Happy Monday, Bombshells!
I’m currently in Trinidad, Cuba, using the last few minutes on my Etesca Wifi Card to write you about my experience thus far in Cuba!
We’ve only been here for a few days, but I am already deep, deep in love.
The country is beautiful, the food is delish, and the history is what really makes Cuba one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited.
When you touch down, you instantly see loads of 50’s and 60’s era Chevy’s, Buicks, Pontiacs, and more.
The US severed ties with Cuba in 1961, and thus ceased trading with the country, whose capital, Havana, was once the epicenter of glamour, gambling, and compulsive excess. What you see now is a country almost frozen in time, with the remnants of a once glittering Empire in disrepair.
Though people in the capital city lack the outside signs of wealth, they seem rich with happiness, pride, music, and culture.
It’s almost impossible to visit Cuba without having a context for history of the country. I’d recommend getting Frommer’s Easy Guide to Cuba, Fodor’s Cuba Travel Guide, and Lonely Planet’s Cuba Travel Guide to get a sense of what you’re visiting. This is not your typical vacation. Be prepared to learn and experience a different way of life.
With that said…
1. Where to Stay:
My family and I rented a simple AirBNB for about $100 a night. The minuses? No Wifi and pretty simple dwellings. The bonuses? Our host Manuel, who went above and beyond, making reservations for dinner for us for our first night, coordinating a car to drive us around the country, and having his mother, Dina, make us breakfast every morning.
The advantages of staying at a hotel include Wifi, snazzier surroundings i.e. a pool and restaurant. I heard that the Hotel Nacional (pictured below) is quite nice…
…however, costs about $325 a night. Zoinks! Here’s what I’d suggest: find an Air BNB with Wifi or just get an Air BNB and walk to a local hotel, which is what we did. It depends on what your priorities are! To save money, go to an Air BNB. If you want to do it up like you’re in Miami, to a hotel you go. Understand that prices are pretty elevated.
2. Where to Eat:
On our first night, our host made reservations at StarBien, a lovely restaurant located in a mansion. You can find sumptuous lobster dinners for less than $20 CUC/USD, so that’s what I’ve been eating every night. My sister got the Ropa Vieja, and my stepmom ordered a Seafood soup. Whatever, you get it will be bomb!
We finished up with the Flan and were very happy for the night.
Day 2, we made reservations at Paladar Vistamar (please note, reservations are pretty much mandatory. Visit a hotel or have your host make a reservation for you). There, I ordered Seafood dinner again and my sister ordered onion soup and pork bruschetta. We were happy with the food, but all agreed that Starbien was better.
A lot of our contacts recommended going to La Guarida. We tried to go there when we landed, but you need to make reservations at least a week in advance to eat there (it’s that good). We’ve made reservations for La Guarida for when we return to Havana at the end of the week. Can’t wait!
A lot of people we spoke to said that food in Havana isn’t very good. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the food. Even the ham and cheese sandwiches we’ve gotten from unassuming rest stops have been tasty. So don’t believe the hype. Eat all the food you want (the seafood is delish), but don’t drink the water. Drink bottled water, or carry a water filtration system (my stepmom bought some from REI).
4. What To Do:
Havana is steeped in history! Take a tour of the city in a convertible Chevy, or just walk around Old Havana, popping into museums and ogling the cars and architecture.
My family and I went to the Museo Nacional des Bellas Artes. I’m not a museum person, but enjoyed the 19th century art and more contemporary paintings. I appreciated how many positive depictions of Africans I saw.
In terms of nightlife, Tropicana Cabaret is really fun. Tickets are expensive (about $100 per person), but in exchange you get snacks, a glass of champagne, and a quarter of a bottle of rum. Because we had 4 in our party, we had a bottle of rum to enjoy the night.
The show is electric and the costumes eye catching. Our show was rained out, but after a group of Argentinians made a fuss, the show went on with fabulous aplomb. It’s definitely a little cheesy and full of tourists, but fun–check it out if you’re ever in Havana.
*People are so nice. I can’t stress it enough. And it is against the law to carry guns or knives, so everything is quite safe.
*It helps to speak some Spanish. Just enough to get by. We currently have a tour guide who speaks only Spanish, so knowledge of Romance Languages can help at the very least to decipher what is being said.
*Style Notes: Cuba is hot, so don’t stress looking like a fashion plate. Also, our trip has involved lots of walking. So while I did slip on a sparkly dress and heels to go to Tropicana, generally you’re fine with flat sandals and something comfortable.
If you want to add spice, bring an assortment of cool sunglasses.
*WIFI. OK. There isn’t a lot of Wifi. T Mobile said my phone would work in Cuba. THEY LIED.
You can get a Wifi Card, called an Etesca card, at cellular shops called Teleporto. You will typically see lines to get this card, along with a guard at the door, filtering in the crowd. Once you have the card, you have access to public Wifi, BUT the trick is to find somewhere where you can get a signal. Most public spaces, hotel lobbies, and some parks have access to Etesca Wifi. You’ll know when you’ve found a hotspot when you see crowds of people sitting on the sidewalk or lingering in the street on their smartphones.
That said, Cuba is not the place to go if you have a million things to do. When you come to Cuba, be ready to have fun..sip a Mojito…dance Salsa…and appreciate a slower lifestyle that lends itself to human interaction and connection.
My family is now in Trinidad, Cuba and we went exploring the city today. In Trinidad, you will find lots of live bands playing salsa. And my sister and I were literally swept off of our feet, dancing salsa with complete strangers. But there’s a warmth to everyone. People’s hearts are open. They are happy to see you and happy you are here, experiencing their world, even just for a moment.
These are the memories I will bring home to me from Cuba. It is an experience I will never forget.
More to come from CienFuegos, Trinidad, and more!
Have you been to Cuba? How was your experience?