Hellooooooo, if you haven’t seen my first post about traveling to Cuba, and are looking for tips or information I recommend checking out that page first.
So, my friend Minhae and I booked our tickets to Havana sometime in late September 2018 and the trip was scheduled for November. Originally, we were supposed to be there for 4 full days, excluding travel time.
Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with our plans and our flight to Ft. Lauderdale from JFK was cancelled , so we spent a night in New York before leaving to try again the next day. This caused us to miss a day, but luckily, our Airbnb host was super helpful and understanding. We were also able to reschedule a tour we had booked for the lost day!
The next day we ended up flying to Boston, where we purchased our visas, and then to Havana. We arrived after dark, dropped off our stuff at the Airbnb and after learning how to hail a taxi (it was my first time, but Minhae was a pro) we headed out to “La Fábrica del Arte.”
La Fábrica is a mix between a bar, an art gallery, a club, and a concert hall. During our time there we visited several of the bars in the complex (I had the best piña colada of my life here) and toured the galleries, drinks in hand. When you first enter, you pay a small cover and get a punch card, and every time you “purchase” something like a drink or a snack, they punch your card. When you are ready to leave you pay for everything that was punched onto the ticket. Later in the night, we danced a bit and also enjoyed a couple of songs by a band that was playing in the concert hall. I think we may have gone a bit early but it worked out because we were able to get some food and enjoy the atmosphere before the crowds arrived. La Fábrica is a must-see if you plan on experiencing some Havana nightlife.
The next day, we walked to old Havana. Here, we are pictured with El Capitolio- an (almost) exact replica of the capital building in Washington, D.C. We spent the afternoon exploring The Museum of the Revolution, which detailed Cuba’s fight for independence and subsequent communist revolution. The museum had explanations for the images and artifacts in both English and Spanish, so it was very accessible for English speakers.
After the museum we went to get some lunch and explore around a bit. We checked the menus of several restaurants because I was on a mission to find pulpo. Or, octopus. Through my visits to Spain, I have become fairly fond of the dish and because it is not super common in states, I was determined to find some in Cuba. We settled on a cute American-style restaurant and I ordered my pulpo. Minhae ordered Ropa Vieja, a delicious Cuban Dish often served with plantains. We ate a lot of Ropa Vieja during the trip.
On our second day, we visited the Havana Club Museum of rum and were able to take a tour in English. Personally, I enjoyed the tour (although I had sampled some of the product at the bar beforehand) Minhae found it pretty lackluster. So, take that as you may. I will say that I found it strange that during the tour they gave a 15-minute history of sugar cane in Cuba without mentioning slavery once, so it is certainly a romanticized version of events.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is getting the opportunity to experience new, delicious foods. Besides pulpo and ropa vieja we ate lots of ice cream and had rice with almost all our meals. Also, the breakfast provided by our Airbnb included a variety of fruits, I tried papaya for the first time there. I love trying new foods, especially fruits but I discovered during this trip that I am not a huge fan of tropical fruits. Go figure. I also am a huge coffee drinker and throughly enjoyed the Cuban coffee prepared for us by our Airbnb host each morning.
On our last day we did a bike tour which included a stop at a local market where we were able to try several different fruits, which I have since forgotten the names of. The most interesting one to me was yellow, had a creamy texture, and reminded me a bit of squash. I really liked it so if you know what its called hmu.
Although we weren’t in the country for an extended period of time and did not interact with a ton of Cubans, those we did interact with were very kind and helpful and very willing to share their culture with us. One night, we sat on the deck of our Airbnb chatting with the mother of our host about her experiences growing up in the country and the attitudes towards the US. Despite the *strained* relations between the American and Cuban governments, the people treated us with kindness and curiosity.
Havana is one of my favorite places I traveled to in my life and if you get the opportunity, I would highly recommend visiting. Havana is a vibrant, beautiful city- a place I would love to return to one day. I have found through discussing my experience there with other Americans that many people think it is a dangerous place to visit or isn’t worth the hassle. During our time there I never felt unsafe and Cuba is a very safe country, in general. As far as the question of “is it worth it?” my answer would be 100% yes. It is more of a challenge that traveling to Europe or within the US, but if you’re willing to put the effort into planning a good trip, Cuba is the place to go.