Bug Spray
- Candy and BBQ chips
- Band-Aids for blisters
- Mini bottles of liquor
- Baby wipes/ toilet paper
Bought my flight, visa, packed, and now where do we live?
When we bought our flights I literally searched every Priceline, Hotwire, Kayak, Expedia looking for the perfect hotel to get bomb Instagram photos at.
I didn’t find one. Don’t get me wrong there are some nice hotels, but nothing that tickled my fancy or realistically fit a budget I would be willing to spend on a hotel room. After reading The B Werd Blog on Cuba my group decided that we would stay at the same Airbnb that her and her friends stayed at. When I tell you this was the best Airbnb I’ve ever stayed at, that’s literally no exaggeration. But I’ll get into more detail later in the blog.
Now let’s head to Havana.
Unfortunately, our flight was full and our bags got confiscated and had to be checked at the gate. This literally made me want to cry because I had done everything in the world to make sure my group did not have to wait 2 hours at baggage claim. THANKFULLY, by the time we got through customs our bags were already waiting for us on the carousel.
Pro-Tip: do not smile for your picture at customs, they get really mad.
Next, you will have to exchange your money to CUC (Cuban pesos). Prior to leaving the US, we exchanged US Dollars to Euros because your AMERICAN DEBIT/CREDIT CARDS WILL NOT WORK IN CUBA! I budgeted about $100 a day for food/activities but this is because I wanted to be a little fancy. Nonetheless exchange all of your money here, lines are long for the bank in the city and they let the locals skip the line before tourists at most local establishments.
Next you will need transportation to your Casa. The max you should pay for all of your guests in one vehicle is 30 CUC.
Pro-tip: travel with a group size that can fit in a standard taxi. If you bring 4 people you can all fit in one taxi vs. 5 you will have to have 2 taxis and your costs will double.
When we arrived to our wonderful Airbnb, Ludmila and her staff (Sonja and her husband) greeted us with hugs and mojitos. She gave us a list of places to go near her neighborhood and the contact information for a driver, Guillermo. Guillermo honestly saved our lives, if it wasn’t for him I don’t know how we would have gotten around. I made the mistake of not writing down addresses to anything so, luckily Guillermo got us everywhere safe and sound.
We immediately got dressed and headed to Elite for dinner. I made a reservation prior to our trip and we were greeted with tasty welcome cocktails. The food was super tasty and drinks were even yummier. We all spent about $25 per person for a 5-star restaurant.
Next, we headed out for a night of dancing at Big Bang Bar. This club plays reggaeton and lots of Justin Bieber, but we convinced the DJ to play Back That Azz Up, for the culture. They have very strong $2 margaritas so drink accordingly.
My home girl Sonja and her husband made us the most wonderful breakfast for just $10 per person. Sonja, like many Cubans did not speak English. However, she was super patient with my AP Spanish 5 knowledge and we were able to communicate thoroughly the entire trip.
After breakfast we headed to a day long tour with Cuban Connection Tour. It had the best reviews on TripAdvisor and I love a good tour. I think our tour guide really went over and beyond his duties with us and just for him alone you should def do one of these tours. He took us to all of the tourist spots but made sure to tell us the good, bad, and ugly and did not want us to be scammed by any of the locals. I specifically saw a sign for a $6 entry fee into a fortress and he convinced the lady to let us in for free. #THANKFUL. This day is where I took most of my Instagram posts, so even if you don’t want to pay for the tour…write down the list of places they go to and go yourself.
We ate lunch at my fave place in Cuba, El Canonazo in Havana. There was a live band and live chickens walking around and the food was PHENOMENAL! All restaurants aren’t created equally, but this one I wish I could pack up and bring back to Houston.
What I did learn this day is to pay attention to signage around town. One sign in particular, explicitly says not to play “frogger” in the street. But what do I do? Play frogger in the street and almost die. Don’t be like Carri, cross the street safely.
There are also signs around the Malecon that say not to swim or fish on pieces of trash. Yet, I saw people doing both. Just be careful in these streets.
We ended our tour by going to the Buena Vista Social Club. My number one suggestion would be to reserve seats way in advance. We booked an hour before the show and ended up in the corner. The performers move around the entire room, but I’m nosey so I like to be upfront. Also, eat dinner beforehand because the meal that comes with the show looks like kindergarten lunch. But you didn’t hear that from me. It was worth the experience of seeing an “I Love Lucy, Ricky Ricardo type band”, but not at the top of my list of favorite things to do this trip.
After that, we went to Casa de la Musica. LOCALS GET IN FIRST, YOU WILL HAVE NO SEAT! Now that you know that, know that the show starts off a little slow, but after enough $2 mojitos you will be cha chaing your way to the front of the stage like a local. The band sang a song about Donald Trump, I have no idea what they were saying, but it seemed like they really don’t don’t like him and that might be my new favorite song. After the performance was over they started playing Bruno Mars and it got super lit. We ended up meeting some other American tourists and started our own soul train line and pretty much shut the club down. The end.
Sonja was back at it again with the bomb breakfast. We woke up kinda late and weren’t super hungry so she packed up the left overs for us to take to the beach.
There is a great debate on the best beaches to go to in Cuba. We decided on Santa Maria Beach because it was only 30 minutes outside of the city. Cuba weather was pretty decent this time of year, but I would have hated to take a 2-hour beach ride to Varadero and it rain the whole time. Santa Maria had tons of locals, but that’s why we came to Cuba to support the Cuban people. It was kind of an overcast, but we all ended up getting sunburned so bring sunscreen for sure.
Pro-Tip: make sure your driver drives the speed limit to the beach because you will get pulled over. *Guillermo got us out of this situation and he didn’t get a ticket, thankfully.
We had dinner at Rio Mar. The patio was gorgeous and the food was once again, phenomenal. I made a reservation prior to on Facebook messenger. The menu changes daily so just try to interpret the menu as best you can, but it will be yummy regardless.
Bolabana, my favorite club in Havana. It was very much a local scene but they played a good mix of Reggaeton/American music and had a live band that played along with the songs. We pregamed too hard so, we didn’t make it through the night. But if you stay at my Airbnb suggestion, it’s like a 3-minute walk there so perfect place to turnup.
Sonja and I had an in depth conversation about our trip so far over breakfast and coffee. Guillermo picked us up for lunch and we headed to La Guarida.
La Guarida is probably the 1st thing you should worry about after booking your flight. This place has been frequented by Beyoncé, President Obama, The Kardashians, etc. I placed a reservation 2 weeks ahead of time and was denied, luckily they were able to squeeze us in for lunch. I suggest going for lunch because you can get some of the best views of the city from the tippy top rooftop. The climb up the stairs to get there is kind of scary, but well worth all the Instagram likes. The food was stellar and I think my favorite mojito was made here.
Next we did a Pub Crawl through Havana. I honestly had a wild hang over and didn’t want to drink at every bar, but that pub crawl list was an easy way to walk through the city and see what we needed to see. We finished the day by buying souvenirs and attempted to find a cigar festival that ended up not being a festival at all. Overall, I would say that the souvenirs aren’t worth it. They are super cheap and probably won’t make it back to America. Most of the magnets that I bought don’t work or unraveled/chipped before I even took them out of the bag.
#brokebitchtip: Haggle like your life depends on it. The best rate I saw for mini souvenirs was 8 pieces for $5. Try for 9 pieces, I have faith in you.
We had dinner at a restaurant across from the brewery in Plaza Vieja. It was gross, but the band there was great.
Things to know:
- Only buy cigars from Hotels or actual Cigar Shops, anything on the street is fake.
- Budget for tipping, most Cubans only make $20 a month so your tips are greatly appreciated.
- The corner stores don’t have snacks so bring your own.
- The local water has “sodium” which our American water doesn’t so it will probably send you to the pooper. We bought water at the airport after getting through security in Miami.
- You can’t flush things down the toilet, so get familiar with a bidet.
- Contrary to popular belief, there is Wi-Fi in Cuba. Unfortunately, I was unable to crack the code. Not that I was really worried about it over a 4-day trip, but if you can’t live without Instagram do your research prior to.
- Screenshot and write down the actual address of everything you want to do just in case you don’t have phone service.
- If you ever get lost, ask police officer, pub, bar, or museum where things are.
- Beware of jineteros (aka gorgeous Cuban men) these guys will pretend to be interested in you but they are really promoters for the bars and you will have to buy them a drink at the end of their interaction.
- Download these apps: Map Me App, Cuba, Bravolol. Make sure to download ahead of time so that you can use offline option when you get to Cuba.
Things I wish I would have done:
- Fabrica Del Arte – A mix of art museum/night club…it was closed when we went so check out dates prior to leaving.
- Art Pub Cuba restaurant
- Tropicana Cabaret Show
- Day trip to Trinidad and Varadero
Cuba was def one of my most memorable trips so far and I would love to go back again sometime soon. Let me know when you book your trip so, I can come too.