Cuba was a Spanish colony in the 15th century until the Spanish-American war. Shortly after, Cuba attempted to strengthen its democratic system with the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, a US backed Cuban dictator in 1952. Insurgents including Che Guerva led guerilla warfare to overthrow Batista’s regime, which established a government under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Since then, the Communist Party of Cuba has governed it. The long period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves and a close relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold war make up the people, culture and customs of Cuba. Because of this, Cuba was the most interesting and contrasting country I have ever visited. Both the city life in Old Havana and the countryside of Vinales presented the country’s beauty as a whole.
The stunning highlights of Spanish architecture, brightly painted buildings, and classic cars were a sight to see. In every alley live music and art galleries highlighted the creativity of Cuban people. The immediate effects of the removal of the travel ban could be seen with an increase in construction along the quaint cobble stone streets. Unsure as to how we would be greeted by the locals, I was pleasantly surprised to see their effort to engage in conversation. Casa Particulares, or private homes with live-in hosts, have seen a rise in vacancy as well. With just $5, hosts will cook you a full spread breakfast and help you immerse into the Cuban culture. Some favorite activities of Havana were driving down The Malecon during sunset in a convertible classic car, visiting the bar “El Dandy” and smoking cigars while drinking Havana Club-7 year!
Vinales is a city two hours away from La Havana and can be envisioned as a beautiful countryside with tobacco farms, underground caves and vast mountain ranges. Recommendations in Vinales are renting bikes to explore the city, taking a walking tour of farms and having drinks in a cave called Palenque de los Cimarrones. There is no shortage of places to eat or drink on the main street of Vinales with live music and dancing at the plaza at night. Since Internet is highly restricted, you will notice congregations of people in the plaza with Internet cards.
Tips to Note:
-Taking Euro to Cuba will give you a better exchange rate than US Dollars. Be prepared to stand in line at the airport for over an hour to exchange your money to Cucs.
-Bring extra cash as you cannot take money out of ATM's and you don't want to be stranded if you need more money.
-Find out how much a taxi ride is before getting in. It was about $40 to travel from the airport to Old Havana in a private Taxi.
-Finding a fixer is highly recommended. We hired one for $75 a day to give us a walking tour of the city in both old Havana and Vinales.
-You can purchase your Visa at the airport for $100. Much easier than doing it online and paying a fee to have it mailed. We travelled as "people to people"
Suggestions for Havana:
Rooftop Hotel for Drinks: Sarratoga (Beyonce and Maddona have stayed here)
Tapas Bar: El chanchullero
Famous Mojito’s- La Bodeguita del Medio
Dinner- El Del Frente
Coffee- Café El Escorial in Plaza Vieja
Suggestions for Vinales:
Tres Jotas (3J bar de Tapas)
Cueva del Indio- Cave by boat