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5 Nights in Cuba 

Cuba always seemed like a mythical and magical place where only a handful of people had ever gone, by way of some circuitous route through Canada. When Obama made travel to Cuba more easy, it jumped to the top of my bucket list. And when Trump closed it back down, I was really glad that we'd made the trip when we did!

I had heard people saying, "Oh you really must get to Cuba before it changes!" and that really lit a fire for me to get there. In my head it was transforming rapidly and within a year the renovations and modernization would be complete. Much to my pleasure and also amusement, this could not be further from the truth. The harbor area near the cruise ships has been nicely updated, but the rest of Havana is a beautiful mix of peeling and faded, crumbling architecture. Rubble and rats lined the streets of our casa particular and we loved every bit of it. 

It's hard to get much information about the true state of affairs in this Communist country from the locals, but despite everything, they have an amazing spirit that is warm and intoxicating. 

We spent 4 nights at a casa particular in the old part of town. This means we rented a portion of an apartment from the most adorable woman named Liña. Her friend picked us up from the airport and when we got to her house she greeted us like long lost family members. Her house was comfortable and immaculate, though you quickly notice the little things that we take for granted in America, like a mattress protector, as the bed was just a mattress with a sheet on top. Regardless, I was so happy with our decision to stay in this local accommodation instead of a hotel. Sweet Liña made us breakfast every morning and was helpful in pointing out things to avoid in the neighborhood. We felt very safe and comfortable in her home. 

I absolutely think you should go to Cuba when you can make the trip. It is a special place and the history is very interesting. Learn what you can from the locals, enjoy the amazing food, the beautiful old cars, the extraordinary architecture, and the music that pours through the streets both day and night. 

We spent one night in Viñales, again at a casa particular. We didn't have the same immediate connection with our hosts, but they were kind and I was very happy that we opted to stay with locals in this small town.  When we arrived in Viñales, our hosts arranged a horseback ride through the tobacco fields and to a local cave. I am not kidding when I tell you that the Malboro man himself showed up with some horses.

This part of the trip was towards the end of our time in Cuba and my cash was starting to run low. When you travel to Cuba you need to budget wisely, as there is no real way to use credit cards or find an ATM. I had not worked out the price of our horseback outing beforehand as started panicking as the hours wiled away and by my American calculations this could easily have been a $300 tour. Thankfully the Marlboro man asked for $60 at the end of our three hour tour of everything there was to see and do in Viñales. 

Things we did that we highly recommend:

Havana 

  • Museum of the Revolution. This is a great way to understand more about the Cuban revolution, Communist propaganda, Cuban history, and even some bullet holes that were left in the walls. 

  • Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana. This is another way to see and understand Cuban history through its artistic heritage. 

  • El Capitolio. This was under construction when we were there, but hopefully it's completed by now. 

  • Fusterlandia. This is an incredible mosaic creation and well worth the bit of effort to get there. We hired a guy with a red convertible to take us there and you pass several neighborhoods, including the embassies and Castro's compound. 

  • A day at the beach. Getting to and from Santa Maria was an adventure in and of itself. We took a crowded local bus that dropped us off the the most amazingly weird, rattle trap hotel by the beach. The water and sand is beautiful and we had a great day. Be prepared to be up-sold on all manner of things from drinks and lunch to towels and chairs. 

  • The Malecón. Again, hire a guy with a beautiful old car, preferably a convertible and drive around. This stretch of waterfront road is very cool, especially with your hair blowing in the breeze.

  • Plaza Vieja. This is the aforementioned "upscale" or renovated area of Havana near the port. There is a lot to walk around and see here. Not to worry, though- this isn't full of cheap tourist stalls or anything like that. You will see people playing instruments, the cathedral, and the locals out and about. 

Viñales

  • We took a bus from Havana to Viñales for an overnight stay. As mentioned, our casa particular organized a long horseback ride which allowed us to fully see the area and meet some local farmers. I think this should be on your itinerary to get a view of a different part of Cuba. We paid extra for our hosts to provide meals for us. 

 

Where we stayed:

Casa Particulars found through Airbnb. 

Where we ate:

  • El Chanchullero. We stumbled upon this place when wandering around one day. We noticed the line and we usually take that to be a good sign. It was! This place has delicious tapas and we loved the staff.

  • El del Frente. We loved this rooftop joint. They were pumping a great 90s mix and the tacos were so good. 

  • El Dandy. The thing about Cuban food is it's pretty simple, but when it's done right it really is delicious. Try the pollo croquetas, rope vieja, and tacos. 

  • Restaurant Van-Van. This cool, little spot manages to pack in a local band to accompany dinner, which makes it extra fun. 

  • ​La Guarida. This happened to be right down the street from our casa and it was the place we'd heard most about before visiting Cuba. It definitely wins for the beauty and vibe. The food wasn't my favorite, but I would still say you should absolutely go. 

  • El Floridita. I mean, you kind of need to have a Hemingway moment. The kids enjoyed their virgin daiquiris and while mine was definitely not amazing, the experience definitely was. 

  • Heladeria Coppelia. This is the government run ice cream shop in the Vedado. You're not going for the ice cream, but it's worth going for the local hang- even though foreigners are whisked off into a different line than the locals.