I’ve known Jasmine since high school and through Facebook, we’ve been able to keep in touch. I think it’s safe to say we definitely share a love for traveling the world. Jasmine and her husband have been on some pretty amazing trips, so I feel honored that she asked to include me in their blog!
In the summer of 2014, I took one of the best trips of my life. After Obama lifted travel restrictions to Cuba, I decided I need to go as soon as I could before things started to change. After lots of research and debating, my friend Jason and I planned our trip to Cuba for that summer. With all the research that we did, there were still a lot of things we couldn’t plan for until we arrived. Cuba is not the easiest country to travel to, so we planned the best we could and kept an open mind for the rest. Everything we couldn’t plan ahead for is exactly what made our trip so amazing. The “unknown” is one of my favorite things about traveling. So here’s a glimpse into our trip into Cuba…Five days that I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for.
We originally were going to be in Havana the whole trip but after seeing pictures of the beaches in Varadero, we quickly decided to make Varadero a part of our trip. We flew into Havana early in the evening, we exchanged our money into Cuban pesos at the airport and we made preparations to get to Varadero the only way we knew how….by taxi. After a 90 minute taxi ride, we arrived at our destination. We did not book our accommodation ahead of time, so our taxi driver was able to suggest some places we could stay at.
(side note: Instead of staying in a hotel, consider staying in “casa particulares”. Hotels run about the same amount as in the U.S., so if you want to save some money, look into the cheaper alternative called casa particulares. These are government sanctioned homes, where families rent out rooms for around 20-30 dollars a night. Some homes even include meals in the price. If you are looking for more of an authentic experience, I would definitely recommend staying in one of these houses. I don’t speak Spanish, but my travel companion Jason does. He was truly the MVP of the trip because everything fell on his shoulders. He had to translate and arrange all the plans for us once we got into Cuba. English is not as widely spoken by locals, so if you don’t speak Spanish, I highly recommend traveling with someone who does. Just trust me on this. )
The house we stayed at had a separate room in the back of the house with its own entrance, so we were able to come and go as we pleased without disturbing the family inside. The house had a fabulous location in the town. It was about a 5 minute walk to the beach and restaurants…for only 30 dollars a night!
We spent a couple days in Varadero and it was definitely worth it. I could write so much about Varadero but I’ll let the pictures do the talking:
The family we stayed with in Varadero was able to arrange a place for us to stay in Havana. After spending too much money on taxi to Varadero, Jason arranged for us to ride a bus back to Havana. The bus was cheap at about 10 dollars a person and allowed for us the see the Cuban countryside.
The location of where we stayed in Varadero was great, but the location of where we stayed in Havana was even better. We couldn’t have planned for a better spot to stay! We stayed in an apartment directly across the street from the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba. The view from our balcony was incredible! We had a view of the beautiful hotel and a view of the Malecon from our balcony….and once again, all for only 30 dollars a night!
We definitely tried to see as much of Havana as we could. Our trip was short, so we had only 2 days to explore Havana, which was not nearly enough time. We made old Havana a priority, spending the day walking around and taking in all the sites and sounds. There are shops, restaurants, and open air markets for shopping. There are old Spanish forts as well down there, so there’s so much to do and see. We visited Ernest Hemingway’s bar, Floridita in the heart of Old Havana. There were so many little shops and booths selling Cuban art, clothes, records, and books. You could easily spend days walking around and exploring this area. It’s definitely worth it!
We also walked around Hotel Nacional, which is something I will remember forever. The hotel is stunning, and definitely makes you feel like you stepped into the past. The hotel has had a number of famous guests from Frank Sinatra to Marlon Brando, and Ernest Hemingway of course. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, it’s worth the taxi ride over to have a look.
Staying so close to the seawall, we spent our nights outside, sitting along the wall and taking in the gorgeous views
We weren’t in Cuba for very long but we were there long enough to know that we already want to go back. There is so much to do and see, we just couldn’t fit it all in at one time. Cuba is one of those places where words and pictures just don’t do it justice…. you’ll have to go and see for yourself.
(My friend Jason is a fellow avid world traveler and he takes some amazing pictures! Make sure to check his Instagram to keep up with this escapades: @gringobrasilero )