85 degrees, and sunny ☀️ – can you blame me for wanting to escape to Cuba? Don’t be mad… I did a horrible job at taking pictures and documenting where I went. I truly wanted to take in everything Cuba has to offer – without any distractions. But I can tell you this much – 6 days was not enough.
We spent our first night in Old Havana at the Hotel Marques de San Felipe before traveling to Trinidad. We arranged for a driver to take us to and from Trinidad, which I highly recommend. Modesto was incredible!
I can’t even begin to tell you how beautiful Trinidad is. The noises, the air, the architecture, the people. It was everything. You could walk the same street every day and experience something new. You would find buildings in complete ruin, but bursting with life in doors.
Hotels are limited, but Casa’s are everywhere – think Air BnB Cuban style. Most rooms are basic, but unbelievably clean. But then again, we didn’t go to Cuba for the hotels.
We were lucky to book a 2-day photography class with Julio Munoz, known for his “John Wayne” style of street photography. For 100 CUC (roughly $113), he taught us about DSLR cameras, and the best way to document the people around you. Part of the class includes a walking tour of Trinidad which was incredible! Before, I generally took pictures of the architecture (and dogs…) but it’s the people that tell the true story of Cuba.
Beware – the Cuban way of life is very relaxed. And obviously, limited. Soap and other basic amenities are a hot commodity so bring everything you think you might need. Don’t be surprised if there’s a small snaffu along the way. For example, we booked our stay at Casa Hammerhead, however since they were fully booked, they put us in a different casa with comparable amenities without telling us. Granted, it was a surprise, but Blanca (the owner) was extremely understanding and worked very hard to make the situation right. She also cooked us dinner in her home which was INCREDIBLE.
On our way back to Havana, we stopped to try scuba diving! 35 CUC covered the scuba gear, boat, and 45 minutes in the water! If I can ever afford scuba diving in the US, I’m doing it! It was amazing. Our lesson was probably the most relaxed beginner lesson ever, but our guides were with us the entire time, ensuring we had enough air and that we weren’t floating away… And let me tell you…sitting on the ocean floor was the most incredible feeling ever.
Our last two nights were spent at the La Rosa de Ortega B&B, in the La Vibora neighborhood of Havana. It’s located about a 10 minute taxi ride from Old Havana and situated high above the city. If you’re looking for hotel that matches American standards, then this is it. A beautiful pool, workout facility, massages, fresh juice all the time, modern rooms with a historical twist, incredible staff and a hotel dog. And the included breakfast is to die for. Half the time, we didn’t even want to leave the hotel. It was so calming and peaceful, that if and when we do return – I plan on staying there.
If you have a chance, try to head to La Fondita de Hermidad (I hope that’s the name…I forgot to grab a business card). Also located in the La Vibora neighborhood and a few blocks away from La Rosa de Ortega, this restaurant is charming and resembles most new American restaurants today. The food and service are impeccable, but try to get there before 9pm – that’s when it really gets busy. And get the tamale… its more of a tamale soup, but it’s delicious. And the guava dessert with cheese. YUM.
Being able to completely disconnect (no wifi or phones) was a relaxing experience. I didn’t realize how glued I am to my phone that we started “no phone hours” at home. And I didn’t realize how many things I miss when I have my phone on me. I found myself talking to more people and immersing myself into the culture instead of standing there surfing the web.
If I could do it all again, I would spend more time in Trinidad. There was so much to explore, and I really wish we went into the mountains. Actually… I really wish we were there for longer, much longer to explore all of Cuba. I guess there’s only one way to fix that – go back!
Here are some things you should know before going to Cuba:
- 1. There are two currencies, CUP & CUC. CUPs are the local currency, and CUCs are used by tourists. 1 CUC = .87 USD, but everything in Cuba is much cheaper. Meals for six people on average costed 50 CUC
2. CUC’s have the word “peso” on them… so try not to get confused!
3. Carry CUP’s if you want to stop by a local bakery, coffee shop, or buy churros from the corner churro cart
4. People are incredibly friendly & I felt surprisingly safe everywhere we went. However, you may receive the wrong amount of change… so be sure to count it…or not ☺️
5. Food isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible. Unless you’re at a fancy restaurant, you won’t find beef – cows are for milk. Tipping isn’t standard, but appreciated. Some restaurants charge a “Service Tax.”
6. Drink the juice, eat the fruit, and the water was generally fine for brushing your teeth etc…
7. Yes, you can bargain.
8. Bring extra soap or gum to barter with or give away as gifts.
9. US credit cards won’t work in Cuba, so bring cash. We brought $2500 between my boyfriend & I and it was more than plenty – unless you want to buy copious amounts of art… then bring more.
10. If you buy art, but forget the stamp, you can get it at the airport once you go through security.
11. The airport is not orderly like most in the US as Cuba is pretty lax in general. Just go with it. 2 hours is more than plenty.
12. There are a lot of banks, and currency exchange places – so don’t exchange everything at once. If you do it at the airport, try to go upstairs to departures vs. doing it outside of arrivals. You’ll save 30-45 minutes.
13. If you are traveling with multiple people, try to negotiate a price for everyone before getting in – most taxis charged for the distance & amount of people.
14. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers! Seriously, don’t.