“Happiness is contagious regardless of your surroundings!”
Where does one start? There is so much information and not enough memory in this head of mine to provide it. I will do my best to go in order but wow. I had a wonderful time and I think 5 days was more than enough time in Cuba.
I decided to travel to Cuba once President Obama said it was open for Americans to travel but you had to have one of 12 reasons to travel there. I went with a group of 7 ladies, including myself, and had a great time. We toured all around Havana and ended up in Varadero. By the time day 5 hit I was ready for Starbucks and my bed. Here are the twelve reasons you can travel to Cuba from the US.
- Family visits.
- Official government business.
- Professional research and meetings.
- Educational activities.
- Religious activities.
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions and athletic competitions.
- “Support for the Cuban people.”
- Humanitarian projects.
- Activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes.
- Exporting or importing information or “information materials.”
- Travel related to some authorized export transactions.
We chose to select “Educational Activities” when purchasing our tickets from United. However, when filling out for your medical card on the plane upon arrival to Cuba; when they ask what is the reason for travel you write “educational activities”. Also, when entering back into the USA you also say “educational activities” when they ask, “How was your vacation?” You say, “I didn’t go on vacation, I went for educational purposes.” It’s never VACATION or TOURISM, it is always “Educational Purposes” and to be honest it really was.
We traveled to Cuba on a Friday morning and planned to return on Tuesday afternoon. We purchased this baby mansion from airbnb from Friday to Sunday afternoon. Then we purchased a hotel in Varadero at the Iberostar Laguna Azul from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday morning.
My long time friend Deronise of Deronise G Photos accompanied us on this trip and was our local paparazzi on the trip and I promise you it was sooooo worth it. The photos came out beautiful and we definitely enjoyed having her around taking pics. Not saying have your own photographer on the trip but having someone who takes pics professional or as a side hustle with a professional camera is a major plus. iPhone or Droids just don’t capture the rawness.
At Newark they have a section for Cuba travel so we were able to get our visa and check in there. It took about ten minutes because it was 8 am and there was hardly anyone there. After we checked in and purchased our $75 visa we headed downstairs to convert our money to Euro. Some of the ladies believed it was better to convert in Cuba but Cuba charges a fee of 10-13% depending on the conversion location to change your money from USD to CUC. I wanted to come back home with as many pesos as possible so this worked out better for me. I was able to keep all three currencies and it allowed me to manage my finances better. I converted $320 USD which gave me 260€ then I converted 100€ to 100 CUC. Eventually before we left the airbnb I converted an additional 60 CUC for our taxi there and back. Once we got back to the airport I converted all of my Euro and CUC back to USD which was 50€ and 13 CUC. Donald Trump was acting up over the weekend and the London Bridge incident happened so the Euro went down from Friday. I received $62 back.
At the gate, we had free checked bags because there was no room on the plane for carry on’s. We tried to avoid checking our luggage because we heard the terminal in Havana were not as advanced as the states; Well we couldn’t avoid it so upon arrival we waited about a half hour for our luggage to come out. Not very exciting but this allowed for the other ladies to exchange our money for us. On the flight we had to fill out an immigration card and a medical card. Both pictured below:
Our airbnb host, Eduardo and his dad picked us up from the airport. This is the beginning of the diesel fuel inhalation lol. It is literally good in some cars and terrible in others. You’ll inhale the vintage cars gas the entire trip so get used to it. There are websites where you can organize a taxi but there are tons of taxis waiting outside to pickup passengers. Everything is negotiable, especially cab rides which is where I spent 80% of my money. If we could’ve looked into how much a rental car would’ve costed, I think we would have been better off with that.
Anyway, here are some pics of our airbnb. Super dope, super nice, beds were semi comfy but we each had to share beds so if you do choose an airbnb, pick people you like and don’t mind sleeping next to. We were a group of 7 so we chose a home with 4 bedrooms. Each bedroom had its own full bathroom and two rooms had a balcony.
We didn’t need toilet paper as many reviews stated however when we arrived on Friday there was no running water. We literally had the snacks we came with and walked up and down our airbnb block for food. One of the locals told us that we probably wouldn’t find an open restaurant because there was no running water. Needless to say, we smelled like 9 year old boys and wanted to shower and eat like three days ago. We ended up finding this restaurant around the corner from our apartment called Area 51 which was rockkkkin! We literally ate a feast because we were running on fumes. We ordered about 5 appetizers, each had an entree, and two alcoholic drinks (pina colada and mojitos). The total bill cost us $20 each which included 10% tip. The food wasn’t what we were used to but it wasn’t bad at all, in fact it was great. I am a pescatarian for about two years now and I had little hope for good eats but most of the food I ate was decent. The girls said the ropa vieja was the best and I had fish in tomato sauce which was a seafood stew over white rice.
We also had lunch in town at Tablao de Pancho in La Habana not too far from the Revolution Museum. You needed a reservation but the restaurant wasn’t packed so we were able to be seated and they had a live band playing salsa music which was dope. The girl who helped us didn’t pay attention to what we wanted so our food was just okay. Well my fish was gross and the meal that would’ve been bomb they didn’t have in stock . I felt it. #foodieatheart. All of the meals there are face value cost for the main course and the garish would be your sides which range from 1-3 dollars.
We had reservations at La Guarida but we only went for pics and didn’t use our reservation. Instead we asked one of the locals for a spot and they recommended Casa Miglis which was really good but expensive. We spent 175 CUC there but the food was very delicious and in thee hood of Havana. The roads were terrible our taxi could barely make it through the streets and we just looked all dolled up walking through the streets. Truly a diamond in the rough. The streets look like they pulled up all the plumbing and just left the streets the way they were. It was really sad to see but we were able to hustle some cigars off of one of the locals. We bought 20 for $80 and split them amongst us. We did not claim via customs because it was legit $5 for some cigars. Not worth it. Later at our hotel in Varadero we bought more that were 1 CUC and 3.80 CUC.
That Saturday night we chilled at the apartment because we were headed to our hotel the next day and wanted to stop at one more spot before we checked out at noon. We went to Callejon de Hamel in La Habana (we didn’t know it was a voodoo gallery) and wanted to take pics of the door that was a Cuban flag and another something. I didn’t quite make it through the entire gallery because I’m a chicken and I do not like to interfere with evil spirits and such. We walked through and a gallery guide rang a bell over this huge Caldero pot and I immediately exited the gallery. There was an outdoor AfroCubano festival starting at noon and I was not interested in that. Some of the girls took photos and this is all that I have. The most innocent ones. If you’re spiritual or believe in a higher power, avoid this stop. There was a lady who confirmed the practice of yoruba there and much of the art was a display of that so no I am not talking out my behind on this one.
We were able to walk and catch a cab back to the apartment and we fit 7 of us into a car (highly illegal) but we heard a Spanish version of Rihanna’s “Work” and took a video of it. Pretty dope considering playing music outside in Cuba was said to be illegal.
We realized our airbnb was 2.5 hours from our hotel in Varadero so we had to figure out what the most cost effective way to get there was. Our airbnb host said it would cost 200 CUC if he took us which meant he was smoking hella drugs so we decided to take a taxi to the bus station which cost us another 10 CUC per car and 10 CUC to ride the bus. Butttt of course when we get there we ended up taking a taxi that would take us directly to the resort instead of the bus stop and then take a taxi to the resort. This cut 1.5 hours of our time off of our original bus trip. Although this was the more expensive route in a Jeep with no AC. It was definitely worth it and we got to the resort much faster.
We discovered the wifi card when we arrived at the hotel. We stayed at Iberostar Laguna Azul which was super nice. I took my first hot shower there so it has my heart but there were some cons in my opinion. The wifi was not free. Not that I cared but it was 1.50 CUC per hour. They gave you a card with 3,527 numeric digits that you had to enter in each time you logged into wifi. I purchased only one card to contact my family to let them know I arrived and that was it. The wifi was so sketchy it literally used 25 minutes of your time logging in because you kept getting knocked out. Wasn’t worth it in my opinion but I went in with the idea of knowing I wouldn’t have wifi so I was okay not being connected but for those of you who need to be connected it was worth the struggle. The wifi card was also good at the airport so if you find yourself with left over time keep the card and use in the airport to kill time.
The food was just not doing it for me. I would’ve preferred to stay at the airbnb and eat the locals food but it saved me a lot of coins. I dealt with the fresh omelette and fruit and all the bread you can eat but be prepared for the 4 million flies that were swarming all around the buffet; like legitimately 4 million. I’ve dealt with a million flies in Jamaica but this was a different type of norm. I survived off of pizza and french fries the entire stay at the hotel. I was ready to go home and have Starbucks and a bangin meal.
It was another 22 CUC per person to get back to the airport but this time the extra 2 CUC was worth it because it was a legal taxi and we had AC. The ride wasn’t terrible but we had buttlock by the time we got out of the car. Our flight was delayed after waiting in line for an hour to get checked in and go through customs. I definitely recommend you use any credit card perks, premier services etc because half of the girls had it and they were in and out in not time. We arrived back to NJ with no issues and we were all grateful for the opportunity to have visited the beautiful island of Cuba.
Here are some random photos of landmarks we visited while staying in Cuba.
We downloaded an app called “CityMaps2Go” which allowed us to download an offline map of the island and include any landmarks we wanted to visit. The greatest part about the app was the fact that it tracked your location and allowed us to tell our taxi drivers what locations we wanted to hit since the map was downloaded onto our phones. You are only allowed to download one map without paying for the app but if you delete the app and re install you can download another free of charge.
We also downloaded an app called “Mobile Passport” which allows you to “breeze through customs”, we literally didn’t have to do anything but answer the TSA questions and it provided us with a QR Code to scan once we walked up to the customs agent desk, scanned the code, and he said thank you. We did the same thing on the second round of customs as well. Dope app recommend for traveling however G.O.E.S. and TSA Pre-Check are the way to go. I have Pre-Check just waiting on G.O.E.S. approval.
Museum of the Revolution
Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC)
Searching for wi-fi
AfroCuban Woman who is the face of Cuba
(she was mean as hell though)
1 CUC for coconut water
5 CUC for this fresh pina colada with cuban rum
Plaza de la Revolucion
Pont de Bacunayagua
If you have any other questions feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For photos contact Deronise G on Instagram: @ph0t0sbydee