Cuba Travel Advice & Recommendations:

Before I left for Cuba, I did a lot of research and asked A LOT of people who had already traveled to Cuba, about their experience. I got mixed reviews, super helpful tips, and some great recommendations. So I figured I鈥檇 mix all of that together plus my experience to better assist you if you plan on visiting Cuba聽馃檪

THE FIRST THING I AM GOING TO RECOMMEND: DOWNLOAD THE APP MAPS.ME
This was a life saver! Thanks Mikey!
This app allows you to search for places and look up directions without the internet

Flights and things flight related:
We flew on JetBlue and it was great (as always). We got the flights about 3 months in advance and they were pretty cheap, but I have heard that they are super expensive now, so plan as early as you can. The one thing that sucked with our return flight is that they cannot refill their food options in Cuba. So whatever they have left from their last flight is what they have. Other than that, it was fine. JetBlue offers free wifi, movies, music and direct TV so you can’t go wrong.

I think Delta does direct flights as well!

I recommend you get to the airport 2-3 hours early. We got lucky and the line for the visa was short as hell, but I have heard that the line can get pretty long, so to play it safe, but there early. You also want enough time to get through security because we all know that line is a headache too.

The visa聽is $50 and you pay for this at the airport. I am not sure about other airports but at JFK, it was credit/debit only.

Passport: Make sure you have enough pages! I think you need about 2-4 to travel out of the country otherwise you have to renew. Also make sure your passport has 6 months or more left before it expires. Joel had to renew his before we went because it expired two days before the 6 month requirement. The JetBlue agent I booked my flight with told me they are super strict about that 6 month requirement!

Accommodations:
Airbnb is my go to when traveling with a group.
This was our place:
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14712354?checkin=06%2F01%2F2017&checkout=06%2F06%2F2017&guests=6&adults=6&children=0&infants=0
It was in Vedado, which is quiet and safe and about a 7-10 minute car ride to Old Havana and many other places
Vedado is a good area and has more spacious rooms than other towns I saw and I saw plenty because I was looking for rooms for months. Old Havana is hit or miss so be very careful if you book something in that area. A lot of the apartments around there are SUPER run down. However it can also be in the touristy area of Old Havana which may be nicer, but you also can鈥檛 really confirm the exact location until you book.

Melia Cohiba Hotel
Hotel Presidente
Hotel Nacional
Read More »

CUBA 3/12/17 & 3/13/17

SORRY for the late post!
I have tried to write this blog 3 times and it keeps getting deleted, so I am crossing my fingers this time that it doesn’t. This post will be of our last full day and our last morning up until our flight 馃檪
ENJOY!

DAY FIVE:

Our last day 馃槮 We planned on having a beach day today for our last day, but we also didn’t want to waste time at the beach, when there’s so much more we wanted to do and see. We started our day around 8 AM, had breakfast and talked a bit longer than expected with our breakfast parents. We left, got back to our apartment, got ready, and walked over to the Malec贸n to hail a cab. We got one driver that said 40 CUC and then another cab that said 15 CUC. Its ridiculous what some people will try to charge, especially since you’re a tourist. But whatever, we got in the $15 cab and made our way to Santa Maria beach. Our cab driver was pretty cool and played music we were familiar with. The ride was smooth and we were told it would take about 30 minutes or so to get there, and it only took us around 20 so that was a plus. We only planned on staying 1.5 hours and the cab driver offered to stay, but said to make sure we are back at the car after an hour and a half otherwise what he was charging us wouldn’t be worth it for him and he would be wasting too much time just sitting around. We took his offer, and good thing we did because getting a cab around the beach is not easy at all. Most of them that were there were just waiting for people too. We got out the car and walked over to the beach. The sand was so soft and almost white. The water was CRYSTAL CLEAR. There was a sign that stated the prices for umbrellas and chairs, and we saw everyone using them, so I thought it was mandatory. We walked over to a few chairs and an umbrella that were vacant and we were quickly approached by a man that said they were reserved. So we walked a little farther away and just put our blanket and towels down. As soon as everyone sat down I went right into the water. It was warm and super calm, I LOVED IT. Joel, Michael, and Jess joined me for a little. Once we were done, we went to soak up some sun and dry off. We were over the beach pretty fast. I’m usually not, but I also didn’t wanna spend HOURS there on our last day. So we packed up and met our cab driver right on time.
**There was a restaurant right by the parking lot that let us use their restroom, just an FYI if you are interested in going and wonder where you can change or use the restroom**. We got in the cab and made our way to Chinatown. We were starving, so the guy brought us to a restaurant that is supposedly one of the best in that area. We get there and its PACKED. Theres also a wait list and they were not sure how long it would be. We didn’t want to waste time and wait so we just walked around Chinatown and waited to see if we came across another restaurant. Chinatown is super small and it seemed like a lot of things were closed and it wasn’t too crowded. We walked around for a bit and just hailed a cab. We got a cab to take us to Hotel Nacional for 4 CUC and it wasn’t THAT close either. We get to Hotel Nacional and it was filled with tourists. But that’s expected because this is considered a national monument. We walked inside and everything was old and outdated, but beautiful, nonetheless. There were a few art pieces on the walls and other historical displays around the hotel. We went out to the garden and people were sitting outside, eating and drinking. There were also two restaurants out in the garden. One that overlooks the Malec贸n. We walked around the hotel.a little bit more and checked out their pool area ( even if you are not staying at the hotel you can pay to use their pool and there’s a restaurant and bar by the pool as well). Once we were done, we went to try and find something to eat. Read More »

CUBA 3/11/17

DAY FOUR:

So the last three days have been taking a toll on us and by the fourth day we were so tired, but we still got up at around 8ish for breakfast and headed across the street. Again, the table was set and we were asked to wait in the living room until the food was out. We ate breakfast and talked to our breakfast parents when we were done. Hours quickly flew by so we decided to head out to get ready. We hailed down a cab at the Malec贸n again, and made our way back to  Rafael Trejo boxing gym (the gym we visited the day before). Jessica, Ralph, Joel, and Mike brought gear to donate and we decided to drop it off today. Joel and Michael donated their stuff to the Rafael Trejo gym and Jessica and Ralph donated their stuff to a gym that was around the corner. Once we got to the Rafael Trejo gym, we saw a bunch of kids and teens warming up for some inter-club sparring aka smokers..lol. These kids are tough and it was so much fun to watch! We stayed longer than we planned on staying but none of us mind watching some fights. Once we left the gym, we made our way to a local brewery that was kinda dead, but the breeze was amazing since it was right on the water. We stayed for some drinks and to just relax. Sitting at a table next to us was a group of people who were definitely from the states and we could tell because we could hear their accents. One girl in particular sounded like she was from New York, so we asked them if they were American, and just like we thought,they were! We introduced ourselves and spoke to them for a little while and one of the girls, Dash, told us that she actually lives in Cuba with her husband. She owns a Afro-Latino tour company and was taking the group around on her tour. I wanted to do the tour so bad, but it was a bit on the pricey side, and we also had no time for it :(. Once they left, we finished our drinks and headed out to find some food. We passed a cute little restaurant that sold sandwiches, mojitos, beer, and some other drinks and it was super CHEAP so we sat down and ordered. Right outside of the restaurant we saw these kids playing and when I went to snap a photo of one of the girls stopped and smiled. Some of the kids were barefoot and their clothes and bodies in general were dirty from playing in the streets. They were so damn carefree and I loved it. They came by and talked to us for a bit and I was able to get a cute photo with them. We finished our meals and walked a few blocks to hail a cab.Once we got back to our block, we sat by the Malec贸n and had a mini photo shoot(LOL) and enjoyed the amazing view. We were told that the Malec贸n is one of the most popular places for the locals. There’s no cost to just sit there and hang out. A few nights that we walked along the Malec贸n, we would see people dancing, playing music, drinking, and just enjoying each others company. After our photo shoot, we went on a mission to look for a store where we can buy some beer! Read More »

CUBA 3/10/17

DAY THREE:

Breakfast was scheduled for 9 AM with our “breakfast parents” who live across the street from our Air BnB. When we walked into their apartment, we saw that the table was already set but, breakfast dad asked for us to sit in the living room while they brought out the rest of the food. We were presented with a plate of fresh fruit, warm bread with butter, coffee, warm FRESH milk, fresh fruit juice( this day it was Guava juice), ham, FRESH cheese, eggs, and last but not least fried TARO bites ( just mentioning them makes me miss it, they were delicious). Once we were done eating, they started to clear the table and they brought out our dessert: FLAN, yup鈥 FLAN FOR BREAKFAST! When we were done, you can tell that they were kind of shy but we tried our best to make conversation with them.We asked random questions and they started to open up to us. This was the most difficult part for me since I don鈥檛 speak Spanish as well as I understand it, but I tried my best to keep up. They explained as much as they could about the Cuban lifestyle, what their lives are like, etc. One major thing I learned from them is that we take SO MUCH for granted. Compared to them, we really do have it good. Some interesting things they told us were:

  • About 1,500 people apply for a U.S. visa a day and only about 5 % get approved. BUT, the majority of that 5 % cant even afford to purchase a ticket out.
  • They receive a set amount of goods from the government per person a month. For example a set portion of rice, beans, cooking oil, about 5 eggs, etc. Basically, all of their portions are controlled.
  • Doctors make somewhere around 50 CUC a month aka LESS THAN WHAT A CAB DRIVER CAN POTENTIALLY MAKE DAILY.
  • Cuba just got internet a year and a half ago. Wifi is accessible on some phones and you are only able to connect at parks or hotels, AND they’re not allowed to have it in homes.

This is just a few of the many things we talked about with them and we sat there for hours.

After breakfast, we went back to our apartment, got ready, and head out for our Old Havana walking tour. Amalia actually set this up for us with a friend of hers, Maidolis. We walked over to the Malec贸n to hail a cab and we got a purple 1950’s Ford. At first he told us $20 for the 7 minute ride, and we said HELL TO THE NO and then he said “Okay, fine. $10!” LOL. We hooped in and made our way to Old Havana. We were instructed to meet Maidolis in the “Ceiba del templete” and Amalia told us she would be wearing a teal shirt, which didn’t really narrow it down much. Lol. But anyway, we found her and she was with her husband, Nelson. We started the tour around Old Havana. The architecture and beauty of all the buildings in Old Havana is really something, but this is such a touristy area that I got sick of it pretty quickly and it didn’t help that it was soooooo HOT. But, we continued walking around while Maidolis talked about certain buildings and their history. We knew we were close to a boxing gym that we wanted to visit so we asked them to help us make our way there. Maidolis had to leave, so she asked her husband to walk us there. He brought us there so we can get familiar with where it was and the guys and Jess can talk to the instructor. He wasn’t there yet so we were told to come back around 5PM. So the last thing we asked Nelson to help us with was to bring us to a a place where we can buy souvenirs. He brought us less than 2 blocks away and we entered this HUGE warehouse looking place with a bunch of souvenir vendors. Also known as a tourists nightmare. You could not walk around this place without someone trying to show you what they are selling and they barely budged with the prices. Anyway, we walked for a bit and before we left we bought some cigar holders and key chains. Read More »

CUBA 3/9/17

Day TWO:

Before leaving NYC, I booked a tour to Vi帽ales, which is a town two and a half hours away from Havana( I will leave the contact info in my 6th blog post with my other recommendations). The tour company arranged for a cab to pick us up at 5:00 AM because the tour started at 7:30 AM. This was probably the scariest cab ride ever. It was super dark because there were no street lights and the roads were extremely bumpy. The cab driver was driving SO聽fast and would hit these “dips” in the road that would wake all of us up because the car would kinda jump… pretty scary. But anyway after this uncomfortable ride, we made it to the town of Vi帽ales. Its so interesting and different from Havana. Since we arrived at 7(ish) AM, the streets were flooded with people making their way to work, and kids on their way to school, either by foot, horse, or bike. We were one of maybe 3-4 cars on the roads, so people definitely knew we were tourists.Once we got to the tour site, we were approached by Ariel, our tour guide and Margarita, the manager. They wasted no time, and got us right on the horses. Raul was another guide who would stay behind the group on his horse and assist us if needed. Ariel’s English was very good so it was in my favor that he was our guide. We rode around the country side and saw where they planted different fruits聽like pineapples, oranges, mangoes, guava, and crops like rice, sugar cane, and coffee. When we got to the tobacco plantation we dismounted the horses and met a man聽named Alexis who was the owner of the tobacco operation. Alexis explained the process of picking coffee beans and growing tobacco. (Unfortunately I can’t remember the whole coffee bean process, but I do remember the majority of the tobacco process.)Alexis and Ariel explained that the seeds are thrown onto the plantation and once they start growing, they take them out and space them properly. The whole process is done by hand since they do not use tractors or any other machines since it can pollute the air and effect the crops. Once the plants have grown, there’s a flower at the top聽that is removed and the growth in height will stop. Once this happens, the leaves will begin to grow wider. Ariel explained that the bigger the leaf, the better and the taller the plant, the smaller the leaves, which is why it is important to remove the flower. The leaves are picked and brought to the drying house. Honestly, after this I was listening but it was hard to follow. But they explained that the leaves are examined for quality and then strung together, put on a wooden聽pole, and hung up in the drying house. Once he was done explaining the process, Alexis showed us how the leaves look when they are ready to be rolled, they served us some fresh coffee and he showed us how he rolls the cigars. Alexis uses honey to bind the leaves together which gives it a nice smell and adds a little to the taste (IMO). After he rolled the cigar, he lit it for us and passed it around for us to try. The game changer was when he lightly dipped the “head” of the cigar in honey. It changed the taste so much and it was so good! One thing we learned about the tobacco is that the government buys the tobacco from Alexis but they buy 98% of his crops at whatever price they decide it is worth. He gets to keep 2% of his tobacco and sell without a label or brand otherwise he would be competing against the government which isn’t allowed.
After this session with Alexis was over, we walked to the nearby cave. The cave was dark, cool, and filled with bats. It was pretty scary, but fun at the same time. Ariel showed us how the rocks in the caves resemble things like bears, elephants, and even Donald Trump LOL. Once we finally exited the cave, we got back on the horses and rode around the farms again聽and to a hut that was near a lake where we can swim. We opted out of swimming, but the view was incredible. They also served fresh coconut and cocktails. We sat here for a bit and re-hydrated and got back on the horses since it was close to noon and聽it was time for聽lunch. We rode to this “restaurant” where all the crops they use to cook are in the fields surrounding the restaurant. This place was actually pretty busy since most of the tourists were taken here after their tour. The food was INCREDIBLE. We also had聽no menu,聽they just started to serve us. We had (in this order): Taro chips, fried something ( it tasted like Yuca, but looked like a tortilla), vegetable soup that tasted like sancocho, plates of vegetables like sweet potato, 聽cabbage, pumpkin, radishes, okra, beets… and I think that’s it. Then they served us several plates of different meats then rice and beans. We ordered some mojitos and pi帽a coladas as well. Once we were done with our meal our cab driver was waiting outside of the restaurant ready to take us back. That聽two and a half hour ride is so brutal because聽the seats in this car聽were so old, but believe me… IT’S聽WORTH IT.Read More »