havana, cuba

One week before Christmas, Cameron and I set off for the Caribbean. A new country and region for both of us. It was a spontaneous trip that we managed to plan just one week prior to leaving. And it was completely worth it. An escape from the negative degree, cold weather taking over Denver, and arrival to a mid 80s, warm, and tropical island was absolutely perfect. In six days, we were disconnected from any wifi (you can choose to pay for cards that get you wifi access at hotels, but we chose to just abandon wifi altogether) and transported back in time to when the days were slow, when the cars were sleek, when media had little to no presence, when being present in the moment was all you could do.

Although getting to Havana proved difficult (my flight got cancelled, yet I luckily managed to book a different flight without losing much time or spending too much more) with all the mishaps that happen during holiday travel, it was all worth it in the end.

First things first – the cars! There were so many 1950s automobiles in various, vibrant colors that it truly feels like you’ve been transported back in time. It amazes me that there are still so many being driven on a daily, frequent basis and manage to stay in good condition.

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The Malecón: a stunning esplanade where locals gather along the coastline to enjoy the ocean and fortress views, watch sunsets, and pass time with good company.

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Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban National Peso (CUN) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The CUN is mainly for locals, while the CUC is used primarily by tourists. 1 CUC is equivalent to 1 Dollar, whereas 1 CUN is equivalent to about 4 cents.

We stayed at a Casa Particular (or Airbnb) in Miramar, a quiet neighborhood outside of Old Town. There is a bus stop near the apartment that locals take, which takes you into Havana Vieja for only 1 CUN per segment, or 4 cents! Not only was it close to the ocean, but the host also offered us the option to pay 5 CUC per person for a homemade breakfast of fruits (guava, banana, and papaya), bread and butter, ham, egg, and excellent coffee. Look at this feast!

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While the local living cost is very low, taxis and certain tourist shops and restaurants charge much more. Definitely bargain with taxi drivers on prices, whether it be legal taxis (yellow), 1950s cars, or the yellow taxi pods; otherwise, you will be paying much more than you should to get around.

Habana Vieja, or Old Town Havana, is absolutely captivating with its vibrant colors, slow pace, rugged buildings and streets, 1950s cars, and variety of sights to see. I was surprised to see how much Communist influence permeates the city. The supermarkets are scarce and small, fresh produce and meats are uncommon and almost non-existent, fewer cafes and restaurants are prevalent, there are state-owned versus privately owned restaurants, and very little media and advertisement exists. It’s a unique, musical, and fairly untouched destination.

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Besides exploring Old Town, we had a beach day at La Playa del Este (specifically Playa de la Santa Maria)! It was absolutely stunning: cascades of ombre blue, palm trees, very few tourists, vast surrounding land, and a new dog named Fidel (a little pup that clung to us, while at the beach). We also tried some of the best Cuban food we had during our trip at the only restaurant at the beach, which consisted of black beans and rice, pork, plantains, and Cristal beer.

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A Chinatown, in which there are no Chinese people…

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The largest state-run ice cream parlor in the world, initiated by Fidel, where locals joyfully enjoy various flavors scooped in a generous bowl…for about 14 cents.

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State-run pizza parlors that serve questionable 1 CUC pizza…

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Hidden, lush gardens inside Church buildings…

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Rides on yellow taxi pods that go at whopping 17 mph speeds…

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La Bodeguita del Medio, where Ernest Hemmingway frequented for its famous mojitos…

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The National Revolutionary square…

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One last ride in a 1950s Chevy before heading to the airport…

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Havana, you were amazing. We’re so grateful we were able to visit and cannot wait to make go back in the future and add Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba on the list. Another incredible trip with the best adventure partner!

-Angela

 

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