Let’s. Talk. Cuba! A few months ago we were planning a bachelorette party for my friend, and the options were between Mexico City and Louisville. Two days later, we all booked tickets to Cuba because we were all about #HavanaPhungTime. #duh #haveyoumetus We had some AirBnBs booked, a few ideas of what we were doing, and generally which days we were in Havana vs. Vinales. Since we were only on the island for a total of 5 days, it would take too long to travel to the other side without flying.
We were able to get our visa at the gate for $50, but we had to fill it out ourselves and they told us we had to be very careful because if you scratch anything out the visa becomes void and you have to pay another $50! This ended up happening to someone else on the flight so it’s not an exaggeration!
We landed in Havana, met up with the other half of the group and got cash. Two things here:
- The line was more than hour so keep that in mind
- We had a mixture of USD, CAD and EUR to switch over to CUC. The exchange rate for USD to CUC is 1 to 1, but it gets taxed 10%, so if you have access to CAD or EUR it’s a good option to get a better exchange rate. Always price it out beforehand though, extra fees and bad airport exchange rates might mean you’re just better off changing the USD.
A cab from HAV to Vedado where we were staying was 40 CUC and took 30 minutes (it was a mini van that fit 6 people). A regular taxi should only be 25 CUC. For the first night, we opted to stay by the malecon, knowing we wouldn’t have too much time that evening and we were leaving early the next morning. We could NOT have picked a more amazing place — the CMO of AirBnb stayed here so you know it’s legit.
It was a 3 bedroom, 2 story penthouse unit on the top floor of a 15 story apartment building with a balcony connected to two of the bedrooms and the living room (different stories) with views of crumbling mansions in Vedado, the water and also Hotel Nacional which was right next door to us. I’ll just let the photos do the talking. Also, unlike the other casa particulars we stayed at, breakfast was included in the price of the stay at this one.
We had dinner reservations at La Guarida, #thanksobama, so we decided to walk there and explore the town since it was pretty much a straight shot down Calle O and then Calle Concordia with a little pit stop on Callejon de Hamel as recommended by a friend of mine before we got there (thanks, Stacy!). The street has a lot of art & personality to show the Afro-Cuban heritage, and thanks to the translation services of our friend Mary we learned a bit about the art pieces — a lot of them made of old bathtubs because everything there applies the concept of recycling. The guy explaining the history of the street to us then took us into a really cute bar which we were planning to go into anyways, and we ordered a round of drinks.
His “friend” joined us, and showed up photos of his career as a conga drummer. These photos were from all over the world, his students, him and his band performing in Moscow, Berlin, Tokyo! At the end, he asked if any of us wanted to buy CDs (we were expecting that), and only those of us who had CD players in our cars did. How crazy that?! Yeah, my laptop and iPhone and iPad are sans CD player but I can definitely play this in my 2003 Corolla! PS – I tried it in the car and it doesn’t work.
Apparently in addition to telling us about his life in a band, part of their “tour” also included telling us what career we would excel at by going around the table.
Winnie D. – a princess
Orlaine – an actress
Christine – a Chinese (P.E.?) teacher
Winnie P. – “kung fu” — just kung fu
Me – a banker
We got to La Guarida (make reservations and make sure you confirm said reservation 24 hours before!) and headed to the rooftop bar of a deserted building for a drink and then wined and dined at the same place Beyonce, Obama and the Kardashians did. Also if you ask them Que come Obama y Beyonce? The answer is suckling pig. At least according to our waitress that day. And it was freaking good. Our dinner (5 appetizers + 3 mains + 1 bottle of wine and some cocktails) ended up at $30 per person. The portions are actually quite small so I would recommend everyone getting their own main. #diariesofafoodlover
After dinner, we hopped in two cabs and headed to Hotel Nacional for a drink and the proceeded to ask everyone we ran into “Donde empanada?” — yeah, they don’t exist.
Then we headed out to FAC, which I would define as a hipster art gallery / bar establishment that also serves food. Entry is 2 CUC per person and they’re opened from 10pm – 4am, unless you’re the Kardashians and they open for you in the middle of the day. We strolled around a bit look at the various art there, and I think this is when it really hit me that this may be one of the last capital cities in the world that is not a phone culture. We walked into a room that had various short movies playing, and people sitting, hanging out and chatting with each other. If this was anywhere else in the world, people would be scrolling on their phone nonstop. We got a midnight snack (Cuban sandwiches, obviously) and then headed back.
The next morning we had an egg, cheese, ham, bread, guava juice, coffee/tea breakfast at 8:30 am (we let them know what time we wanted) and then hopped into our minivan for the 3 hour drive to the country side town of Vinales (150 CUC I believe). The #1 tip I can give you for Vinales is DO NOT FORGET BUG SPRAY! I’ve been back for 2+ weeks and I am still super itchy! #saynotothezeeks #somestrongassmosquitos #justlikeguatemala
We checked into our casa particular (booked via Airbnb for $31 per person for 2 nights so we didn’t have to carry around extra cash) and then headed into town. Town = 1 main road with restaurants and shops. We were looking for something quick and to-go because we had to be at our horseback riding tour at 1pm, (spoiler alert: to-go doesn’t really exist in Cuba) so we stopped at the street market to get churros for lunch. They were DELICIOUS! Then we stopped for 1 CUC pizza at a local joint. 1) It was way too salty 2) It took way too long — so long that we were 30 minutes late for our horse tour. We ran into a cab after we got the pizza and after all of girls piled in and poured pizza sauce all over the car he turns and looks at us and proceeds to tell us he’s not a cab! We finally show up 30 minutes late (after we threw the pizza out) and told the guy we got lost. Yes, we got lost on the one and only road in Vinales.
The tour took us around silence valley, to a cigar (pro tip: practice looking cool smoking a cigar before you get to a cigar farm in Cuba!) and coffee farm and apparently also included spelunking through some caves and a delicious farm to table dinner for 65 CUC TOTAL! #amazeballs
P.S. You may think you are not walking funny after 4 hours of horseback riding, but you will be. Strangers will come up to you on the streets of Vinales saying “My wife is also struggling after that horseback riding tour yesterday!” Also pray you don’t get a runaway horse. #joinedanothertour
Cigars at the farm (the 2% that doesn’t go to the government) were 30 CUC for 10. This was pretty much the only souvenir I bought.
Farm. And #bridetribevibes
To Table. [Finca Ecologica]
And a car. #becausecuba
The next day, we hired a classic car (120 CUC return) to take us to the beach – Cayo Jutias! It was about a 1.5 hour bumpy, full of potholes kind of ride but WELL WORTH IT for this view!
It’s not a beach day until you write the bachelorette hashtag in the sand and drink lots of Cristal. Apparently I thought I was going fishing.
Back to Havana for 2 days before flying out means…
Visiting the Revolution Museum (8 CUC entry)
A lot of strolling the streets and buying stuff at the Plaza de Armas
Chatting with people
Taking pictures of their cute dog
Taking a salsa class (12 CUC) 123-567. Also everything goes out the window when they pair you up and totally rewrite the rules of salsa. #wesaidbeginners #andwemeantit
Also fun story. After salsa class we apparently followed a random person in the opposite direction of where we needed to go so that we could get a cab. We ended up in a random park with ZERO cabs that would take all 6 of us. We turn around and and the guy in the white hat from our salsa class is walking around the square, gets us a cab and comes with to drop us off at Plaza de Armas — thank you Salsabor a Cuba for door to door service! HAHA!
Hanging out on our balcony watching life in Cuba go by. PS – We booked this place for 6 people. We each got a room. AMAZING! Plus, a fridge of water and beer to buy for 1 or 2 CUC each.
Getting lost in the streets and taking lots, and lots, and lots of photos of cars and the colonial style buildings and spending the rest of our cash on food + souvenirs.